Sunday, June 27, 2010




I.
My son was surprised to drive by the church this week and see the title of today’s sermon announced on the sign out front:  “Dr. David Farmer Talks about My Relationship with My Spouse.”    He called and wanted to know if there was something I’d forgotten to tell him, said he didn’t think I’d had a spouse since his mother and I were divorced about sixteen year ago.
Of course, the “my” in the title actually refers to those of us with spouses collectively.  Also, the full title includes spouses and significant others, but there wasn’t room on the sign for that.  So, I’m still single, and the sermon is about strong relationships with spouses and significant others--assuming that if you have one, you have only one or one or the other, not one of each or more than one of each.  I will remind you right here at the beginning that both Hebrew and Christian scripture were written by and for those who believed in and practiced polygamy so any biblical references we use have no clue as to what modern US monogamy is supposed to look like; nor does scripture have any concept of the modern so-called “open” marriage or relationship.  The marital laws were written so that men could have multiple wives and concubines too.  Women could only legally be involved in one relationship, and that would be with the man to whom she was married; which was another way of saying, “the man who owned her.”
The rule of thumb was that a man could have as many wives and concubines as he could afford to care for and as many children from them as he could afford to support.  So, when the Ten Commandments command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” for the man, this meant stay away from the female property of other men; for women, this meant you’d better not have sex with any man other than the man who owns you.  
There’s a lot of adultery going on today, so many couples dissatisfied with their sex lives.  The legal document signed by me, two witnesses, and the Clerk of the Peace does not make a couple married according to the law of relationships, only by the law of the land; and it provides for property and financial rights and privileges and, strangely enough, conjugal expectations.  The mechanics of sex are not discussed or described in any marriage laws I’ve even seen, but I’ve always been taught that Baptists favor the missionary position.  Sexual expression is for most couples a vitally important aspect of demonstrating the depth of love for most couples, but there’s no formula that works for every couple; frequency as well as style has to be determined by each couple and likely gets readjusted across the years.  Although in the age of Viagra, perhaps there are no changes at all in terms of timing or method.  There are just new answers for the doctor when she asks, “How did you get that bruise?”
How often are married couples in the United States having sex?  Who better to ask than Dr. Oz, and this is his answer:  

It turns out that for married couples under 30 years of age; the frequency (on average) is about twice a week.  For married couples between the ages of 50-59, the frequency is about once week.  So now you know how often your neighbors may be having sex.  But remember, these are averages.  Some couples are happy with more frequent sex, some happy with less frequent sex.  And that's really the point:  not how much sex you're having, but whether you and your partner are happy with the sex you're having, regardless of the frequency.  

If you’re not happy in that department, the stage may be set for adultery.
The Hebrew/Jewish law said that committing adultery was punishable by death; practically speaking, the women caught committing adultery were put to death while the guilty men managed to go unnoticed.  This is exactly the scenario in the famous story of the woman caught in the act of adultery and dragged from her bed of adultery to the feet of Jesus by the Pharisees who wanted to test his toughness on the law.  They said to Jesus, “We all know the law says adulterers are to be stoned to death.  As religious as you say you are and as committed to the law as you say you are, we’re SURE you want to help us keep the law so why don’t you get this stoning party started?”
Jesus said, “You’re exactly right, but all of you who have never sinned should get to cast the first stones; step up to the front of the line.”  No one moved.  It was typical not to find the man who had been in bed with her; perhaps he was back at home with his wives, or perhaps he was one of those in line demanding that she be put to death.  The player who cheats with you, who makes you “the other woman” or “the other man,” will not necessarily stand with you in case your seedy sexual alliances come to light and cause trouble.  
Anyway, the crowd slowly dissipated, and after a few minutes only Jesus and the woman who’d been thrown at his feet were left, and Jesus asks her an odd, but redeeming kind of question, “So where are all your accusers?”  The answer was obvious.  Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
What words of grace.  She had just experienced the equivalent of being strapped to the electric chair just as the governor calls the warden and halts the execution.  
My very favorite retelling of this story is in a youth musical from the mid-70’s called “Bright New Wings.”  The words to the songs and the dialogue were written was Ragan Courtney.  Little did I know that when I directed a church youth group in performing this moving production, I’d one day meet Ragan Courtney and go to church with him and his family.  So, now, though I never see him, I consider Ragan a friend, and he wrote this rendition of the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, set in the Old American West.  Ragan is married to the glorious singer, Cynthia Clawson, and they have been co-pastoring a church in Texas for a bit, but are leaving that so that she can get back full time on the concert circuit; and he can get into a full-time writing mode.
Back to the woman caught in the act of adultery story as concluded by the stupendously creative, Ragan Courtney.  We pick up after the woman’s accusers had faded into the sand.  She is narrating her own story, unlike the biblical version. 

