The School of Fine Arts at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, TN, is a unique, week-long opportunity for kids to get real experience with playing a variety of musical instruments. My wife Shar, a gifted musician and educator, was asked to lead vocal lessons in a musical theater style. Just two weeks prior Shar and our kids participated in a separate week-long camp production of Annie! at the same church. My ten-year old daughter was one of Annie’s orphan friends. (And did a wonderful job, I might add.)
For her musical theater voice curriculum my wife picked a resource of songs for children. It has a variety of well-known numbers such as “The Rainbow Connection.” (Love Kermit.) My wife checked it out, when not snapping our four kids into shape, then made some CD copies and had them distributed to camper moms.
The trouble started when one of the moms called the church to complain about foul language on a church CD. It seems she had popped it in the van stereo and was shocked when her children began to hear cursing from a church resource.
The song in question was “Little People” from Les Misérables. A child singer uttered a “damn,” and a CD-listening mom unwittingly exposed her own child to a miserable, worldly influence. The mom called the music folks at the church, and they called my wife, who in turn got tied up in knots, because she cares for people and wants to do things right.
So with my wife in Nashville, and me in Atlanta, I tried to help her through the moment.
This is where my neutral, supportive tone ends.
The thing is, I appreciate wanting to keep children from bad influences. I try to avoid letting my children watch hardened expressions of the human condition. So far they are a testament to the power of what my wife called the “funnel theory” of child raising: start at the bottom, letting very little in, and widen the input as they grow, so they are hopefully ready for adulthood by college.
Yet, isn’t the irony palpable? Of all of the songs on my wife’s CD, the only truly Christian narrative is Les Misérables. It is a powerful story of grace and justice and redemption – made all the more real by the miserable living conditions of the story’s characters.
Sure, the kids might say damn or bastard or some other dirty word. They live a dirty life. Are we to avoid talking to our comfortable, protected kids about such realities? Are they becoming better people through the safety of Kermit the Frog and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? Or are we doing a children a disservice when we focus on surface moral behavior and ignore the deeper truths that inform our ethical decisions? Art begins with honesty. Children are capable of understanding much deeper spiritual issues than we in the contemporary American church give them credit for.
Perhaps I am being unfair. The poor, verbally assaulted mom was just trying to get through her day. But, after I hung up the phone with my wife and called friend Gary Molander back to continue a conversation, I related what had just happened. We laughed together, and he said, “Isn’t that just a microcosm of the church and art?”