Raising World-Ready Kids (With Two Book Recommendations)

Have your kids ever embarrassed you? Maybe your daughter has learned the word "fat" and is testing it out on every portly man who waddles by. Your son sternly warns your neighbor that smoking is bad for her and she needs to stop. Your kids loudly ask why that immigrant family doesn't speak right.

Or, more seriously, your daughter instinctively mistrusts every man with a different color skin than her Daddy. Your son gawks at the mentally ill homeless man talking to everyone and no one on the street. They're frightened by children with special needs on the playground.

Parenting From Embarrassment

I get embarrassed in these situations. Why? Because they reflect poorly on my parenting. They expose the many ways that I have not adequately prepared my children for the world.

This is why I reflexively hush my kids or tell them it's not polite to stare. I am essentially telling them to hide their confusion. But how does this help my kids understand the world they live in? Is teaching them to sneak glances and hide their thoughts really progress? It's never a good idea to parent from embarrassment. When we hush our kids, we choose our self-image over their personal growth. 

We cannot afford to make that mistake. These situations are incredibly important for our kids. They don't need to learn how to avoid awkwardness (which is not a biblical category). They need to learn how to love. Their character will be shaped by our response to these moments. Our embarrassment is God's mercy to us. God is giving us opportunities to lead our children to think and love well. 

I don’t want to be his friend.”
”Why not?”
”Because he’s different. I don’t like him.
— Conversation between me and Shepherd about a disabled boy at the park.

Children and Being Different

From an early age, our children are wrestling with difference. What does it mean to be different? Is it good or bad or neutral? Are differences constructive or divisive? How deep do differences go? Can I be in relationship with someone who is different from me? Do I have to?

These are complicated questions. Take physical difference, for example. Race is neutral -- one skin color is not more valuable than another. Same with height, eye color, hair color, body type, etc. But what about differences due to sickness -- obesity, physical deformity, mental retardation? What about when sickness is due to one's poor choices? These differences are not good, and for different reasons, but they are not ultimately divisive. They do not take away a person's worth. Children need to be taught this. God's image is permanently stamped on every human being. That means that every human being is worthy of our children's respect, love, and care. Further, Christ has broken down every wall between us. Grace has reiterated our equality.

This exercise could be repeated with economic differences, cultural differences, family differences, lifestyle and personality differences, and spiritual differences. Our world is a tangled web of created diversity and broken diversity. It takes wisdom to untangle it. Parenting involves helping our children learn the degree to which differences are important, and how those differences affect the commandment to honor God and love others.

Two Great Books to Help You

We've found this to be really hard. Our family lives in a dense, eccentric, global city. Difference comes up a lot. Two books that have been really helpful are The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman (2011) and People by Peter Spier (1980).

The Great Big Book of Families covers a wide array of differences between families: family makeup (natural, single-parent, grandparent custody, same-sex couples, adoptive/foster families); family size (small/big/multi-generational); housing (housed, apartment, homeless); schooling (institution/home); working parents (both, one, unemployed); holidays and vacations; food and clothing; celebrations and hobbies; feelings (expressive/private; happy/angry); etc. Wow! Notice how good, bad, and neutral differences are included, all mixed up (just like you and me). 

People has the same idea, but focuses on global culture. Pages are devoted to physical differences (size, shape, skin/hair color, facial features); beauty (hair, clothing); entertainment (games, hobbies); taste (art, architecture, housing, pets); celebrations; food; religion; work; wealth (rich, poor, "and very many who are desperately poor"); language; power; and importance. Again, wow! 

This book also has some great lines. My favorite: "We have invented a strange system of ranks, grades, and classes... Yet we all live on the same planet, breathe the same air, and warm ourselves in the same sun. And in the end we all must die." Parents, that'll preach!

Both books are impressively illustrated for exploring, with lots of details to look through and talk about. There are so many great conversations embedded in these books. They will work at different levels for different ages. (Be aware: People does include illustrations of people groups who wear little clothing. It's very tame. Our kids just laughed.)

What I like about both these books is how matter-of-fact they are. They present difference frankly and respectfully. Both authors resist the urge to parent for you. They do not parse which differences are good, bad, or neutral. That is the responsibility of the parent as kids ask questions. There is not a moral at the end of the story, wrapped up in a pretty bow. The differences explored are too complicated for that.

Even so, you finish the book reminded of the abiding similarity underneath all our differences. That is a core conviction of biblical theology that our children must know in practice. All people are created equal. All people have fallen into sin. All people need grace through faith in Christ. All people -- from every tribe, people, nation, and tongue.

Are Your Kids Ready?

