Example #41 Stories and RE

What if Bible stories encouraged curiosity and engagement?

Margaret wanted to encourage her Primary religious education class to ask questions about Bible stories. Just telling the stories was not promoting curiosity concerning the big issues they raised.

"I decided to change my approach, and tell the stories with no names. I just gave the people in the stories titles or descriptions: The One, The Man Alone, The One who Listens, the Man who Prayed, etc. At no point did I mention places or names. I retold the stories using small figures with blank faces so that the class had to work out what they might be thinking and feeling. I wrote a script for each Bible story that was a reflective presentation of the story. For a sample see: http://www.barnabasinchurches.org.uk/pdfs/9781841015323.pdf

"I presented my reflective Bible stories with pupils sitting in a circle on the carpet. I sat with them as part of the circle and the story was played out on a cloth in order to draw the children in. At the end of each session the students replayed the story using the figures and considered what the people might have been thinking and feeling. I wrote a series of questions to get them started on creating their own questions about the story. Pupils made their own suggestions concerning the identity of the figures then read the Bible story from a children’s Bible. The reflective script for retelling the story helped pupils to engage with the issues it raised."

What’s going on here?

Margaret saw religious education as an opportunity for stimulating questioning and engagement, and inviting attentiveness to others' experiences through the characters in a story.

She engaged students through the experience of storytelling and asking them to reflect on the possible feelings and identities of the characters, creating an opening for empathy.

She reshaped her practice by reshaping her lesson structure (the Bible story last), using different words, questions, and objects to create fresh perspective on the story (no names, figures with blank faces), and by structuring students' interaction (circle on the carpet).

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Asking questions is not the opposite of faith; it is faith seeking understanding. In the Bible, believers such as Job and Jeremiah ask very blunt questions. The security of a loving relationship with God gives people the freedom to ask about the difficult things found in the Bible and in the world. Asking questions does not mean there will always be answers. Sometimes we have to live with unanswered questions or ambiguities but faith helps believers to live with ambiguity.

What difference does it make?

Margaret changed religious education from a time of just taking in information to one of asking questions and engaging with issues. This drew the pupils into more active engagement with the Bible stories and changed their experience of an RE lesson.

Where could we go from here?

This approach could be used with other subjects with storytelling elements. The small figures do not have to be used, just a reflective story with anonymous characters and places. Omitting key details in a story can be used to provoke reflection.

Digging deeper

Belief in a God whose wisdom is expressed in his world means that curiosity and asking questions can be positive; they are how we find out about God’s world. Apathy is the opposite of curiosity, it is a lack of interest and involvement in the world, not being fully alive. Jesus said he came to bring fullness of life (John 10:10).

The glory of God is a man fully alive. Irenaeus

Curiosity and questioning are not the opposite of faith, they can feed faith and be part of taking God and his world seriously. In the Bible people ask the big questions such as: ‘Why do the wicked prosper?’ (Job 21:7).

The first key to wisdom is defined, of course, as assiduous and frequent questioning. Peter Abelard

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. Albert Einstein

For Christians, questions are asked within a framework of faith but that does not mean that hard questions about key issues of faith cannot be asked. Spiritual apathy is seen as a serious condition in the Bible (Revelation 3:16). God looked kindly on Job who asked the hard questions.

Explore similar examples:

What if electronic quizzes helped teachers to think about the purpose of learning?
What if religious education were about reason and faith working together?
What if learning about blessings became being a blessing to others?

