My heartbeat quickened, my palms perspired, my complexion etiolated. Today, Ian goes back to elementary school.
Now, it wasn't nearly as dramatic as I make it out to sound. I think I just enjoy overly theatrical blog introductions now and again. Forgive me.
Today one of my junior highers was singing with his chamber choir at a local elementary school, so I decided to bring my foam finger and body paint to show my support. My own first few years of elementary school were quite difficult, so I think some of those memories resurface when placed in similar setting every once in while. It's funny how events from two decades prior can still show up in our thoughts now and again.
I really enjoy visiting students at school because it's pretty obvious that I'm neither a teacher, nor a parent. I find the inquisitive glances rather entertaining. You would too.
So the office buzzes me in, I schmooze with office staff for a bit, sign in with one of their adorable flower pens, and make my way to the gymnasium. As children pour through the doors, you can see the frazzled expressions on the faces of the young teachers, and the calm, collected expression of the seasoned veterans. Amidst the controlled chaos, I find a spot against the back wall of the gym.
As I listen to the eager young voices singing their proverbial hearts out, I am also observing the interactions of the young students sitting on the gym floor in front of me. Some are sitting quietly, intently focused on the performance before them. Others however, seem to have come down with a very serious case of a rare infection I like to call "Ianitus."
These students giggle, whisper, and on occasion make the bold move to full volume speaking. Telling jokes or offering commentary, these young pupils are blind to the music being performed in front of them. As I watch this, I am immediately reminded of the comments often written on the back of my reports cards by my teachers
"Ian is a smart student with a lot of potential, but he just cannot seem to shut his mouth"
I remember those days vividly. The countless banishments to the dreaded "hall", the endless conversations with exasperated teachers, and the frustrated parents who didn't understand why I couldn't behave. To be honest, I don't know if I understood either.
Now, my motives were always innocent. I was never virulent or malicious by any means. I just never stopped talking -always cracking what I was sure to be gut-busting jokes and offering my unsolicited saucy responses.Almost like a young, apprentice heckler. Maybe I just watched too much Muppets back in the day.
It's strange that I am now so very much content with being quiet, observant, and staying in the background. As often as it doesn't feel like it, we truly are "in process."
There was a third category of youthful novices that I recognized. These students showed many of the same signs one with "Ianitus" would exhibit -talkative, disruptive, and distracted. What they were saying however, was much different.
I had forgotten how mean kids can be to each other.
Not all of them, obviously. I love watching kids form different ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds interacting without any sense of their variance. They haven't yet learned that they're "not suppose to talk to that kind of person" or "befriend someone with that color skin." It really makes me ponder the beauty of Heaven.
Some of them though, were not nearly as seraphic.
They would tease and taunt- making fun of whoever they didn't like. They would selfishly fight over the same trite spot on the gym floor. They team up on the smallest, biggest, whitest, darkest, heaviest, skinniest person in the group, and were relentless in doing so as if it was as natural as breathing for them. It broke my heart.
I think that's why we're given passages like Hebrews 13:1-3
"Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."
We needn't look any further than an elementary school to see how fundamentally selfish and unloving we can truly be. Whether it's pulling a girl's hair so she'll like us, or making fart noises in class so our friends think we're funny, narcissism is hard to truly overcome. We are by nature, selfish and rebellious. And we don't necessarily "grow out" of it because we've advanced in years.
If you don't believe me, look no further than the ridicule that Apple Software Engineer Gray Powell is currently enduring for neglectfully leaving an unreleased iPhone prototype on a bar stool. Poor guy. Dumb mistake, but I still feel bad for the guy.
We even do this in the context of church. The continued desire to work on our lives, improve our situation, even grow closer to God often leaves us myopic to the needs of those around us. In a relentless attempt to figure out who we are, we ignore an important piece of the identity we've been called to embody -service.
Now, this can be a confusing passage if you are not particularly fond of your brother, or have a disjointed relationship with a sister. But because of Christ and his sacrifice, we don't simply masquerade as family, by His blood we actually are.
In the early church it was an ingrained part of their culture to welcome new people and travelers in their homes. In fact, Jesus even instructs his disciples to "shake off the dust from their sandals" if no one in town would have them in. And Genesis 18 shows us that the opportunity to "entertain angels" is a very real possibility that we need to be prepared for. We should look at every person through the lens of that potential.
Verse three is what I find to be the most unsettling. The charge to remember them not as "fellow brothers", but "fellow prisoner." That causes me to think that perhaps the way of Christ has more to do with entering in to pain around rather than simply solving it.
And perhaps you don't actually know anyone who is in a physical prison, but chances are that you've come across people in prisons of addictions, fear, betrayal, anger, apathy, and pride. What if Christ wasn't simply referring to the tangible prisons that we see with our eyes, but the ones our hearts and minds silently live in every day? What if we were to love those suffering in the dungeons of loneliness "as if you yourselves were suffering" and not just simply as a charity case we tolerate to feel better about ourselves? Samuel Johnson put it well:
"The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."- Samuel Johnson
Hebrews goes on to charge us with the task of prayer, to not forget to do good. I think we're given a reminder here because the writer understand how likely it is that we'll forget.
So let's stop praying tiny prayers, and trust that God is much bigger than even our brains can comprehend. Let us live in the truth we claim to believe, because how can we love our enemies if we aren't even praying for them.
And let us challenge each other to not forget. Love is too important, too paramount for us to forget. May we not be so caught up in our own lives that we forget to find opportunities to serve, to love, to create, to enter in, to carry on, and to share as if it we were the ones suffering in the first place.
"Many a man's reputation would not know his character if they met on the street."- Elbert Hubbard