My daughter was appalled when she learned that C.S. Lewis is no longer alive. She pulled herself up to her full ten-year-old height and wailed, "He's dead? I thought he was going to write more books!"
That is merely by way of pointing out that my kids are not cultural philistines. I have done what we small-town dwellers can do to expose them to well crafted art that speaks Truth with a capital T. We are not overly given to mawkish sentimentality.
So, I knew right away that one book in the recent Amazon shipment — which I think shall remain nameless — was a loser. The subject matter, adoption, is dear to our hearts, and I thought the alphabet format would reinforce the English acquisition that is my kids' ongoing task.
But the writing was bad, for one thing. "We couldn't wait to hold you in our hands: immediately we made a plan," was about as good as the poetry got. (It got far worse.) And the illustrations were frankly a little frightening. Cartoon babies with enormous round heads were being dangled by their diapers. When my five-year-old found the book, he brought it to me and asked, "What's wrong with these babies?" His sisters joined us as we giggled at the pictures — how the desire to be inclusive led to a strict rota of variously ethnic kids who were exaggerated to the point of stereotype. Then, "Read it," somebody said, and I did. And we laughed at the bad rhymes.
But as we worked our way through the snappy/sappy snippets about the birth mommies making plans (not the experience of any of my kids, by the way), they started to lean closer. By the time we were at E for "excited," they were quiet. When we reached M — Mommy, of course — they were draped all over me. When we made it to "yahoo, a silly word that means great joy ... for every adopted girl and boy," they were ready for a little release. We snuggled and giggled a while and they went on their varied ways.
I haven't gotten rid of the book yet. Once in a while someone will pick it up and chuckle a little bit.
Rita Mae Brown once said you can't get into bed with your ideology, and I can attest that one cannot always snuggle one's aesthetic, either. Sometimes we need some silliness — and let us not forget that word's Anglo-Saxon root, salig, which meant blessed and innocent, among other things. None of us are fully realized adults, and let's face it, bad taste is simply developmentally appropriate at some stages. My respect for a dignified father I know grew immensely when I saw him painting his small daughter's room the most astoundingly lurid shade of pink, because that was what her soul craved.
What your institution looks like does matter. It's fine to be stark and simple if that is a reflection of your school's spirituality; lush and rich is appropriate for some. And it's glorious to have some really odd bits. They're honest. They speak to souls that do not belong to ascended masters. That'd be all of us. It might be best not to have them front and center — unless, of course, that is the truest thing about your school.
But we are complex beings, called to and growing toward the beauty of truth, but not having arrived at a full appreciation thereof. If our lives — and our schools — make that obvious, there is room for God's grace.