Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Day in the Life of Ecumenism

On Monday, the thing I had most feared upon beginning to teach religion in a Catholic school came to pass. It shouldn't really have come as a surprise; it's more or less why so many people furrow their brow in bewilderment when they hear about my gig. I was handed a lesson plan that took off from the sixth commandment (ironically, "sexto" in Spanish): "You shall not commit adultery." Which is all well and good, but the teacher was taking advantage of the topic to summarize the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality. That is, sexual pleasure separated from procreation is "gravely and intrinsically disordered," as are extramarital sex, masturbation, and homosexuality.

My first reaction was "Dammit, why couldn't I have stayed on vacation just one more day?" My second was "This is precisely why I don't want to work in a church." I reviewed my options: teaching the lesson as it was presented to me was out of the question. That left as my options:
1) recusing myself
2) refashioning the lesson plan so that I felt I could teach it and maintain my integrity, while
a) contradicting what the Catholic Church taught, or
b) avoiding those points I found detestable, while teaching something that was more or less in keeping with the spirit of the lesson.

Options 1 and 2a seemed the most heroic, but also seemed to solicit conflict that probably wouldn't come to anything good. I opted for 2b. It may be overly conciliatory, but I saw no fruit in being deliberately contentious in this situation, even for a cause I think is just.

So I focused closely on the theme of adultery. I explained that not commiting adultery means being faithful to the promises you make to those you love. The teacher had put the quote from Jesus that "He who looks on a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." I took advantage of that to link back to an earlier theme we had expounded, that sin comes from the heart; intention matters just like action does, and if you don't want to reap adulterous actions than you shouldn't sow and nurture adulterous intentions. This brought us to the point of "pirropos" or cat calls, which are really common here. Does this constitute sinning, according to what Jesus says? A fair number of the kids said, "No, pirropos come from cariƱo (affection), they´re not morboso (lewd)." Incidentally, this observation has led me to consider more carefully the tone of the shout outs I get on the street, and I have to admit that most, though not all, of them do seem more friendly than lewd.

In what time reminded, I left it up to them to reflect about masturbation, sexual pleasure, and homosexuality. I had them answer the questions "What is it?" and "Can it be holy?" (Always/Sometimes/Never). I haven't checked their answers, but I decided that if they wanted to lecture themselves about the evils of homosexuality, I was not in a position to instruct them otherwise, even if they would have believed me.

And so I got through the class, discovering my first major effort at finding a religious middle road wasn't as bad as I had expected. Really, it is only because of my incredible fortune to be in supportive churches that I haven't been in this situation before. I've been lucky that the school has given me such free reign in my lessons, and that the book they gave me to teach from is so justice-oriented. Even so, it was inevitable that this day would come. I hope, as they arise in the future, I will be able to face them with courage and grace.

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