First, and lots of fun, was Friday evening's musical "Children's Letters to God." It was one of those true community occasions, evoking the sense of small-town that Brandon is trying so hard to hold on to.
The show, produced and directed by my friend, Janet Frenkel, utilized the small theater at Center Place, a center for the arts occupying the same building as Brandon's main library. It's a cozy setting, and the room was nicely filled with people from all over the community. The performance was stellar, with all the young people - spirited and talented actors - nailing their parts. Then 99% of the audience stayed for a 20-minute "talk-back" designed to add an interactive element to the evening.
Five of us - supposedly community leaders - were invited to sit on the stage with the cast and field questions that emerged from the show.
The discussion easily gravitated to the faith of children, and what we can all learn from the ability of the young to ask honest questions and then - just as easily - live with the absence of technical or narrowly rational proofs. It turns out that kids are not asking questions that demand tidy answers - they're actually sharing their hearts. All they're doing is looking for people to take the time to listen and to provide a little assurance.
I believe we dishonor the integrity of children's spirituality when we attempt to pound their odd-shaped questions into our neatly symmetrical holes. Bombast and any kind of "party line" simply reveal our own dependence on triviality in the face of the majesty of God. Children, more often than not, cut through all that.
Then, Saturday afternoon, I spent some time visiting my friends at the Polk County Correctional Institute. This is another group of people who tend to cut through the crap and speak their minds. When they do, they invariably find room in their hearts for God. Here's a sampling from a conversation I had with one prisoner and another visitor.
- Me: He's a wonderful writer; I'm very impressed with his work.
- Inmate: Thanks.
- Visitor: It's too bad he'd already committed the crime when he started writing classes. I guess it was too late.
- Me: It's never too late to live. Here we are, incarceration is a tragedy, and nobody wants to spend all this time locked up. But isn't meaningful life about living forward?
- Inmate: I don't plan on wasting my time; I plan on starting to live right away.
- Me: You might as well! It's why we were created.
- Visitor: But his gift is wasted in here.
- Me: Not if he uses it.
- Inmate: That's what I plan to do.