Open House for Butterflies is a children’s book, written by Ruth Krauss, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, and first published in 1960. Open House for Butterflies has been reprinted again and again, but I just heard about it for the first time two weeks ago during a sermon at Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville, preached by Rev. Thomas Kleinert.
The little book is full of words of wisdom, the kind that blossom and flourish in places where young children share their observations of the world, and Rev. Kleinert told how several times over the past weeks and months he turned to the opening page, and read a single line of text: A screaming song is good to know in case you need to scream.
Kleinert read this line, “A screaming song is good to know in case you need to scream,” then he said, “Nobody expected this presidential campaign to be a pleasant experience, but who would have thought that so much of our public discourse would be so utterly indistinguishable?”
There was a pause in his delivery, during which I was like, “Uh-oh! He’s breaking the sacred rule that you never talk about politics and religion at a dinner party or a Sunday sermon! He’s gonna get in trouble!”
Then Rev. Kleinert said, again, “A screaming song is good to know in case you need to scream.” And upon hearing that line of wisdom, again, from a children’s book, I realized that Kleinert wasn’t at all in trouble. He wasn’t in trouble at all because it didn’t matter what side of the political aisle any of us were on, every one of us is tired and troubled and filled with discouragement and discontent during this political season, all because of this political season, and Rev. Kleinert was saying, “If you have a screaming song, no one is going to blame you one bit if you sing it. In fact, we’ll all join in with you!”
A screaming song is good to know in case you need to scream.
The Apostle Pau in his second letter to Timothy was writing to a young leader of an even younger church, but he wrote not just as a follower of Christ—he wrote also, I think, as a prophet. Paul was prophetic in the fact that he knew the time was coming “…when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”
I read that text and I am nearly convinced Paul was writing about the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States of America. It models exactly what is happening every time I turn on the news or look at social media.
There is no sound doctrine in any of the political discourse.
People only listen to what they want to hear, from those who suit their desires, because everything else makes them want to scratch out their ears.
There is no truth in any of it, only myths—twisted lies.
I nearly convince myself that Paul is writing then about today, but then I realize… Paul is not writing about this small moment in time, but rather speaking to generations of people who would become tired and troubled and filled with discouragement and discontent during particular seasons in history. Which is to say: This season is not the first time in history, nor will it be the last, “…when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” It is as if Paul is saying, “A screaming song is good to know in case you need to scream.”
And I think Paul would be fine with us singing a screaming song, but after we sang it, and our voices were worn out, Paul would then want us to do something else—he’d implore us to begin to listen—not to that which is causing us to want to sing a screaming song, but to that which will make us remember what is truly coming. For Paul knows, as I hope we know, that it is in the listening to what has been drowned out, that makes us stop screaming, and instead, go marveling.
Open House for Butterflies not only offers the wisdom filled advice about singing a screaming song, it also offers the wise advice, “Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.” Rev. Kleinert shared this line, as well as describing the illustration that went with it—a little boy sitting next to a stream. Kleinert then said, “I imagine the boy is listening to the water running over the rocks, the insects rustling in the grass, the wind playing with the leaves in the trees, and the faint sound the air makes when it becomes breath in his nostrils.”
Kleinert reminds us of what we know already but can often forget, especially in the midst of times when we become so embroiled in turmoil, harshness, incivility, and disunity that all we are able to do is scream. This line reminds us that in such times it is not only good and right, but it is necessary—even mandatory— that we sit down long enough, and listen long enough to be reminded that God is present, God is in control, God is at work to make all things new.
“Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.”
I had the serendipitous chance for just such a time earlier this week. I had to take, and leave, our family van at a body shop to have an estimate done as a result of a “fender-bender” we were in on our trip to Nashville. The body shop in North Akron was just three miles from our house so instead of Julie meeting me on her lunch hour, I took my bike to ride home, and as I rode home, I did something I have wanted to do for a long time, but never have.
On this gorgeous mid-morning, in the heart of our October Autumn season, I stopped on the bridge the spans the valley between Akron and Cuyahoga Falls. And though I was not next to it, I could still hear the river rushing below me, despite the heavy traffic of State Road.
I was struck in that moment, of the hundreds of times I had driven across that bridge, and how I had barely taken in the majestic scene that was always there.
I was struck in that moment, how the river, and its rushing waters that have flowed for centuries could be heard, but I had never once taken in such because I was always rushing somewhere myself.
I was struck in that moment, of how this moment in time, when I have to deal with a wrecked car and how we all have to deal with the indigestible theater of this presidential campaign, that there remains something bigger and more powerful than anything else.
“Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen”… because when we do, the instructions of the Apostle Paul can be remembered, “…continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” All of that struck me, in that moment, because I had serendipitously gone marveling.
Famed Disciples of Christ preacher, Fred Craddock, once told a congregation, a story about “going marveling.” He says,
I read something recently—I knew this, but I had forgotten about it—that years ago our ancestors used to go out walking, usually on a Sunday afternoon—sometimes alone, sometimes couples, sometimes the whole family—and they called it “going marveling.” Marveling.
They would look for unusual rocks, unusual wild flowers, shells, four-leafed clovers, marvelous things. They would collect them, bring them back to the house, and show off the marvelous things they had found. Isn’t that a delightful thing, to go marveling?
Craddock told them that when he read that and was reminded of this practice, he went marveling himself. He continues, saying…
“You know I live about a mile from here. If you walk down the railroad, it’s about a mile. So I left the house and went marveling.
About a mile away I came upon a pavilion, and inside I saw a lot of people singing, praying, and reading scripture, and sharing their love for each other. They were vowing that they would—they promised to each other, and they promised to God—they would make every effort, God help them, to reproduce the life of Jesus in this place. And I marveled, oh how I marveled.
And I said to myself, ‘Look what I have found, right here, in this little building.’
“Nobody expected this presidential campaign to be a pleasant experience, but who would have thought that so much of our public discourse would be so utterly indistinguishable?” So if you have one, then know, “A screaming song is good to know in case you need to scream.”
But when your screaming song is complete, and your voice falls silent, then go and be quiet, and if you can, “be quiet near a little stream”, and marvel in its beauty, while marveling in “the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom” so that in that marveling moment, you can find the relief and the truth that God is at work to make all things new. Because that is where truth will be found.
Not in who you vote for. Not in who wins and who doesn’t.
Truth will be found in the fact that on November 9th, the sun will rise and God’s word will remain.
Yes, there will be disappointment, anger, fear, resentment on November 9th—which is all the more reason why we, people of faith, followers of Christ, need to prepare to live as we are called to live—as those who are sober, meaning of clear mind and heart; as those willing to endure, meaning willing to work through tenuous times; do the work of an evangelist, meaning share the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed; carry out and fulfill our ministry, meaning live as those who know, with certainty, that God is always at work to make all things new.
So may we, today, next Tuesday, next Wednesday and beyond, join together as people of faith, as examples of God’s promise and presence, in going marveling—being intentional to listen to the world around us, but living as those who know, for certain, that no matter what, God is always at work to make all things new. Amen.