My wife attended Lutheran Catechism. My neighbor went to an Adventist Sabbath class. My college friend was enrolled in a Yeshiva. And I attended Sunday School. I suppose these are all different names for a similar religious rite of passage: The formalized instruction of the young.
Now, I don’t have very much experience with catechisms and yeshivas, but if college credit could be earned for hours spent in a Baptist Sunday School, I would have had a Ph.D. before turning ten years of age. In the pre-hyper-technological age of flannel boards, chalk drawings, and colorful construction paper, I learned the stories and doctrines of the Bible (in King James English of course); and I learned to ferociously compete with my classmates.
On the wall of my childhood Sunday School class was a giant, gridline poster board that looked sort of like a giant Excel spreadsheet. There was a place for each child’s name, and then all of these vacant boxes running to the right, eager to be filled with gold stars. Did you bring an offering? Put a gilded check in the box! Are you staying for worship? A trophy is yours. Read your Bible every day this week? Another star blesses you from heaven.
I always had a shining wall full of stars, hungry as I was for God’s elusive approval, and I sometimes led the class. Besides, I could not let my twin sister get more celestial rewards than me. Then I would be shamed both at church and at home. And then there was Philip Johns, my most fierce competitor. He was a religious machine.
I could only beat him a few months out of each year, and in my daily prayers I had to often repent for wishing he would get struck with the flu, chickenpox, or leprosy – anything – so that he would be sidelined just long enough for me to squeak out the winning margin. Never mind the fact that he was the pastor’s son, something that I felt gave him an unfair advantage.