Monday, July 17, 2006

Scary Monster

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3

Every once-in-a-while, our son Daniel grabs a blanket and throws it over his head or finds a place to lurk, and with the occasional roar, plays what he calls "Scary Monster." I'm not quite sure where our almost-three-year-old picked up the phrase -- probably at his nursery school, since Hiroko and I never use it at home. But I've learned a lot from Daniel playing this simple game.

Scary monsters have re-emerged to rule the life of the Middle East this past week, as civilians duck and cover in Lebanon and Israel while soldiers of the Israeli armed forces and the Islamist organization Hezbollah hurl death at each other. . .in the name of religion, in the name of security, and in the name of God. Once again, peace-loving, God-embracing people become "collateral damage" in the escalating violence. And while our politicians split hairs trying to work out who should talk to whom and how, the fuel, weaponry, and propaganda (pick your side) continue to flow. We seem to learn more in the news only about the cold science of long-range and short-range missiles, the indiscriminate dismemberment of innocent children, and the age-old practice of warfare by proxy.

Closer to home, all of this serves to put back into perspective the "scary monsters" in the Anglican Communion -- of bishops, archbishops, presentments, lawsuits, plans for schism, rebelling parishes and their rectors, networks, calls for realignment, and cutting-to-the-bone rhetoric about status: covenantal, associate, second-tier, third-tier, no-tier, and maybe-a-tier. . .with only what seems a passing mention about being at table together as the People of God.

Scary Monster is one of the oldest forms of play in the human family, which is why two- and three-year-olds pick it up so easily. We all know our own scary monsters. They are the nightmares that haunt our lives from earliest childhood, the worries about things lurking in the darkness waiting to get us, those things that "go bump in the night". . .something primal that has roots in our prehistoric vulnerability as a species to predation. . .at least before we became the dominant predator on the planet.

In ancient times, and in many places in the world still, our scary monsters were referred to as demons. The best religious traditions tell us how to properly address our own demons. . .through prayer and peaceful practice. . .before they address us. Because, says this ancient wisdom, if we let the scary monsters dominate our lives and communities, we will only find ourselves drawn inexorably into the fearsome obsessions of our age: surrounding ourselves with stuff to feel secure -- the better SUV, the bigger home, more toys or money --whenever posssible -- than our neighbor has. . .Or lusting after power to cloak our fear: the deeper our fear, the more power we need to cover it. . .Or arming ourselves against our scary monsters with weapons ranging from hate-filled speech to handguns to the latest thermonuclear technology.

Once they take over, the names for our scary monsters become legion, depending only where we are in the human family at the moment: liberals, conservatives, orthodox, reasserters, revisionists, progressives, heretics, zealots, zionists, terrorists, gays, lesbians, straight white males, blacks, whites, latinos, asians, gay bishops, african bishops, woman bishops, the homeless, those in power, those out of power, those asking questions, those seeking truth, those claiming truth, those who speak, those who are silent.

Sometimes, our scary monster becomes God -- a fearsome, omnipotent projection of our very worst fears and deepest, darkest, most terrifying thoughts.

Either way, we're in real trouble. Scary Monster at this point becomes a very nasty, very adult game as it takes over our hearts and clouds our minds, causing us to lose sight of the truly God-inspired humanity in each other. . .or even ourselves. This is the greatest danger to our common life. When we become each other's scary monsters we risk tearing one another and ourselves apart. The scary monsters then rupture the human family; the demons take over our behavior and bring only suffering, hatred, and death.

The greatest vision of Hell is an unfettered game of Scary Monster dominating all human existence.

It seems to me Jesus Christ came, died, and rose again to end this game, so that we, like the little children, might be healed, and fully and without hesitation embrace the Reign of God, the great play of Life. And much we have to learn from them.

After a few minutes, Daniel leaves his lurking place, laughs, and moves on to the next game. Maybe that's a glimpse of God's grace. Maybe Daniel's occasional game of Scary Monster is the three-year-old way of dealing with his own primal and raw human fears, of getting them out and into the hands of God's grace. . .of a three-year-old, using three-year-old play to embrace the Divine blessings illuminated to my Christian eyes by his baptism.

Were it that simple for us adults, we would find the Gospel so much easier to live into, and our lives and world much freer of scary monsters and much closer to the Reign of God.

Let's at least continue to try.

Our faith puts it ultimately in the hands of grace. As we are known to utter, "We will with God's help."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

oh my gosh!
he is kawaii!
i miss him already...(^_^)
yeah, children like him do funny stuff... as for daniel, he said that he was 4 to anybody who asked him his age when i was with him at the park... he hasn't become 3 yet... lol