Monday, May 05, 2008

Wholly Awkward

Most Sunday mornings at church we have a children's time where the children come to the front of the sanctuary and drop their change in box for a special offering and then stay up front for a story. Our congregation loves to remember all the cute and wacky things that the kids say in response to the story being told. The favorite in recent memory was Easter Sunday where I was going to talk to them about winning and losing. To get their attention I told them to try and figure out what I was doing. So I acted out a scene of me beating someone in a video game after which I got up and did a ridiculous victory dance (where I 'shot the duck', 'rode the horse' and 'twirled the lasso') rubbing it into my imaginary opponent. I sat down and asked the kids what they thought just happened. One kid, in apparent shock, said, "That was the weirdest thing I've ever seen!" At which time the church burst into laughter.
Fast forward a couple of months to this past Sunday morning. I told a brief story about how the Mennonite church was growing in Ethiopia despite government persecution (in the 1980s). I was about half way through the story when the same kid raised his hand. For some reason I did not stop to ask what he wanted. I finished the story and his hand was still raised so asked what he had to say. He said something about the church being destroyed and then about him helping. I think I actually knew what he said but I asked in response, "So if someone was trying to destroy the church you would help to rebuild it?" And he said, "No, if someone was trying to destroy the church I would help them. I always have to get up and go to something that is so boring." Now this could have been viewed as something cute with a response of a mild chuckle. But there was silence and to be honest I felt awkward. I said something about talking to him more about that later and then closed in prayer.
This event was of course not a big deal. However, in church we do not hear people use the language of 'tearing down' in any real in visceral sense. We coat this in figurative and spiritual language. Jesus too spoke of destroying the Temple. The Temple was an amazing achievement of liturgical imagination. It grounded a people. But foundations in Jesus building were not made of stone (of reason; of law). They were relational and dynamic. So Jesus said, "Not one stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down."
There is a type of socialization that occurs when we invite our children to the front of the sanctuary. They are under a steady gaze with myself conducting mild experiments probing to find out to what extant they are conforming to the norms and expectations of the share-holders behind . . . to see if their investment will remain safe.
This Sunday is Pentecost with the pouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in the book of Acts. We associate this event dramatic personal experiences and actions that are confused with drunkenness. The picture though is quite different when we look to Jesus' early relationship to the Spirit. Just prior to Jesus' baptism John the Baptist, in the midst of tirade against the religious leaders, says this,

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

I wonder how John would have behaved in children's time? I suspect we would hear phrases about destroying the church. I am not sure he would be welcomed to contribute after awhile. In fact at some point he may find himself in the wilderness with nothing to wear but camel's hair and nothing to eat but locus and wild honey.

1 comment:

Heidi the Hick said...

Oh David, it's okay, I heard some sniggering from where I was sitting. But yup, it was awkward! I have a feeling that our little friend there has a gift for saying out loud what other people are only thinking. I hope it does him well someday, I really do!

We all have ourselves trained to be very nice and good, and we want so badly for our children to be the same. I sometimes wonder if it's even natural. Maybe we should talk more in church about the tearing down. Jesus wasn't always nice and good either, which is what so many of us would rather not think about!

(I LOVE that last paragraph.)