As a child, part of my biblical education included Sunday School. For the uninitiated, Sunday School was like regular school except it focused exclusively on the Bible. The education usually lasted about an hour every Sunday morning and included a variety of activities to entertain and educate children about the important life and doctrinal lessons to be gleaned from the pages of Scripture. It also included the added bonus of Kool-Aid and a snack. Kool-Aid drinking was encouraged regularly very early on in my church, and vivid in my memory was the use of a flannel board to communicate the stories of the Bible. A flannel board was a bulletin board of sorts with a soft layer of material on which card stock and paper cut out characters would be placed. As the teacher would place the scene, the animals, and the characters that appeared in the story, one by one on the flannel board, the story would evolve from words to pictures. The story would come to life in the features of those two-dimensional cut outs.
I distinctly remember that on one occasion, a favorite Sunday School teacher gave me one of these discarded packets for my personal use and entertainment. My ten-year-old self couldn’t have been happier, as now I had the means to evangelize all who were in my household. My older sister didn’t share my enthusiasm, as she and her heathen boyfriend were often my audience. As they “courted” in the living room, they provided a captive audience for me to share my gospel presentations in the living color and dynamism of the flannel board. I was an obnoxious child.
I would recount the story of creation, Abraham, Joseph and his brothers, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Jonah, Jesus and His disciples, The Acts of the Apostles with every piece of that flannel collection, often with Jesus as a substitute for multiple characters. It worked because, apparently the creators of the biblical cut outs believed that pretty much everyone in the Bible was a bearded white guy. And herein was one of the many limitations of my biblical flannel collection. The characters were flat and the stories were limited by my understanding of the details. And no matter how well intentioned me or my numerous Sunday School teachers were, none of us could move beyond the flatness of the material we were given.
As I now reflect in my maturity on those simpler times, I’m simultaneously filled with a strange nostalgia and a quiet resignation. A resignation that no matter how much knowledge I gain about the Scriptures or how much wisdom I’m able to retain, ultimately my knowledge and wisdom will fall flat when compared to true depth of the person and work of Jesus. Like a child playing in a mud puddle on the edge of the Grand Canyon, my best pontifications are meaningless meanderings. God is not a card board cutout. Yet too often my faith is communicated with clichéd repetitions that are as flat as the apathies that inspire them.
The English author, poet and playwright Dorothy Sayers once observed, “Not Herod, not Caiaphas, not Pilate, not Judas ever contrived to fasten upon Jesus Christ the reproach of insipidity; that final indignity was left for pious hands to inflict. To make of His story something that could neither startle, nor shock, nor terrify, nor excite, nor inspire a living soul is to crucify the Son of God afresh.”
May my tendencies at insipidity be replaced with a true heart of worship to know my God in the face and flesh of Jesus Christ and to bend the knee of my existence in total abandoned surrender to His consuming love.