Faith Matters

People with gravitas

It's not exactly a spiritual gift.

When I was a young boy in Sunday school, the state of the art in media technology was the flannelgraph, a large board wrapped in flannel and perched on an easel. As our teacher, Mrs. Williams, told us a Bible story, she would place paper characters on the board when she got to their part of the drama. There were always a few palm trees and a camel or two on the board already, the background that promised another great ancient story.

The only technical problem with the flannelgraph was that the paper characters had to be pressed hard into the unfolding drama. I can still see Mrs. Williams sliding her long, boney fingers back and forth over the paper characters to get them to stay on the board. The wrinkly apostle Paul always took extra effort to smooth out. Someone once spilled Kool-Aid on him, which left him purple. Another time, Johnny Burke and I got in a fight over who would hand the apostle to Mrs. Williams, and we tore his little head off. So, in addition to being discolored, Paul was now taped together. Clearly, he had been used a lot in the biblical stories.

While it may not have been her intent, Mrs. Williams was proclaiming a holy mystery to her third-graders: God is not easy on the people who are used in the biblical drama. When we look at most of the leading characters in scripture, it’s clear that by the end of their life they’re all stained and taped together. But none of them seem to have any regrets about their hard lives.