Monday, October 25, 2010

Playing with toys

Whenever I need to list my hobbies, reading always heads the list. On a daily basis, however, I now spend just as much time, sometimes more time, handling toys than handling words. This makes me curious why when I list hobbies I'm for some reason unwilling to list "playing with toys" along with "reading." In fact, maybe I'll rectify this post-haste.

The most popular toys in our house are Thomas the Train, and Legos (both Duplo and regular), followed closely by Hot Wheels and stuffed animals. As dad, I am often in close proximity to these toys, and play with them as a form of encouragement for the kids-- but I'll admit that I most often handle toys in the way a parent or dad handles toys--that is, I put them away, organize them, and clean them up. I play if I'm invited to play, but I join the play already happening rather than engage in play for its own sake.

Last night as our son and I were playing Thomas, I found myself actually playing. He had a track he was working with, and I set up my own. There was still a bit of organization going on (I organized a party for all the trains we own that have lifts or winches), but it really was play. At a certain point, the son actually came over and joined me in my play, and asked a few questions about the way to play in the world I had organized.

Having observed this about myself, I wonder why it happens, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the role of faith. Why is it that for the most part I've given up playing with toys, except for those moments when I participate in adult-sanctioned forms of play, such as board games or sports? Why, precisely, can't I just sit down some evening and play Legos rather than read books?

This question has taken on even greater poignancy with the arrival of the latest Lego catalog. I'm fascinating by the new version of Lego trains, and would be ready to purchase and build them ASAP. Furthermore, there are other models in that catalog that spark my imagination. Of course, I'd play them with the kids. But they're inspiring enough that I might just play them for their own sake.

That being said, I still do spend more time organizing toys than playing with them. I keep house for real, not for play. I put a lot of toys away, and I try to keep them organized. I think this is a closely related phenomenon to what is going on in my life of faith. As a follower of Christ, I am more likely to organize than to play. In fact, I think most Christian communities spend more time organizing than playing. They figure out how to do a liturgy, and then they keep doing that in as organized a fashion as possible. There is very little total abandonment to the moment, to simply being taken over by the Object that is being handled.

Similarly, when I write, there is more of the organization than the playful at work. I'm trying to make clear, or be useful, or get paid. Writing for its own sake, abandonment to the Muse or whatever, is a difficult shift.

I think this is a concept I need to sit with for a while, but I have a feeling that my willingness to play will be directly in proportion to the faithfulness and creativity of that which I write.

I should also add a brief comment here. I actually am the kind of adult who plays. When kids are in confirmation, or VBS, or anywhere, I'm the adult that will be found playing with them rather than sitting on the side observing them. I encourage more adults to do this. The pleasures of play are immeasurable, and our giving them up as adults is tantamount to an act of apostasy.

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