He came into the kids church room for the very first time last Sunday, introduced by a long-time friend and colleague. I don’t know much about his story. Slightly built, frail really, he tentatively inched his lanky fourth grade frame into the room, letting her do all the talking. Never once did he speak to me.
But we did connect. I smiled and bent low to make eye contact as he considered the merits of staying for the kids church experience, or playing it safe and sitting next to my friend in adult worship. His eyes were slightly covered by his hoodie. He wanted no one to see or make fun of his cochlear implants, apparently recently installed to help him overcome deafness.
I said, “We would love to have you stay with us for kids church. We are going to do something really fun. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a secret that none of the other kids will know about until later this morning: each of us gets to choose what kind of fish or water animal we would want to be if we lived in the Red Sea where Moses and his people passed through as God parted the waters for them.”
His eyes slightly dilated. He reads lips like me. I could tell. He gave it some thought…
“None of the other kids know about this yet. It will be our secret. You get to choose what animal you would want to be early and you will be all ready when it is time later!”
He smiled. Just a little. But I noticed. He ended up leaving with my friend, but just before we were ready to act out the fun story, he returned. I winked at him as I introduced the idea to the kids. They were excited. He smiled again, bigger this time. Not sure what fish he played, but play he did as together we all waved to the Israelites moving on dry ground through the imaginary Red Sea.
The boy is a human being just like his peers. Just like you. Like me. We want to be included even if we live with some kind of physical, mental, or emotional issue that sometimes makes it hard, especially if others treat us badly because of it.
It’s up to us as leaders to help children navigate these difficult waters, even if those who may have taught or led us in our childhood neglected to do so.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way based on my dreams from thirty years ago. That life has passed the event horizon. And I am glad; grateful really. In obscurity there is liberty to notice the hidden turnings of the culture and natural environment I inhabit, no longer as an observer, but as an indigenous patron of hope.
Last Thursday I stopped to look out at Fanno creek just west of Summer Lake. Seven baby ducklings followed their parents in the calm waters. When they started to straggle and then spread out, their guardians squawked and flapped their wings, hurriedly bringing them back into the fold as they collectively paddled under the bridge upon which I stood. Two beavers looked on, grooming themselves upon the south bank and gossiping about the tempting growth of bushes on the opposite shore. Don’t look at me that way. I’m just reporting the facts. I lost sight of them soon after they made landfall in the aforementioned undergrowth.
Courtesy suggested that was my moment to move on. As I began walking again I couldn’t stop thinking about these creatures living their lives, struggling to survive, yet enjoying the blessings given to them by The Lord God.
They dwell, work, and play in their habitat both unpretentiously and enthusiastically. No complaints about their lots in life. No looking wistfully into human homes or businesses, thinking, “I gotta get me some of that.” They are content.
Question is: am I?
Give it some thought.
Meanwhile I am going to move on. It’s the courteous thing to do. Also, I’m going to continue engaging the fellow beautiful but broken, even shattered, people who dwell with me in this obscure corner of our culture.
I’m rereading Emily Dickinson’s complete works. Her poetry speaks to me because she never intended to have a wider audience. She wrote for herself and those closest to her, reclusive thinker that she was. And brilliant, oh so brilliant and incisive. So, once again I have waded into her penned thoughts, more interested in the tapestry of her interwoven ideas, than in archaic turns of phrase.
It further inspires me to write poetry and to withhold any sort of publishing just yet, or more likely ever. Without the constraints of who might be offended, put off, or encouraged to self-righteous bombast, I write from the heart within a tangled menagerie of disparate disciplines within which I perceive synergistic complementarity, including but not limited to philology, text criticism, literature, physics, astronomy, mathematics, ethnography, Christian faith and spirituality, and so on.
In other words, I write about what interests me, seeking to explore meaning within the mundane, and to find interesting justapositions from widely divergent disciplines.
It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t sell on the popular market, or likely even the obscure. Probably for the best. Wouldn’t want to offend the politically correct power brokers of religion, publishing gatekeepers, and state-run media.
