Learning to Read with Jesus

We volunteer at a predominantly African-American, deeply heart-felt religious church that feeds the hungry in their very poor community several times a week from their kitchen. Unlike the quiet, cerebral worship of a Quaker Meeting, services here (before, during, and after the meal) are loud and emotional. “Amen!” “Tell it sister!” “Can I get a witness in here!” “That’s right!” Exclamations and applause flow through the congregation like tides, rising and falling, creating their own rhythmic enchantment. Even prayers receive loud approbations of agreement, and songs as often as not lead to impromptu dancing and booty-shaking–to the Glory of Jesus!

We began volunteering on Christmas morning, because it was one of only a few places that welcomes children to help feed the hungry. We’ve gone back because the people are beautiful. They welcome us like old family, embracing the children and matter-of-factly including them in the activities and the chores.

Also, it’s the most deeply different cultural experience I can imagine my children having without leaving the city. Sometimes, I can’t understand everything that is said to me because the dialect is so different from mine. The people walking through the food line are so grateful and also … so different. It’s a stunning reminder of the divided land we live in, and also how isolated our communities are from each other. But also, how deeply human we all are. Everyone is so lovely to us, and gradually we begin to feel at home here.

My children deeply, passionately love this church. They beg to attend every event, cheerily request opportunities to assist, eagerly look for ways to be a part of everything that goes on there.

If you’re a homeschooler, you already understand how all of this is related to the topic of schooling. If not, perhaps this next story will help:

Getting Eli to read anything has always been like pulling teeth. We’ve alternately used: Hooked on Phonics, Click n Read kids, Charlotte Mason approaches, “easy readers,” and miscellaneous activities from books loaned to us by friends. He has made slow, very reluctant progress. But until recently, he had never voluntarily tried to read anything out loud, and always groaned when required to do so.

So, picture this: Saturday night we’ve just finished serving food around 9:30 pm and we’re exhausted. I’m sitting at a computer trying to set up the church’s website. Pastor Stevenson is beside me in her wheelchair, paying half attention to me and half attention to Eli, who repeatedly approaches to ask help. I type & I click & … after a few minutes of this it dawns on me that something important is happening:

Eli is sounding out words.

I turn sharply to see what has caught his attention to such an extent that he is READING aloud. Is it a book on chemistry? A story about Pokemon? A child’s board book with big pictures and simple-to-read text? Ha! He is reading a FLYER that Pastor Stevenson handed him about the event we just served. No pictures, no story, just words that hold a meaning for him–words about an event he felt moved to participate in. Words about his community, words given to him by someone he feels a deep connection with.

So when I say that this is a prime example of a successful homeschool moment, I think the academic aspect here is obvious. But what about this: How often do children have the opportunity to be immersed so thoroughly in a different culture, to be invited in like family and become part of a tradition so very different from their own immediate family’s? To become so connected with it that it motivates them to reach new heights in their learning journey? All while contributing in a meaningful way to helping those less fortunate?

So please excuse me when I laugh heartily on the frequent occasions that people ask me the ubiquitous: “But what about socialization?” homeschooling question.

That having been said, please understand when I say that I have rather mixed feelings about attending events at this church regularly. I love the people, and I love the work we do there. But there are very good religious, emotional, and, yes, cultural reasons why I’m Quaker. I love Quaker worship, the quiet, thoughtful, sometimes almost academic atmosphere. I am Quaker, heart mind and soul. I’m okay with my children making different choices than I do, but attending loud and emotional services espousing doctrines I don’t strictly agree with, is exhausting to me.

But I’m okay with that too, with the mixed feelings and the exhaustion. Life isn’t simple.

Earlier that evening, several members of the church had taken us back to the sanctuary and urged us, with the lights just so, to see the image of Jesus’s head where it had mysteriously appeared in the drywall of an alcove. “It will move you!” Pastor Stevenson had exclaimed. And she was right: We moved all over the place trying to get the right angle.

So it came as no surprise, when I told Pastor Stevenson the significance of Eli reading the flyer, that she turned to me with sparkling eyes and said, “Jeeeeee-sus is in this room!”

And you know what, that’s just fine. Jesus was in the room. Feeding the hungry, caring for the needy, taking the good and the bad and the weird and the wonderful in each other and just slathering it all with love: That is Jesus.

Pastor Stevenson gave Eli a book about cats and he has read it about twenty times a day since. Eli is reading, and right along with the amens and the booty-shaking, I’m happy to attribute this to the Glory of Jesus.

