Monday, March 25, 2013

A Theology of Kindermusik, Part I

It's Monday, which means Bek and I are about to squeeze the kids into their snow jackets and make the short (beautiful) drive to First Presbyterian Church in Waunakee for J and A's weekly Kindermusik classes. I confess my initial reaction to the classes was suspicion that my in-laws - who gave the classes to our kids as a gift - were looking to inflict Rafi-like soundtracks on Rebekah and me, in retribution for some unknown, secret sin of Rebekah's childhood. That still may be the case, but the class has been the opposite of my every apprehension; it's been a blessing.

Apart from the obvious benefit to the kids and our family, the theory of learning behind the class shape and structure is something I find interesting and tremendously engaging.

Among the first instructions we (parents) received concerned the feedback most helpful for our children. Rather than performance-based remarks - like, "good job" - we are encouraged to name what we see our children doing: "I see you clapping," etc. Having named the action, we are free to issue challenges: "I see you clapping. Can you clap above your head?" The follow-up is always to name what the child does next, whether she accepts the challenge or not: "I see you clapping behind your back."

Even on the first day of my awkwardly wearing these new instructions, the joy on J and A's faces when they received the words "I see you..." was beyond describing. I see you. Way better than praise. I see you.

Their joy called me out to the extent that it named the times I hadn't seen them; had not had time to, had not had desire to. For all kinds of reasons. Life and joy and fire in their eyes: I see you.

Now, I mislead the reader if I somehow imply that my children had been entirely invisible to me before learning to emphasize these words. Being Jude and Annie's Daddy is one of the great joys of my life, and I cherish the life we share. Even so, their delight in hearing the words surprised me. I see you.

When I was a seminarian, I loved preaching, but I hated having preached. I hated having preached because I felt uncomfortable with the task of shaking hands and making small talk after the service. (Humorous now, because I live in coffee shops and for exactly these moments, which I enjoy to no end.) It wasn't the people I minded; it was the idea of being the center of attention. It all felt so fake. And then one day I noticed someone edging by the crowd of people lined up to shake the preacher's hand, and I called out to him, and his face lit up. Evidently, his downcast face had not been because he wanted to be invisible; he only thought he was. He looked up with the joy I now see in my children's eyes. "I see you." I remember realizing that, for servants of the Gospel, all things - even the contrived practice of church receiving lines with its accompanying contortions of power - could be redeemed as exercise in the practice of seeing and being seen.

As I began to discern and develop my own "style" of ministry, I gravitated toward examples in my mentors that modeled this: the priest who matched the eye-level of the children he blessed; the friend who started sharing a prayer request with the congregation before catching himself and leading the prayer; the mentor who warmly greeted every child as a full member of the community, every time, even when their eyes were diverted in a trained show of respect and understanding of their "place." Over and over, the chance to be present, the chance to leave the race track of our minds and our disappointed expectations for where the others "should have been," and to squat to the level of our children where they are, to find the eye-line of the passerby, the stranger, the spouse, and say: "I see you," and mean it.

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