My sister had a playhouse in her backyard when her two boys were young. It became a busy place when she hosted a garage sale. Children accompanying their browsing parents would see the playhouse and immediately head for it.
At one point, I saw five children playing together. They were different ages, different sexes, different races. They came from different backgrounds and likely had different religious upbringings. Yet there they were, playing together like one family.
When they looked at each other, they saw a playmate.
In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela notes that children have an innate openness that tends to get closed off as they spend more time in the world.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” Mandela wrote. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
They saw a playmate
I thought about those five children in the playhouse this weekend when I saw those horrific images of young white men marching for hatred in Charlottesville. They’ve been taught that the playhouse is theirs alone, and only people who have the same skin color belong inside.
By contrast, those five diverse children in the playhouse hadn’t yet absorbed the deep mistrust, the sense of superiority and the scent of hate that’s in our society. They were still able to play together.
When we’re that age, we still see life through fresh eyes. We look beyond the surface and sense the magic. We’re filled with wonder at the small things and the enormous things — a lightning bug blinking, the Big Dipper shining.
As a child, we’re keenly aware that we don’t have all the answers or the whole truth. Instead, we try to learn about people and about life, which is why we ask a lot of questions.
We know our real limitations – small hands have trouble opening a big jar – and we embrace our dependence upon others. We’re not reluctant to ask for help, or to help someone else.
We play with whomever walks into our yard.
As we get older, we lose many of those childlike qualities. We think we have all the answers, so we stop asking questions and getting to know those who are different from us.
Entering God’s playhouse
We lose our ability to marvel at things big and small. We lose our sense of the sacredness in everything and everyone. We pull away from others. We reject our innate interdependence. We fight over who owns what and who gets to be in charge. We make rules for who should be allowed to play and how they can play.
We try to make the playhouse all our own. We condemn, evict and excommunicate anyone who won’t abide by our rules.
Many passages in our religious texts remind us of the need to be childlike. In one favorite scene, Jesus tells a crowd of self-important, judgmental adults that they need to become more like the child they once were.
If we want to enter God’s playhouse, we must do it with a childlike spirit and leave our mistrust and our sense of superiority at the door. We must accept everyone else as an equally beloved playmate.
We must share and trust. We must care for one another. We must see ourselves as a guest inside the God’s space, where the only rule is to love and get along. We must be willing to adapt and learn new ways of playing.
Each of us has to decide if we’re going to enter the house and make new playmates, or if we’re going to stand outside and sulk because people who are different from us are being invited inside, too.
The door is open. The choice is ours. The playhouse of God is on the other side.