Today’s Science Fair

The big yellow one is the sun. Brian Regan

Since I’m a world-class procrastinator with little aptitude for science, one of the worst weeks of my elementary school life was the science fair. I hated it. Although it was designed to help students run experiments, test theories, and understand the scientific method, the only thing the science fair did for me was combine two of my great weaknesses (science and procrastination) into one term-defining grade.

Regan’s description of the panic he experienced the morning his project was due is classic, as is his concern over the veracity of one classmate’s effort: He didn’t know how to zip up his pants, but he made a volcano? The implication is that his clueless classmate hadn’t actually made a volcano. His parents did the project for him.

Which, in essence, made the science fair the science unfair.

Just over a year ago, an elite college admission scandal captured the headlines of local news outlets and kindled the ire of many hard working students. I thought doing your child’s project was bad, but these parents have taken “science unfair projects” to another level. Pardon the oversimplification, but here’s how this parental aid regression has looked in my lifetime:

My grandparents’ generation: “Do your work.”

My parents’ generation: “We’ll help you.”

My generation: “We’ll do it for you.”

This generation: “We’ll pay someone else to do it for you.”

I can’t imagine what’s next.

I wonder, though, if the scale of the scandal, the blatant disregard for academic integrity, and the astronomical amounts of money blind us to our own temptation to over-function in the lives of our children. Most of us couldn’t fathom paying someone to take the SAT for our child, but have no problem polishing the pinewood derby car axles, offering a few suggestions for the essay, schmoozing with the coach, or using our position as room mom to influence the teacher.

In Matthew 20: 20 – 28 we discover an interesting interaction one well-intentioned mom has with Jesus. Two of the disciples mentioned here, the brothers James and John, are often identified by their father and called the sons of Zebedee. In other places, however, Jesus refers to them as the Sons of Thunder. Since Zebedee was their father, I’m deducing their mom must have been the one known as Thunder.*

She’s the one we find rumbling to the front of the line in this passage.

Can’t you just picture the determination with which Mama Thunder makes her way past the others? Eyes fixed, nostrils flared, brow furrowed, elbows flying. Frustrated with her sons’ reluctance, she takes the initiative, makes a beeline to the Savior, and asks Jesus if Jimmy and Johnny can sit on his left and right when He establishes His kingdom. Like many of us today, instead of preparing her children for the road ahead, she thinks it best to prepare the road ahead for her children.

The other disciples are indignant. Jesus, however, refuses to over-function for any of those in His charge and uses this outrageous request as an opportunity to teach not only James and John, but the other ten, as well.

In front of the entire band of twelve, Jesus asks the brothers if they had any clue about their request, foretells their future suffering, and assures them that no measure of scheming, positioning, or hundred-dollar handshakes could determine who sits where in the Kingdom of God.

Unlike my science fair experience, two great weaknesses of James and John (pride and passivity) did not equate to a term-defining grade. This incident, like any other good test, just revealed what was really there. James and John were the ones who got their names on the board that time, but Jesus’ instruction was for all of the disciples — my guess is because all of them had pondered similar requests.

He tells them all (and us) that the road to greatness is through servanthood. Mom and Dad can’t do that for you. Bribery is out of the question. You can’t outsource it. It’s a project you must undertake on your own. And don’t plan to wait until the night before.

Begin today.

*I realize James and John’s mother was named Salome.

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