I’ve been helping out with child care on Thursday mornings at the church I attend. A women’s bible study is meeting and involved mothers will drop their pre-kindergarten youngsters off for a morning of fun with the similar-aged anklebiters. I signed up not knowing what exactly it would be like; I’ve worked with children of almost all ages from grade school to college (mostly in the capacity of instructor), but toddlers are somewhat of a new bag for me. Somewhere along the path of aging I seem to have lost the capacity for “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and put-your-hands-in-your-lap-and-quiet-down rhymes.
At the most recent gathering, I found myself hesitating to perform along with my supervisor as she led the children in a Jesu-centric rhyme involving hugging oneself and waggling fingers:
“Jesus is kind and gentle and good. I’ll be like Jesus and do as I should.”
I found myself analyzing this rhyme’s didactic qualities, wondering whether it was best to use Jesus to teach children in this manner. Certainly, I reasoned, Jesus didn’t always do as he “should.” It really comes down to one’s definition of “should,” and in the context I reasoned that it most likely meant “do as your parents tell you no matter what.” Grimacing at the perceived threat to the autonomy of children everywhere, I was just about to start dismantling the misguided notion that “kind,” “gentle,” and “good” encapsulate Jesus’ character completely when I realized that we had moved on to something else.
One of the pastors from my church (who is a great musician) had come to visit us and lead the kids in some songs. The children seemed to have played this game before, and many of them were requesting certain songs by name. Prior to the actual singing of the first song, however, Mike (the pastor) reminded us that there were hand gestures that accompanied the song. Just great, I thought, now everyone will see me being super adult about this silly thing. We walked through the gestures together; I played along for the benefit of the four-year-old standing next to me who looked somewhat apprehensive himself.
“Okay, so the first one is like a monkey and we say it after the word ‘jungle.” Ready? ‘Ook ook!’ Can you do that?” Mike imitated a monkey by doing that armpit-scratching maneuver that stereotypically defines monkeys in childrens’ books. “The next is this one, and it comes after the word ‘sea.'” He imitated the popping of bubbles in the sea and sang along with each snap, “bubble, bubble, bubble.” At this point I was beginning to wonder how much of this children could realistically be expected to remember in such short term.
Mike went on: “The third one is on the word ‘universe,’ [makes a sweeping gesture emphasizing the all-encompassing “YOU” in universe], and then on ‘he is the king of me.’ [here a self-referential thumb jab] And last, we spell out his name. Ready? ‘His name is [counting one to five on a hand] Jay, Eee, Ess, You, Ess, yessss! [fist pump]. Okay, are you guys ready? Mike did not wait for my answer before jumping full force into the song at an appreciably fast tempo:
He is the king of the jungle (ook ook!),
He is the king of the sea (bubble, bubble, bubble),
He is the king of the universe, and
He is the king of me. His name is
And that was it. That refrain was repeated several times at various speeds, each new iteration faster than the previous. The kids ate it up. They were absolutely overjoyed to be singing a silly song about Jesus. And then it hit me: this is what it’s about. As adults, we throw around the term “Child-like faith” without really meaning it and probably without even being able to define it well. But here it was – child-like faith in all its glory, joyously screaming out in several different keys Jesus’ absolute sovereignty over his creation, and pumping its fist with glee at the pronouncement.
Question: How excited are you on a day-to-day basis by the thought of Jesus being your “king of me”? Do you pump your fist like Tiger does when he sinks a twenty-foot putt? I don’t. Maybe I should. Maybe we all should.