by Rev. David Rommereim
I am 62 years old. Like many of us I grew up in a world that didn’t have two or three locks on apartment doors, bars on the windows, locks on the gate, or security cameras surrounding our buildings, locked playgrounds, or unused gyms. Life was just as dangerous then, as it is now, but we did not live with this much fear.
You and I have built a culture in which our children grow up in a riddle of fear. As the pastor of this ministry, I have noticed that parents work very hard at securing opportunities for their children, so hard, that schedules are riddled with a childhood that has become unnatural. “Children’s lives have been subject to intolerable enclosure for the profit of others,” writes Jay Griffiths.
Jay Griffiths is a storyteller who grew up in England and now lives in Wales. Her travels have taken her to distant lands. In this book, "Kith, the Riddle of the Childscape" she has landed on the most significant deterrent to growing up - enclosure. She shares with us that in much of western society we enclose our children into strict regiments, create undue pressure to perform, contain their movement, and restrict anything resembling spontaneous play.
Over the last few weeks at our Monday evening "Children, Youth, and Family Ministry," I have taken our students through another engagement with what I call, spiritual play. First, we did the math through Jesus’ famous story about forgiveness. You remember Peter asks Jesus, How often should I forgive... 7 times?. Jesus says, “70 X 7.” Or, 490 times per sin. Everyone knew Jesus demands that we “just do it.” Forgive, that is. But the math was fun to learn. The next weeks, we acted out two of the most famous Gospel stores of Jesus ("The Good Samaritan” and “The Generous Landowner.”) Our students heard the story through this spiritual play. Then, because of this play, it opened up a doorway for me to share with a few students what their dreams are, what they are afraid of, and what their questions are.
I say this because we, at Good Shepherd, have a responsibility not to enclose our children. The best we can do is open them up to a safe play that gives them an experience of God’s sacred canopy. That is why I invite interested adults to read Kith. This is a book that will inspire and challenge you to remember that childhood is so precious when it is full of play. Moreover, our best learning is at play.
Finally, Jay Griffiths reminds me of my own personal need to pay attention to children and their riddle of enclosure. She shares this story: “In the early 1960’s, a North Carolina girl of eight spoke about the newly desecrated schools in the American South. She was walking to school alone, with segregationists screaming around her, she remembers, ‘and suddenly I saw God smiling, and I smiled.’ A woman was standing near the school door, shouting at the child: “’Hey, you, what you smiling at?” I looked right at her face, and I said, “At God,” then she looked up at the sky and then she looked at me, and she didn’t call me any more names."