Friday, June 03, 2005

Sunday school

Speaking of Sunday School teachers, John Updike writes in the Nov. 1, 2004 New Yorker in a review of a new translation of the first five books of Moses:

Reading through this book, or five books, is a wearying, disorienting, and at times revelatory experience. ... The Creation, the Garden, the Fall, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the patriarchal saga of Abraham, Issac, Jacob and Joseph make a more or less continuous story. Rereading it awakened certain sensations from my Sunday-school education, more than sixty years ago, when I seemed to stand on the edge of a brink gazing down at ploychrome miniatures of abasement and terror, betrayal and reconciliation. Jacob deceiving blind Issac with patches of animal hair on the backs of his hands [1], Joseph being stripped of his gaudy coat and left in a pit by his brothers [2], little Benjamin being fetched years later by these same treacherous brothers into the imperious presence of a mysterious stranger invested with all Pharaoh's authority -- these glimpses into a world paternal to our own, a robed and sandalled world of origins and crude conflict and direct discourse with God, came to me via flimsy leaflets illustrating that week's lesson, and were mediated by the mild-mannered commentary of the Sunday-school teacher, a humorless embodiment of small-town respectability, passing on conventional Christianity by rote. Nevertheless, I was stirred and disturbed, feeling exposed to the perilous basis beneath the surface of daily routine, of practical schooling and family interchange and popular culture.

I only read this passage today, from an issue of the NYer in a pile I'd left in the bathroom at work, but it seemed so apt to an experience I had last night. I met with Katia at my church to give her a little feedback on her reading style, in preparation for her appearance next week at RADAR, the reading series produced by Michelle Tea. Katia got up and read the passages from her novel Crashing America, and when she was done, we remarked on the good acoustics of the church sanctuary.

"Good for reading scripture," I remarked, and she said, "Yes, get up there and read some scripture!" I said okay, and got a Bible and read Jesus' trial before Pilate from Matthew 27. How rich and exciting the scene is! When I finished, I said, "Now that's writing."

(1) Gen. 27    (2) Gen. 37

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