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Attention Deficit March 31, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Church.
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There were three children sitting down the row from us at church on Sunday morning, and they reminded me of me. They were “tweens”, I suppose, two girls and a boy. I did not recognize them, so they might have been new.

The family fit right into a contemporary church setting. Mom and Dad were “business casual”. The kids were, what, maybe “kid casual”?. The little sister had on shorts, a white T-shirt, and sneakers completely covered in sequins. We get kids in everything from sneakers to Easter bonnets at our church (sometimes on the same kid), so they all fit in. It was not how the kids looked that made me remember them, it was what they did.

We all stood to sing. New Mom and Dad stood to sing. New kids remained seated. They were drawing, or writing, giggling a little among themselves. They were not at all disruptive, and they weren’t actively disinterested in the music. They just completely ignored it.

Then came the sermon, and the kids continued to amuse themselves. That’s when they reminded me of me. I’m not alone in the way I remember a childhood of weekly church sermons. If I were to use a single word to sum up all of my recollections, it would be this: long. They were Presbyterian sermons; I doubt any of them stretched over 20 minutes. But to my squirming-in-the-seat self with the partially tucked shirt and clip-on tie, they were interminable.

Churches have gotten savvier, and now kids have their own little bulletins with mazes and word games to occupy their attention during the sermon. Our church has so much good children’s programming all morning that our kids don’t want to miss it; consequently, they’re rarely in “big church” with us. It makes me a little sad, but then I remember my squirming and the threats to “take me out to the car”, and I suppose it’s a good thing. Maybe.

This Sunday, though, the new kids were there in “big church”, doodling and giggling, and I started praying for them. See, this sermon was about the Passover. It was not necessarily a “kid-friendly” sermon, but a kid could certainly understand it. Our pastor adeptly recounted the history of the Israelites that brought them to the time of the exodus, full of familiar stories about Joseph and Moses in a context that pointed ever-closer to the Lamb. I listened with rapt attention as I lamented the many stirring messages I missed as a squirmy kid and prayed for these new kids. One by one, my prayers were answered. The oldest looked up first. Then, eventually, the other two followed. The dark tale of the death angel was told and the intermingled sadness of judgment and gladness of redemption suddenly pointed straight to Easter. The sermon ended. We stood. This time, the new kids stood along with us.

Easter gets a bit marginalized in our time. Good Friday is a school day. Easter Monday is only a holiday because of Spring Break. There are no radio stations playing “all Easter music, all the time”. There is much to draw our attention away from the cross, the tomb, the resurrection. It’s Wednesday during something called “Holy Week.” Where is your attention? This tale will catch you if you let it. It will catch you and mystify you and transform you. All you need to do is look up.

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