Pastor Shawn Hannon
Hope Lutheran Church, Arcade, NY
There was a sign that hung in my family cottage growing up. It read, “To be seen, stand up. To be heard, speak up. To be respected, shut up.” It reminded me of an older adage, “Children are to be seen, and not heard.” I suppose there may have been a time and, perhaps even a place, where those statements were partially true, but I struggle with their social implications. More than that, I struggle with end result of a family, community, organization, or society that demands the youngest among them “shut up” until they come of a certain age. My fear is that when groups silence or separate any segment of their population, it’s the group in power who ends up suffering if not the group as a whole.
If you’ve been attending a church that follows the global set of readings one half of the Christians in the world read on Sunday mornings called the lectionary, you’ve no doubt been living in John 6 lately and heard references to bread or manna more time than you can count. But do you remember how the chapter started? 5,000 people were sitting on a hillside listening to Jesus teach when the hour got late. Jesus asked his disciples how they were going to feed all these people. They responded, “We could work for 6 months and not have enough money to feed all these people!” Yet there was a boy there who had five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took the boys gifts, blessed them, and gave them to the people. Once all had ate there were 12 baskets of food left over.
It’s an amazing story. In fact, it is the only miracle of Jesus (besides the resurrection) recorded in each of the gospels. It’s central to our faith and understanding of Jesus as our Christ. And central to the story is the most unlikely figure of all: a boy. He’s not named. He doesn’t have a back story. As far as we know he never makes another appearance. But he’s there that day, and he packed a lunch.
The grown-ups around Jesus were sure they were in trouble. They thought there would never be enough. They knew feeding those people who never be possible. But Jesus took the offering of the boy, and not only did everyone eat, but there was food leftover. Imagine that same story but this time when the boy comes forward with his lunch the disciples (which wouldn’t be out of character) say, “Scram, Kid! Children are to be seen and not heard. Or better yet, unseen.” No one would have ate.
When organizations push children to the edges, when we ask them to wait their turn, when we treat them like objects to be seen and not heard, it is not the children who suffer. That boy still would have had his lunch. He would have ate; just not everybody else. It is the rest of us to lose. When we lose their gifts, insights, and passion, we lose ourselves.
Children are the future. That much is obvious. But children are also the present. The largest generation in American history was born between 1995 and the present. We can ask them to sit in the corner and wait their turn in our churches, organizations, and community, but it is we who will suffer. Instead, may we be bold enough to ask what they have to offer, and willing enough to see how it works—especially if it’s not what we would have done.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.