Sometimes a child makes a simple comment, nothing shocking or noticeable, but the stunning truth of her words rings out into the world like a beautiful bell, silencing the noise around her.
This is what happened on Sunday, though I didn’t hear the great ringing until I read the words, transcribed, on Monday. They’ve been tolling in my head all week long. You might need to hear them too.
First, some background. Did you notice who’s with us? There in the photo is King Ahab and Ba’al, (the American Idol version) hanging out in my backyard. Either we just stepped nearly 3000 years back in time, or this is a shot from the spring of 2015, when a certain filmmaker I love retold the story of Elijah and the Widow with some young actor friends I know. (Really, you should click the link later and watch it. There’s a four foot tall raven, and King Ahab has an attitude!)
So we shared the same story this week in Sunday school, and afterwards the teachers asked questions and listened to the children’s words. Lucky for me the teachers usually write down what the kids say so that we can enjoy their thoughts and mine them for messages from God.
We always start out easy. “I wonder what was your favorite part of the story?” the teachers ask. The children loved that God sent a raven to feed Elijah so that he wouldn’t starve. They liked that the widow gave him bread and that her son lived, even though she thought he had died. And they liked the chariot with the horses because they love horses, and who wouldn’t want to see a chariot of fire?
When the teachers asked, “I wonder what you think is the most important part of the story?” the kids answered as I expected. The most important thing, they said, was that the people started worshiping God instead of Ba’al, that the widow shared her bread and God provided for her and her son, and that Elijah listened to God and was brave.
“I wonder where you are in the story?” they asked next. “What part of the story is about you?”
“I’m in the crowd, watching,” said a child.
This is when the bell began tolling for me. And as it rang out in my brain, I could see our children place themselves in the crowd. I could imagine them watching the altar of God and the altar of Ba’al, and I could see them watching their parents and their focus on the altars, watching the skies, waiting to see whether their faith was warranted and true. I could imagine them waiting to see what their parents would do and say, and what the other adults they knew -and strangers too- what they would all do and say. Would their world still be safe? Would they or their friends have to hide who they were or be quiet? Would they be mocked or would they do the mocking or would there be no mocking at all? What if everything they believed in was wrong? What if their beliefs were proved right?
The children were in the crowd, watching. They might not understand what was happening, but they would see it and smell it, taste it and hear it and feel it. They would breathe it all in, and then let those words, smells, sights, and sounds tumble around in their hearts and minds, day and night. It would shape who they were that day and who they would become. It would change them.
Our children are in the crowd today, and they’re watching.
They’re listening to Donald Trump, those he appoints and those who oppose him – just as the children did during the campaign season- and they’re watching and taking mental notes. They’re waiting to see what their parents do and say and what other adults they know- and strangers too- what they all do and say. Will their world still be safe? Will they or their friends have to hide who they are or be quiet? Will they be mocked or will they do the mocking or will there be no mocking at all? The children are breathing it all in, sending the words, smells, sights, and sounds tumbling around their hearts and minds, day and night. It is shaping who they are today and who they will become. It is changing them.
For me, this startles my heart and makes me examine my own words. If children are watching me in these weeks after the election and I claim to follow Jesus, what are they learning that this means? Do they see that Christians value caring for the vulnerable and oppressed? That they stand up for the poor? That they extend grace and forgiveness and mercy, but also demand justice? Do they see that the journey of faith requires constant prayer, reflection and self control?
This is hard, heavy work, trying to be Christ like with children watching. Thank goodness we have God’s grace when we mess it all up, and Jesus to walk beside us, feeding us his words like bits of nourishment from God’s raven to Elijah. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the need to dive into those words and stuff myself silly. Maybe Thanksgiving this year requires feasting of both kinds.
(Want to start with an amuse-bouche? Enjoy the story of Elijah and the widow, here.)