"Expose a child to a particular environment at his susceptible time and he will perceive in the shapes of that environment until he dies."
- Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow
Two particulars of my susceptible times were the King James Bible and western movies...
One of the early biblical shapes impressed upon me was the Lord's Prayer and the word trespasses...sure, it means sins, but in the wedding of scripture and cinema I never heard a rancher say you're sinning on my land...no, they always said you're trespassing on my land. Regardless of where I'm worshipping, if we recite the Prayer, I say trespasses and no doubt will until I die. I believe the word sins covers a multitude of opinions; the responses to it can be legion. But everybody knows when they've been trespassed against; the only options in its wake are taking matters into your own hands or allowing mercy to flow from his.
One of the first western movies I remember seeing was John Ford's The Searchers, starring John Wayne and a young Natalie Wood. The Duke's character, Ethan Edwards, might as well have been Christ himself in my susceptible mind, leaving the ninety and nine to go and search for the lost lamb, little Debbie...and finding her and bringing her back to the fold, to those who loved her. Ethan was a volatile man, you never knew what he might do. Such was the shape of God impressed upon me, a God whose love was volatile, you never knew what he might do...like give his onlybegotten to forgive us our trespasses, snatch us up in strong gingham arms and say let's go home.
No, I didn't mistype in the prior sentence; in my susceptible mind, onlybegotten was all one word. John 3:16 was one of the first verses I hid in my heart that I might not sin against him and when I dug the mental hole and threw 'em in, begotten refused to go it solo, like it was not good for only to be alone. And so the two words that to this day best describe the son for me became one flesh - onlybegotten.
I think about these things sometimes when I think about the faith of children in these days. They've been introduced to the Word who moved into the neighborhood instead of dwelt among us. And instead of the onlybegotten-volatile love of The Searcher we've given them Bob and Larry, a tomato and a cucumber, vegetables for Christ's sake. Don't get me wrong, I've used The Message bible for years and our kids have seen every episode of Veggie Tales...but I wonder about these things sometimes when I wonder about the children, not just mine, but yours too, and the shapes of those susceptible times that will stay with them until they die. I pray we have not trespassed.