Wednesday, December 8

Advent 2010

As a child, I often wondered about big things like God, the universe, and what makes things tick.  But that wondering wasn't in the negative questioning way many of us use today when we embrace the phrase "wondering."  Today if we wonder about something, we seem to be asking "What's wrong with it?" We have lost the childlike ability to simply pause, look at something, and say, "Golly, that's awesome!" We try instead to find something nefarious about the thing or some negative aspect of the thing.  As a child, we are prone to accept things the way we understand them.  Sometimes, a childlike acceptance of what we know can be traumatic. 

I remember vividly my first day of elementary school (no kindergarten for me).  Up until then, my life had been carefree and happy.  I don't recall many traumas, illnesses, broken bones, or the like.  My family life was without rancor or arguing.  I was at peace.  Until, that is, I went to school.

Our teacher started class by giving each of us a pencil, a small index card with our name printed on it, and a piece of paper.  It was time for us to begin learning to write our names.  I don't recall being able to read at the time so the scribbling on the index card had no meaning.  I began a first grader's efforts to copy what I saw.  Gradually, the teacher went about the classroom talking to each child, reading them their name, and appraising how well they had copied it.  Some were apparently pretty awful, some very good.  Judging from my current penmanship, mine must have been in the former category.

When the teacher got to me, she knelt, pointed to the card, and said my name: "Milton."  I was confused.  That was not my name, so I didn't understand why she was saying it was.  So I said, "That's not my name."  The teacher, in that universally patient teacher way, responded with, "Yes, Milton is your name."  Deep down inside, I could feel a panic about to erupt.  I was being told that I was not who I had thought I was all of my life.  I protested; she remonstrated.  Back and forth.  Until I was crying.  Not sobbing - gut wrenching bawling.  At that point she backed off, and called my mom.

In the ensuing period until my mom arrived, I calmed down but maintained a great deal of apprehension.  Mom arrived and she and the teacher walked to my desk.   The teacher pointed to my card and declared that this was my name, Milton.  I looked at her and my mom and answered, "That's not my name.  My name is Junior!"  At that point the teacher understood, as did Mom, and they patiently educated me to the fact that my real name was Milton Lee Newton, Jr.  I had never been called anything else in my life up to then but Junior.

That life episode clearly pointed out to me that a childhood perspective, no matter how firmly entrenched, can be wrong, even though it is pure.  The same is true of our Christian life.  We must be totally prepared to learn new things about our Christianity and be willing to embrace the new things we learn. Holding on to childish  religious perspectives can create unnecessary conflicts and make us cry.

- Milton Newton


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