Until sixth grade, I attended a one-room country schoolhouse in Minnesota. You played with kids of all ages. Most of you came from sizeable farm families, so you had learned how to make that work. Big kids watched after little kids.
The big wooden merry-go-round in our school playground was an octagon with bench seats. Little kids, like me, would get on first, and climb into the middle—and hold on for dear life. Big kids would grip the outside and run as fast as they could, jumping on at the last second. This is where you learned about centrifugal force, years before that Science lesson. You also learned about teamwork and trust.
The one-room rural schoolhouse encouraged cooperation, fairness and kindness. If these values were violated, students themselves were quick to point it out. I don't recall the teacher having to set foot on that playground during recess. (It was her break time, too!) What about bullying? Tattling? Well, no one liked a bully or a tattle-tale, so there wasn't much of either behavior. As I recall, we got along pretty well.
I liked the big merry-go-round. It was scary, but lovely, letting the bigger kids give us a thrilling ride. I trusted they wouldn't let us fly off. They kept an eye on things and if a little kid lost his grip, they usually slowed down the creaking monster and caught the flailing body before it could be badly hurt. Usually. And if, occasionally, one of us landed on the grass or the dirt, no major harm was done. We got back on the next time.
Our town's central park had another kind of merry-go-round. We called it the Puke-a-lator. It was a small, one- or two-person metal spinning platform—similar to the one in this picture, but more old-school. You'd spin it at top speed (with a little help from a friend) and then hug the middle like crazy—and, again, hold on for dear life. When you got off, you staggered around like Mayberry's Otis the Drunk. [Side note to kids of the 90's: did you know that the voice of Whit's End's Mr. Whittaker on Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey was the same guy who played Otis the Drunk on The Andy Griffith Show?]
Why am I thinking back to those dizzying playground contraptions? Because some days, I feel like my convictions are under fire and I'm holding on for dear life. Sometimes I question whether I can still trust my peers and hop on board that big wooden death trap (metaphorically speaking), or whether I'm better off finding one or two close friends who will hopefully have my back if I opt for the Puke-a-lator.
Okay, I'll get specific. The playground is the world. The kids are society in general, America in particular, my own community specifically. And I guess that includes my social media circle. The two merry-go-rounds represent two social circles—the larger and more diverse group of acquaintances versus the smaller, more like-minded friends and family with whom I have a tighter bond of trust.
Both merry-go-rounds spin to the swirl of contradictory news and opinions. My own soul is at the center of the "ride," and I'm striving to hold on to what is at the core of the beliefs that sustain me. For dear life.
When you ride the big merry-go-round, you enter an unwritten social contract of sorts. That wasn't a problem in rural Minnesota in the '60s. But to speak plainly: I don't trust the "big kids" anymore. Not in 2020 America. I want off the big ride.
Stepping on the little Puke-a-Lator puts you on your own. It's still dangerous, but one or two friends can join you, and what's the worst that can happen? The trees will spin, you'll get a dizzy hangover like Otis the Drunk. Maybe spend a night in jail, if we're switching metaphors back to Otis...
I follow the news by seeking out researchers, looking for more trustworthy answers than I hear parroted on mainstream media. I listen for the voice of reason and healthy skepticism. In doing so, I tighten my circle and it feels less crowd-driven, a little more secure. Independent thought versus spoon-fed lies.
Now I'm looking to do the same sort of thing socially, by extending an invitation to share this little backyard playground. If you're joining me, welcome. We can have conversations, encourage one another, share thoughts and ideas... We'll play by the old rules of cooperation and friendliness.
My plan is to cling to Jesus, as He told me to do in Revelation 3:11Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.