A flannel graph is simply a board covered in felt-like fabric on which you might place cut out images with tacky backing in order to tell a story and, my teachers had books full of characters and settings for recounting any number of biblical events.
But not all of the biblical events. I remember getting to a place in my Sunday School journey where I began to wonder irreverently what it would look like to tell some of the "juicier" stories in flannel graph. To tell the story of Elisha on the way to Bethel we would need cut outs for a bald prophet, 42 saucy lads, and 2 she-bears with bloody claws and muzzles. Those weren't in the standard set. David and Bathsheba, Ehud's treatment of Eglon, and any number of other events would have, if accurately portrayed, made the flannel board a thing of great scandal.
And I understand why my teachers were not interested in teaching us the more salacious stories in scripture. I get that. But I also appreciate that God gave us an earthy, edgy narrative that makes us squirm and that refuses to be bowdlerized. There are times when reading the word of God that you can almost hear the Author of that word chuckling to himself and muttering "flannel graph this!"
This all came to mind as I was preparing for this Sunday's sermon, in which Rahab comes up. (The first version of that sentence read: "in which I touch on Rahab." I thought better of that wording.)
There will be children in attendance but the biblical record is clear about the fact that Rahab was a prostitute, and this can make the preacher squirm. It doesn't appear to have any narrative significance which, ironically, makes its clear inclusion all the more significant. Rahab was someone who was paid to have sex with men. And she was a woman of great faith whose faith gave her, ultimately, a place in Jesus' lineage.
Let one takeaway be this: how we want to tell the stories, and who we think might be an appropriate audience for the stories, has no bearing on the stories our great Author ends up telling.
If the story that grace is working out in your life contains the sort of details you fear would have no place on a flannel graph, take heart. You will be able to say with Rahab that it is better to have a story that makes it into the "Book of Life," than to have the sort of story that might show up on a flannel graph.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog