The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’ Max Weber
“Look,” I said in exasperation to my two little anarchists in training, ages 6 & 4, “This isn’t a democracy . . . it’s a benevolent dictatorship.”
This sort of thing actually buys me some time as they noodle over the new words. Really. New words might mean there’s a treat somewhere in the equation. “Benevolent” could very well be a new flavor of ice-cream, so they paused and waited for an explanation.
My youngest immediately lost interest. He doesn’t like words like “not” or “no.” His older brother, insatiably curious, furrowed his brow and asked:
“Well, if you’re king, what’s mamma?”
Potentially treacherous ground. “Well, I guess she’s queen,” I replied.
“Does that mean you’re her boss?”
“BAHAHAHA . . . . no, no, no. Nope. Actually, we kinda lead in different areas, in different ways.” I started losing him. “Anyway, it means we share power. But you know what else that means?” I asked.
“It means you are princes. And you know what princes do?”
“No . . . ”
“They make the world a better place. Now go away and be princely.”
And it stuck. “You are a prince, and your job is to make the world a better place.” I have no source for that idea and, truly, it is a little goofy, maybe even saccharine. But good grief, they will have plenty of time to be disillusioned. When did we start instilling a “hermeneutic of suspicion” into even our youngest children? Why can’t they think of themselves as princes, with a purpose in this world greater than whatever fleeting need they have? Today’s Wall Street Journal outlines a program for training children – ages 5 thru 10 – in entrepreneurship. Really? I make a living, in part, by working with entrepreneurs. I generally like them; they’re a energetic bunch. But why, oh why, do we want to teach children that life is ultimately about commodifying experience?
Our world seems woefully disenchanted. Experience and our own failings beat the mystery and awe out of us. When Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy are first called back to Narnia by Prince Caspian, they are lost in a dark forest, looking for a way out. Lucy, the youngest and most childlike of the bunch, is the only one who can see Aslan and leads the others to safety by following him. She hadn’t lost the innocence of enchantment. She can see more clearly, not subject to fear’s crippling cousin, doubt. Perhaps longing for enchantment is why so many Gen X’ers hunger for liturgical worship, why the idea of the bread and wine actually becoming the body and blood of our Lord is appealing. It reintroduces a sense of the numinous, of divine things unseen, to worship, where too often it’s so very absent.
Now when we sit around the dinner table I will sometimes ask, “Well boys. You do anything princely today?” Usually, there’s a finger in a nose or a hand rummaging around a bowl of soup for the final piece of sausage and, in reply, “Nope” and “Not really.” But, a few weeks ago, my oldest of this bunch piped in that, in fact, he had: “I told Annika that she didn’t know everything. She’s not God.” High marks for good theology. But it was an occasion to talk about graceful communication. And every now and then they talk about an act of kindness or goodness, and Amy and I have to think about the question too. Will the boys ever be princes, even in the abstract? No. But to quote Lewis: “The value of the thing promised remains, even if that particular promise was false—even if all possible promises of it are false.” My little guys will age and go through seasons when life seems to be nothing but ‘quiet desperation.’ In those times, I hope they remember that someone once thought they were princes, and that being princely is still possible, if they allow themselves to be enchanted again.