(Excerpt from upcoming book Don’t Throw Underwear on the Table & Other Lessons Learned at Work)…
I’ve always tried to teach my kids by taking advantage of teachable moments. Rather than creating formal lesson plans, I would use existing stories, cartoons, or sermons from church to teach my kids various lessons. After a church service many years ago, I asked my children if they wanted to reenact the story the minister told. They eagerly joined me on the couch.
“Okay, many years ago, the Israelites had a problem. See, they were just like all of us. They did bad things from time to time, and God wasn’t happy with the bad things they did. Wanting to make God happy, the priests came up with an idea. They gathered the whole town together every so often and they put a goat in the middle of the group. Then the priest said, ‘See this goat here? This goat is going to help us out. We all do bad things. We can’t help it. But we are going to put all of the bad things we do on the head of this goat.'”
The kids were listening intently, and I was starting to wish I had listened more carefully in church because I couldn’t even remember the point.
“So then the priest did some sort of thing with the goat.” I turned to my daughter who was almost three. “Do you want to be the goat?” Her eyes beamed and she nodded her head.”Okay, you get down on the floor, and make a goat noise.”
“B-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a,” Alana said with passion. Her goat sounded a lot like a lamb.
“Jack, you can be a goat, too,” I told him. “Join your sister on the floor.”
“So now I’m the priest, right?” I made sure they were following. Using a formal sounding voice, I announced, “By the powers invested in me as the high priest here, I order all of the bad things that all of us people in the town have done to enter the goat.” And I placed my hands on Alana’s head while she continued to bleat.
“But here’s the thing now,” I told the kids. “Because of all of the bad things that I sent inside the goat, the goat can’t stay in town. The goat has to go.”
Alana stopped bleating. “Why?” she asked, her eyes wide and sad.
At this point, I started having serious misgivings about where this story was going. Most of my stories taught a lesson, provided a moral. What was my lesson? Don’t volunteer to be a goat? I could see the news now: Seminary drop-out attempts to teach vicarious atonement to toddlers. A fund has been established to pay for the therapy the children will, no doubt, require…
A little distracted, I continued. “Because now all of the bad things we’ve done are in you,” I explained. “So now you have to leave town. Okay, now go away, shoo.” I waived her off with my hands.
Jack asked, “What about me? Can I stay?”
“Sure, you can stay. Because even though you’re both goats, Alana the goat is the one that had a bunch of bad things that she’s walking around with,” I explained.
Alana bleated a few more times as she slowly complied to hoof it across the room. She stopped once and looked back to me.
“Go! Shoo! You can’t be around here anymore.”
Alana’s b-a-a-a-a-a-a-a soon became a bawl, and tears ran down her little cheeks.
I rushed to scoop her up. “No, honey, I’m sorry. You can come back. I didn’t mean it.”
Apparently, I was not a very good high priest. I had made half of my parishioners cry, and I completely murdered the concept of atonement.
But maybe I hadn’t completely blown this teachable moment. While theologically, I massacred my original lesson, I hope that Alana saw from my reaction that I would love her always no matter what…