The late television personality Art Linkletter rose to fame and made a fortune by drawing out simple but often profound truths from the lips of unjaded and innocent children. As the host of "House Party" for a quarter-century beginning in the 1950s, the show’s popular segment, "Kids Say the Darndest Things," became something of a national sensation.
In a world of polished, prepared and politically-correct soundbites, our children can provide a refreshingly candid, albeit unsophisticated and unvarnished perspective of world events.
Just this past weekend, two of our boys and I were returning from a short trip to a camp two-and-half hours north of Toronto. I had been invited to teach a six-lesson session on the joys and challenges of adoption, and the group had graciously welcomed our sons to come along, both of whom my wife and I had adopted.
At the completion of the long weekend, we had returned to Pearson Airport and began the lengthy check-in process through ticketing, security and finally, U.S. Customs.
This had been Will and Alex’s first trip outside the United States and the procedures, along with the questioning from the Custom agents, were new to them. They began to wither a bit in the long line, but the promise of lunch on the other side of the screening buoyed their spirits. The last step complete, Will, who is 8, turned to me and exclaimed, “Man, if it takes that much for them to let me back into my own country, why is everyone so mad at Donald Trump for trying to make it hard for the bad guys to sneak in?”
He wasn’t finished.
With our return flight to Denver delayed for two hours, Will asked to look through his newly minted passport. He seemed mesmerized by the novelty of the small blue booklet and gazed at his picture and personal information inscribed inside. But he seemed particularly intrigued with something else.
Recently diagnosed with dyslexia, he asked for help reading the numerous patriotic and inspirational quotes that appear throughout the passport. It sparked meaningful conversation and became a history lesson, right there beside Gate F55. We talked about the importance of honesty (George Washington), free government (Daniel Webster), freedom (Thomas Jefferson), oppressed dreams and equality (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and liberty (John F. Kennedy).
But then we turned the page to a quote that’s inscribed on the “Golden Spike” that both symbolically and literally connected the west to the east via the completion in 1869 of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah. It reads:
“May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.”
Squinting his eyes in the late afternoon sunlight, Will looked up at me quizzically, his nose and lips rolling in unison.
“Why would a country that doesn’t allow God to be talked about in public schools,” he said, “talk about God connecting the tracks of a railroad?”
Of course, Will was exactly right, and we proceeded to talk in simple terms about the increasing secularization of the nation, and how years ago, deeply and widely held religious beliefs once helped unite and strengthen the United States – even to the point of invoking the Almighty upon the completion of a cross-country rail line.
“That’s crazy and too bad,” he said. “I just don’t get it.”
I couldn’t disagree with him. I don’t get it either.
The freedom to express one’s faith, the pursuit of societal unity and the quest for border security are perennial challenges -- age-old battles that are neither unique to the United States nor problems of recent-making. In many ways, though, they are inextricably linked together, a triad of foundational principles upon which the Republic was built and by which it has prospered for nearly a quarter of a millennia.
Conflicts over these principles have led to world wars and a seemingly endless stream of legal flaps and feuds that won’t soon end. But in the midst of the bickering and brawling, it might be a good idea to once in a while stop and step back. Take a fresh look at centuries old conflicts and controversies – and instead see them through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy’s innocence – a kid who loves his country and has a heart so big that he’ll happily give his Legos and the money in his piggy-bank to anyone who asks.
If we’re serious about solving the current battle at the border, if we’re truly interested in solutions rather than soundbites and political posturing, we’ll acknowledge that the current crisis is rooted in an abandonment of basic beliefs – specifically that laws matter and a disrespect for God always leads to eventual disrespect for others.
Time will tell how Will matures and sees the world a decade or two from now. But until then, I like the purity and simplicity of his perspective – the belief that God should be warmly welcomed in the public square, the nation unified by its founding principles, its borders protected and its agents celebrated and respected for working overtime to keep its citizens safe.