Sunday School


There was no lack of passion in the small child’s voice as he pleaded with his playmate to trade one large red Lego for two small blue Legos.

“Joseph! Please Joseph, let me have them! Remember Zacchaeus? You should share!”

Noah took trading opportunities very seriously. Time was limited and if he was unable to secure the required resources, his intergalactic battle cruiser would never be completed in time for launch. The project had to move forward. The moon and stars beyond beckoned to be explored and all Noah needed now was to reinforce the right wing and add some more guns. He had already swiftly engineered five fierce laser cannons and firmly affixed them to the belly of the craft. The laser cannons were powerful – best in class – but that would not be enough to deal with god-knows-what he might encounter out there. He needed guns and more guns, and he needed them NOW.

It was seven minutes to eleven, and free time was nearly over. Noah never could understand why the adults always failed to allow enough time for this most important part of the day. So much time had already been wasted watching the lame video of sock puppets singing songs while clapping hands. Most of the others found this highly amusing and poor Noah had no idea why. To Noah, they seemed empty and puerile. Clapping? Why was clapping along to puppet songs so damn funny? Hadn’t these kids seen Pinocchio yet? Noah had learned that there was no glory in being a puppet and so he despised anything to do with puppets.

Noah was driven in a way that the others weren’t. He felt different and alone. He was tempted to think that he was a little bit more advanced than his peers, but no… he knew that he shouldn’t think like that. Even at the tender young age of five-and-two-thirds he knew that such high and mighty self-absorption would get him in trouble. There were times he wished that he were more like all the others. They seemed to be having so much fun – unless they were engaged in a fit of tears – which was not all that uncommon. Giggling and squirming throughout the lesson, each child displayed a brief interlude of self-control, solemnity, and piety as the donation hat passed by. All looked on carefully as each in turn pretended to put money in it.

Noah didn’t have to struggle against his wiggling squirming little body like the others did. His will was exceedingly strong and he was fully in control of all of his faculties. He always paid attention and he always knew the answers to the adults’ questions. Sometimes he even corrected the adults’ mistakes. At the end of every class, the backs of his hands were always fully gloved in gold star stickers, yet despite all these achievements he felt a persistent nagging dissatisfaction.

Today’s Sunday school lesson, like all the others before it, was about some ancient dead people with funny sounding names. There was something about a short man named Zacchaeus hiding in a tree, and he gave away all the taxes he’d been hoarding. Noah had a vague impression that the word “taxes” was another name for “sharing”, so he wasn’t quite sure how someone could be hoarding and sharing at the same time. He set aside his doubts for the moment and focused on the fact that sharing was good. This seemed to be all the adults required him to agree with today, so he agreed sincerely. Noah made a heartfelt renewal of his commitment to share and he was genuinely optimistic about his ability to fulfill this commitment. He felt inspired to be noble. Perhaps if he could be a truly noble boy then he would no longer feel the nagging dissatisfaction that made him perpetually rigid and unhappy. Henceforward he would share, and this would make Jesus happy, and this would make the adults happy, and if they were all happy with him then he would be happy with himself. Yes, this was it! He would do. the right. thing.

Joseph, however, was NOT sharing.

“Joseph! You should SHARE!”

Joseph stiffened at Noah’s repeated rebuke. The lesson of the day had not been lost on Joseph and Noah’s remonstrance was somewhat effective. Joseph too had felt deeply inspired by the puppet songs, the gold stars, and the endless trance inducing clapping to commit to a higher path – a noble life of sharing taxes, but Joseph did not look up or even acknowledge Noah’s presence. Joseph sat stoically stacking Legos from his dwindling pile. Joseph did not want to make a deal with Noah and he hardened himself against any emotional reaction to Noah’s manipulations. Joseph was engaged in his own serious project and he too felt the tyranny of the clock as Sunday school was rapidly nearing its end. Joseph’s project was just as monumental and important as Noah’s – possibly more so. Joseph was constructing a gun – a very large and very serious next generation super-weapon. The barrel was high caliber. The magazine capacity was infinity. The scope could zoom for miles, and every guided round exploded upon impact raining untold devastation upon the enemy. There was only one problem: he had yet to complete the trigger assembly and he was about to run out of Legos.

