The Kindergarten and the Crèche
Sermon for Carol Service – 8th December 2019
Ipswich Deaf Community – St Nicholas Church, Ipswich
God give you peace, my sisters and brothers.
Robert Fulghum, author of ‘All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten’ challenges us to not over complicate life. His thesis is that the eyes of a child see life more clearly and as we become adults, and supposedly more mature, we lose sight of some important lessons.
These are his rules for living that we learned in Kindergarten:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
- Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
- Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
Our problem, acording to Fulghum, is that when we grow up we enter into the world of ‘I can’t’.
The world of overthinking and playing it safe,
The world where we make the mistake of measuring our worth by our abilities, or worse our inabilities, or even by our disabilities.
He proves his point by looking at the world of art.
Ask a child in kindergarten if they can paint they reply ‘you betcha I can’ and then rush off to make a glorious mess that only a mother can be proud off.
Ask a High School Art student if they can paint and they will shyly show you how they’ve started to invest their kindergarten mess with meaning drawn deep from their growing sense of personhood, but the enthusiasm has died just a little.
Fine Arts students may admit to having a little technical skill, but it is as nothing compared to the Great Masters they are studying.
And the Great Masters don’t even believe they should be allowed to put brush to canvas…
Whatever happened to the ‘you betcha I can’ of the bright-eyed child in kindergarten?
I’ll tell you what happened. We started measuring ourselves by the yardstick of someone else’s life. How can we ever grow when we do things that way? When we do this we condemn ourselves to a life of ‘I can’t-ness’ and never become all we are meant to be.
(I want to insert a caveat here, sometimes I know when I say ‘I can’t’ I really should be saying ‘I won’t’ and stamp my feet at the same time! Occasionally, more frequently than I care to remember, God has to have words with me about this… )
But what if our feelings of unworthiness in life come not from a case of ‘I can’t’ but one of never, nor will ever, be able?
After all we aren’t all born with the same life chances.
Ability and advancement is life is so often an accident of birth.
Our level of education, our wealth, and our ability so often has nothing to do with us personally. We stand on the shoulders of those who went before us and, if we find ourselves to be amongst those who are advantaged in this way, we have a responsibility to care for those who haven’t.
‘I can’t’ may happen because in my community we don’t go to university, or aspire to a vocational profession, or encourage each other to dream.
But also ‘I can’t’ may happen regardless of the amount of effort or education or wealth we have. It may be that I was born, or through accident, have become amongst the number of those who ‘can’t’.
After all if money can’t buy manners it stands no chance at all in buying sight or speech, hearing or touch or taste.
Wealthy people may have more money but to be deaf or blind or lame or unable to speak cannot be changed – not yet – by money or privilege.
You simply just get a better class of hearing aid or a prettier pair of crutches.
What do we do then when my ‘I can’t’ is not for want of trying, not for want of desire, but because of a disability?
What use are Robert Fulghum’s Kindergarten rules then? Surely they are just a middle-class insult by those who are physically and emotionally more able and so proclaimed to be ‘normal’?
Is there a kindergarten for those whose life is too often met with the impassable hurdle of ‘I can’t’?
Yes, there is but it is not found in Nursery School but in the Crèche of Bethlehem
It is at the manger of Bethlehem that God comes into the middle of the mess of our lives not as a Wise Ruler from the East, not as a faithful working-class shepherd from the hillside, nor even as the acknowledged and welcome child of a Carpenter. God comes to us as a baby, and that an ill-gotten baby from a mother with a whisper of immorality about her.
The One who made everything that lives and breathes and moves.
The One who holds everything in existence and keeps the stars spinning in space.
The One who embraces all that has been made with a deep eternal love.
This One, who of all beings is the one who ‘can’, becomes a baby whose only competency is that they ‘can’t’.
There is nothing as helpless, nothing as needy, nothing as dis-abled, as a baby. And God chooses this helplessness, this neediness, this disability, this ‘can’t-ness’, as a way to show love.
From the first Christmas until today all those who ‘can’t’, who were disadvantaged at birth, or have little natural ability, or have a lifelong dis-ability, are redeemed by the love of Emmanuel.
A God who is with us not only in our humanity, but wonderfully, in our inability as well. God knows what it means to be helpless, to be dis-abled, and from a place of helplessness, a place of ‘can’t-ness’, both here and later at Calvary, God saves the whole world.
The gift of Christmas is the gift of being loved and valued not because of what we can or cannot do, because of our abilities and despite our dis-abilities. We are loved because we are made in God’s image and, regardless of the rejection of the world around us, are welcomed by God with all our ‘can’t-ness’ and in love makes us whole.
And that is something about which to sing a carol of joy!
[This blog ‘The Kindergarten and the Crèche’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]