If you've been keeping up, you know I help out with Route 56 (a 5th and 6th grade transitional ministry) at my church. My wonderful boyfriend teaches and it's honestly pretty high up there on my list of favorite things to do to hang out with crazy awkward kids and hear his wisdom and teaching every week. Recently, we started a series on Jonah (to mirror the Jonah series in "big church" that their parents are hearing). It's been awesome so far and you should totally check out JD's wisdom on the book and listen to the sermons.
Starting the series, I recollected on my Sunday School days, remembering felt boards with Jonah in a whale, running from God, and then turning back to God to happily witness to the people of Nineveh. I was surprised by my own flawed memory of the story, however. Maybe I was never taught it correctly, or maybe I remembered it incorrectly - either way, I had some details wrong, specifically regarding the sailors, Jonah's time in the belly of the big fish, and how Jonah really felt about the Ninevites. All that to say, I didn't have the story 100% correct going into this series.
That being said, I was floored by the way our 5th and 6th graders responded when they heard we were learning about Jonah. Let's just say nearly all of them had seen the Veggie Tales version of the story. Not only had they seen it, but when we asked them details about the story, they regurgitated facts like "Jonah was just a veggie" and "The Ninevites were mean people because they slapped each other with fish all the time." Wait. What? Yes. Those are direct quotes. And they were eerily stated with Biblical weight. They genuinely thought that was true! Nowhere in the Bible are those things stated. Yes, for sure we know that the Ninevites were crazy mean people, but slapping people with fish? Really?
Some of the students were particularly curious about what Jonah did while he was in the belly of the big fish. "How did he eat?" "Did it smell bad?" "Was he actually in the stomach?" "Did he, like, eat the other fish that the bigger fish had already eaten?" "How could he even see because it would've been dark?" (The questions 5th & 6th graders can come up with really are quite astonishing.) Finally one student put everyone's questions to rest by stating, in Veggie Tale style, that Jonah saw because there were angels in the belly of the fish, which made it light, and he ate from the ship that the big fish had previously eaten.
Okay, I'm not blaming the kids for remembering crazy things from the only source they know about Jonah. I'm not necessarily blaming the parents either. I mean they probably gave the babysitter instructions to let the kids watch it while they went out for date night. Totally understandable. I've thought about a few years down the road when I have kids, would I rather them watch an outlandish Barbie movie about fairies or Veggie Tales? Probs the latter.
So, here's my beef: kids are detail-oriented. They don't remember the big picture or the general message from something. Our 5th and 6th graders can't recall the lesson we learned two weeks ago, but they can remember the obscure nickname they gave a student in the middle of August. So when kids watch things like Veggie Tales, they remember small details that are seemingly harmless, not the general Bible story. Also, kids have a hard time distinguishing fiction from reality. It would seem logical that a child would understand that Jonah didn't choose being a veggie for his occupation, but when asked what Jonah did, all they can remember is that he was "just a veggie." Personally, some of my friends who grew up watching Veggie Tales still to this day, as college students, have a hard time remembering if details of the Bible stories they watched were fact or fiction.
Real talk: I think Veggie Tales is super clever and catchy. Let's be real, the songs are awesome. And I'm still undecided on if I'll let my kids watch them or not. If kids are allowed to watch Veggie Tales (and other Biblically based things), they need to be told what the Bible actually says about what they're viewing. Kids aren't going to remember that Jonah angrily fled God's presence and that God pursued him, which is a huge display of the Gospel. They are going to remember details which may or may not be in line with Scripture. Students need to be set straight on Biblical details so that they can later form solid theology fully based on Scripture.