Recently a news story has surfaced about a certain Ted Cruz coloring book. Cruz to the Future (get it?) has already sold out of its second printing. And just in case you’d rather not feast your eyes on that brand of politics, the same St. Louis based coloring book company has published a similar illustrated diddy for fans of Occupy Wallstreet.
What struck me about this endeavor wasn’t really the politics of it so much as it was who the politics were intended for. The coloring book company has made it clear that these publications were not intended to be gag gifts for your conservative/liberal, offensive-on-social-media-and-or-at-family-dinner uncle/grandmother/cousin. Oh heavens no. These books full of political agenda are genuinely intended for children to inwardly digest and color. I’ll give you a minute. I needed one.
When it comes to social norms, restrictions, and politics, children are lawless creatures. Totally, utterly, depravedly, gracefully, lawless human beings. God blessed them with the laws written on their hearts, but we want our little-l law to be inscribed in their coloring books. They are born not knowing our rules. And, generally speaking, until they move past toddlerhood, they do not particularly care about them. And yet, as adults we have such a strong urge to indoctrinate children. To make sure they align with our political beliefs, our household rules, to remind them constantly as 2 year olds that it is in fact rude to pick your nose in public.
We put so much on children because, God bless them, they serve as emblems of us. Are they organic enough? Athletic enough? Polite enough? And when they fail to fit into the laws we have created we find ourselves facing our own disappointing failure. Ultimately, I think we want to know if children can follow the right path towards improvement (re: sanctification) that we all cling to as our last hope.
Of course the answer is no. They cannot. They are simply children. And children have a different role to play. They are to be the lawless, grace-filled ones living amongst us. Their job is to ask how trees pee or to run towards the altar in the middle of church. Our job is to marvel and to keep them from hurting the smaller ones in their herd.
Look, I know what you are thinking. I’m thinking it too. Kids need rules! And our morals! And lots of them! How will they learn right from wrong?
Unfortunately, Jesus does not give us much help on this one. He tells us we must become like them. That we must make space for them. And in the gospel of Luke he shames people for not protecting them:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
So what are we protecting them from? I wonder if we are ultimately protecting them from, well, us. Our agendas, our noise, our incessant need to look at our own children and feel better about ourselves. For the holy love of God, we are called to let children be children.
To quote the recently deceased father of 6 and beloved Mbird favorite Robert Farrar Capon:
“It is my best hope that when my children think of everything I have said and done to them, they choose to remember the times of my severity when I just gave them a kiss on the cheek, poured myself a scotch and shut up. And it is my last hope that God hopes the same for himself.”
We listen to our children, we care for them, we love them. On a good day, we maybe even help them to color inside the lines… But when we fail at those not-so-humble charges, we take comfort in the fact that their assurance is the same as ours, that in Christ God loves them (and marvelously, us) more perfectly than any of us could imagine.