Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: The Day the Mojo Died

Today was our second-to-last Confirmation class -- although since Confirmation has already happened, perhaps we're just eighth grade religion class. And perhaps that's the reason why attendance is down 50%, causing me to declaim, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," as I put down the roster. No one nodded in recognition. My quote-fallen-flat didn't really bother me, though, because we were about to have movie day, an easy win for any teacher.

A digression, here, about the cottage industry of G- or PG-rated live action films, usually with a faith-based theme. I've realized why they exist. It's because sometimes a teacher needs to show a group a movie, and there is such a mix of personalities and abilities that a movie of more unquestioned excellence may be too much: too slow, too ambiguous, too thoughtful to hold attention, or too violent, or too real. These "clean flix"-type movies are a step further removed from reality, hence more easily digestible. And the content is so unobjectionable that you can pick one off a shelf with your eyes closed.

That's not what I did, of course. I selected a few movies from a stash in the DRE's office, previewed them, and picked a film called The Mighty Macs, about a scrappy girls' college basketball team winning the National Championship in 1972. It had the newbie coach whose husband thought she shouldn't be working, and the college in danger of being closed, and the nun questioning her vocation, and the poor girl, and the girl who just wanted to be engaged, and the girl who didn't get the basketball scholarship to the bigger school. A grab bag of dramatic elements, sure, but it was workmanlike. It was too long, but I realized that I could start the movie about twenty minutes in (filling in the missing exposition before we started), and that would buy us enough time. I did wonder if it would hold the boys' attention, and then I thought, sheesh, I've watched enough boys' sports movies in my day and enjoyed them well enough. Let the guys deal with it.

Part of movie day is snacks, and I'd bought snacks for 40, knowing that 40 wouldn't show up and so there would more for everyone else. As some of the students laid out the food, the DRE wrestled with setting up the multi-thousand-dollar projection system, installed a year or two ago to bring our parish's media situation into the 21st century. No more unwieldy carts with TVs and DVD players. Even our tech-jaded kids' eyes lit up when they watch the projection screen descending majestically from the ceiling.

And they watched as we struggled to turn it on, and the projector refused to light up. They watched as we flipped through the menu, trying to figure out why we were getting no input. They watched as we finally got sound, but no picture. I narrated through the trailers we were hearing: the school bullying movie; the one about policemen trying to be better fathers; the one where the surfer gets her arm bitten off by a shark. (That's the one I would have liked to have shown; the mix of bikinis and sharks would have been a sure-fire hit.) Finally, after 25 minutes (during which the DRE generously put her own third-grade class on hold to help me out), we had: nothing. We could not make the system work.

A multi-thousand dollar investment, which failed at the moment when I needed it. A looming hour and five minutes of class time, for which I had prepared no talk, no activities, no games, no anything but a movie in a case, laying uselessly on the table. And me, me with nothing.

At the beginning of the year, I could extemporize. I could compose entire classes in the shower, with anecdotes and thematic transitions. I could speak in class at the drop of a hat, and what I had to say was coherent, entertaining, and theologically correct. Those days, alas, are in the past. My teaching mojo has been braking to a clanking, poorly-oiled halt. In fact, I had been considering divesting myself of my pride and moving to a packaged series for next year, perhaps the acclaimed Chosen series, well-reviewed and full of pithy, presentable speakers known for their youth ministry.

A series that relies on playing a DVD every class.

"Hit the gym, kids," I said.

As they charged around with the basketballs, I considered and prayed and supervised my four-year-old running in and out among the boys. (Had I mentioned that I brought my four-year-old along to class today to watch the movie?) We couldn't spend the rest of the time in the gym, and there are kids in the class who don't enjoy gym time as much as the others. Perhaps some parents are paying for a glorified babysitting experience, but most of them expect their children to be learning about the Catholic faith, or doing some kind of religiously-themed activity, even if it's faith-based movie day.

Eventually, I put together a plan in miniature. I could legitimately end the class 15 minutes early, giving me half an hour still to fill. We cleaned up the balls and sat back down in the cafeteria, and I asked if anyone had had anything bad happen to them that week. I had a few people volunteer responses -- a near-miss with another car, a drowned backhoe, a broken waterline, drama with friends. Then I told my own story of how within the course of two hours I killed two phones: my own I dropped in the toilet (it fell out of my pocket, honestly), and after Darwin lent me his, I pulled it out of my pocket and discovered that the screen was inexplicably, irreparably shattered. I asked about good things that had happened and had a few more answers: qualifying for a big event, a winning sports game, good time with friends. And then I talked about how we could view all the events of our lives, good and bad, in light of the cross; about how the cross put everything into perspective, and how examining our day and spending time in prayer was crucial especially now that the kids were ending their religious-education time; about maintaining a relationship with Jesus. I was ineloquent and desperate, hunting for words and watching the clock and praying for the inspiration that eluded me. Finally, we prayed a chaplet of Divine Mercy, since the kids remembered the responses from last week. Before each decade I suggested intentions.

1. with each prayer think of a family member or friend who needs mercy.
2. with each prayer think of someone you hate, and pray for mercy for them.
3. with each prayer think of someone you love, and pray for mercy for them.
4. with each prayer think of your own sins, and ask for mercy.
5. with each prayer think of a wound of Jesus -- his hands, his feet, his knees or shoulders or a slash of the whip, and ask for mercy.

We finished our prayer. Twenty-five minutes of class time left.

Reader, I dismissed them. Those with parents waiting left. Most others called their parents to come. Some went off to the gym, and some, who had to wait for siblings, watched the baby as I filed my attendance sheet.

And that was it. The last of my teaching mojo has evaporated. By myself, I could not put together a coherent theological reflection for a group of bored teenagers, even if I tried. Now the Holy Spirit can work freely through me for our last class two weeks from now, because I've run out of my own steam. It's all you, God, because it's not me anymore.

1 comment:

Banshee said...

That sounds like a better CCD class session than most of the ones I took as a kid! (Well, yeah, don't have a disaster every week, but....)