Every Sunday morning at ten ’o’clock, the adults began the hour long noble war against the savage chaos – attempting to impose structure upon the wiggling young minds. By 10:45 attention spans were taking heavy casualties and morale on all fronts had reached a dangerous low, so with only fifteen minutes remaining (unless the pastor felt led to make an alter call – god-forbid) the adults would finally take a much needed break and release the children into the playroom for free time.

Like calves from the stall, the children bounded into the playroom, and Noah, leading the herd, was first to reach the five gallon bucket full of Legos. With a huff and a heave of growing boy strength, Noah hefted the full bucket high above his head and dumped its contents onto the floor. The satisfaction of being first, the feat of physical exertion at having lifted a giant bucket half the size of his own body, the crashing sound, and the limitless potential represented by the newly created colorful chaos on the floor, all yielded a uniquely satisfying experience. It was invigorating – a brief bright interlude in his perpetual scene of gray. Just a few minutes ago he had been subjected to repetitive lessons designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He had been enmeshed in the rigid structure of rules and hierarchy. Noah had adapted to that structure well and was climbing to the top of it as best he knew how while earning every gold star along the way, but here with a fresh pile of Legos he experienced a much greater kind of satisfaction. Here he had the opportunity to create – to make his own structures and invent his own rules.

In this moment of existential bliss a scripture popped into his magnificent little mind: “In the beginning was the Legos, and the Legos were with God.” He remembered this scripture well because it was about Legos and he was pleased that God played with Legos too. (In English this verse reads: “In the beginning was the Word…” but his father had taught him that the Greek word for “Word” was “Legos” and so he preferred the Greek translation. Of course “Logos” is technically correct, but Noah’s young ear heard the more familiar “Legos”, and thus he accidentally solved one of the deeper mysteries of the universe. Unfortunately Noah and almost everyone else would remain ignorant of this discovery for quite some time.)

Other children attracted by the great crashing sound and the waterfall of color quickly gathered around. Noah began fabricating his intergalactic battle cruiser. Joseph began machining his gun. Jacob began growing a dinosaur. Ruthie began constructing a tower. And Hannah began sculpting the face of Jesus.

All projects progressed peacefully for a minute or two until the endless supply of Legos suddenly seemed to be not so endless. The current rate of consumption was going to exhaust the supply before project completion, so the small society of builders began to work more hurriedly – frantically fastening one Lego atop another. After another moment or two each realized that speed would not be enough. Forward thinking was required, so each began to shovel small piles of Legos closer to his or her own project areas in order to establish some zoning boundaries and secure some sort of claims of ownership on what resources remained.

The impending sense of scarcity began to have a deleterious effect on the various designs. Aesthetic sacrifices had to be made. Noah’s intergalactic battle cruiser would still fly okay with a stubby right wing. Joseph would have to do without the secondary laser sight. Jacob’s Tyrannosaurus Rex didn’t really need those useless front arms. Ruthie’s modern Tower of Babel didn’t need spirals all the way to the top; she could more efficiently stack one brick atop another endlessly. Hannah’s rendition of Jesus didn’t need a right eye – all he really needed was a smile.

As the evaporating parts piles began revealing bare patches of floor, some of the children began casting jealous glances at the projects of the others. A disproportionate number of threatening looks were directed towards Ruthie’s tall tower. Although she had employed roughly the same number of Lego blocks as the other projects, the phenomenal height of her structure created the impression that she was hogging more than her fair share. The height to width ratio was not structurally sound and it seemed rather like a tacky waste of resources. It had become an eyesore upon the landscape and it was totally impractical. Who could live in such a skinny tower? It was already wobbling back and forth and the slightest breeze might knock it down.

