I especially love performing child dedications as a pastor. Children remind us grownups of the true nature of faith when we jockey for prestige and power, and fret about many things in our family circumstances, in our community, and in our world. I’m not talking about a romantic, nostalgic return to innocence. That’s fantasy! Instead, it’s about trust, dependence, and a sense of adventure. Children come with nothing and therefore receive.
Out of this deep trust and connectedness to the ground of our being we’re set free to explore and grow. I often dream (and sometimes fret) about the kind of church we will become. Above all else, I want us to be a church that welcomes children. Those dreams are always full of children playing on a playground, exploring nature, interacting in a nursery or daycare center, participating in worship, and learning about faith and life in interactive children’s activities.
This is integrally connected to my faith and my passion for peace and justice. The kind of community in which children are loved and cared for is a place where all God’s people can flourish. We still may not know it in our first year of life but we will confront enemies. These experiences can wound and make us fearful, even violent. They can also teach us to trust in a power outside ourselves (or better deep inside ourselves) that, as a people of faith, we call God or the Divine.
Such trust allows us to develop our gifts and to flourish. When our trust is crushed we become afraid to use our gifts and reluctant to explore our world. It’s for this reason that an enlightened society will pour its best minds and other resources into early childhood education. As Americans we’re slowly learning but still have a long way to go. We’ll know we’ve arrived when we honor and reward our children’s teachers and caregivers in the same way that we reward the CEOs of our major corporations.
I was so delighted when the brave Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who has become the hero of the struggle for education of young girls, won the Nobel Peace Prize this year. We all know her story. The story of Kailash Satyarthi, the Indian man who shares the Nobel Peace Prize with her, is equally inspiring. He has devoted his entire life to the fight against child labor. When he was a six year old boy walking to school, he noticed the son of a local cobbler working in his father’s shop. When he asked why the boy wasn’t in school, the cobbler told him that he and his son were born solely to work. The seed of giving his life to the struggle against child labor was born on that day.
So many children, especially young girls, are never able to develop their full potential because their families and their communities don’t value education. An even bigger problem is children who are emotionally and physically abused, and not given a caring, secure environment in which to thrive. They don’t have the ability to process that hurt because they’re so enveloped in the world of their parents and caregivers. They repress the painful memories and later act out on them in destructive ways. It becomes a vicious cycle of contempt for those who are smaller and weaker.
This is the cycle that Jesus cut through when he stopped what he was doing and invited the little children to come after his disciples had rebuked their parents and tried to turn them away (Mark 10:13-16). The disciples’ callous actions are related to their ambitious jockeying for prestige and power. Shortly before this incident they had been arguing among themselves about who would get the powerful positions in the future reign of God. Jesus gave them an object lesson by taking a child in his arms and telling them that this is the true measure of greatness (Mark 9:33-37).
The disciples didn’t get it in the same way that we don’t get it. Here they are a short time later turning the children away because honoring and caring for children isn’t considered important enough. No wonder Jesus became indignant. He gathers the children in his arms and again gives an object lesson, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”