“Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”—St. Mark 10:15
One of the great mysteries of the Gospel is its accessibility—its exclusive accessibility—to children and those who would follow the way of childlike receptivity. But what is it about the way of children that so privileges them?
Randall Goodgame has spent much of the last decade exploring this mystery. Through the early Slugs & Bugs albums to the Slugs & Bugs: Sing the Bible series, the tours, curricula, Slugs & Bugs books, and television series, Randall has plunged into a vocation that presupposes and speaks to the essential wisdom, honesty, and dignity of children. At each stage of his growth in this vocation, Randall has sacrificed none of the simple honesty of his projects, even as the Slugs & Bugs world has diversified and grown in subtlety and vividness. Whether he set out upon a project of Tolkien-ian world building I know not. But it’s pretty clear that’s where the project has gone, and is going. “You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 1 Development, after all, is a childlike thing. Children develop, and they spare no cost to develop the projects of their joy.
To heed the call to this childlike earnestness is repentance, and to re-learn this kind of wonder, laughter and love, the fruit of repentance.David Mitchel
With the latest Slugs & Bugs album, Modern Kid, Randall brings the larger Slugs & Bugs project full circle, back to silly songs. But now he brings with him a cast of characters—Doug the Slug, Sparky the Lightning Bug, Carla the Delivery Lady—with formed personalities and recognizable voices (thanks to the delightful voice-over work of Ricky Boyd, James Kemp, and Amy Goodgame). There are witty meditations on animals (“The Pangolin Song”) and prophetic unveilings of the tech-obsessed life (“Modern Kid” and “Cell Phone Jones”) worthy of the child who said the Emperor wore no clothes. There are musical musings on domestic chores like walking the dog (“Poop in a Bag”) and making the bed (“The Bed-Making Song”) and new commercial sponsors (Foster’s Duck & Hedgehog Repellant). Randall has with him one brilliant producer, Ben Shive, who was with him at the beginning as a master workman; and he also has fresh contributions from another outstanding producer, Don Chaffer. The wheel rolls on, and coming full circle makes one circumference’s distance run.
And maybe that’s part of what distinguishes the childlikeness Jesus commends from the childishness St. Paul puts away: it moves with the turning of the wheel, rather than curving in on itself by spinning in place. This idea finds beguilingly simple expression in the opening dialogue to “I’ve Got a Balloon”:
MS. CARLA: Don’tcha know, I used to love balloons back when I was a little girl.
MR. RANDALL: So you don’t like them any more?
MS. CARLA: Well—you know, now that you mention it, I do still like balloons. They don’t stay around too long, but they sure can raise a smile while they last.“I’ve Got a Balloon”
To love balloons well is to accept a key quality of their balloon-ness: transience. To smile at them while they last is childlike; to resent their going, childish.
We see a similar idea, in yet subtler form, in Modern Kid’s title song. In Ben Goodgame’s spoken-word appearance in the song, he describes how he expects to “feel big” by the things he can make, play, and see on an iPad. But as quickly as we hear what he desires from his devices, we hear a response:
But if it all went away, I guess I could be okay—if it all went away.
But I gotta have just one friend, somebody that knows my name,
Somebody that’ll give me five when I see ‘em at the football game.“Modern Kid”
The childlike recognize that the common grace of one real friend out in the world surpasses all the triumphs and novelties the pixelated world affords. The friend calls us out of ourselves.
That is, in fact, the common grace of all the Creator’s works: they call us out of ourselves, away from our sophisticated devices, to the earnest wonder, laughter, compassion, and affection of a child. To heed the call to this childlike earnestness is repentance, and to re-learn this kind of wonder, laughter and love, the fruit of repentance. If anyone wonders where the “gospel proclamation” is in Modern Kid, it’s in the pangolins, flying ping-pong balls, and dog-doo that feeds the country flies. These fit right in among the sparrows, lilies, pinches of leaven, and mustard seeds. “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”2
At 4pm CDT, Randall and co. will be performing the entirety of Modern Kid in one go via Facebook Live. Click here to tune in!
David Mitchel is a small-town lawyer who has represented clients in a broad spectrum of causes, ranging from foster care to business transactions to property disputes to the defense of criminal charges to federal habeas corpus and Civil Rights actions. His passion for literature and story, which he caught first from Tolkien, informs all of this work—which requires patient, careful adjudication of competing stories and creativity to help clients and courts write the rest of the story justly and wisely. David was born and raised near Baltimore, Maryland, went to law school at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and now lives in central Virginia with his wife Libby and their two young daughters.