It was the last place I wanted to be that night.
It had been a long day, and now I was crammed into a hot and crowded school auditorium for my son’s school music program. I gave him a thumbs up and had my camera ready to snap pictures, but really, I just wanted to be home on the couch.
It had been one of those days. Computer glitches and problems in the office. On Facebook someone was making a new stink about something that happened 18 months ago. That afternoon, someone came in my office to tell me they were quitting their volunteer position. You get the point.
To top things off, I had been following all the political news as I usually do, and it had not been helping my mood. It happened to be the day that white senior citizen John McGraw punched a young black protester. In an interview, he said of this young black American citizen: “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”
Even aside from all of the blatant racism and the emboldening of hate groups, we’re seeing violence, contempt, and lost friendships over this election cycle.
So, I wasn’t feeling great about the state of the world, and there I was finishing my day in the hot and crowded school auditorium.
Then, the second graders began to sing:
Well I got a hammer and I got a bell
And I got a song to sing all over this land
It’s the hammer of justice, it’s the bell of freedom
It’s a song about love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land
They were all dressed up in flashy tie-dye and other clothes from the “hippie era.” I had forgotten that the music program this year was a tribute to oldies and songs by the likes of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles.
Those 2nd graders were not timid. They sang their songs out loud and clear, complete with choreography they had learned.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some, but for everyone
This elementary school is very ethnically diverse. It is also a school with dual-language classes in which the students learn in both English and Spanish. There on the stage was a beautiful kaleidoscope of faces: white, black, Latino, Indian, Asian, even a few Spaniards. Every day they learn together, eat together, and play together. Now here they were on the risers belting it out as one group:
Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
I know the complicated people and history behind some of these songs, but when you hear them sung by children and just let the lyrics be what they are, you can start to get some moisture in your eyes.
Then again, loud and confident, with sweeping hand motions, they sang:
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
The contrast between the sight and sound of these children and the state of the adult world is just mind-boggling.
I’m a parent, my wife works in the public schools, and I’ve substitute taught before, so don’t get the impression that I idealize children or the public school setting. I know the harsh realities, the bullying, etc.
Still, there was more going on in the scene with Jesus and the children than just a fondness for little people. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). When the indignant chief priests and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”, Jesus responded by quoting the psalms: “From the lips of children and infants, you, Lord, have called forth your praise” (Matt. 21:16). In Isaiah’s prophetic vision, he wrote, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, emphasis mine).
Lead on, children.
Lead on, for you still have the vision of a world without borders; of the wolf living with the lamb. Lead on, for you know what adults have forgotten, and the Kingdom of God belongs to such as you.
While adults scream at immigrants to “learn English,” you are learning each other’s language, bearing through the frustration of not understanding, and often having a fun time doing it.
While adults hold on to grudges for years, you go back after the 10-minute timeout and play with that classmate.
While some adults throw punches, tear signs, take up arms, and shut out many due to suspicion of the few, you are singing together, playing together, and hugging each other.
‘They’re just children living out of their innocence and naiveté,’ someone might say. ‘They don’t yet know the harsh realities of the world.’ Perhaps. But it seems to me Jesus was saying that innocence is better than coldness; naiveté better than prejudice.
Lead on, children. May you not learn our hate, our fear and suspicion, or our exclusion.
As one more modern song puts it:
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance …
… I hope you dance.