Oblivious to the growing discontent besieging her tower, Ruthie – ever the diligent worker – continued unimaginatively stacking one Lego atop another.

Jacob was the first to make a move. Sitting cross legged next to her, he reached across the boundary between his zone and Ruthie’s, snatched a handful of Legos from her pile, and dumped them on his own pile.

“Stop!” With a porcine squeal and pink flushed face Ruthie glared daggers at Jacob. He knew better than to meet her glance, so he looked down and busied himself with the claws on his T-Rex.

A slight grin began to grow at the corners of Jacob’s mouth as he sensed that he had threatened more than just Ruthie’s ridiculous tower. Ruthie’s mental state seemed to be just as precariously high strung and unbalanced as her skinny structure. He sensed a great store of potential energy for which the tower was merely the trigger, and touchy tiny triggers attached to big bangs beg to be bumped.

If only Ruthie had been slightly more indifferent about the success of her tower; if only she were slightly more realistic in her designs; if only she accepted that one way or another the tower would soon be demolished anyway; if only she had taken her project less seriously, then it might not have been such a temptation to knock it down, but Ruthie was very serious and her tower was very tall, and so she and her tower became the target of the natural impulse to tear down the tall serious thing.

Joseph struck next. He needed a trigger assembly for his gun; otherwise the next generation superweapon would be worthless. As Ruthie stood up on her tippy-toes to position another Lego atop her tower, Joseph reached across the floor, grabbed two fistfuls of Legos, and dropped them onto his own pile.

“Stawwwp!!! Those are miiiine!”

This time Ruthie was not just angry, she was deeply hurt at being “taxed”. The fact that her resources were funding the research and development of the next generation super-weapon offered no consolation. She now had a mere five Legos remaining while the others each had small piles.

Noah was still in desperate need of two small blue Legos. He rummaged through his pile once more and could not find the exact Legos he needed, so once again he eyed Ruthie’s tower. Noah’s jaw set tighter and he leaned slightly forward as he began to feel the pull of his baser instincts. With the social taboo of robbery now twice broken… or was it robbery? Wasn’t Ruthie acting like Zacchaeus and hoarding taxes? If she wasn’t going to share, then wasn’t she in the wrong and shouldn’t she be forced to share? Ruthie was now clearly seen by the others as the enemy of the common good. Everyone – even gentle holy Hannah – now secretly desired to see Ruthie’s tower collapse.

So far, no one had dared to rob parts currently employed in a structure. That was really asking for a fight and could get one in deep trouble with the adults. Destroying Ruthie’s tower was a line Noah couldn’t bring himself to cross. He decided instead to make another trading proposal to Hannah for the parts he needed. “Hannah, may I please have…” Hannah cut him off by curtly cupping her hand and scooping her pile of pieces closer to her lap.

Noah sat back immensely frustrated. He decided to re-engage in the internal ethical debate hoping that perhaps the devil within might win the second round, but some loud noises across the room disrupted the argument. Terrible screams, shrieks, and guttural growls put everyone on notice that Jacob’s dinosaur had suddenly come alive.

“Rawwr!!!” “Reeeaaaaawwwwrrr!!!” Jacob’s T-Rex swooped up and down left and right as it stomped about the room wreaking havoc on everything and everyone that lay in his path. His tail took out another child’s puzzle and knocked over a stack of books.

This devastating monster had to be stopped before the whole room was destroyed! The National Guard was called into service. Joseph with his future-tech battle rifle leapt forward and skipped around the room in hot pursuit of Jacob’s giant lizard. “Pew! Pew! Pew!” “Pew! Pew! Pew!” Jacob’s aim was precise, but the infinite supply of guided exploding bullets was no match for the thick reptile hide. Something more powerful was needed. Noah’s intergalactic battle cruiser with laser canons and torpedoes seemed to be humanity’s last hope. Noah sprang into action and deftly piloted his craft swooping over chairs and diving under tables. Dodging debris, he quickly closed the gap on the terrible beast as it orbited the room.

