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The time my students and I played a life-size game of Monopoly all over town

February 10, 2018

7The guys were all piled into my apartment and the food was heaped everywhere.  We were once again having our regular Taco Party, a tradition that started during the course of my teaching time in Hollister.  I am not sure exactly when the famed mini-banquet got started, but the gastronomic event kept growing in stature through the months and years of my ministry there.

I believe it was during my second year of teaching that this idea took root.  During my between-class breaks in teaching career as a single fellow in California, the young men would often sit with me on an outdoor bench and chat, even after school.  Somewhere in the course of casual conversation with my high school boys between classes, the fellows got to talking about  Friday night plans.  “Whatcha gonna do tonight, Pastor Brad?” asked Steven.

Sammy came over and plopped on a bench.  “We don’t have anything to do since the football season’s over,” he said.  “Are you staying in town tonight?”

I dearly love Hispanic food, today as much as back then.  My first days in central California introduced me to some fantastic homemade Mexican food, so my first response to the guys was “Well, the first thing I know I’m going to do is get my hands on about ten tacos and devour them.  Then I’ll go from there.”

Steven and Sammy glanced at each other.  Dan and Bret had moved over to the bench and listened in, with David walking over as well.  “There are no games in town tonight,” said Steven.  “Could we come over?”

“I could bring some cheese,” said Sammy.

“I could bring shells,” added Bret.  The other guys agreed to chip in. Word spread among the guys.  Hamburger, lettuce, tomatoes, even onions were all going to be donated that night.  Larry offered to bring tripas – animal intestines.  This was politely but quickly shot down.

And so began the regular Taco Parties at my Sunnyslope Road apartment.  I can still recall the guys in full chef mode all over the place:  shredding lettuce at my micro-sized kitchen table, grating blocks of cheese on the kitchen counter, and slicing tomatoes wherever there was room near the doorway.  I was cooking up hamburger by the pound.  We created and ate tacos by the dozens, drank Cokes by the score, and sat back and burped.

On one of those evenings we got an idea to play a game … once we digested everything, mind you.

“Let’s have a big game,” said Sammy.

“Something where we can run,” said Daniel.  He was one of our best runners, so this was an absolute must for him.

David looked out the window.  “Yeah, outside,” he said, “but something different.  Not the same old stuff.”  A light bulb went off in my head.

“Hey,” I said to Robert, “get some poster paper out of that closet and spread it out on the coffee table here.”  I grabbed a pencil and started sketching the Monopoly board.  “Here’s Park Place.  This will be Boardwalk.  Here’s Free Parking. ”  I laid out each sidewalk square as a space, but stretched the whole board to cover about three city blocks of Hollister.  Then I pointed to Daniel.  “You are the race car playing piece, and you, Bret, are the top hat…”  Each guy was named for a game piece and then we even made up others.  I think I was the Scottie Dog.

In order to accommodate the high energy of the teens, we invented Turbo Monopoly.  It was an insane idea that would really spice up the action.  The rules went something like this: When you are at the Home Base (my apartment) you roll the dice and land on a “Place” – a sidewalk square somewhere in town.  The next player then rolls dice.  If his number is higher than yours, he chases you and tries to catch you.  You must run the entire “board” – three blocks – and get back to Home Base before the other player catches you.  This was a game not for the non-athletic, especially after eating seven tacos.  I was twenty-two years old and probably in the best running shape of my life – even running in a few marathons – but I was sucking wind halfway through the game.

It quickly became a mess, as you can imagine.  Guys were screeching, yelling, diving for the property and falling into bushes, cutting across neighbors’ yards, dodging traffic.

The police cars started patrolling awfully close (I think they got a few calls) and I believe that once the blue lights flickered although the officer wasn’t exactly sure what to do.  The neighbors had enough, though, of seeing sweaty teens collapsing on their respective lawns, loudly burping up a seasoned-flavored belch that was killing their plants.  I had to close the Turbo Monopoly game after one night.

The boys came in and settled in to catch their breath.  We sat and chest-heaved for a while and then stared out the window.

“Wonder what Heaven’s gonna be like?” I heard a voice ask out of the blue.  I think it was Robert.

“Well,” I wheezed.  “Revelation’s twenty-first chapter gives a good idea of what is not going to be there…”

“Oh, yeah,” said Daniel.  “No more sickness. No more death…”

“Will we recognize our grandparents?” asked Robert.

“Are there clues to when Jesus will come back?” asked Bret.

And so the evening gently opened up into a discussion of Heaven.  It was a great time, having an open talk about the Bible without any formality or structure;  just a real open and honest back-and-forth about the things of God.

Oh, I live for those moments.  Those are my favorite teachable moments.

I love the style of Jesus’ teaching – such a radical and rousing type of instruction that threw everyone for a loop, and I mean that in a good way.

Jesus took on the pattern of a rabbi, for sure, in order to get folks comfortable with the accepted practice of learning of that era.

In those days, rabbis had a special type of classroom setting.  Beth Midrash (high school) students would ask permission to continue studies with a rabbi in order to get an intense training of the Scriptures.  The rabbi would teach and give his particular interpretation of the Scripture.  As the rabbi taught he would often quote other famous rabbis so that his teaching would not be accused of being invented; he had other sources to back up his teaching. Someone would ask where he got the right to interpret a particular Scripture in his own way, and he would cross-reference another famous rabbi.

Students were called talmidim (Hebrew: disciples) and did more than learn facts; they aspired to actually become who the teacher was. This involved intense devotion to their rabbi in virtually all he did and said. This rabbi-talmid relationship was intense and personal; after all, they were learning a lifestyle.

“Classes” were outdoors, on the streets, in the courtyard, through the marketplace, at the synagogue, next to a stream … anywhere.

As I said, Jesus took that pattern and then built on it.  The rabbis would quote Scripture and give it an interpretation to the specific event, and so did Jesus.  They would give intense attention to serious students (calling the student to “follow him” into education) and Jesus also made the invitation in like manner.

What I like best of all, though, is just as the rabbis would quote other sources for authority, Jesus answered skeptics by quoting His source.

Matthew Chapter 13:54 tells us of a question running about his hometown:  “He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom?‘”

“Is Jesus making this stuff up on His own?”

He replied by quoting his source:

John 7:16 – Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine…”

“… It comes from the One who sent me.

This sets Him apart from being just a brilliant teacher. He has claimed His source as none other than God Himself.

John 5:19 –  Jesus says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

Jesus does not teach of Himself.  He teaches from His instruction from the Jehovah of Heaven itself.  His disciples were learning to be exactly like Him:  one who was obsessed with God above.

We teachers would do well to remember there two precious things.

I constantly remind myself of both the opportunity to find teachable moments outside the classroom as well as within, be it the the cafeteria, the perimeter sidewalk, or even a chance meeting at Wal Mart.

I don’t want my students to be me, but I want them to follow my pattern – the thirsty pursuit of God above.

I also remind myself that it is not me that they want to study; it’s my Lord.  I cannot go wrong if I point them to the true Source.  That is effective teaching that will never fail.

And I don’t need to play Turbo Monopoly to do it, either.



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