David and Goliath: issues of war stories and assemblies. A reflection
This short reflection is to help me get my head around this afternoon’s assembly!
Or just read the assembly on David and Goliath
When we preach or speak it seems like we spend more time on the presentation than on the actual content. Richard Littledale wrote about the content issue, and I agree. I don’t use powerpoint. I avoid clever methods. I just…talk.
Ok, so having read some of these ideas in this blog you will say I do more than talk. The reason I use methods is so that I can keep the kids engaged. Because I am with the same children week after week I have to use different ways to engage different learning styles on the way through. I try not to think of them as illustrations however, because then the illustration can get in the way of the actual message, and worse, the bible. So when I come to prepare an assembly I try to start where the kids are.
In today’s exercise, it’s about standing up to bullies (theme set by the school) using the text of David and Goliath (text set by the school). The danger here, like Richard says, is to let the presentation of David and Goliath get in the way of valuable teaching. There are so many slip-ups that can be made along the way, and even without techy-point my stories can become the main focus. Plus I have reception to year 6! I know also that some of the children have been hearing the story of David and Goliath already in school…
I have had an experience which makes me acutely sensitive to the issues that may be involved: that of religious tolerance. It all happened when I was thrust in the middle of a training event into a scenario whereby there was a supposedly a fire and I had to communicate the essential message in one minute flat. I did an all out attempt, and hated the fact I knew where this was going. Please note that the following is NOT what I believe!!!! But crudely taken, the text of David and Goliath can be presented as this.
- God loves some people more than others
- God wants to destroy some people because they are naughty
- Those people who don’t love God are naughty…etc etc
I repeat, this is bad handling of Scripture and I don’t believe it to be true. The problem is that this story is told over and over, in church, Sunday school, and the classroom without a second thought as to what it is actually saying. It is in fact a great story of good overcoming evil. But who are we classing as evil? And within the context of bullying, are we saying that if we are faced by a bully we should throw a stone at them? And although we could argue that we can explain the issues, when you are dealing with primary schools no matter what you say, this is precisely what they might hear.
So how can we handle a story about what is essentially religious warfare in a way that is going to be positive in school?
Option 1. Don’t use it. Simple, avoid it. However we could do that with all sorts of texts from the Bible.
Option 2. Get on with it, and hope no one notices. I can’t do that, because I would notice!
Option 3. Try to find the way through such a tricky passage. I think that this is the only way through. I will attempt now to pick the passage apart. Broad story. It’s a rough time for God’s people. They are facing a time when some really nasty people, who have the kind of habits that would make any mainstream religion turn away in disgust. And God wants them out. Main problem is that they are in the way of God’s saving plan for humanity. As is the custom for the time, certainly in epic stories, a champion comes from either side to fight.
The idea was it would save much bloodshed…though it didn’t always work in practice.
Goliath is the enemy champion; Israel has no one. By challenging God’s people Goliath is challenging God. David, a young lad who isn’t yet of fighting age but full of God’s spirit finds himself in the midst of this mess, and is the only one who will trust God enough to make a difference. He can’t fall back on anything else like weapons or armour which do not belong to him: he has no experience of them, nor do they belong to him. He goes out, and faces Goliath, and wins. Was it God’s hand who guided the stone? (oddly, there are similar epic stories which speak of such things in other cultures…). And the bad guys meet their destiny…
Here are the issues and problems as I see them.
- This takes place nearly 3 millenia ago…a time when things were different in wars.
- I suspect it was compiled during the exile as an encouragement story for the exiles as to the calling of the people to faithfulness. I don’t doubt it happened, but I think the triumphalist nature needs to be born in mind.
- David isn’t defending himself, he is defending God’s honour.
- It’s all about the experience God has given David so far:
- David is who he is and can be no one else:
- David uses what God provides him with.
- From what I understand, it would be wrong to use the phrase ‘Philistine’ since it is a closely related word to the word used by Muslims to describe their home-land people. Please don’t quote me on this, but correct me if I am wrong! Again, this is set some 3 thousand years ago and has nothing to do with modern Muslims. In which case it is right that we refer to Goliath and co. as God’s enemies.
The outline of the ideas is in the first mindmap, and the assembly in the second mindmap.
I know that people aren’t so keen on mindmaps and they are very personal, so in the next post I will write what I will say.
Hopefully all of this will show you some of my thinking as I put together what is a very well known story but could be used in all sorts of inappropriate ways, particularly when we are in remembrance season.
Read the assembly here: assembly on David and Goliath