The malevolent force of nature suddenly paused, bellowed out another terrible roar, made a sharp left turn, aligned itself with Ruthie’s tower, and began to sprint across the open ground. Between roars and shrieks, the galloping grin at the corners of Jacob’s mouth turned into a broad toothy smile. A cold-blooded lust for destruction possessed him and he tossed back his head with maniacal laughter.

Paying these silly boys no attention (it was quite normal and expected for them to engage in these sorts of dramatic scenes of violent combat) Ruthie had seized the opportunity to retrieve the unguarded booty (plus interest). She was crouching back to her tower with two fistfuls of blocks when she caught sight of Jacob and his reptile striding straight for her tower. Her eyes grew into saucers and her mouth flew open. A vein in her forehead bulged as she seemed to be straining out another refrain of “stop”, but apparently the pitch of the tone emitted was above the normal range of human auditory perception.

The Tower of Babel was facing imminent destruction and Noah was the only one who could save it. Noah knew it was now or never. He couldn’t get a radar lock on the T-Rex, so he took a chance and maneuvered in closer. In a sudden burst of warp speed Noah dove through the air towards the lizard king.

For a brief moment that seemed to stretch into minutes, Noah and his spaceship were one and the same – weightless and free.

The floor fell away and the roof turned black as night. Noah’s hard-earned golden star stickers on the backs of his hands gently peeled away and scattered out across the black night sky. The squeals and shrieks of the other children faded away to silence.

Noah found himself transported to the far side of the galaxy into a spiral arm of planets and stars no human had ever seen before. Standing inside his space ship and peering out through a window Noah saw stretched out below him the beautiful blue glass-like surface of an alien world. It was so still and calm he almost felt like he could see his own reflection upon the waters far below. Mesmerized, he continued to stare into the abyss as the ship orbited onward. A few moments later coming into view he could see red patches of land and white patches of cloud and ice. He wondered what strange creatures were hidden away on that dazzling landscape. Were there great lizards and enormous trees? Were there little boys like himself?

He looked above him and saw two great white doors with a black and yellow stripe down the middle. A buzzer sounded followed by metallic reverberations in the broad chamber. Gears churned and air whooshed as locks and seals were released. He saw a bright light stream down from above him as the bay doors cracked opened and slowly parted. Protected and comfortable in his space suit, he slowly couched then launched up and off of his toes. The light seemed to embrace him and welcome him as he floated freely into it.

Weightlessness was an exhilarating sensation. He felt like he was meant to be weightless. Maybe it was gravity that always held his spirits down and forced him to be so serious. If he could just live in space, maybe he could always be this happy.

Noah drifted up through the open bay doors, out, and away from his ship. A serene silence engulfed him and stilled his busy troubled mind. The deep black space that surrounded him seemed to enter him and fill him. He tried to think, but could not. No words could find a way into him. This was a completely new and pleasurable sensation and it made him laugh. For the first time in his life, he giggled and wiggled and made a fool of himself like all the other little children. It was as if a taught twisted up rubber band unspun itself inside of him and he laughed until his belly hurt. He laughed until tears welled up in his eyes and floated away in jiggling salty blobs inside his glass helmet. The sight of his own tear blobs wobbling around induced another fit of hilarity.

After his fits of laughter finally subsided, he breathed a deep sigh and was once again at peace. Gently rotating, he gazed back upon his abandoned ship which slowly shrank away into the distance. That was his ride home, and he should have been afraid to be drifting away from it. He knew that he should be afraid, but he wasn’t. He wondered why he wasn’t afraid. There simply was no room for fear in him. There was only space and the warm embrace of the light.