So back I go. Into obscurity. It’s okay. I like it this way. I have friends here. Together we are weaving a poetic tapestry in the rhythms of daily living.
I know my kids, those young people whom we gather from the surrounding neighborhood in projects, apartments, and shelters. I’m learning their stories, their needs, their hopes and hurts. I asked my children’s director for permission to begin writing lessons to better engage them at their points of need and that’s what I’ve been doing early this morning, sitting outside the local Starbucks in the cold and rain. I prefer being outside. Fewer distractions while I’m writing.
There are a few highlights to this lesson which I hope will spark the imaginations of the children. I’m going to do two short interactive stories which require all the kids to get up from their chairs, and move as characters in the story. It’s the exodus narrative, including the encounters of Moses with Pharoah, and the Red Sea transit with the Egyptian army in pursuit. It’ll be chaotic, but memorable. Kinda the point.
I want the kids to remember that the same God who went to all that trouble to save the children of Israel from slavery, and then went to even greater trouble to save us all from our sins; the same God who made the extraordinary covenant to all generations with Abraham, later confirming it with Isaac and Jacob, has now made a covenant with us through Jesus Christ. The same God who loved his people throughout time, loves these kids. No matter what they have done or think they have done, or what has been done to them. Even in their humble circumstances seemingly obscure from a much larger, perplexing world, God freely encounters them as they learn to read his Word and pray. And listen to his voice.
It’s best if I stop here. I’ve got some listening of my own to do as the rain falls on this cold, spring morning.
He looks into your eyes as he speaks to your heart, lifting your bowed head with his nail-scarred hands, taking in the tears running freely down your cheeks. He speaks softly, but with unwavering confidence, saying, “The sin for which you weep, that shattered shame which threatens the very life of your spirit with the weight of terrible guilt, is now removed and cast away as far as the east is from the west. For your sin was nailed to the cross, your guilt atoned. You are free. Rejoice!”
You note the glorious countenance before you. Your Savior. Your Redeemer. Your Lord. The Lamb of God, slain form the foundation of the world, now risen again victorious over hell and death and sin.
Go now, Ambassador. Tell others what Jesus Christ has done for you. And rejoice!
Shattered people fill the public square in the Portland metro area. Some seem composed; others make no pretense as to their despair. They go about their lives doing whatever they can to survive. I’m not only writing about those without shelter and basic necessities, although they do occupy the forefront of my prayers. I also refer to the more affluent. They may sometimes be harder to spot with their basic food and shelter needs met, but their relational and emotional needs scattered to the winds.
They ride mass transit alongside us, hang out at local watering holes like Starbucks or one of the many ubiquitous Portland pubs, and they sit near us in theaters, churches, sporting events, and concerts. Some do none of that. They remain at home, far from view. Alienated. Isolated. Alone. Shattered.
Maybe that’s you. Your heart is broken. It seems so damaged that you can perceive no way to move forward with any kind of hope or purpose. You may even wonder if life is worth living any longer.
If you are a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to do a few things. First, pray to God, asking for his help to find encouragement. Second, read the Psalms. Start at the beginning and keep reading prayerfully. Last, find someone with whom you can talk. Perhaps a pastor or a wise counselor with a Christian worldview. Maybe a parent or friend.
If you are not a follower of Jesus, I invite you consider the hope he offers. Check out the book of Matthew in the Bible. Know that God loves you, no matter what you have experienced in life or what you think you have done.
Got questions or need to talk? Leave a comment. I’m listening.
If you want to raise up the next generation of leaders, then allow the next generation to lead alongside you. Yes, they will do things differently. No, they won’t think like you in every respect. But they will take ownership and responsibility if you give them that opportunity, blessing and support. Question is: is it about you or is it about God’s agenda in your church and community?
If it is about you, then why?
If it is about God’s agenda, then what is God saying and how is he moving? What is next concerning how will you get there alongside your emerging leaders?
Off you go, discuss. Not with me so much. With them. They are the ones who will make it happen with you. I’m just a crotchety old meddler…
Besides, I’ve got my own community to engage in conversation in the days ahead.