When I was a high school science teacher, I liked to begin each new year with an activity.
On the first day of school, when many other teachers were going over classroom rules, I would do something to get students out of their seats, working with their lab partners, thinking and moving.
Sometimes we erected towers made from index cards. On occasion, we blew giant bubbles on the lab tables using dish soap, water, and glycerine. At times we built and launched paper airplanes.
My favorite year-beginning activity, however, was the Egg Drop.
Pairs of students were given 10 sheets of paper and a meter of masking tape. Their objective was to design and build an egg catcher to protect a raw egg from breaking when dropped from the ceiling to the floor.
It was the perfect way to introduce the class. Students got used to working with their lab partners and thinking for themselves. They made a plan, carried it out, and analyzed how well it worked after completion.
That’s the scientific method in a nutshell.
Maybe best of all, they learned that sometimes plans don’t always work out, and that’s OK. When plans don’t work out, we clean up the mess, devise a Plan B, and move on.
And we had fun.
I had only two classroom rules anyway – be honest and be considerate. Those were the biggies. They covered most potentially bad behaviors. I reasoned by the time students were teenagers, they knew right from wrong. They just sometimes needed reminders. That was my job.
There is a story told in Genesis about Jacob wrestling with God. It was night, Jacob was alone, and he wrestled with God “until daybreak“. God, seeing he could not overpower Jacob, touched his hip. This left Jacob with a permanent limp, and God subsequently escaped.
I wrestle with God myself at times.
I try to figure Him out, to put Him in a nice, convenient box. I would gladly suffer a limp, I think, if only I could solve the puzzle of God.
What I find each time I try is that God is bigger than any box I can build. His love is wilder, more fierce and tenacious than I could ever imagine. He escapes my most sincere attempts of apprehension.
We humans tend to want to limit God by capturing His essence with rules.
In the Old Testament, there were over 600 rules set forth. Rules about offerings, rules about which foods were considered clean and unclean, and rules about dealing with disease were issued. There were sexual taboos, rules about burning incense, working on the Sabbath (punishable by death), charging interest on loans, trimming your beard, getting a tattoo (a no-no), and rules about how slaves should be treated.
There were rules about cursing your parents (God was against it), consulting a psychic, marrying both a woman and her daughter, lying about being a virgin, and rules about ignoring the rules (against, against, against, against).
If only we could follow all of these rules, it was thought, we would be closer to God. We could wrestle with God and finally pin him down.
If I could follow all of them, I might be able to trap God in a box of rules, but I doubt it.
I doubt whether God would allow himself to be trapped, wrestled to the ground, bound by 600 rules.
Jesus came to tell us to follow two rules, but they are important ones. Love God and love others. Those are the biggies, he said. Focus on them. Remember them.
Jesus gave us the freedom to live our lives without worrying about hundreds of legalities. Instead, He said, we must do the hard work of giving out love every day, all day. To everyone. Just like God does.
Jesus tells us not to try to fence God in, not to imagine Him smaller than He is.
He tells us to imagine a God of unlimited grace and forgiveness.
It is literally a new way to live.
And it is much, much more difficult than following 600 rules.
But by this time, we know right from wrong. We just sometimes need reminders.
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