Wineskins Archive

January 9, 2014

The Parable of the Secular Humanist (Sept – Oct 1996)

Filed under: — @ 12:57 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
September – October, 1996

A little girl named Clarissa showed up for third-grade Sunday School class one day. It was a warmer-than-usual early September day. It was her first Sunday in a new town where she, her mother, and two brothers had moved last Tuesday.

Although her clothes were clean, they were old hand-me-downs that were faded and frayed. She wasn’t quite as clean as her clothes, though, and her teacher picked up quickly on the odor.

She was brought to the classroom by her mother. She looked to be a hundred pounds overweight, and her decayed teeth showed when she spoke—even though she tried not to open her mouth more than necessary to get the words out.

Clarissa wasn’t old enough to pick up on the coolness the teacher showed her mother. Her mother was so used to it from people at the Welfare Office and other public assistance agencies that she didn’t really notice it either. Clarissa’s father had died when she was not yet four years old, and her mother had had a tough time providing for her and her two brothers—aged ten and seven.

The teacher told a Bible story in the class, holding a couple of the regular children on her lap at times as they got restless. There was a paper to color. She raised her hand a couple of times when the teacher asked questions about the Bible story, but she was never called on. The teacher read a book titled “You are Special to God.” But she never made eye contact with Clarissa.

After Bible class, her mother picked her up. Her younger brother was already in tow, and they went together to find her older sibling.

Church was pretty boring for Clarissa. She didn’t know the words to any of the songs—though her mother did—and her feet dangled off the pew. A couple of times she wiggled, only to be scowled at by a lady sitting a few feet away. Once her hard-soled shoe made a loud click on the wooden bench as she tried to shift her weight to get comfortable. The lady shot her eyes toward her, pursed her lips, and hissed, “Shhhh!”

When church was over, the lady who had shushed her left by the opposite side of the pew. Clarissa wasn’t old enough to notice that neither she nor any of the other church members spoke to her mother. But that wouldn’t have surprised her if she had noticed it, for people usually treated her little family like that—at the utilities office, at the grocery store, on the street.

As they were leaving, everyone had to exit through one wide door. So the preacher shook her mother’s hand and glanced down at her three kids. When her mother greeted him with her broad smile and Spanish accent—Clarissa’s English was already better than hers—he smiled politely and nodded. He said, “Glad to see you, Ma’am.” He reached for the next adult hand without even acknowledging the dark-skinned, dark-haired children with her.

The next morning, Clarissa went to her new school. Her mother left for work almost 45 minutes before she and her brothers had to catch the bus. But she got them up, gave them cereal, and made sure they were dressed. Clarissa didn’t catch the worried look on her mother’s face about start-up school supplies she knew all three children would need. That would have to be faced later.

When the people—some teachers, some volunteer parents—met her bus and got her to her room, Clarissa saw one of the biggest smiles she had ever seen. Her teacher leaned over to make eye contact with her. She told Clarissa her name, Miss Metcalf. Then she wrote Clarissa’s name on a name tag, pressed it gently onto her chest, and took her by the hand to introduce her to three other children.

Later that day, Miss Metcalf picked up on Clarissa’s discomfort at a new school and among strange children. She got down on her knees, hugged Clarissa, and invited her to eat lunch with her. Clarissa knew she had found a friend. She even went home that night to tell her mom she wanted to be a school teacher when she grew up. “I want to be jus’ like Miss Metcalf!” she said.

Within 48 hours, Clarissa had met three Christians and one “secular humanist.” Which do you think was a good neighbor to her and her family? Wonder who will have the most impact on her young life? Which one would Jesus point to and say, “Go and do likewise”? (cf. Luke 10:37b).

In this issue of Wineskins, we challenge all believers to be more sensitive to children, gay persons, the sick, minorities, strangers, the poor, criminals, deacons—human beings of all backgrounds. There is no way to be a follower of Christ without learning that we have neighbors, who those neighbors are, and how to show compassion to them.

Rubel Shelly preached for the Family of God at Woodmont Hills in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1978-2005. During that time he also taught at Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, and is the author or co-author of many books, including The Jesus Community: A Theology of Relational Faith and The Second Incarnation. He presently lives in the Greater Detroit area where he teaches philosophy and religion at Rochester College. He is known as a community leader in Nashville and has served with such groups as the AIDS Education Committee of the American Red Cross, a medical relief project to an 1100-bed children’s hospital in Moscow called “From Nashville With Love,” and “Seeds of Kindness.”

He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. He has published widely in religious journals. He is co-editor with Mike Cope of the online magazine New Wineskins. Shelly has lectured on Christian apologetics, ethics, and medical ethics on university campuses across America and in several foreign countries. He has done short-term mission work in such places as Kenya, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Russia. He was educated at Harding University (B.A.), Harding Graduate School of Religion (M.A., M. Th.), and Vanderbilt University (M.A., Ph.D.). He is married to the former Myra Shappley, and they are the parents of three children: Mrs. David (Michelle) Arms, Tim, and Tom. []

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