Children as Gospel
This past Sunday evening was our children’s Christmas program. It was a wonderful and wonderfully diverse production. From pre-schoolers playing “Silent Night” on hand bells to high schoolers’ strumming “Jesus Messiah” on electric guitars, to little Marys and Josephs in housecoats and shepherds and angels and botched candle-lightings and memorized poems and rousing renditions of familiar carols, it was a delightful collection of parts that contributed to a marvellous whole.
There’s nothing quite like children telling the story of the humble king sent to heal and forgive, to teach and save. Their enthusiasm and honesty and wonder and lack of pretense is infectious, inspiring, and instructive. Jesus said that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). Who knows, maybe the children’s Christmas concert is not a bad place to begin when thinking about how to receive our King and his kingdom.
Sunday’s Christmas program was still fresh in my memory when I read these words today from Stanley Hauerwas’s Prayers Plainly Spoken:
Dear God, our children are wonderful news: the news that you refuse to give up on your creation. Against the blackness of this world, against the injustice, against the violence, against the busyness spurred by our inflated sense of importance, you give us children. What a wonderful gift. We thank you for Adam, Sarah, Austin, Katie, Gabriel, Joshua, Paul, Thomas, Joel and others. Thank you for these your children, who screw up our lives, thus teaching us our true desires. Like your Son, they are our fleshly advents, because through them we learn patient hope. Thank you for making us your joyful, confident children, capable of welcoming our children, hopefully in imitation of your welcome of us. Amen.
Thanks Ryan. Wonderful perspective of that event.
Sounds like a wonderful way to spend an evening.
I think it was Ron Sexsmith, on his debut album, who penned a song about an infants ability to speak with the angels and asks his adult listener if they can remember when they once could.
Beautiful in their own right, our children can also remind us of the simple sincerity of heart that is meant to be at the center of all our actions.
With regard to the Hauerwas quote…ahem…well…lol….I might, just this once, have a wee bone to pick with our erudite friend. While I fully appreciate and agree with the thrust of the quote and as well appreciate the ironic intention of the phrase “who screw up our lives”, I would still prefer it’s abscence from his efforts.
Kids, as a demographic, get a lot of unfair and unloving descriptions and harmful exposures in our culture. It seems it has become popular in culture to infant/child bash. While I haven’t read wildly popular books like “get the f to sleep” and I would assume that many of the authors observations are meant to be humourous, I still find it disturbing that such a crass and mean spirited context would be applied to a book I assume to offer some perspective about child rearing. Similarly it seems the trend this days for those who supposedly track and measure happiness within our culture ( like it can be objectively measured!!) to report that married men and woman with children, seem to be the least content group within society.
Everywhere I turn I find humourists ruthlessly exploiting and debasing innocence, children and child like characteristics still being nutured by the fortunate few adults not completely jaded by our self obsessed, materially obsessed and sexually obsessed culture.
Maybe I do protest too much or am engaging with the trivial but one of the most galling aspect of child bashing to me is the perversion of the once exclusive realm of childhood fantasy ; the television cartoon. From the Flintstones and Scoobie Doo somehow we have graduated the format to what I would argue are defiantly perverse offerings like South Park and Family Guy….
Don Henley, speaking specificly about divorce and family break up, once wrote a song called the “End of the Innocence”. Sadly I fear we live in a culture that not only precipitates such ends but very often deliberately and with malice looks to “murder” innocence right out of existence.
If I had God’s ear I would tell him he had the right to kick some serious a.. over these gross offenses alone.
Re: “screw up our lives,” it’s a line that gave me some initial discomfort, too. But I think anyone who is or has been a parent will, if they are honest, acknowledge that something precisely like this sentiment has made an appearance, whether in our thoughts or in our words and actions, during our darker moments. I suppose it’s a line that is meant to arrest and, possibly, convict us of the very trends and problems in our culture that you quite rightly point to. At least this is how I interpret it.
His grace is in every situation. 🙂
As a divorced parent I can’t honestly recall many, if any, “dark moments”. Perhaps the frequent seperations give both my children and I a greater appreciation of our relationship together, what we do have, and we focus our attention on one another in a way that doesn’t leave much room for exploration and expression of our discontents.
I don’t mean to advocate a head in the sand approach to parenting but I do find it almost always true that if I assume and encourage the best in my children, their best is what I get in return.
Children, treated fairly and lovingly possess a quality of integrity I can only envy.
I like your analysis of Hauerwas, here. Your interpretation rings true to me.
Re: “telling the story of the humble king sent to heal and forgive, to teach and save.”
This is very close to what I was told as a child in church. The primary message was that Jesus came to teach us how to be good. The PCUSA, which was the church of my childhood, still conveys that message. No one really believes the “healing” part, and there is much skepticism about the “saving” part. The “forgiving” part is part of the message of what it takes to be good. It is preached, but not widely practiced.
Ultimately, I think the story in the Bible, as well as in history (to the meagre extent we can reconstruct it,) is not “the story of the humble king sent to heal and forgive, to teach and save.” It is more political than that, and less kind as we think of kindness today. It relates more particularly to the history of Israel as a people. It is a story that children cannot articulate. It contains values that we don’t want to teach children in the West today.
Christianity has taken the history and its scripture and converted it to multiple variations on the story of the humble king. It ignores the original story and the very human process, often quite ugly, through which that story was converted to the present story.
Some of the children will someday realize it.
When I think of this, I think of a stanza in an e e cummings poem:
“children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more”
In this context, I think of “him” as Christ, whether the old one or the new one. And I think of “him” as us. In the context of the poem, “him” is “anyone.” (The poem is Anyone lived in a pretty how town.)
There is nothing in how I’ve described it that precludes the more gritty political and “human” elements or the role these elements play in Israel’s story (or, for that matter, the “ugly” process through which the story has come down to us).
I have two children of my own, Teya who’s 5 and David who’s 2. As much as I love them, they are my little “sanctifyers.” But like you eluded to, they have taught me (and I was skeptical about this going in to parenting) more about God than I thought I’d ever know. For a fun read on mornings with my David check out http://www.philip-bloggled.blogspot.com/2011/10/lets-wrestle.html. I really enjoyed writing that one. Also you might like “Somewhere More Holy”, by Tony Woodlief.
Very nice! Thanks for the link, Philip.
I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Did you go to Regent? I graduated in 05…
Yes, I was there from 05-08. Guess we just missed each other…