Ministry Where the Wild Things Are

Today, Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of the classic Where the Wild Things Are, died. I didn't call it a "children's classic," because Sendak never would have. He was very clear: he didn't write children's books. He wrote books. Children happened to like them. In fact - Sendak didn't even believe in "children" as such.
I said anything I wanted because I don't believe in children. I don't believe in childhood. I don't believe that there's a demarcation. 'Oh you mustn't tell them that. You mustn't tell them that.' You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it's true. If it's true you tell them. ~Maurice Sendak
We divide our ministries in church. This is an adult Bible study, that is a children's curriculum. This is a Bible, that is a children's Bible. We are very clear. And in our clear divisions, we speak down to our young people. We hide the hard things of life from them. We hold back information about life, about faith, and about God.
[I am proud of what I got from my parents], a kind of fierce honesty, to not let the kid down, to not let the kid get punished, to not suffer the child to be dealt with in a boring, simpering, crushing-of-the-spirit kind of way. ~Maurice Sendak
Here is what we need: We need a ministry that takes place where the wild things are. As I have watched interviews with Maurice Sendak - this man whose stories helped to shape my childhood - I have been struck with his caustic honesty. He did not hold back, he did not pull any punches, he simply spoke the truth. And not just in his interviews; also in his books, which children happened to like.

Often in our clearly defined and divided children's and youth ministries we avoid the "hard topics." We talk about happiness and joy and celebration. But what about sadness, what about loneliness, what about death and dying and illness? Too often, they are avoided. We tell ourselves that we have to protect our children. We have to keep them safe. And somehow, we have gotten into our heads that talking about such things will somehow break them - that they can't handle it.
I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, white-clouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it. 
We need a ministry that talks about the reality of life with all of God's children - some of whom are larger and some of whom are smaller. We need to stop speaking down to our young people, stop trying to protect them from the hard things of life. We simply need a ministry, which children happen to like.

We need a ministry that takes place where the wild things are.