Monday, August 26, 2013

Kids Saying the Damned-est Things

A friend told me of an event he attended this past weekend where he saw an eight or nine-year-old armed with a megaphone and preaching fire and judgment to passersby. An adult, ostensibly his father, filmed him proudly as the little boy yelled Bible quotes into all manner of nuanced adulthood. A decade old, likely not yet acquainted with the confusion of a first crush or financial disappointment, calling his world into account.

I've seen documentaries and news stories where children are thought especially blessed by God for preaching (and screeching) with bold, knowing charisma beyond their years. Tearful adults remark with disbelieving shakes of their heads. "He's got that Holy Fire!" Sometimes it's cute. Except when it's not. Those other times it's rather sad.

I believe children hold a very special place in the world and are far more valuable than most of them are ever treated. We often overlook them in deference to our grown-up rat race. In doing this, everyone -kids and adults- misses out on life. Christ, as we've heard, went so far as to say to a child-ignoring first century palestine that the Reign of God belongs to children, despite (and perhaps because of) their very inability to earn it. Yet I don't fully understand how yelling at strangers before you know how the world works, let alone how it should work, is considered inspired. Children always yell about the world not being according to their preferences. We call it whining. Why when tucked into a miniature suit and accompanied by a Bible and amplification is it something from the great beyond?

When Jesus was twelve, his parents left him in Jerusalem on accident. They'd assumed he was in their friends' minivan or something. Going back and retracing their steps, they found him hanging out in the temple with religious leaders and scholars. And their minds were blown. Why? Because Jesus asked great questions. The second chapter of Luke records amazement not in what Jesus preached, but in his ability to interact with the ideas, to listen and ask follow up and clarification, to involve himself in the exchange rather than distance himself in order to conquer.

Jesus made his mark by being an inquisitive presence, not a declarative one.

Kids with megaphones judging things they don't understand typically only become taller with time. There's not much maturing available for those who see faith as the declaring of how things ought to be irrespective of their own ignorance. Making statements instead of conversation is probably not a phenomenon powered by Christ, but by a desire to control and complain one's own kingdom into view. I'm saying this isn't really age-specifc.

I'd like to see kids celebrated for listening and wondering and remaining humble. While we're at it, let's celebrate those things in every stage of life in which we find them. Let's call that charisma.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Three weeks ago my wife Kristi and I took a hike around Jordan Pond. It's a beautiful freshwater lake in Acadia National Park, flanked with pines and mountain ridges along the coast of Maine. Two full hours of nearly four miles negotiating trails and boulders- that's some pond.

As we walked we agreed our chances of seeing wildlife would increase if we were silent. A dense white fog had descended on the lake, adding to the eerie beauty. Silence seemed right. Reverent even. So we moved along the water's edge in silence.

Only minutes later the silence was broken by a sudden explosion. Less than a yard from my feet there erupted movement and screeching and color. As it was coming from the water's edge, my mind immediately classified it as a duck. But my mouth disagreed. 

"PILEATED!" I was suddenly whisper-yelling. "That's a Pileated Woodpecker!" 

It flew in an arc and landed on the side of a nearby tree, its large monochromatic body instantly secured to the bark, its head red enough to shame Julianne Moore into a hat. Kristi was obviously impressed with the bird, but I now suspect she may have also been struggling to respect me as I squealed. 

"Oh my gosh honey. I've never been this close!" I continued, eyes bulging.

The bird flew further up into the tree out of view. We moved closer, camera on. And that's when we heard the most terrible sound one can hear in a time like this. Other humans.

Out of the sacred, foggy trail ahead came a couple, talking about someone named Patty and product initiatives and percentages over last quarter and laughing about it all. They weren't as evil as I make them sound, but I did momentarily pray them out of existence. On impulse, as they came fully into view, I put my finger to my lips to hush them. How strange that must have been for them, a grown man and woman, hushed like children by a sylvan stranger. But it worked. They froze, staring at us while I gestured up into the tree over their heads. I whispered to them with the intensity of one informing another his foot was on a land mine. 

"Sorry to be the noise police, but there's a Pileated Woodpecker over your head." He looked at me with confusion. His hand gripped his wallet. I edited myself. "It's a big bird. Woody Woodpecker without the laugh."

"Oh," said the woman on his behalf, now squinting into the branches. The man ducked his head as though we were under a helicopter. The woodpecker called out, the sound echoing into the green and white. And there we were, four people. Silent. Anticipating. 

We stood this way for a full minute, until it was clear Woody had gone. With nods we finally acknowledged to each other the moment was over. Each of us walked away in solemn whispers.

I hope I never meet you on a wooded trail. But I do hope, as was reinforced for me on my July sabbatical, you understand the reverence of silence. Not just in the outdoors, but in every waking, noisy hour. All of reality is incased in silence. All of reality is brimming with the sacred, the profound, the beautiful. I confess I don't recognize but a sliver of it. I'm typically most guilty of perpetuating the distraction of noise. You and I will come to life to the degree our lives are lived in more awareness of the great holy silence inviting us in.

May our God of few words inspire you today in the quieting of your mouth and mind. May you be newly entertained by the spaces between. May you experience what can only be found in silence.