When I was a around 8 or 9-years-old, my dad and I built a tree house in the forked trunk of a large pine in the back corner of our yard. It was a simple tree house–several wood blocks used as ladder steps up the side of the tree then a big box structure made from plywood with a green rippled fiberglass roof. The best thing about it though was the trap door which you pushed open to get inside then could be locked for private “kids only” meetings and such. My dad had agreed to the lock under the condition that I did not lock any adults out or keep anyone out who asked to come in and play.
That lock taught me many lessons in negotiation, control, power, and surrender.
This morning, as I listened to Dave’s reflection on curious kids and elevated pulpits and vantage points, I remembered a particular story about that old tree house.
On a cool and rainy teacher workday, I planned to go out back and hang out in my home away from home. I had packed my backpack with some items I would need and set out across the back yard. Before I reached the swing set midway across, I heard laughter and snickering then a slammed trap door.
And then there it was, the sharp click of a hardware store slide lock.
I immediately recognized the voices as 3 neighborhood boys, my same age, who were usually a part of my neighborhood tribe. That day, however, they had other plans.
I knew they wouldn’t let me in, but red-faced, I climbed up the steps and knocked on the trap door. They laughed and shouted, “Boys only!”
In my bossiest voice (or as I refer to it, “the voice of social justice”), I commanded them to let me in. It was my play house after all.
They shrieked and whooped and jumped up and down. No matter, I persisted and banged until they got tired of hearing me, and with a click, they opened the trap door just a crack.
There, three faces stared down at me with mischievous eyes and goofy grins. There was no way I was getting in with those three blocking the entry. I reminded them matter-of-factly that it was my tree house, and I should be allowed to play.
They looked down on me, then at each other, then down at me. It was in that moment, I felt the power shift, and boy, was it palpable. I realized that no matter what I did or said, I would not gain access until they were ready.
And then the tears started as they always do when I’m angry.
At that point, the boys had achieved exactly what they wanted. They had defeated me. They slammed the door then began laughing and calling me various names as I moped back to the house.
Needless to say, I ran straight to my mother and explained the situation. I begged her to come outside. I knew that if they saw her marching across the back lawn, they’d scramble down or at least unlock the door and let me in.
Nope. She wasn’t coming. “You need to go work this out on your own,” she suggested and sent me back out the door.
As a child, I felt betrayed. I’d already tried working it out, and now I needed to bring the heat. What more could I do. I needed her adult authority to make this right.
Today, however, as I sat listening to Dave’s message, I realized the two gifts my mom offered me that day:
- I learned how to empower myself to solve the problem, even if it meant doing it with a red face and a few tears.
- I came to appreciate what it felt like on the other side of the power dynamic, what it meant to be the person on the ground, the one locked out, the one excluded. It hurt. It was lonely.
It is human nature, I guess, that causes us to desire that kind of control–to be the ones looking down on others rather than elevating them to our position, or better yet, lowering ourselves to theirs. My prayer is that in our lives as local neighbors and global citizens, that we do what we can to shift that power a bit. To create opportunities for equality. To surrender our need for control. To embrace and to want for each other the same sense of community.
To unlock the lock, and make room for one more.