I knew things had taken a turn for the worst when she mentioned Jesus.
We were at a story time in a public library for kids ages 0 through 5. We’d heard about the event from Nico’s daycare, which is run by the YWCA. Supposedly the story time was meant to promote literacy. It promised to include music and stories. We were excited to go. In Lubbock, the number of non-church-related activities for families are few and far between.
And it started out well. There was a song using all the kids’ names in which an elephant sat on each of them. Nico got to meet some older kids and they all took turns showing her how to crawl. A woman from Colombia read a book about the body and then introduced the kids to some Spanish words for parts of the body. Ombligo, or belly button, was the hardest for them to grasp. Each time the women would ask them if they remembered the word, a talkative kid in the front would should “Tooteeko!” or “Papaloopo!”
But then a new woman came up with a book called “He’s got the whole world!” and I remember thinking, Oh I know that song! I was trying to remember where I had learned the song as a kid. And that’s when the women mentioned Jesus.
“Jesus has the whole world in his hands!” she smiled brilliantly. “And that means he has each of you in his hands, too!”
Marta was holding Nico at this point and I was in the circle of parents sitting in chairs behind the kids. Marta looked back at me, shocked. I could almost read her thoughts: “But this is a library, a public library! What is that woman doing!”
I was shocked too, but I’ve also lived in the South before, in Texas before. I remember prayers making their way into city council meetings I covered in small towns when I was a journalist. And I remember Jesus being on everyone’s breath: cops, politicians, hair dressers. I remember how oppressive Christians can be when they aren’t reminded of that ol’ separation-of-church-and-state law. When they think what they are doing is for your best.
I thought the story was bad enough. It went throughout the world talking about how Jesus had every part–the sky, the birds, the ocean–and every person, in his hands. But then it got worse. The woman finished and then she said, “Now I want each of you to tell me: Who is someone you know that Jesus has in his hands?!”
The kids were a little hesitant at first, but soon they got into it. They said Jesus had their mom or their dad or their first grade teacher or themselves in his hands. Then the woman got to Nico and she smiled and said to Marta, “You can answer for your baby.”
Marta looked like she was about to blow a gasket. But laughed and then she said, “Well, I don’t believe that, so I’m not going to answer that question.”
The woman paused, her perma-grin momentarily lost. Then she regained herself, “Well, that’s OK. That’s OK. What about you,” she then turned and pointed to another child, one who would be more compliant than Marta.
Afterwards, I complained to the woman organizing the event. She was immediately apologetic. She told me she was Jewish. She said she tried to prevent religious influences from getting into the reading time, but she also relied on community volunteers. She said she hadn’t realized this particular reader was going to read about Jesus. She said she thought Marta was brave to say what she thought. She added that she had grown up in Lubbock, Jewish in Lubbock, and gotten somewhat used to how Christian everything was. Sad as that is.
So we decide to forgive and forget. And we said we would come back to the next one. I even volunteered Marta as a possible reader of a bilingual book. I’m thinking one of those new ones we bought about a little girl with two moms might be a good option…