All posts tagged: theology

Telling the Story in Teaching Religion

My constant beef with middle school religion textbooks: There is no story. They just contain a hodge-podge of information strung together. Even when a particular grade level’s book has a theme, the chapters still follow each other like a gaudy striped scarf instead of a tapestry that weaves a picture. In one unit of seventh grade, the chapters cover giving alms and St. Francis, the Eucharist, the two great commandments, and then the raising of Lazarus. Now, these are all areas ripe for discussion, which I would love to share with my seventh grade students. However, a random bunch of topics is not memorable. It is not relevant. It leads to students asking questions like, “Am I ever going to need to know any of this?” and “Why are we learning this?” and “How do we even know any of this is true, anyway?” At the beginning of Unit 3 (not ideal, but better late than never) I finally attempted to give all three grades some context. I talked about the story of salvation: God’s …

Echo Teaching Theology

Incarnation and Re-Incarnation

Taking summer Theology classes at Notre Dame last June, I heard John Cavadini say more than once, “Our children know more about re-incarnation than the Incarnation.” I thought it was catchy, and that it was a testament to Dr. Cavadini’s commitment to helping all of us taking Theology MA classes be better catechists. I didn’t imagine it was a literal comment about the knowledge of my future students. About a month later, I found myself in Indianapolis, teaching Religion to about a hundred and twenty middle school students through the Notre Dame Echo program. The topic for the seventh graders is “The Story of Jesus” and since unit one is all about the “Mystery of the Incarnation,” I devoted a couple days in class to exploring that term with my seventh graders. As soon as I put up the definition of “Incarnation” on the board, in both classes, I immediately got a hand up in the air, “Ms. Burr, isn’t that the thing where you could be an animal?” Had I not heard the phrase …

God’s Patience and the Bible

“Mr. Manfredi, why didn’t God just send Jesus right after the Fall? Why didn’t He just nip this whole sin thing in the bud?” “Why did he even bother with all these covenants before Jesus and just get to the real deal?” “Why is the Bible so cryptic? If God wants us to understand it, why not just put it more simply?” These are the kinds of questions a high school theology teacher who teaches the Scriptures hears everyday. To be sure, these are good questions. They display a higher level of thinking. These kinds of questions indicate that the wheels are turning, someone is home, there are signs of life. I love these questions. Perhaps I love them so much because they are often very difficult to answer and I love a challenge. Mostly, I love these questions because the students are clearly in the midst of learning something immeasurably valuable. They are learning to deal with the dissatisfaction and frustration that studying scripture often brings. They are learning the virtue of patience. Patience is …

The Science of Love

A girl is standing in front of the teacher, a girl rather small for her age. The round face is quite childlike, while the slight body already betrays the early maturity of this southern race. The girl is clad in a peasant smock. She wears wooden shoes. But everyone, not the children only, wear them here, except those very few who belong to the so-called better circles. The brown eyes of the girl are calm under the nun’s gaze. Their expression is uninhibited and dreamy and almost apathetic. There is something in that expression which troubles Sister Marie Therese. ‘So you really know nothing of the Holy Trinity, dear child?” The girl keeps her eyes on the teacher and answers unabashed in a high, clear voice: “No, sister, I know nothing about it.” “And you’ve never even heard of it?” The girl reflects at some length. “Maybe I’ve heard about it…” The nun closes her book with a little bang. Real pain shows on her features. “I’m puzzled my child. Are you pert or indifferent …

Beauty and Theology

Throughout its long history, theology has certainly seemed more comfortable understanding itself through its claim to truth or goodness than to beauty. It is not that the connection between theology and beauty has never been notarized. One simply has to recall the early Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the Dionysian tradition to realize that this is not true—even if beginning with Tertullian and proceeding through the iconoclasm controversy and on to the Reformation, faith in the Cross made it difficult to think of theology and beauty being anything other than bitter rivals, when it came to allure and existential pledge. Of course, throughout the long histories of Catholic, Orthodox, and even Protestant theologies, there have been internal corrections. The Catholic theologian Matthias Scheeben might  represent a correction within the late nineteenth-century form of Neo-Scholasticism, with its forged alliance between propositionalism and moralism. And, of course, in the Reform tradition no theologian showed a greater openness to beauty than Jonathan Edwards, without succumbing in the slightest to the emerging temptation to elevate beauty while essentially dethroning God. Pace …

Contemplating the Cosmos: God is Good—at Physics

One of the first questions people ask me, upon learning I am a physics major, is what exactly I study. In an abstract sense, I study the universe—its fundamental particles, forces, and the mathematics used to describe their interactions. Since this is usually still too broad, I describe my particular field of research: nuclear astrophysics. My advisor and I write and run computer code to simulate supernovae, the collapse and subsequent detonation of massive stars. Supernovae, as it turns out, are element factories, taking light elements (hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen, etc.) and fusing them together to form heavier elements. In the words of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, “We are all connected, to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, and to the rest of the universe atomically.” We owe our very existence—the elements in our bodies, in the air, and in the soil—to the stars, and to the nuclear physics governing them. But to what—or to Whom—do we owe physics? Any intellectual pursuit must begin with wonder. One of my most profound experiences of this …

Contemplating the Cosmos: An Introduction

I remember that when I was applying to Notre Dame, one of the questions I was asked on my application was this:  “Why should we care about the rings of Saturn?”  That question really intrigued me, and I believe I wrote something along these lines:  If there were no universe surrounding this planet Earth, then human beings would have very little reason to think about their existence and be drawn to contemplation of a reality outside of themselves.  We would be self-enclosed, turned inwards, and greatly lacking in creativity and imagination.  Instead, the existence of Saturn and its rings inspire us to contemplate our place in this vast universe and think about why we are here.  We are invited into a particularity other than our own.  On the other hand, compared with immensity of the ever-expanding cosmos, we feel so small.  We then have to ask ourselves this question:  Do our transient lives matter at all? I often feel overwhelmed by these questions on days when I sit alone on a bench outside and marvel …