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16 responses to “Learning to Read with Jesus

  1. wow !!! We never know what the Lord is going to do with our children. All we can do is do our best and pray. Praise the Lord
    Verna

  2. Thank you for sharing this story. As I have learned in a more cerebral environment, the rational mind and it’s capabilities have their place; but the intellect only occupies one space in the journey of faith.

    On another note, I am glad to know you have continued writing! You inspire me.

    Peace,
    Amy

    • Hi Amy! I am so flattered that you stopped by to look & reply. I would love to catch up and hear about your adventures.

      I just started writing again (with any seriousness) a few months ago, and nothing gets me as high as finishing something I am pleased with, except hearing that other people find it useful, enjoyable, or enlightening.

      I would love to read about your journey of faith–are you writing or blogging anywhere?

      Thanks again for stopping by and your kind words. This is food for the writer’s soul!

  3. Take those socialization comments and place them where the sun doesn’t shine.
    You have exposed your children to real events and life, cultures other than your own, community activities (I could keep going). My favorite is that of helping others. You get so much more than you give, and exposing children to real significant experiences is priceless. (My daughters always participated in helping others–sometimes begrudgingly sometimes with a happy heart. However, there where other friends who had never been part of a community project–this was high school–and THAT was shocking to me.) We are a part of something greater than us. So, the next time that you get the socialization comment..”Eli has made many rich friendships thru home schooling. It is not
    about quantity, it’s about quality.”
    Home schooling, when it’s done right is the best! Maybe they need to find out more about what you do. (Maybe a visual of solitary children sitting at the kitchen table, with books all around is the picture that they identify home schooling with..definately NOT accurate.) Keep up the good works. C

    • Hi C! Thanks for the comment. I agree completely–the socialization comments are probably based on some notion that the children are sitting around a school table reading and writing all day long. Maybe some home schools are that way, but not ours! 😀

  4. I have a question, I am originally from New Orleans, we had “Quakers” who had meetings and all sat silently. They did not believe in Jesus, but the idea that we all have God in us and that this still small inner voice was in all of us and they were just taking time to listen. Very New Age, pure deception, totally evil. But I met some Quakers in Maine that claimed to be “Real” Quakers who told me that the New Orleans Quakers were not related to traditional Quakers in any way other than name and in fact were more akin to Unitarian Universalists. What is “Real” Quaker Doctrine?

    • Ha ha! That’s an excellent question, but it’s kind of like asking what is “real” Christian doctrine, or what is “real” Republican politics. There are as many versions of Quaker faith as there are humans practicing it. There is no central body that dictates Quaker doctrine or tells the individual Meetings how to behave or worship. However, there are two basic “types” of Quaker worship, which are represented by the two types you’ve run into. “Programmed” or “pastoral” Friends Meetings tend to be Christ-centered and closer to conventional Christianity in practice. They usually incorporate significant portions of silence into their worship services, but also will have Bible readings and singing and preaching (hence the “pastoral” or “programmed” part). Other Meetings, called “Silent” or “Non-pastoral” tend to be more liberal and less doctrine-based, and worship is conducted primarily in silence, with individuals occasionally rising to share a message or a song or a reading. Both types can and do co-exist in the same cities.

      Individuals within any given Meeting–pastoral on non-pastoral–may be more or less “Christ-centered” than other individuals. Beliefs among members can vary widely. The common core at the center of both styles of worship is that we have a direct connection with God, who speaks to us individually without the need for the intercession of a priest or minister. This has been true of Quakers since the beginning of the faith, and was the chief differentiator from the Church of England that was the government-sponsored religion of the time (in England–Puritanism was the chief religion in what would become the U.S.) and that forced people to receive their religion handed down from government-appointed priests.

      I wouldn’t call either type “pure deception” or “totally evil.” I don’t think Jesus would either, frankly, based on my understanding of his life and teachings. No one is lying about what they believe. Those who have followed the non-pastoral road believe it is more in keeping with the spirit of the original Quakers in that they are listening to the still small voice of God in the way that makes sense to them (whether that means communing with Jesus or something more amorphous or personal to them), much as early Quakers did. Of course, pastoral followers believe they are closer to the original Quakers because they still hold Jesus at the center of their worship at all times. As for being evil, I can’t imagine calling anyone evil who produces as much good in this world as Quakers have and do. Read any piece of history with acute attention and you’ll find Quakers of both styles at the center of caring for the needy, championing the cause of the underdog, and always behaving in a peaceful manner with the other cheek turned to any insult. Just as Jesus said we should.

    • 😀 Thank you! I re-read the article “through Mom’s eyes” and got really tickled imagining you laughing at certain parts. Thank you for reading and posting.

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