Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One learns the most amazing things in Sunday School

I teach Sunday school to the 10-12 year old set at my church. Our curriculum right now is Old Testament, and you know how it is there -- you can't shake a stick without hitting a prostitute. So, this past Sunday, after a couple of chapters in which my charges read the word "prostitute" at least a dozen times, I thought to ask them if they knew what a prostitute was. (It was kind of crucial to understanding the story.) They took a couple guesses.

"It's a prosty who toots," was the first answer.

"I know, I know," said another, waving her hand vigorously above her head. I called on her, and she became remarkably less confident. "I think I know. I think it's a kind of ... lawyer?" (Some in my position would have told her, "Close," but I am sometimes an aspiring lawyer, so it did not occur to me to do so. Anyhow, I think she was thinking of "Pharisee.")

After that, no one was willing to venture a guess. I explained to them that it was someone who had sex in exchange for money, and they all looked slightly horrified. They are, after all, at an age when the thought of having sex with another person, though titillating, remains horrifying. "They what?" said the originator of "prosty who toots."

"They have sex with people in exchange for money. Usually, people become prostitutes because they don't have a whole lot of other options for making money, and this is the only way they can feed themselves or their families. Back then, if you were a woman there weren't a whole lot of job options, and women who weren't married or didn't have a father or brother who could support them would often have to do this in order to survive."

Although there were eight kids in the class, all were stunned into silence except Mr. "Prosty Who Toots": "So, let me get this straight, they ... they do *what*?"

"So Rahab--" the particular prostitute in question "-- men would pay her to have sex with them."

A lightbulb goes on. "Oh!" said Mr. Prosty Who Toots. "You mean a HOOKER! Why didn't you say that?"

Perhaps this is the whole reason that, while every single one of them could tell me the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho without opening their Bibles, but none of them remembered ever hearing of Rahab. It's fun to tell kids, who like loudness and chaos, about some people who blew horns and shouted so loud that, with the intervention of God, a city's walls fell down. They can reenact it and have a ball. If you just tell them that part, you can avoid the fact that life is complex and, often, quite ugly.

(An aside about avoiding reality in Sunday School: My curriculum, which progressively included mention of Rahab, cuts off the story of the battle at Jericho right as the walls fall down, at Joshua 6:20. Which makes the story look very pacifistic: "Hey, look, the Israelites won the city of Jericho without raising a weapon!" Alas, if you are like my Sunday schoolers, you don't stop reading where the curriculum suggests, and you get to 6:21, in which the Israelites slay almost every single man, woman, child and animal in the city. Oops.)

But back to Rahab. We talked about how God often works through people we have been taught to despise. And I suppose that's a standard, curriculum-approved lesson to get out of this tale. If you can turn every lesson into the tale of the Good Samaritan, then you're doing pretty good as a Sunday School teacher.

But if I'd been totally honest with the kids, and if I'd thought they were at a point in their lives where they could understand, I would have told them this: When it comes down to it, we're all prostitutes. We're all selling off bits of ourselves in exchange for money, security, status. Perhaps our dignity, perhaps our idealism, perhaps our ethics, perhaps our souls. When God chooses to work through a prostitute, it's no more remarkable than when God works through anyone else. Or, to put it another way, when God works through a devout churchgoer, it's just as amazing and unexpected -- perhaps more so -- as when God works through a lowly hooker.

Selling my car

And now for a commercial message:

I'd like to sell my 2005 Toyota Prius. It came with an upgrade that included Smart Key entry, rear and front side curtain airbags (aka "head SABs") in addition to the usual front airbags, and vehicle stability control. It has 13,500 miles on it. I am asking $18,700. Great condition, passed its last state inspection, never been in a collision. The vehicle is in great shape. E-mail me if you want details.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The nature of Clorox

A few years ago I interviewed Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt's Bees natural cosmetics company, for a now-defunct magazine called Hope. (We will not wander off into ruminations about whether Hope's death was a case of situational irony or, rather, exactly what ought to have been expected.)

At the time, Quimby was in the process of selling off the company so she could spend more time advocating for a national park in Maine's North Woods. She was selling to an investment group -- the kind that purchases companies, spruces them up, and then resells them to a bigger player. (Kind of like Flip That House, but on a bigger monetary scale.)

So I was interested today to read that Burt's Bees has been flipped. It's being bought by Clorox. I'd sure love to talk to her again to see what she has to say about that.