Teachable Moments AKA “that ‘ll preach”

Part of being an educator, theologian or minister is understanding that the best way to teach a subject is to allow the subject to teach itself. Human beings tend to learn better when the learning is our idea and the answers come because of a question we have raised.  Teaching a child about a theological concept is much easier when the a child asks, “Mommy, why do we eat bread and grape juice during worship service?” or “Why do we cover the altar with different colored table clothes?”  We are providing knowledge that the child wants.  The child is much more open to the knowledge than she would be if we tried to explain what we do what we do without her question.

These moments when a student opens the way for teaching a lesson are called “teachable moments.”  Teachable moments occur when questions, some times unexpected questions, are asked by the learner and cause a moment in which new knowledge can be imparted and readily accepted.  Educators seek these moments whenever possible.  These are the “aha” moments when educators can see the spark light up in their students eyes, and the teacher knows the student is “getting it.”

I am one of those educators who believes that these teachable moments can be intentionally created.  It’s not always easy, but I know it can be done. The trick is to finds something in the mundane that points to the divine. My preference is to use unexpected means to achieve this end.  I personally like to use popular films to create teachable moments.  I’ve gotten to the point where I judge a film’s worth on it teach-ability.   When I was working in the church full time, I kept a collection of these kind of films at the house.  Once a quarter or so, I’d haul out another movie and have a lock-in.  The event was fun, and the teachable moment felt spontaneous, though I always knew better.

Preachers and theologians seek the same kind of moment, though we don’t usually use the same terminology…  we seek “moments of celerity,”  “divine intervention,” “grace.” — Moments when God’s truth is suddenly made plane.

When I was in seminary, the term we used to describe the tools used to create teachable moments as “preachable”   Essentially, we would ask ourselves was the book, play, movie, event one that could be used to teach / preach about a subject that was relevant to the congregation and accessible by the majority of the audience.  Books, movies, poems, songs,  and stories were scrutinized and studied.  The lucky few were described as “that ‘ll preach.”

I cameacross an unexpected resource “preachable” yesterday.  Our little community has a free, informal lending library of books, CDs, VHS tapes, etc up at the Post Office.  I found there a little HBO film from 1997 called “The Gloaming”.  It is a lovely little hour long film that address love, loss, death, AIDS/HIV and the dynamics of a slightly dysfunctional family. The film is a tear jerker, and requires a box of tissues to watch it, but I found myself profoundly touched not as much by death of the son, but rather by observations present in the conversations.   One observation in particularity struck me.  The son asked his mother, “why do you think Dad grows all of those tomatoes when he doesn’t even eat them?” “I don’t know,” said the mom, “I never really thought about it.”  “I think he grows them for you,” said the son.  The mother is totally taken aback, and looks out at the garden in surprise.  Her expression changes from surprise to wonder, and we can see her “aha” moment  as she realizes that her husband’s quite actions say more about his affection for her than he has expressed in words. He offered her a moment of affirmation and insight into her marriage.  This observation was the last sentence said by the son before he died.

What a gift to give one’s parents– a teachable moment offered with one’s last breath.

Yep, “that ‘ll preach.”

Dr. Mel




~ by sideseat on January 29, 2011.

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