Sacred music's ministry: 1-20-10
What The Pill has wrought: 1-22-10

Clicking with Bible stories: 1-21-10

Finding a way to teach children the essentials of a religious tradition has been a long and evolving quest for many parents and faith communities.

Churchmouse

So it was no surprise a few years ago when I began to see Web sites and computer games designed to attract young people and interest them in this or that religion.

But I frankly haven't paid lots of attention to the quality and approach of this higher-tech effort until the other day when someone who represents the maker of such games, Inspired Media Entertainment, asked me to look at a game aimed at early elementary students, ages 6-8.

The game is called Charlie Church Mouse, and it contains six Bible stories/games on a disk, from "Daniel and the Lion's Den" to "The Pearl of Great Price."

When I looked at the Inspired Media site, I was a bit concerned about what kind of theology I was likely to find presented in this game. After all, games for older children from this company are inspired by -- if not designed around -- the "Left Behind" series of books that promotes a reading of Revelation that is profoundly out of sync with Mainline Protestants' reading. That "Left Behind" interpretation for me as a Presbyterian is simply untenable. The book to read is The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, by Barbara R. Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

But I found the theology in the Charlie Church Mouse game quite tame, quite unobtrusive and quite bland. It was kind of feel-good theology lite, not inappropriate for children of that age of almost any faith.

Well, I'm pretty far past the age 6-8 category, so I didn't trust my own reaction to the games, which was that they were simplistic, they had lame animation and the interaction part was repetitious with darn little blblical teaching content. Beyond that, I found the voices chosen to narrate the stories a little weak, whiny and annoying. Also, I couldn't figure out why the games engaged in anachronisms, such as in the David and Goliath story having David use his cell phone to order pizza for his soldiers. Really.

Thus, I enlisted the critical eye and mouse-clicking hand of my 7-year-old granddaughter, Olivia, perhaps the world's smartest 7-year-old. She played three or four of the games and would have played the rest if her parents hadn't had to leave. And, overall, she liked them.

Pressed about what she liked, it was the games more than the stories. At least she mentioned liking the games before she mentioned liking the stories. Olivia did find the Pac-Man-like game in the Ruth story sort of tiring and she eventually asked me to help her get through that part of it.

So trust a 7-year-old's opinion more than mine on this, but I found Charlie Church Mouse unoriginal, a little amateurish and pretty shallow, though some of the games probably will help kids with some basic math and money functions.

But unless you're comfortable with premillennial dispensationalist theology, I'd be really careful about what games to look at from Inspired Media aimed at older children. And, of course, parents should check out any and all games purporting to teach faith before they let their kids play them.

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POPE SUMMONS IRISH BISHOPS ON ABUSE

Part of the job of being the pope in recent years has been to deal with the sad priest abuse scandal -- first in the U.S. and, most recently, in Ireland. Pope Benedict XVI, it's reported, will meet next month with some Irish bishops to discuss in more detail a report revealing how badly the church there handled accusations of child abuse. Many parts of the church are guilty in this scandal, mostly in an effort to protect the church when church officials should have been protecting children.

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