Mark 9:33-37 and 10:13-17
I dunno about you, but I hate the word “dunno”. It seems to be one of the three most common words among the people I work with, alongside “wot-eva” and “nuthin”.
What are you doing? Dunno.
What are you supposed to be doing? Dunno.
How was your weekend? Dunno.
What do you want to be when you leave school? Dunno.
What do you enjoy doing? Dunno.
What are you good at doing? Dunno.
What makes you angry? Dunno.
Want to know what makes me angry? It’s kids who dunno, especially kids who dunno about nuthin. Wot-eva!
I wonder what makes you angry. Now I am not asking you what makes you annoyed, or what puts your back up. I’m not even asking what offends your ego. What I want to know is what is it that stirs your guts; what is that one thing that can fire you up to action?
If you could use your powers for good, what good would you seek to do with your power?
In Mark 10 we read an account of the disciples of Jesus seeking to prevent a group of children coming to see him. We see in verse 14 that Jesus was indignant. What we need to understand is that this was not some meek man going gooey over the ickle wickle bubby-wubbies, but The Lord of All demanding that such as these no longer be inhibited from coming into his presence. This same word indignant is used for the feelings of some of the Twelve over the waste of Mary’s spikenard. Jesus is recorded by Mark as being angry on three occasions; this one, the time when he cleared the temple, and on the day when he healed a man on the Sabbath while the religious leaders were goading him. In these accounts we see Jesus acting with premeditation; not out of some angry flare-up. In the clearing the temple account in Mark 11:1, 15-17 we see that Jesus went to the temple on the day before, but left again because it was late. He took to the crowds with a whip he had plaited himself. Did you know it takes four hours to plait a whip? Jesus took his time, and then went atomic. In the case of today’s reading Mark records in 9:37 that Jesus had already indicated to the Twelve that children are important, and that entry to the Kingdom, to say nothing of prominence within it, depends upon having a childlike spirit. God is looking for a spirit like a child’s; not childish (selfish and squabbling) but trusting and open, uncomplicated and obedient.
But do we know any children like that? Uncomplicated, trusting and open, obedient? I hope you do, I certainly do. But we also all know that children can be easily upset. My experience as a teacher and an uncle is that little children in particular will always be upset by two things. One of those things is disappointment. But I want to! I want that one!
What’s the other one? Anyone? Dunno? It is perceived injustice. If an upset child isn’t saying “I want” then he or she is probably saying “oh, that’s not fair!”
This is what makes me angry. Not the whiney tone of a small child, but the fact that a child can go from “that’s not fair” to “dunno”. I wonder if Jesus was thinking of that too. To have a childlike spirit is not only to think that your dad is Mr Amazing and your mum is Mrs Gorgeous Masterchef, to be devoted, trusting, and obedient; but that in being uncomplicated as children are we must have a very strong sense of what is and is not unfair.
I remember when I was a Day Supply Teacher in the south of England that on a couple of occasions I told a class of children, “there is far too much noise in this room so you are all spending the first five minutes of Recess inside, in silence.” This was accompanied by my best scowl, and a hand gesture or two. Then after a pause of between five seconds and nine hours, I would ask, with aggression, “is that fair?”
Yeeesss Meester Ta-aa-aan, they would invariably reply.
“Is it?” I would ask. “Okay. Put your hand up if you were not talking just now. Be honest, who was doing the right thing.” I would usually get about 80% of the children raising their hands at that point. Since it was usually only 5% of the kids who were actually out of line that was a good result, and if a noisy kid did raise his hand he would get a “No Jaxon, you were talking! Mr Tann Jaxon was noisy!” from the kids at his table. I would give Jaxon my teacher’s stare and Jaxon would sheepishly drop his hand. Then I would say, “okay hands down. Now tell me, and put your hand back up to answer, why is it fair that all of you have to stay in when most of you were being good?” I would leave a pause and say, “just because a teacher makes a decision does not mean that it is the right one. So here is what we will do. Everyone who raised your hand just now, you will go out when the bell goes. The rest of you will stay in for the five minutes. (And Jaxon, you’ll stay for ten.) Now, is that fair?”
