non-productive repetition: a sad tale of papier mache

The major part of my energy and thought this week has gone into papier mache balloons. Looking up recipes for the sticky part (you can use glue or flour, etc.), cutting out strips of newspapers, making a practice one, preparing a place for the children to work, cleaning up afterwards. The project proved to be too confounding for most of the little ones– mostly kindergarteners and first graders. Too icky for some of the squeamish ones. But I had one K and one 1st grader who stuck it out and made fairly lumpy but completed papier mache balloons. I left them on the counter of our room to dry overnight. The next day I gingerly placed them in the sun to continue drying. I brought them back in yesterday and once again placed them on the counter.

Little did I know that the counter space where I set these little projects is the unspoken trash pile. The cleaners came last night & this morning I couldn’t find the little blobs of newspaper anywhere. I told the school secretary where I had left them, and she got this solemn look on her face & told me that that was where people put trash that needs to be taken out.

So now I have two options. I can just tell the children what happened and talk about how dust we are and to dust we (and our papier mache balloons) will return, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord, etc. Or I can spend all day making more papier mache balloons to replace them and try to act like nothing ever happened.

I’m still not sure which path to take. My ethics professor at Duke used to speak of “the non-productive repetition of the liturgy.” I suppose making papier mache balloons is not stricly speak liturgical, but I think in a sense what I am doing with these children is a sort of “people’s work”* or maybe “people work.” And work that is like trying to fill up a bucket with a gaping hole in the bottom. It is so tempting to establish myself as the judge of this work, judging the quantity and quality of products I produce (good artwork, smarter, better children, etc.). Looking for results. But when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven and the economy of God’s household, don’t all those things get confounded a little? The first are last, the mustard seed becomes great, the eleventh hour workers get paid the same wage. The traitor gets the keys; the one as fickle as waves is named Rock. In the words of a great pastor I once heard, “What the world calls success Jesus calls weeds.”

I still don’t know if I am going to make new balloons for the kids. I have been working 12 hour days and only getting paid for less than 4 & I need a little rest.

[Late Latin lītūrgia, from Greek leitourgiā, public service, from leitourgos, public servant, from earlier lēitourgos : lēiton, town hall (from lēos, dialectal variant of lāos, people) + ergon, work; see werg- in Indo-European roots.]


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