Moses, Briefcases, and Crinolines. A Sunday School Take Down.


While other kids were getting their “Strawberry Shortcake” back packs I was insistent on a briefcase. I had some important stuff and no way was I going to trust it to some pony that sparkled or that dimwit Barbie.  I firmly believed that if you were going to be taken seriously, you had to dress the part.

It was really effective in church. They would herd us into Sunday School class – I am serious … this bell would sound and  this guy who looked like Moses leading the Israelites (only we were more miniature and in fluffier dresses)would take us through the wilderness (the pews) to the promised land of milk and cookies.  It would be years before I found out that “Moses” was a woman and that yes, women could have facial hair like that and really ugly brown sandals.

Sunday School was basically a babysitting service for parents.  I am not sure any of them were really that committed to church. They kind of picked and chose what parts they wanted to follow which was usually the required outfits, singing (albeit off-key) most of the words in the hymns and standing and sitting when required. After that it was like a free for all, make up your own rules as you go. They rejected the hard stuff like loving one another, not drinking themselves stupid the night before, and honesty.  In fairness some of them may have just forgotten some of it.  There are 10 rules and 6 days in between reminders and if is hard when you really really want your neighbour’s wife.  I think they just liked the idea of getting a break for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning – who cared if they all had to dress up and sing to get it.  They were puppets jumping up and down and responding to the old lady with the purple hair waving her arms in the air.

They would get the kids into the basement, closing the door to protect the parents, and make us sit on little painted chairs like somehow we would be excited to sit some more just because we were lower to the ground. People really underestimate the intelligence of children when they think they can be distracted with some bright colours and smiling, cut-out suns. First we had to perform – singing “Jesus Wants Me for A Sunbeam” – which I could never figure out. I thought Jesus knew everything and if he wanted sunbeams he should have just made us sunbeams.  I actually had a few suggestion on who to sacrifice first.  I dreamt about it …

“Aria where is Biff and what have you done with him?”

“Nothing!”   And I would go to the window and point up into the night sky.  ” Jesus wanted him for a Sunbeam … so he went.  He gave his life to the Lord.  You should be proud.”

Also – it should be noted that none of my dreams concluded with me and my grandfather alone in my bedroom with Mr. Belt.  For years that was how I could tell the difference between reality and fantasy.  Fantasy did not have a “Mr. Belt.”  The leader of the fantasy party had outlawed belts long long ago and there were never any elections.  Fantasy world is a dictatorship where my butt is NEVER under attack. Reality sucks.

So we sang to Moses about being Sunbeams and Wise men and Foolish Men who were builders. I struck construction off my list of possible careers early on – just to avoid that thin line between ending up a wise man or a fool. We would have to do all these songs with actions in them because singing about fishing without the casting and reeling in action can actually put people into a coma. I tried really getting into it and making it more realistic by screaming once when I hid “this little light of mine” under a bushel which is evidently your hand. Why can’t they just say “hand?” How are little kids supposed to know what they are even talking about? Anyway I screamed because come on people, if you put a candle under your hand it is going to burn.  How many times had I been told NOT to put my hand over the birthday cake candles because I would get burned?  And then there was Moses smiling and singing and telling us to put our little light under our hands.  So I screamed that my hand was on fire and I stopped, dropped and rolled.  I just want to put that out there that I was stopping and dropping and rolling long before that became a famous saying.   Later my butt was on fire and I learned never ever to get carried away with the song actions. Sunday School song actions must be contained.  A good rule of thumb is if what you are about to do gives you that “whee” feeling in your stomach like when you go up and down hills really fast in the car … probably not a good idea.

Notice how the teacher always thinks it is a fun idea to divide the kids in half and do a “sing off” to see who wins? Ya well don’t get sucked into that. There is never a prize.

And then our singing would be done and we were given cookies and milk.    I refrained from clapping my hands together and barking like a seal.   I did however balance a ball on my nose once in hopes of a second cookie but Moses failed to see the talent. I was not being a good Israelite. Moses insisted on realism in her class, she would make us Israelites if it killed her and seriously what was I thinking? How many Israelites are Harlem Globe Trotters or working at Sea World?

When the teacher was ready to get into the meat of the lessons and we were all sitting around the table, I would slap my briefcase down on the table and pull out a couple of stone tablets, and my thick black rimmed glasses.  I would clear my throat often and squint at the teacher, then frown.  Squinting and frowning are a lost art.  You have no idea how effective they can be as social tools.  I am campaigning Facebook to include those as optional responses to postings.  We are not one trick ponies here.  We can “like,” of course, but we can also “squint” and “frown.”  I can’t be sure, but I think it was effective.  “Moses” was definitely thrown off but I was never sure if it was the tablets or the 3 year old with a briefcase that made him pee his dress.

I eventually just took over my whole Sunday School Nursery class. I wore Moses down. I gave myself a standing ovation often. I would stand on the table and twirl my fluffy dress and swing my briefcase… just so they knew I meant business. I would steal the cookies from the other kids and stuff them into my mouth before “Moses” could catch me and make me give them back. Eventually I learned to stuff them in my panties and that way I could enjoy them later and Moses never crossed that line. I think it is in the 10 commandments.

I was heady with power.

That’s what a good briefcase can do for you.  You have to grow up a bit to be able to learn restraint.  Oh … and also to be able to tell a girl “Moses” from a boy “Moses.”  AND understand you can buy your own cookies and eat the whole pack without having to share with any of the other Israelites, or going to church, or wearing underpants.

Some day Harvard is going to do a study to understand the impact of fluffy dresses and a briefcase on brain cells.  I am sure they will find they have been the downfall of many a good woman.  I blame all those crinolines for the insanity of my childhood . . . and Moses of course.   That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

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