“So, is the Holy Spirit a boy or a girl?” asked one of the kids. “I don’t know!” said their pastor. “I usually say ‘he,’ because that’s what I am used to, but really the Holy Spirit is neither a ‘he’ nor a ‘she.’” “So they’re a ‘they!’” shouted out another kid, and the rest nodded, taking it at face value.
My 38-year-old self marveled, feeling at once old and youthfully invigorated. This was last fall, and the kids at our church had been learning about the True Self and the False Self. I was helping out at their worship service, which mostly consists of just sitting between the rowdiest ones to keep them from rowdying too much.
The false self, their pastor had explained, was what some adults might call the ego or small self—that loud, obnoxious voice that tells us lies about who we are, that feeds our insecurities, and pushes us to do things we’re not proud of. Its name, she told them, is the ominous sounding Sarx—the Greek word Paul used to describe it. The true self, on the other hand, is our unchangeable and undeniable identity in God—the still, small voice that whispers God’s love and grace. It is “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed”—the truth that Christ lives in us; that we ourselves are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Our kids were learning to listen more to Spirit and less to Sarx.
Let me pause here for a moment, and just say how much I love that this is what the children at our church are learning. Being an assistant at their worship services has been a joy because it is beautiful to see these kids encountering God, playing with God, learning perhaps to even wrestle with God. A boring Sunday school class, Pearl Church's kids’ service is not.
The memory of that service came to mind a few weeks ago, when David and I got an email from the children’s pastor. “During the season of Ordinary time after Epiphany, our whole church is practicing being a listening community to voices that cry out from the margins,” she wrote. “These are tender and hard places that are often filled with emotion, pain and a long history of injustice, violence and oppression. I believe our kids need to learn how to listen and engage in these places with open hearts, compassion and courage." She wanted us to share our stories as gay Christians with the kids.
David and I exchanged a couple of nervous emails. Have I mentioned that these kids are rowdy? And that they range in age from 7 to 12? Their worship service is interactive—a space where they get to experience God, and not just hear about him. Did their pastor really think they would sit down to “listen and engage”? But we trust our pastor, and so we agreed—praying that Spirit be there, keeping Sarx at bay.
“Here’s my heart, Lord,” sang the kids as the service started. “Speak what is true. Cause I am found, I am Yours. I am loved, I’m made pure; I have life, I can breathe. I am healed, I am free.”
Behind the altar there were signs reading “We make space for every story,” and “Instead of ‘that’s not true,’ we say ‘tell me more,’ ‘you belong here,’ ‘we see God and the world more clearly because of your story.’”
True to God’s way, God showed up. When the time came for us to sit down with the pastor and answer her questions about our lives, the kids sat down too. They listened! And they engaged. “Why didn’t your parents know you were gay?” asked an 11-year-old. “My teacher said that ‘different’ and ‘weird’ are actually good and cool,” said one of the youngest. The older ones nodded and blushed a little when we talked about how your first crush is usually a kid in your class. And they all wanted to know what were some of our favorite Nintendo games in the 80s. (The Legend of Zelda.)
We talked about the ways our story is similar to everyone else’s and the ways it isn’t. We talked about boys who get crushes on other boys, and girls who get crushes on other girls; boys who are born with girl bodies, and girls who are born with boy bodies. I suppose non-binary folks aren’t difficult to understand for kids who’ve grown well acquainted with the Holy Spirit. And finally, we talked about why we use words like “gay,” “trans,” and “queer,” and why we don’t use mean words or use these words in mean ways. The service ended with a group hug, and we all went upstairs to join the grownups for communion.
“The body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for you”—out of love for you. That truth—that shackle-breaking truth that we are God’s own, loved and cherished, healed and free—is something we so often forget as adults. I am grateful for the children at our church who keep reminding me that Sarx is just a loudmouth; who taught me this past Sunday how to listen to others’ stories, and ultimately, how to listen to Spirit—the Holy Spirit, who tells the truth of who we all really are; who brings beauty to the stories of us all.
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: