Wednesday, March 15

Maniac Magee and the kingdom of God

In my library visits lately I've been sticking mostly to the children's section. It occurred to me a while back that it wouldn't be a bad idea to read more of the Newberry Medal books. Last night I finished the 1991 winner, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.

Jeffrey Lionel Magee is orphaned at a young age, and when he can't stand to live with his loveless aunt and uncle any longer, he runs away (literally) and begins a new life. When he runs into a new town, he quickly becomes known among the other kids, who give him the name "Maniac"; he runs like the wind and can catch anything. He becomes a legend for his ability to untie any knot, running on railway lines, knocking inside-the-park homeruns and other crazy things—like always having a book under his arm, doing dishes without being told, and his utter disregard for the division between East End and West End.

Maniac lives a reckless life. He’s constantly searching for a home, someplace to be his address. Until he finds it, he stays with a black family, an old man, the buffalo pen at the zoo, and a broken home with three white boys and a drunken father. What struck me most about Maniac’s personality, which is irresistibly appealing to most (but not all) of the people with whom he comes in contact, was his utter fearlessness. He does all these crazy things that no one else dares because he’s not afraid of the outcome. He not only sits in the yard of the most feared man in town, but knocks on his door, converses with him and comes back laughing.

“All Christians should be like this,” I thought suddenly. “Our lives should be characterized by a lack of fear.” Maniac lives and loves recklessly, knowing he has the freedom to love across differences—whether they be race, age, or socio-economic. Because of that, he stands out, and everyone wants to be with him.

This is hard for me to get my head around because I am so prone to worry. I have worried for as long as I can remember, and it’s difficult to imagine what my life would look like without any fear in it. But reading a book like this gives me something to start with. When Maniac Magee lives fearlessly, his friends fall in love with him, and his enemies become his friends.

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