My first question today to the youngest children of Ephesus School was, “How do you know English? Why do you speak English and not Spanish or another language? People who don’t know English think it’s a hard language to learn, so how do you know how to speak it?” Their answers boiled down to, “Our parents speak English, and that’s what we speak in our house. We practice it a lot.” I used their answer to show why we read straight from the Bible in class. In the house of the Lord, people speak the language of the Bible. And the only way we learn the language is to hear it often and practice it. There might be some hard words or ideas that don’t make sense to us at first, but if we keep listening and practicing, it will make sense. As always, they were happy to be read to while they sat and listened or drew quietly. Adults fear that children will be bored or won’t understand the Bible, but in my experience, children this age never complain of boredom or not understanding. They simply absorb what they hear and are wired to learn new words daily. What better time to read Scripture than this ripe time of language acquisition?
After reading Micah 4 without any pauses or explanations, we went back and talked about the reading verse by verse. Having been raised on a farm myself, I was surprised to find my class could easily describe a sword or spear, but had no idea what a plowshare or pruning hook was.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. Micah 4:3-4
We live in an age where our uncles and brothers go off to fight wars, our superheroes carry weapons, and our food comes from the fluorescent- lit freezers in the large concrete box called a grocery store. Our grocery stores are so clean and sanitized, it would seem that the dirt of a field has nothing to do with the food we consume. (Consider this a teaching opportunity!)
So I asked what we could do with sharp-pointed objects, like swords and spears, if we aimed them at the ground instead of at each other. After many hints, one child suggested, “Dig in the dirt!” It took a lot of coaxing even beyond this to help the children realize that one would dig in the dirt or prune trees to raise food, like the vine and fig tree. References to agriculture are just not as accessible as they once were, but it’s unlikely they will become entirely obsolete. As a side note, I would encourage parents to spend some time digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and caring for a few house plants or small garden. The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney and Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder are two children’s books you can enjoy together to expose your children to farming and enrich their understanding for agricultural metaphors. References to weaponry are also becoming less accessible with advances in technology, making hand to hand combat with swords and spears less useful for wiping out an entire enemy population. Yet it is evident that children of this generation understand more about raising war than raising food.
The joy of a big stick will never grow obsolete for a five-year-old. For the five-year-old, a big stick serves as a capable sword or spear or gun, imaginatively transforming the child into a knight, ninja, or Nazi. He can swing it against the children and prove himself the most powerful of all on the playground. But when the Lord is King of the Playground (i.e. “established as the highest of the mountains” Micah 4:1), those same sticks can be transformed as a game piece to build up the community. That same stick can be used for a game of limbo, a jumping marker, a magical wand, or a farmer’s hoe, all which include the other children in the play as they share creatively in the games of the playground where “none shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4)