By Daniel Thomas, CGS Musician
One of the best-known stories from the days following the Resurrection is that of the Apostle Thomas, who could not bring himself to believe that Jesus had risen until he had seen Jesus in person and placed his hands on Jesus’ wounds. Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). The idea of faith, of believing without seeing, is central to our Christian identities.
Our son is at the age where he is absorbing worlds and stories that he sees in books, movies, on television, and in his interactions with families and friends. Star Wars is a particular favorite (it’s our own fault - a few months ago we played the beginning of one movie to test the speakers on our new television, he came in and said, “what’s this?” and ten minutes later he was hooked). With its fantastical space battles, alien creatures and mystical powers, there’s a lot that we have to explain are just stories. And yet, because he’s like many toddlers learning about authority and boundaries and power, he likes to identify with the Empire (he marches down the hall with his “blaster” singing the Imperial March). And when we explain that the Empire is the “bad” side, that they don’t win, and that there are consequences for their “naughty” behavior, he tells us that he knows it’s just a story, that he “won’t believe it when he’s 10, because 10 is grown-up, and grown-ups don’t believe those stories.”
At the same time, we struggle with the inescapable presence of (spoiler alert!) fictional commercialized characters that are tied into some of the holiest of Christian days (was I vague enough?) - we don’t want to lie to our son, but we also know that their presence is everywhere during those seasons, and we don’t want him to “narc” to the other kids, for whom that may be a cherished part of their holiday seasons. We’ve tried (so far, somewhat successfully) to explain that they represent the spirit of the holidays (of giving, of joy, of rebirth), but we know (especially as with each year the anticipation of presents becomes a more powerful desire) that this will be an uphill battle.
So when our son is in church, or Sunday school, and he is told about the life and teachings of Jesus, and as he begins to understand the events of the Passion and the Resurrection - how do we instill the love and the faith that holds us to this miracle, when so many omnipresent creations of man need to be defined as fiction?
I don’t have a good answer yet, and perhaps I never will. But I do think it starts with how the miracle manifests itself in a million smaller miracles each and every day: the kindness of strangers, the act of forgiveness, the strengthening of communities, loving your neighbors as yourselves. Many of these may go unnoticed, and are very often overshadowed by events - real and fictional - that exude darkness and conflict and defensiveness. For a child, these tiny acts of good may lack the visceral or emotional response of a light saber battle, or finding an egg filled with chocolate. And for an adult, these tiny acts of good may lack the visceral or emotional response of accumulating wealth at any cost, or using the vilification of those who don’t look, or love, or pray like we do to cover our own insecurities or vulnerabilities.
Our job as parents - and as neighbors, as citizens, as Christians - is to celebrate those daily miracles, to raise them up, and to perform those miracles ourselves. To truly believe that these small acts can and will hold back the tide of darkness, of intolerance, of indifference, often without seeing the direct or indirect impact. To believe without seeing; to have faith.
Christ the Good Shepherd
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