Yes Mister Tann!
Where do kids lose their sense of personal injustice? By my experience it’s around Grade Four, or age 9.
And that makes me indignant.
I think asking a school leaver “what makes you angry” is a great question to help him or her direct his future. Generally your talents and abilities, both God-given and self-improved, follow your heart. I am a good teacher, but I am a great Christian Pastoral Support Worker. I am a natural teacher, I love to study and then to share. I am a trained teacher; I have a Graduate Diploma in Primary Education from what was then called Northern Territory University. But above all things I am a natural counsellor, I love to listen and to encourage. I left teaching because I saw too many hurting children being pushed through formal education with no concession to their personhood. No-one seemed to want to listen to the single-parent child, or the child who is herself a single parent. No-one wanted to spend time with the immigrant kid, or the indigenous kid. The misbehaving kid was boxed and tested beyond his capacity to cope, and then labelled as troublesome because he was frustrated. The issue wasn’t that people didn’t care, but that the system didn’t have time for them to act on their concern. So I left the system. I gave up the curricular and administrative duties of being a specialist Behavioural Support Needs teacher, and committed my attention full-time to being a provider of pastoral care and an advocate for school-based social justice.
Those who can, do.
Those who can do well, teach.
Those who can’t do well need people to help be better so that their teachers can help them to do well.
A child who has been taught to forget that “it’s not fair!” is what makes me angry. I think it’s what makes Jesus angry too.
I am angry that children arrive at school without breakfast.
I am angry that children are treated based on how they behave.
I am angry that children do not know that they were created in the image of a creative, magnificent, wonderful and loving God. This is not about religion or the merits of Christianity as a lifestyle or a philosophy, but about self-esteem, self-image, and self-respect.
Because I am angry, the people I work with can live in peace. Because I am angry, the people I work with can get angry about things that truly matter. A recent graduate of the school where I worked has a passionate anger for the end of Slave Trafficking. He has joined the Stop The Traffic network and is seeking to get onboard as an activist with them. I want to say to him be angry, young man! You be angry that there are more people enslaved today than in any time in human history. Be angry that 205 years after William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery across the British Empire, and 148 years after Abraham Lincoln and the abolition of slavery in the United States of America that the number of human lives in captivity has increased! Be angry about those facts, and not about the fact that the Collingwood won the flag in 2010, or that you dropped $1 down the gutter and you can only afford the small Iced Coffee.
Children who are looking to get into fights at school really need to get into fights in society. Above all the personal conversations, the chocolates and postcards to teachers, the toastie-toast at 8:30 or the cuppa soups at 1:30, the Uno cards, and the phone conversations to Families-SA, what I do as a chaplain is share my passion of a world bigger than myself, and the myriad opportunities children with an attitude of “dunno/nuthin’/wot-eva” actually have to know, and to get involved, in the world.
So, what makes you angry? What can God direct your time and attention into? Not everyone has to live for a passionate or noble cause, everything that happens on earth happens to fill a need and a life that is useful is a life that is not wasted, even if that life does not revolve around a social struggle. But everyone gets angry, I know of no one who doesn’t. Jesus got angry. God The Father got angry. God The Holy Spirit can be grieved, so I guess that is anger too. Anger is good. Anger is protective. Anger is proactive, but anger in the guise of passion must be directed. The anger of our God in Three Persons always bought improvement. Jesus’ anger at the disciples brought peace to the children and a less aggressive attitude into the disciples. The anger of the Father brought the Year of Jubilee. The anger of Wilberforce brought the end to slavery. You go get angry Church, see what you can change!
As for me, I want to see a passionate generation raised up in South Australia in the next decade. I want Generation-Z to be the generation that sees the world recreated in God’s name, (unless my own Gen-X gets there first of course). It is not correct to say that God is looking for anger and indignation, but perhaps the activity born out of our cries of “Enough!” is what Jesus had in mind all along. Especially when it comes to children. Amen.