A clever person sent this clip to me a week or so ago when I was too distracted to attend, and then Jonathon Aigner got to it first, and pointed out the obvious problems and how the pastor could have done it better. Forbearing with the weaker brother—which is really what Children Are—is essential for the life of the church. How the weakest one is welcomed and treated displays for the whole universe the health and faith of particular congregations, not just the “Church” in its biggest, most all-encompassing sense. Unfortunately, most people, including the occasional pastor, just don’t know what that’s supposed to look like.
I happened to hear bits of someone else’s fascinating conversation recently, observing the very bad trend of children not melting down in public, as they once did. And this is not because they are well-behaved, but because they are sitting always in front of a screen. A really good way to get through the grocery store, or through an appointment at the doctor, or even church, is to pop your phone in their chubby little hands so that they are immediately absorbed—and pacified really—and don’t make a peep. Everyone is happy, except for God and the speech pathologist who have all kinds of work ahead of them both.
The phone comes at a perfect time for most parents, who don’t really have an intuitive sense of the needs and proclivities of the average child. Children have thrust upon them legion mixed messages. They are both wanted and inconvenient when they are actually present. They are often given everything in the world, except the certain kinds of freedom that would settle their little spirits. They are told that their feelings are very important, but not given the basic tools that most of humanity for generations has had to manage them. They are told that reading is wonderful, but not taught how. They are told that Jesus loves them, but are constantly hindered, never having the ears of faith opened by those who purport also to love them (their parents…and the church).For example, I think it might be rather unkind to haul certain kinds of little children into a darkened worship space and make them be still—which is Aigner’s point–get some liturgy, for heaven’s sake, have something for them to look at besides the omnipresent screen. But it is also unkind, when they are in the pew, to let them be the ruler of the day. They should be gently taught to attend, to know that something sacred and beautiful is going on, a lovely banquet, if you will, to which they are really invited. They should neither be excluded nor made the center, just as everyone sitting and standing and kneeling should both be included and not made the center. Jesus is the center, and even the smallest child can come to him and be accepted.
Anyway, I did hate the way the pastor in the clip condescended to the mother of the child, and then spun out trying to defend himself, and generally made everyone uncomfortable. I certainly would not go back if that had happened to me, nor, being very shy, would I have said anything to anyone on the way out, nor posted on the internet to shame the church—not that that at all was the intention of this mother who was just trying to struggle her way in through the front door. Shame is the currency of the day. She felt shame and so passed it along by the means we all have at our disposal. That is the other message children imbibe out of the cup of this cultural wrath—do not feel shame, but when you do, pass it along to others, foist it on God himself, rather than coming to him in helpless repentance, begging him to take it away and make you happy and whole.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Sunday School materials to mend, broken as they are by little hands who adore them, and for whom they were prepared by me for just that purpose.