Come to think of it, yes we did send our kids to school first day with talk of Hitler.
The scene was Rockwellian at its onset: I’m sitting on the couch with an arm around each boy, Greg is attentively angled in our direction from the reclining chair. We’re bantering around topics appropriate to the start of school, and in this spirit I mention I never was into history until later, as an adult.
“You have to make a personal connection,” says Greg, directing this fatherly advice at his sons. “Like the time you studied Germany, Simon—you knew that you’re German from my side, so you took an interest in it.”
I scoff. “Yes, and he can also make note that he’s of direct lineage from Hitler.”
Greg retorted: “One word, Woman: Mussolini.”
The kids chimed in: “Is it time for the bus yet?
Dropping the ancestral attacks but keeping with the theme, I mentioned an illustration used by Peter Rollins the week before at Mars Hill. He said that sometime in the 1930s a profile ran of a nice man and his well-designed home. The man was—you guessed it—Adolf, and Rollins pointed out that the feature story was probably an accurate one: Hitler may indeed have been kind to children, and all the facts mentioned were most likely true. Yet we now know the totality of his existence, and we cannot say he was a good man.
Rollins went on to relate this disparity to the way we often see ourselves, or to how we project our identities in places such as Facebook. “Your conscious self is an idealized reflection of who you really are,” he said, in my recollection. “We tell ourselves false stories.”
Rollins is a philosopher, and terms like conscious self can fog up my glasses right quick. I'm aware that calling a person good or bad gets people's panties in a bunch. But I think I understand what he’s getting at: We project our best side, but that’s only one angle of a three-dimensional creature. When Theo asked what Hitler did that was so bad, in a manner of words we told him. And we stressed the distinction between making mistakes and what makes a man.
Today I accompanied Theo’s first grade class through a hallway en route to lunch. Years of falling asleep to white noise has rendered my hearing a bit muffled, so when a sweet-faced boy pointed to the girl in front of him and mouthed something, I assumed it was one of the darndest things that kids say.
Instead, when asked to repeat himself, he motioned again to the girl and said this: “We’re mortal enemies.” The girl in pigtails nodded her agreement.
I guess you could say their conscious self idealization was more Clash of the Titans than I initially gave them credit for; I stand corrected. Meanwhile, Theo was happily skipping next to my side.
“Me like first grade,” he said. Ever since reading The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future, we speak like our primal ancestors.
“Me have fun,” he said. (To answer your questions, yes, he legitimately passed to first grade, and really does talk like this purposefully.)
Then he looked at me.
“But me cranky this morning.”
This was a nod to our head-butting before school. The kid has to be policed through every step of the morning routine, being what you’d call an extreme case of “not a morning person.” Mom and Dad have to play bad guys, mortally bad, every morning.
But here’s Theo acknowledging this side of himself and punctuating the confession with happy skipping. He knew it was safe to fess up because he knew I wouldn’t hold it against him, but maybe wanted to make sure. A little reassurance is nice, sometimes, knowing that no matter what image we project to others, we’re embraced and accepted, like an arm around the shoulders on a big, comfy couch.
Listen to Rob Bell interviewing Peter Rollins at Mars Hill here. I can't yet verify if this is the service I attended or the earlier one, in which case the quotes above may not be heard. However, I could listen to Rollins talk about breakfast cereal, and not just because of his lovely Irish brogue, so I recommend you check it out.