“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”
Weird things used to happen all the time in my dad’s middle school classroom—and not just because he was teaching 12- to 14-year-olds, perhaps the strangest of ages. My dad brought the weird on purpose. How better to explain what an adverb is than to dress up in tights and a cape and declare that Adverb Man has arrived? My dad writes:
I moved through the hallways handing out index cards with adverbs written on them. “You need to move quickly,” I said, handing a student late to class a card on which the word quickly was written. “You need to move now,” I said to another, handing him a card with the adverb on it. Once in a while, I'd raise my voice, Superman-style, and declare, “Remember, good citizens of Earth, what Adverb Man always says: ‘Up, up, and modify adverbs, verbs, and adjectives!’ ”
What a weirdo! And yet, his thinking makes a lot of sense. Super heroes are always in motion, flying high and punching hard and swiftly defeating the bad guys. It takes a lot of adverbs to describe a super hero well. This non sequitur calls students to think again about an otherwise-average grammar lesson.
God can be even weirder than Adverb Man striding down a middle school hallway. As our Great Teacher, He often goes outside the norm, hoping to share His truth in a way we are unable to ignore. God can also use the weird to stop us from going where we shouldn’t. For example, God created a force field with an angel and caused a donkey to speak so He could stop Balaam the son of Beor from continuing his journey without more instruction (Numbers 22:22-35). At first, Balaam’s anger is kindled against the donkey for acting so strangely. “You have made a fool of me,” Balaam says to the talking donkey. Then, in the middle of an embarrassing, seemingly wasteful interruption in his journey, Balaam’s eyes are opened to the presence of God. He receives directions that allow him to bring truth to those to whom he was journeying. “Have I the power to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak,” he says in verse 38, bringing a reality check to Balak, who thought he could get Balaam to say anything for enough payment. As he goes on, Balaam is able to see God more and more clearly, and serve him again and again. “When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go [where Balak asked him to go], as at other times to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness.” Balaam was changed by his experience. That talking donkey stopped Balaam long enough for him to feel anger, bewilderment and openness to the voice of God. He learned to discern the will God before taking his next steps, and he practiced discernment thereafter.
Back in the classroom (which for my dad, extended to the hallways, cafeteria, and anywhere he could find a learning opportunity), my dad believed the method of weird would work for his middle schoolers. And his kids surprised him!
The next day, one of the girls on our middle school team came walking down the hallway to my classroom dressed as Pronoun Girl. One of her classmates prece
ded her—he was dressed as Antecedent Boy. Both wore yellow masks and had long beach towels tucked into the backs of their shirt collars as capes. Pronoun Girl had taped pronouns across her shirt that corresponded with the nouns taped across Antecedent Boy’s shirt. It was better than Schoolhouse Rock. And the best part? There wasn’t any grade lower than a B+ on the adverbs test that Friday.
Those kids were brave. Maybe that morning before school, even their parents had commented about the beach towels. How did they get so brave? How did they discern the lesson and allow it to transform them, so much so that Pronoun Girl and Antecedent Boy showed up to school the next day? I believe it was because they let my dad lead their way. As their teacher, my dad had earned the trust of his students, and that trust was greater than the care Pronoun Girl and Antecedent Boy had for the thoughts of their peers. They saw something valuable in Adverb Man’s performance that they desired to imitate: something funny, crazy, enlightening and constructive. The weird way was the best way to remember the parts of speech. I believe Pronoun Girl and Antecedent Boy conquered their fears by allowing my dad to set their example, and by pursuing the truth above social acceptance. The outcome was greater than my dad had even imagined.
May God be our example. “Your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard,” Isaiah 58:8 tells us. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you,” Jesus said as he washes his disciples feet in John 13. God has led and is still leading us with examples to see and follow. If only every example from the Lord were as straightforward as washing feet. When the way is blurry or scary or embarrassing, we turn to the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment to see what truth may be there. And we forge that way.
If we choose to see the oddities of life as opportunities to discern, “Is this of God?”, how much more would we get to see Him? How much more would we get to serve him, like Balaam? And how much more would we encourage those alongside us, that they might also see some truth?
Not every strange thing in the world is of God, but we have seen Him use the weird to bring great understanding. By practicing the gift of discernment through the Holy Spirit, we can follow his every example.
I would rather fully embody a grammar principle and have my whole class ace the test than fear embarrassment. And as pastor Dale says, “I would rather hear from God through a donkey than not at all.”