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1Jesus said: I tell you for certain that only thieves and robbers climb over the fence instead of going in through the gate to the sheep pen. 2But the gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and he goes in through it. The sheep know their shepherd's voice. He calls each of them by name and leads them out. 4When he has led out all his sheep, he walks in front of them, and they follow, because they know his voice. 5The sheep will not follow strangers. They don't recognize a stranger's voice, and they run away. 6Jesus told the people this story. But they did not understand what he was talking about. Jesus is the good shepherd 7Jesus said: I tell you for certain that I am the gate for the sheep. 8Everyone who came before me was a thief or a robber, and the sheep did not listen to any of them. 9I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved. Through me they will come and go and find pasture. 10A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it fully. 11I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep. 12Hired workers are not like the shepherd. They don't own the sheep, and when they see a wolf coming, they run off and leave the sheep. Then the wolf attacks and scatters the flock. 13Hired workers run away because they don't care about the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. 15Just as the Father knows me, I know the Father, and I give up my life for my sheep. 16I have other sheep that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them together too, when they hear my voice. Then there will be one flock of sheep and one shepherd. 17The Father loves me, because I give up my life, so that I may receive it back again. 18No one takes my life from me. I give it up willingly! I have the power to give it up and the power to receive it back again, just as my Father commanded me to do. 19The people took sides because of what Jesus had told them. 20Many of them said, He has a demon in him! He is mad! Why listen to him? 21But others said, How could anyone with a demon in him say these things? No one like that could give sight to a blind person! Jesus is rejected 22That winter, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Temple Festival. 23One day he was walking in that part of the temple known as Solomon's Porch, 24and the people gathered all around him. They said, How long are you going to keep us guessing? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly! 25Jesus answered: I have told you, and you refused to believe me. The things I do by my Father's authority show who I am. 26But since you are not my sheep, you don't believe me. 27My sheep know my voice, and I know them. They follow me, 28and I give them eternal life, so that they will never be lost. No one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father gave them to me, and he is greater than all others. No one can snatch them from his hands, 30and I am one with the Father. 31Once again the Jewish leaders picked up stones in order to kill Jesus. 32But he said, I have shown you many good things that my Father sent me to do. Which one are you going to stone me for? 33They answered, We are not stoning you because of any good thing you did. We are stoning you because you did a terrible thing. You are just a man, and here you are claiming to be God! 34Jesus replied: In your Scriptures doesn't God say, You are gods? 35You can't argue with the Scriptures, and God spoke to those people and called them gods. 36So why do you accuse me of a terrible sin for saying that I am the Son of God? After all, it is the Father who prepared me for this work. He is also the one who sent me into the world. 37If I don't do as my Father does, you should not believe me. 38But if I do what my Father does, you should believe because of that, even if you don't have faith in me. Then you will know for certain that the Father is one with me, and I am one with the Father. 39Again they wanted to arrest Jesus. But he escaped 40and crossed the Jordan to the place where John had earlier been baptizing. While Jesus was there, 41many people came to him. They were saying, John didn't perform any miracles, but everything he said about Jesus is true. 42A lot of those people also put their faith in Jesus. The death of Lazarus
1Job said: 2If you want to offer comfort, then listen to me. 3And when I have finished, you can start your insults all over again. 4My complaint is against God; that's why I am impatient. 5Just looking at me is enough to make you sick, 6and the very thought of myself fills me with disgust. 7Why do evil people live so long and gain such power? 8Why are they allowed to see their children grow up? 9They have no worries at home, and God never punishes them. 10Their cattle have lots of calves without ever losing one; 11their children play and dance safely by themselves. 12These people sing and celebrate to the sound of tambourines, small harps, and flutes, 13and they are successful, without a worry, until the day they die. Leave us alone! 14Those who are evil say to God All-Powerful, Leave us alone! Don't bother us with your teachings. 15What do we gain from praying and worshipping you? 16We succeeded all on our own. And so, I keep away from them and their evil schemes. 17How often does God become angry and send disaster and darkness to punish sinners? 18How often does he strike them like a storm that scatters straw? 19You say, God will punish those sinners' children in place of those sinners. But I say, Let him punish those sinners themselves until they really feel it. 20Let God All-Powerful force them to drink their own destruction from the cup of his anger. 21Because after they are dead, they won't care what happens to their children. Who can tell God what to do? 22Who can tell God what to do? He judges powerful rulers. 23Some of us die prosperous, enjoying good health, 25while others die in poverty, having known only pain. 26But we all end up dead, beneath a blanket of worms. 27My friends, I know that you are plotting against me. 28You ask, Where is the home of that important person who does so much evil? 29Everyone, near and far, agrees 30that those who do wrong never suffer disaster, when God becomes angry. 31No one points out their sin or punishes them. 32Then at their funerals, they are highly praised; 33the earth welcomes them home, while crowds mourn. 34But empty, meaningless words are the comfort you offer me. What use are we humans to God?
1This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Sardis: I have the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. Listen to what I say. I know what you are doing. Everyone may think you are alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! You have only a little strength left, and it is almost gone. So try to become stronger. I have found that you are not completely obeying God. 3Remember the teaching that you were given and that you heard. Hold firmly to it and turn from your sins. If you don't wake up, I will come when you least expect it, just as a thief does. 4A few of you in Sardis have not dirtied your clothes with sin. You will walk with me in white clothes, because you are worthy. 5Everyone who wins the victory will wear white clothes. Their names will not be erased from the book of life, and I will tell my Father and his angels that they are my followers. 6If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The letter to Philadelphia The risen Lord continued: 7This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia: I am the one who is holy and true, and I have the keys that belonged to David. When I open a door, no one can close it. And when I close a door, no one can open it. Listen to what I say. 8I know everything you have done. And I have placed before you an open door that no one can close. You were not very strong, but you obeyed my message and did not deny that you are my followers. 9Now you will see what I will do with those people who belong to Satan's group. They claim to be Jews, but they are liars. I will make them come and kneel down at your feet. Then they will know that I love you. 10You obeyed my message and endured. So I will protect you from the time of testing that everyone in all the world must go through. 11I am coming soon. So hold firmly to what you have, and no one will take away the crown that you will be given as your reward. 12Everyone who wins the victory will be made into a pillar in the temple of my God, and they will stay there for ever. I will write on each of them the name of my God and the name of his city. It is the new Jerusalem that my God will send down from heaven. I will also write on them my own new name. 13If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The letter to Laodicea The risen Lord continued: 14This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Laodicea: I am the one called Amen! I am the faithful and true witness and the source of God's creation. Listen to what I say. 15I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other. 16But since you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17You claim to be rich and successful and to have everything you need. But you don't know how badly off you are. You are pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. 18Buy your gold from me. It has been refined in a fire, and it will make you rich. Buy white clothes from me. Wear them and you can cover-up your shameful nakedness. Buy medicine for your eyes, so that you will be able to see. 19I correct and punish everyone I love. So make up your minds to turn away from your sins. 20Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together. 21Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne. 22If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.