I remember the first time I heard the gospel. I don’t remember the sermon that followed. I remember the reading. I can’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old. It was the Sunday before Nativity, probably the first Christmas after my mom’s parents had passed away. Taking my place in the gospel’s honor guard, I strained to hear the long list of Hebrew names as the priest rattled through Matthew’s genealogy. (Matthew 1:1-25) Against all odds, I had embraced my dad’s Near Eastern mindset, so I intuitively understood patriarchy and lineage, even at that age. It was never explained to me. I just picked it up from my dad. So I was puzzled–even shocked–by the genealogy’s ending. “How,” I thought, “could they call Jesus the son of David?” It was Joseph who was David’s son and he was not the father of Jesus. Even if Mary were a daughter of the same family, “Mary,” I puzzled, “cannot not carry the line.” Ignoring the questions of the adults around me, I had stumbled upon the right question–Matthew’s question. Posed to a child without adult intervention and weathered by time and study, this nagging question continues to drive my “asking” and “knocking” on Scripture’s door, as I “seek” the wisdom in its pages. (Matthew 7:7) Taken from a personal example, this experience embodies the mission and purpose of the Ephesus School. It also explains why, with unbridled enthusiasm, I sat down this week to read Nahum to a room full of kindergartners.
This was not the first time I had read Scripture to little children in a classroom setting, and I know why adults in church resist doing so. Adults today do not respect children, and modern education does not respect knowledge. C.S. Lewis famously anticipated this problem in his work, The Abolition of Man:
The difference between the old and the new education will be an important one. Where the old initiated, the new merely ‘conditions’. The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds— making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda.” [ref]Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man, Chapter 1:Men Without Chests[/ref]
Instead of knowledge, we focus on method theory. Instead of grappling with wisdom, we embrace narrow synthesis. We speak of “learning how to think” as though a child can learn to swim without jumping into water. Why? Because synthesis is convenient, easy, and facilitates control. We tell our story in lieu of God’s story. We make ourselves a god. Reading Nahum to children does not require synthesis. On the contrary, it precludes it. When an adult simply reads, using examples to explain–not a contrived moral–but the actual meaning of written words, it may take an hour to get through Nahum 1:1-3, but in that precious hour, the children are given a fighting chance to become, not ours, but God’s children.
If someone tells you it is impossible to teach Nahum to children, or insists on a curriculum; or simplicity; or synthesis; or the need to make learning fun; or a children’s bible; or on anything outside of the text itself: Ask them if it is possible to explain the words “avenging” (1:2) or “whirlwind” (1:3) to a five year old. Ask them if a child can learn how to pronounce “Nahum” properly in Hebrew. If they persist in their denials, then they should not be allowed to teach. Mary cannot carry the line.