Every parent knows that one day we will be asked to send our children into the world. It is our task, insofar as we are able, to send them out prepared to follow God's call to glorify Him through loving others. We have eighteen years, give or take, to prepare them for that day. And, if we're honest, we know adulthood is not sudden. Each morning, they wake up a little more adult, and a little less kid. (Tissues, anyone?) 

Mercifully, we get little glimpses of how they'll do. Sometimes it's encouraging. Sometimes it's embarrassing. But we press on. By God's grace, through prayer and effort, our children can be world-ready. Confident in grace, grounded in truth, secure in Christ, clear-eyed and ready to flourish for the glory of God and the love of others.

 

Feelings and Pastoral Ministry

R. Reno has some very helpful reflections over at First Things blog about the recent "relatio" from the Vatican about the church's pastoral responsibilities to individuals wrestling with sexual sin and its results.

The media is going crazy about it. Reno doesn't believe it's nearly as big a deal as CNN would tell you, but he is concerned for the Catholic Church.

An excerpt:

The second thing to say is that the discussion seems to want something impossible: ideals without judgments, goals without rules, principles without “discrimination.” This reflects the incoherence of modern liberal culture, which is also finding its way into the Synod. 

Paragraph 46 exemplifies. The topic is the one that generated the most controversy before the Synod: the status of divorced and remarried Catholics. We read that their situation requires “careful discernment”—certainly true. But the document continues by insisting that pastoral respect for them as children of God (my language) should “avoid any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against.” 

How is this possible? Wouldn’t the mere recitation of Mark 10:11 make a divorced and remarried person feel discriminated against? (That verse quotes Jesus: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”) 

The misstep here is very, very significant. Paragraph 46 makes ourfeelings the criterion of the Church’s pastoral ministry. This is the express route to the dictatorship of relativism. Feelings are feelings, and nobody can question, refute, or debate them. If we make feelings the criterion, then the truth about discrimination (and much more) is subjective.

This is very important for Christians in the West to understand and articulate. Modern liberal culture, in wanting to impose change on the church, often does so through a moral judo, using Christian virtues of grace, patience, humility and hope against her. "Aren't Christians supposed to be kind and forgiving?"

Certainly, pastoral care requires each of these virtues and more. But love teaches us that, apart from truth and holiness, these virtues wither and die. Jesus came with both grace and truth. 

Read the rest here.

"Cracks in the Secular"

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye. (The Little Prince, 1943)

On Monday, I attended a lecture at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco by Marcelo Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. Gleiser is a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College who is refreshingly critical of pride in the scientific establishment.

The Limits of Science

In his book and lecture, he examines the limits of science by looking at the study of cosmology (big stuff), quantum mechanics (tiny stuff), and the mind ("person"-al stuff). While humanity has made substantial gains in these three fields, what we know highlights all that we don't know. It is undeniable that most of the universe, big and small and immaterial, is not just unknown but unknowable by way of science. According to Gleiser, our limits should not discourage us but push us onward. "Limits are not obstacles but triggers. It is the search that makes us matter." 

Gleiser is a secular scientist. Elsewhere, he writes, "The starting point of my argument is that only matter exists." He does not advocate for supernatural knowledge. He won't accept divine revelation as a source of information. Gleiser is satisfied with science while remaining aware of its limits. This is admirably different from other scientific celebrities like Richard Dawkins and Bill Nye, and to be appreciated.

The Failure of Scientism

But as I listened afterward to questions posed by listeners, I realized that other people weren't so easily satisfied. They weren't okay with being shipwrecked on an island of knowledge. How can something as personal as the mind be beyond our grasp? There must be some way of knowing more.

Frustrations with science are bubbling up more and more in modern society. Science has given us so much, but scientism feels empty. The urge to procreate can explain turtles on Galapagos, but can it explain what makes us truly human? For scientism to be true, personhood must be reduced not just to biology, but then further to chemistry and further still to physics. How does this not eliminate personhood altogether?

James K. A. Smith writes in the editorial ("Cracks in the Secular") for the current issue of Comment Magazine,

What if an increasingly aggressive secularism (coming especially from secular "elites") is itself a defense measure, a kind of last gasp of a worldview that feels frustrated and even threatened? What if secularism is loudest precisely because it is a final cry before it is unveiled as implausible and unsustainable? Doesn't the emperor shout loudest about the beauty of his raiment precisely when he least believes it himself? What if secularism has its doubts and is just trying to cover it up by pursuing its agenda all the more aggressively lest they have to consider the alternative?

Find Your Beach

Sadie Smith reflects in The New York Review of Books on what it's like to live in Manhattan, a city full of people obsessed with self-actualization. It sounds a lot like new San Francisco.

"You don’t come to live here unless the delusion of a reality shaped around your own desires isn’t a strong aspect of your personality. “A reality shaped around your own desires”—there is something sociopathic in that ambition."

Read the rest here.