Monday, October 18, 2010

The Longer the String...The Lower the Pitch

Seriously, there are 2-5 year old children at Redeemer Lutheran Preschool who say this kind of thing on a regular basis - driving their teachers crazy, mystifying their parents , and teaching their friends on the playground, not to mention putting most adults to shame for saying absurd things such as,  "kids are too young to learn music and old hymns from your grandpa's church."  Redeemer Preschoolers also happen to say things like: "No daddy, this is my number 5 finger;" they  know I am Jesus' Little Lamb by heart and their older siblings, ages 5-8, are learning Built on the Rock for hand-bells (who said we can't teach hymns to children?).  Why?  Well, I'll get back to that in a minute.  It's cliche but true, kids say the darnedest things.  They also say the things we teach them.  We are always teaching our children something; the question is what are we teaching them?  This is just as true at church as it is at home.  For now, let's stick with the former.  For at church, we are always confessing something; the question is, what does our doctrine and practice confess?  Consider the following ways we teach our children:

Example #1:The hymn of the day ends and a saccharine sounding announcement, somewhere along these lines, springs forth, "Hello children; come follow Ms. Had-Too-Much-Coffee-This-Morning to kids' church while your parents listen to the sermon."  This way the parents are fed with the sermon while their children are fed with veggie-tales, Davey and Goliath or some other modern equivalent.  But just for the sake of argument, let's assume that this children's church actually does teach something other than moralism clothed in animation and a few words of Scripture taken entirely out of context.  We have still taught our children - and in this case I would argue - poorly.  And maybe poorly isn't a strong enough word.  Jesus said it would be better to use a millstone if anyone leads His little ones astray.  You see, kids are smarter than we give them credit.  They see right through this charade.  That's why children's church is rarely structured (in style and substance) and almost always a 15-20 minute zoo; to say it's like herding cats is offensive to cats, in particular and herding in general.  But I digress; we have taught them first of all, that the sermon (and by extension the entire Divine Service) really isn't for them at all.  We've taught them nothing about the place of God's Word in the Divine Service - even if they can't understand every word of the sermon - they are still learning.  Instead, we've taught them that the sermon isn't for them; it's for the adults.  We've taught taken them out of the Divine Service instead of drawing them into it.  We've given them a confession to grow out of instead of into as they mature in the faith.  We've trained them up in the way they should go.  Why not leave them in the pews.  If they need to eat some cheerios and color on the children's bulletin (kudos to CPH's recent efforts at this btw) that's fine.  Children learn by doing and being and seeing the activities in their environment, not by being taken out the very Divine Service we want them to remain in their entire life.  We do this in every other aspect of life (crossing the street, riding a bike, walking, talking, the way husband and wife relate, etc. etc. etc.), so why should it be any different at church?  Parents, raise your children up in the way they should go.  When you fold your hands, show them how to fold their hands.  When you make the sign of the cross, show them how and tell them why Christians make the sign of the cross.  When you sing, show them where you are singing in the hymnal.  When you kneel at confession and the Lord's Supper, show them kneel how to with you and so on throughout the service.  But if we take our children out of the service how will they learn and hear?  There's a lot to be said for routine; through the liturgy, the minds and faith of children are being shaped as they are prepared for the future.  This is all part of the parent's vocation in the pew.

Example #2: The so-called, "Youth Service."  I'll try to keep this brief.  The same points made above are applicable here as well.  Part of the logic behind the "youth service" comes from statements like these: "we have to make the liturgy more relevant to attract our youth; we need to involve our youth more in the service so that they'll stick around after they graduate high school; pastor, you just don't understand, when I was in youth we had these great services where the youth did everything and they were just so meaningful, etc."  All of these statements fail the logical smell test.  Not to mention, whenever we exchange the Historic Liturgy (form and content) for relevance, we lose both, not to mention the youth.  Because we've taught them once again that there's something about the regular Sunday Service that isn't for them and somehow doesn't cater to their "needs."  We've also set them apart as a congregation within a congregation, setting them up for future disappointment when the church doesn't catch up with the latest trend.  Rather than diluting the liturgy to a childlike level that renders it obsolete (or involving youth where they have not been given the vocation to serve) the church ought to support efforts that incorporate youth into the life of the church, drawing them into the Divine Service rather than shaping it around them and the culture.  A particular shining light in the Lutheran Church is the Higher Things youth organization, that aims to do the very thing our youth desperately need with their emphasis on the three W's: Worship - Liturgical and faithful, Word -studied an applied to their life with the Scriptures and the Catechism and of course real Fun.  Here's the link  You won't be disappointed.

Example #3: And now for something completely different: a positive example.  Another shining beacon in the church, the soon to be Redeemer Lutheran Music Academy.  Currently it is a private business by one of our members, who we'll call Ms. Dingaling (trust me, that's not a pejorative; it's quite appropriate since she teaches music to our little ones here at RLC).  Ms. Dingaling teaches hand-bells, music theory, rhythm, piano, flute-o-phone, recorder, violin - and any other instrument she can get her hands on - to children ages 2 and up.  Yes, you read that right; 2 year olds are learning music theory, sight reading, counting, finger position and notation.  And she's doing it all using the Lutheran Service Book (and some theory books of course too).  Any given given day, the sounds of children singing, Children of the Heavenly Father and I am Jesus' Little Lamb, fill the make-shift classroom in the fellowship hall.  These children don't know that adults think the hymns they are learning are "too hard" for them.  And frankly, they don't care.  One parent recently complained (jokingly of course) that their little girl would not stop singing these hymns over and over and over.  I simply smiled.  They sing because they are taught.  They sing because they know that Jesus died on the cross for them.  They sing because they have faith.  That's what faith does; it sings...out of the mouth of babes!  Faith cannot help but sing God's praises.  The joy of the Music Academy is the joy of the Gospel and the joy of the Gospel, Christ Crucified for you, is the very heart of the Liturgy, where this Crucified and Risen Christ is present for us and comes to us, not just in His body and blood, but in hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, in water and Word and absolution, from invocation to benediction.  It's remarkable, our hymnal stock is sold out.  They're being sent home preschool families (most of whom are not members and many of whom are not Christian).  Luther was right.  Music really is the handmaiden of the Gospel.  Let's teach our children accordingly.

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