Through the Eyes of a Child: New Insights in Theology from a Child’s Perspective part A http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/2/16005#sthash.AObfUyvU.dpuf
Reading this collection of essays has been both challenging and stretching. In the exchange between the realities of child experience and adult theological/psychological/educationist reflection the important theme emerges of welcoming children and their experience “so that adults can know God and become like children so that adults can mature.” (Jerome Berryman’s endorsement comment on the back cover.) Here are my comments and selected quotes from the final chapters on death, judgment, angels, and heaven and hell.
“Death” – John Drane and Olive M. Fleming Drane.
This essay is written by parents of two young children, the second of whom died unexpectedly and the older one who became their biggest help in processing that loss. One of Olive’s responses to that traumatic event was to move from work with medical and scientific research to a ministry of clowning.
“In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century…the British Empire was at the pinnacle of its powers, and western Christians were supremely self-confident not only about their faith, but also about their lifestyles and ways of understanding the world and its people. Today, that has all gone… [O]ur culture has more widely lost confidence in itself, and instead of believing we deserve some celestial postmortem future, we are more likely to be overburdened with a sense of our own inadequacy in life, and death as a more or less meaningless end that, if it is any better than life, is certainly unknown and unpredictable.” (p.208)
“When Olive found herself becoming involved in clowning…it challenged everything we thought we knew about ourselves as well as about theology and God. We were amazed when people all over the world started to share profound things about themselves as a direct result of encountering Olive’s clown characters…She regularly invites members of a congregation to take part in painting her face. Adults rarely respond, but children always do – and then it is the adults who are most obviously moved as a result, and more often than not they are taken back to experience some experience of bereavement or other personal loss. … By painting the colours of new life on the white face, they not only engage with the reality of death, but point the way to new life and hope for others, even in the midst of tragedy…” (p. 221)
“Judgment” – Paul Butler
This essay focuses on the observations of many children as they are introduced to, and asked to respond to the parable of the sheep and the goats. (Matthew 25:31-46). The visual and verbal responses of the children are fascinating. Here are just a few of Bishop Butler’s words as he learns from them:
“Children appear to be able to live with paradox and contradiction quite happily. Perhaps this is a key lesson for adults to learn from theology done through the eyes of a child: learn to live with and accept paradox and apparent contradiction, don’t always try to work out a neat theological solution.” (p. 227)
“Around all three settings, home/family life, school and the law, every group talked about examples of where and how judgment takes place in their, and others’, daily lives. In this way judgment was virtually always seen as something that happens in life here and now.” (p.243)
“But perhaps even more than these reflections on judgment, for the author this piece of work makes me want to encourage the giving of the text of the Bible to children for them to explore and seek to understand for themselves.” (p.245)
“Angels” – Howard Worsley
Worsley analyzes the historical and current state s of adult responses to the topic of angels and then responds to projects in schools; one where children were given 4 sessions to respond in various ways to the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6:1-24).
“In terms of what angels do, a huge 13 out of 20 children said that angels help you if you are in trouble by protecting you from danger or evil. …Two children said that angels did ‘everything that is good’ and two others explained that they did God’s will, ‘like sending messages’. One child said that angels brought peace. Another was quite clear that angels helped only those who prayed to God or worshipped him…” (p. 257)
“The wider class discussion drew attention to the different faith backgrounds of the children. The differences were articulated and noted with interest rather than being causes for dissent and showed encouraging signs for interfaith dialogue between children.” (p. 258-9)
“If we are to return to the insights offered by the children’s artwork of angels, the same question remains true to us encountering children. Do we see their perceptions, as merely developmental insights that need education or, conversely, are we fed by an original vision teaching us that we might be entertaining angels unaware?” (p.266)
“Heaven and Hell” – Philip Fryar
This last chapter is written, or rather dictated, by a 15 year old boy who is severely dyslexic and whose friends describe him as ‘a cross wearing maniac in a mosh pit’. He recounts his changing ideas about heaven and hell from his earliest memories on with vivid candour, articulating his progression from an egocentric image of heaven as being in a playful and loving state with all the people in his family to a state of fairly critical scepticism. He concludes with this impressive paragraph:
“Issues to do with heaven and hell are still with me, but the way I think about them is more intricate and complicated these days. However, the way in which I thought about heaven and hell, good and evil, when I was a very small child, is important to me and I hope will not fade away completely when I am an adult. Those thoughts and pictures are the foundations for other things I am waiting to learn and I hope when I have children myself I will not forget them. Perhaps I will laugh with surprise when I die. I have not ruled that out.” (p.282)
Laughing with surprise when we die is a wonderful image that I will take with me as I age. Thank you, Philip, for the gift. And thank-you, my blog readers, for staying with this topic for three weeks. I hope you’ve come to agree with me and these theologians that there is great potential for theology and church renewal in this field of child theology.