Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Childlike Faith In A Music Store

Although I did preach the sermon on Youth Sunday at my church in 1980, and in spite of the fact that I can look back now and see a definitive calling into ministry even in my childhood, my first career and my formal education is in teaching. I have a degree in Music Education, and I've taught in public and private classrooms off and on since the mid-80's.

I have great, powerful memories of teaching school; a few years in the Dominican Republic that were fueled by youthful passion and exuberance and the incredible beauty of the Caribbean. I was young enough and bold enough to believe that anything was possible, and so it was. Green and naive, I was filled to the brim every day with the joy of teaching.

In a small town in Texas, I learned what it was like to open your heart to kids from difficult circumstances, and I came to see the honor and privilege it was to gain trust and respect in a way that mattered both inside and outside of the classroom.

I taught in Ohio, a year that was probably more about my survival and sanity than any good I did in the classroom - but I still believe it mattered, the opportunity to walk into a classroom every day and wave a banner that said You matter. Your soul matters. Your heart matters. Sing. Play. Dance. Shout. Make it matter.

I've always believed that education is ministry - life change, investment, transformation. Again, during one transitional year in Chesterfield County, I encountered kids who needed so much...and others who barely seemed to need anything. I did my best to be present, but it was a hard year for me; I was barely present in my own life, and teaching was hard. My cup, that used to overflow, was parched and drained, and giving and sharing and leading and guiding was exhausting.

That was the year I walked away; I was offered the opportunity to work full-time for my church, in the same community where my kids attended school, and I needed to do it. I needed to soak in the grace and healing; I needed to give back and serve. I wanted to be there.

It was a very good decision; a decade into the job, I've grown in ways I knew were necessary and others that were unexpected. Creativity has flourished; I've discovered my weaknesses and learned not to fear them.

I stayed in the classroom, part-time, for a year or two; the local high school needed an accompanist and I gladly obliged, grabbing moments when I was asked to instruct and coach and cast vision and throw out words of inspiration. But when I walked out of the classroom for the final time, I said I was done. I have no plans to teach in the classroom again. Leaning hard into the work on my plate in this season of life at my current job, I seize the moments when I can tutor and enlighten, expound upon things, throw out some ideas and inspiration and wait for the light bulb to come on.

I love those moments. But I have no interest in going back to the classroom.

And yet, today, something beautiful and amazing and wonderful happened. My husband's business - Powhatan Music & Sound - had been asked to host a special event for elementary kids in the county. Called Read to the Rhythm, the school partnered with the library to hand out books, share stories and inspire kids to read throughout the summer months. We worked to clean up and prepare and make room...

And then the kids came in.

And they kept coming.

I never counted, but we had probably 60 to 75 kids there, from preschool up through 6th grade. They were eager, smiling; each one came in clutching a copy of a new Scholastic book that the volunteers handed out on the front porch of the music store. Respectful, mindful of their surroundings, we had no issue at all with kids touching instruments or running around. They were well-behaved and well-mannered.

Valerie Ayers, of the local school board, had chosen a book about music to read to the kids. For certain sections of the book, I was prepared to illustrate with a live instrument; 'P' is for piano (which I played); 'V' is for violin (which I cannot play, but I can fake); and on and on, with banjos and ukuleles and maracas and guitars and the upright bass.

The kids smiled and I had an absolute blast.

I got to tell them about the music store in a very short spiel, and then we took a few questions.

How do you make the instruments?

What makes the sound?

Do you have every instrument here?

How do you yodel in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'?

There was a moment, when I was speaking, bent over towards those upturned, shiny faces, when the joy of teaching flooded through me. I remembered what it was like to spend an entire school year with a group of children who knew that they were there to learn, who were caught up in a system that was sometimes a chore and yet they were willing to go along and follow the one leading.

Childlike faith.

That's a thing in my current day-to-day job, this notion that there is great value in childlike faith. But in this day and age, the serious, humble pursuit of childlike faith seems to be lost in the shuffle. Lately, it gets shouted down by folks taking sides and tossing out arguments, pushing agendas and defending long-held beliefs; there certainly isn't much evidence of the innocence that 'childlike faith evokes on the endless stream of social media declarations and demarkations - even (or especially?) from followers of Jesus, for whom childlike faith was worthy of emphasis. Even when we gather on Sundays, sometimes it's an awkward mix of a longing to celebrate and the tender, careful eggshells we walk on for those who remain skeptical or even hostile; the air can be thick with cynicism, a stubborn tolerance of rather than participation in corporate singing, a bleak "show me" cloud that hovers over our heads, reeking of the muck and mire of cultural battles and general discontent. Anything 'childlike' can get buried pretty quickly.

Richard Rohr often provokes interesting challenges in me; his writing inspires, occasionally comforts, but mostly stirs up a mess in my soul. These days, I think my heart is better stirred up and thoughtful than it is relaxed and cozy, and this morning, I read these words from Rohr:
Humans tend to think that if they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all is necessary to encounter the thing in itself. Presence is my word for this encounter, a different way of knowing and touching the moment. It is a much more vulnerable position, and leaves us without a full sense of control, which is why many will not go there...In some ways, presence is the 'one thing necessary' (Luke 10.42), and perhaps the hardest thing of all.
I'm not sure if any of the dots connect in this; they hardly do for me, so I cannot say for sure that anyone reading this can make sense of it. A relative who reads my blog occasionally told me last week that I wrote a lot, but often didn't really say anything. He smiled as he said it, and neither of us were really sure if it was a complement or constructive criticism - but it's true, really. I write a lot and I don't always understand it, but I can tell you this: Something about standing in front of a bunch of open-faced, open-hearted children, talking about the joy found in music and learning - that changed me today. It pulled me clear back around to the beginning of my life, lived with purpose, and it caused me to think about what I do every day, especially on Sundays, in my work and my real life.

As Rohr says, I think I encountered presence, today, of a sort that I can't really make sense right now - but that's okay. That vulnerability is okay, and maybe even necessary.

Childlike faith. Oh, may I remember.


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