Noah looked below him and saw coming into view again the alien planet. It seemed bigger than before and darker. He could now make out a sprawling city below him. It seemed to be a magnificent city with beautiful strings of lights. It must belong to a very advanced civilization with high technology. He wondered what the alien children were like who lived there. Did they go to Sunday school too? Did they hoard taxes or share them? Did they play with Legos? Did they clap and giggle at puppets on strings? Would he fit in better there? He thought that maybe he would. The alien planet seemed to be calling to him and drawing him towards it.

Noah was spinning faster now and the planet was so close it appeared like a flat red wall as it stretched out infinitely in all directions. He was falling. Another goofy smile reappeared on his face, but something was wrong. He felt gravity begin to pull his spirits back down. A pressure began building in his mind. He could feel words knocking on the outside his space suit trying to force their way inside. The words desperately searched for a way to enter into his head. Suddenly the seals on the doors of his mind blew out and a surge of words along with panic flooded into him.

He was accelerating. He could feel faint traces of atmosphere beginning to tug against his suit and he could now see more details of the colorful city below: more clusters of dazzling lights and tall sharp buildings that stabbed the red sky. Just ahead of him was an extraordinarily tall skinny tower that rose high above all the rest. It was exceedingly sharp like the stinger on a planet-sized red wasp. An electric current seemed to run through it generated by some spiral structures at its base miles below. The top of the tower mirrored the base with a crackling vortex of cloud and fire swirling outwards. It seemed to reach the top of the atmosphere and out into the blackness of space. He could not tell whether the vortex was sucking in or spewing out or both at the same time. All Noah knew was that he was heading straight into the vortex and he was completely terrified. He instinctively kicked and twisted about in his space suit like a beached fish on the sand, but this did nothing to shift his course. The sharp skinny tower and its vortex raced towards him: closer. closer. closer. And then in a flash of lightning, thunder, and darkness it swallowed him alive.

………………………………………………………………………..

“Stah-ha-ha-ha-hawwwwp!!!” Ruthie had collapsed to the floor in a heap along with her tower and was racked by deep painful sobs. Pieces of tower were sprinkled across the floor and the two dazed boys lay in a twisted pile covered in bricks.

It was 11:00 AM and the adults came marching into the room carting Goldfish crackers and juice while chanting the cleanup song: “Clean-up! Clean-up! Every-body, every-where! Clean up! Clean up!” The other children began to catch the tune and chant along while putting their games away. Noah stood up and dusted off the Lego blocks. He was dumbfounded. What had just happened? Was that real? Did he hit his head? He stood up and inspected himself. He was slightly sore but didn’t seem to have suffered much damage.

An impatient adult hurried him along: “You don’t get any Goldfish if you don’t help clean up, Noah. Let’s put away the Legos now. Your parents are here to pick you up.”

Noah began shoveling the Lego blocks back into the five gallon bucket, but his arms didn’t feel like his own arms, and it seemed to be someone else’s legs shuffling him around. Some part of him still seemed to be floating in space on the other side of the galaxy.

……………………………………………………….

“Hey buddy, what did you learn about today?” Noah’s father quizzed him as he climbed up into the family SUV.

“Oh, we learned about a short man in a tree sharing taxes,” Noah replied.

“Zacchaeus?” Noah’s father clarified.

“Yes sir.”

“Very good. Did you obey all of the teacher’s instructions?”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s my boy!”

Typically at this point in the post-Sunday School debriefing, Noah would give a report on the number of gold stars he’d earned, but today he silently stared out the car window lost in thought. He wondered about the vision of the alien planet and the space ship and the tall tower. He tried to will himself back into the space suit to once again feel the powerful feelings that made him laugh and cry when he was floating free, but those feelings were walled off to him now. He knew they were still there somewhere inside of him, but he couldn’t figure out how to get back to them. They had returned to a compartment of his heart that he didn’t know existed before today. Now that he had tasted those feelings, he would search for them and he would not be satisfied until he could find them again.

As the family SUV turned onto Noah’s street, the old urge to boast about his achievements suddenly returned, and Noah looked down at the backs of his hands to count his gold stars, but to his astonishment he found none. Noah’s hands were completely bare.

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