There are some things that are simply born in us.
This weekend my baby found a music box train in his basket of toys. He looked at me with his 8 month old eyes and I knew his request. I wound up the toy until it began that metallic box sound of “I’ve been working on the railroad.” Brooksie smiled his wide mouthed smile (the one that takes up the whole half of his face) and began to rock back and forth looking to me for approval.
I clapped my hands. “You can dance!” I said and he continued to hold his mouth wide open in a smile, so proud of himself. It seemed he’d been planning to show me his moves for a while now.
Babies know that music is important. They know their bodies are supposed to rock back and forth to the sound. They are drawn to beauty.
In the car on Friday, August wasn’t demanding his own music, so I took the opportunity to listen to my own. August was happy with Mumford and Sons and, as usual, surprised me by how close he was listening to the lyrics when they sang: “But please don’t cry, you liar…”
“Why doesn’t he want his friend to cry?”
“Because he doesn’t want him to be sad,” I said. “You don’t want your friends to cry, right?”
“Ummm,” he thought out loud. “But why does he say: ‘You liar’?”
“Well, his friend was mean to him and lied. And it made him sad. Do your friends ever make you sad?”
“Yeah. When they’re mean.”
“Yeah, that’s how this guy feels.”
“But why did his friend lie to him?”
“Because he believed The Terrible Lie like the rest of us.” (I’ve been using the language of The Jesus Storybook Bible with him. In it, Sally Lloyd Jones describes sin as believing “The Terrible Lie” that God doesn’t really love us. Really, doesn’t all brokenness grow out of the thought that what God has said or done isn’t trustworthy, that his love is not enough?
There’s something else that’s built in to our hearts: a longing for things to be as they should be. August kept asking me that afternoon in the car, “But why? Why did his friend lie?” And all I could answer is that sometimes we don’t believe God really loves us and so we’re mean. Sin exists no matter how much our guts tell us that it shouldn’t. That’s why for people like me, the idea of individuals undone by sin is a relief. At least there’s a reason for the fracture between what my heart says the world should be and what it actually is.
Sunday morning I checked the newspaper after having spent Saturday and Friday night happily oblivious to the goings on in the world. That’s when I heard about the officers who pepper sprayed protesting students at UC Davis. Then I read the beautifully written opinion piece by Robert Hass (a poet I’ve long admired) in The New York Times. He wrote about the beatings he, his wife, and his colleague (all poets and professors at UC Berkeley) received when they showed up at the Occupy UC Berkeley site to try to protect their students from the physical response of police with clubs in their hands.
I hate watching the news. I actually stopped a couple of years ago and I only read or listen to it now. I don’t like to watch violence (especially since my kids were born). But I made myself sit through this video of the students being pepper sprayed because I felt it was important. Then I cried in my kitchen with Brooksie in his high chair. I cried spooning pureed black beans into his mouth, because whatever you believe about these protests, whatever your stance on the Occupy Movement, violence is always brutal. The bad guy is always the child of a mother and the good guy is as well. We are all broken: those of us with pepper spray aimed down our open throats and those of us making a point through another’s suffering.
And all of us know we don’t belong in either position. That’s why my grandfather has spent his whole life recovering from the violence he witnessed and suffered in World War II. That’s why we weep when the once-abused reminds us in the wake of the Penn State scandal that it’s our job to tell our children where adults can touch them and where they can’t.
This is not the way God intended our world to be. Friends are not supposed to lie. August knows that. Music is meant to be danced to. Brooks knows that. Beauty is worth directing the gaze upon. We know that. But then we believe The Terrible Lie. We believe that God is not enough. We believe that God is not good. We miss the good gifts. We miss the grace.
Thankfully, grace has always been offered to everyone broken by The Terrible Lie: good guys, bad guys and everyone searching for beauty in between.