He turned to me and smiled.  I smiled back at him, and he said, “No man condemns you, and I don't either. Go and sin no more.”  I turned and walked out of that place a new woman.  And my red taffeta petticoats no longer sounded like the viscous whispers of jeering people.  No.  They sounded like angel wings as I turned and walked into the newness of life.
For the most part, we’d have to say that cheating on spouse or partner is destructive to a marriage or partnership.  Someone was telling me just this week, and I can’t remember in what context, this worn old tale that isn’t true, but continues to be repeated over and over again:  Men are less capable of faithfulness than women are.  That’s nonsense.  There have many more opportunities for men to cheat on their wives in most cultures across time, but, given the opportunities, women have kept up pretty well. 

II. 
In 1997, so-called “infidelity statistics” for Americans stacked up something like this, according to “menstuff”:
  • 22 percent of married men married several years had strayed at least once during their married lives.
  • 14 percent of married women married several years had had affairs at least once during their married lives.
  • Younger people were more likely candidates; in fact, younger women were as likely as younger men to be unfaithful.
  • 70 percent of married women and 54 percent of married men did not know of their spouses' extramarital activity.
  • 5 percent of married men and 3 percent of married women reported having had sex with someone other than their spouse in the year 1997.
  • 90 percent of Americans believe adultery is morally wrong.
  • 50 percent of Americans said President Clinton’s adultery made his moral standard about the same as the average married man, according to a Time-CNN poll.
  • 61 percent of Americans thought adultery should not be a crime in the United states; 35 percent thought it should; 4 percent had no opinion.
  • 17 percent of divorces in the United States were caused by infidelity.
Let’s get some numbers closer to today:
  • Recent studies reveal that 45-55% of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital sex at some time or another during their relationship.  That’s up A LOT in ten years.
  • Only 46% of men believe that online affairs are adultery. Some 80% think it's ok to talk with a stranger identified as the opposite sex. 75% think it's ok to visit an adult site.
  • About 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an affair at some point in some marriage according to marriage therapist Peggy Vaughn.
  • Affairs affect one of every 2.7 couples, according to counselor Janis Abrahms Spring.   
  • Ten percent of extramarital affairs last one day, 10 percent last more than one day but less than a month, 50 percent last more than a month but less than a year, but 40 percent last two or more years. Few extramarital affairs last more than four years.
  • A lesser known fact is that those who divorce rarely marry the person with whom they are having the affair. 
  • Frank Pittman has found that the divorce rate among those who married their lovers was 75 percent. The reasons for the high divorce rate include: intervention of reality, guilt, expectations, a general distrust of marriage, and a distrust of the affairee.
  • One-third of divorce litigation is caused by online affairs.
  • Spouses who get hooked on Internet porn are a growing complaint among spouses filing for divorce, according to a survey of 350 divorce attorneys. "If there's dissatisfaction in the existing relationship, the Internet is an easy way for people to scratch the itch," said lawyer J. Lindsey Short, Jr., president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which conducted the study.
Even though both Hebrew scripture and Christian scripture were written in cultures that permitted and encouraged polygamy in the context of arranged marriages, there were still some great love affairs, some great marriages and partnerships along the way.
One of the greatest love stories in Hebrew tradition was the one about Jacob and Rachel.  Many of you know at least part of their story.  Jacob asked Rachel’s father, Laban, if he could marry Rachel, and Laban said, “Of course.  We’ll agree to the marriage, and you can read the fine print later.”  That was ok with Jacob; he’d have done anything to marry this beautiful woman who knocked him off his feet just being in her presence.  Laban said, “You’ll get to be with her most every day, but we can’t go through with the actual marriage until you earn her hand by working for our family for seven years.”  Jacob hated the requirement, but if that’s what it took for him to have Rachel as his wife he’d do it, and he did.
After severn long years, Jacob said to Laban, “OK, Pops, it’s wedding time.”
Laban agreed, “Indeed it is.”  So a great ceremony was planned, and as at many weddings across time many of the participants had too much to drink.  Jacob was one of those who had guzzled the wine with delight.  Finally, the beautiful Rachel would be his wife.  Seven years of waiting; now a lifetime of joy with her.
Someone guided the drunken Jacob into the honeymoon tent, and then Laban escorted his daughter to the tent where she would enter to begin her sexual life with her husband.  It was an extra hot night in the old desert that night, but Jacob nearly had a conniption fit the next hung-over morning when he saw the unveiled face not of Rachel but, instead, of her older sister, Leah.  Jacob went running for Laban, “You idiot.  You brought the wrong daughter to our marital bed!  What in the world is wrong with you.”
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” Laban said.  “I decided that you could marry both daughters, but Leah, the older, should go first.  You can go ahead and marry Rachel too while we have the Rabbi and the musicians here, but in order for me to give her to you as your wife, you will have to agree to work another seven years.  It will go by so quickly though; you’ll be living with the woman you love with a bonus.”
The curse words Jacob used to tell Laban what a low life he was have never been able to be translated with accuracy so use your imagination, and you’ll probably be pretty much on target.  Jacob worked those seven extra years so Laban could never come back and say to him, “You still owe me for her.”
I want to tell you about another great biblical couple, but they never married--each other anyway.  They were a gay couple when there was no such thing as gay marriage, but a gay thing on the side was rather widespread. In this case, the gay thing became the most important thing.  The lovers were the Prince of the Hebrews, Jonathan, son of King Saul, and King Saul’s court musician and armor bearer, David, who himself would be king someday.
We get some little hints here and there about the importance of their relationship, but the truth doesn’t come out in full, as far as we know, until both Saul and Jonathan die in battle-related confusion; and David laments over them in the hearing of all of Israel. 

Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.  I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.  How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished (2 Sam 1:25-27 NRSV).
I can’t tell you how many fundamentalists would like to clip this page out of their Bibles, but it’s here to stay.  Jonathan and David were a couple, and they loved each other with intensity.  True love, I’d say, lasts to the end.  

III.
What makes long term marriage work?  Well, I have words from the experts today.  First, words from Diane Ekquist who just celebrated fifty years of marriage to Don this past Friday.  

David,
It is difficult to put the way we have handled 50 years in a capsule, but here are some thoughts:
1) Of course love comes first even in the hard times.
2) A close second is respect for your spouse and with that, for each one to be worthy of respect (including fidelity).
3) To be interested in your spouse’s work or occupation so that you can be aware and share the ups and downs.
Find something to laugh about every day.   
While this may not apply to every couple, life has never been dull with Don! 
Writing from the 58 year marriage mark, Bob Miller devised a list of twenty secrets to the success of a long term marriage.
Here are 20 secrets for starters:

1) Faithfulness to partner is imperative.
2) Agreement on number of children.
3) Agreement on raising of children.
4) Agreement on individual caring of children.
5) Agreement on education of children.
6) Agreement on letting go of children.
7) Agreement on handling money; thrift and savings,
8) Agreement on investments, trusts, wills, etc.
9) Agreement on lawyers, CPA’s, etc.
10) Travel together both local and foreign.
11) Plan for retirement way ahead.
12) Enjoy each other's company.
13) Enjoy each other's friends.
14) Enjoy each other's health and vigor.
15) Enjoy both work and retirement.
16) Aid those you can in various ways.
17) Love in-laws whom you can and move away from those you cannot.
18) Say, “I love you,” at least once a day to each other.
19) Keep yourself and clothes clean.
20) Make all important decisions together.
I perform a lot of weddings and have throughout my ministerial career.  The first marriage ceremony I performed was my sister’s; a few years later, I performed my brother’s wedding also.  When my sister’s son got married three or four few years ago, he had or would soon be enrolling in Jerry Falwell’s seminary, and I wasn’t even asked to help carry the trash out after the reception; I was offered no role whatsoever, which was intended by my nephew as a slap in his liberal uncle’s face.  But I’m not bitter.
Some weddings I’ve performed through the years delighted me.  Some bored me.  Some brought tears to my eyes because of the tenderness I sensed between the couple.  Some made me anxious like the one in Baltimore ay which the bride who arrived a full hour late for her ceremony.  Some made me laugh like when a bride insisted on going ahead with an outdoor wedding even though there had been lots of rain leading up to the wedding; we did as she wished, but her lovely high heels, dyed to match the color of her dress, sank into the mud; and when the ceremony was over she had to be carried away from the altar because her feet were stuck in that mud.
Recently, it was thrilling to perform the wedding of Liz and Rick, Barbara Reader’s daughter and, now, son-in-law.  They worked so hard on their ceremony to make sure it was exactly them, and that helps the officiant more than you can imagine.  Add to that their exuberance for each other, and it was both deeply moving and electric.  I share with you three poems that Liz and Rick chose for their ceremony, one of which I read, and each one read one of the other two poems to her or his about to be spouse.
I read this one by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.

Your love contains the power 
of a thousand suns.
It unfolds as naturally and effortlessly 
as does a flower,
and graces the world with its blooming.
Its beauty radiates a transforming energy
that enlivens all who see it.
Because of you, compassion and joy 
are added to the world. 
That is why the stars sing together
because of your love.
And I couldn’t help throwing in a little Disney, from “An American Tail.”  A spouse isn’t necessarily a soul mate, though we would wish for that.  When a spouse is a soul mate, the marriage--indeed life itself--is richer shared with this other human being who may not make the sun rise and set for any other person in the world, but she or he does for you; and you realized it early on without having to be told.  When you had to be separated either before excellent cell phone quality or in the absence of a quality coverage area, you found yourself singing along with Fievel Mousekewitz, the brilliant little mouse from the animated film, “An American Tail,” when he had to be separated from all his loved ones.  This is part of what I think of when I ponder what makes a great marriage.

Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight
Someone's thinking of me and loving me tonight
Somewhere out there someone's saying a prayer
That we'll find one another in that big somewhere out there
And even though I know how very far apart we are
It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky
Somewhere out there if love can see us through
Then we'll be together somewhere out there
Out where dreams come true.
Rick read this Yeats poem to Liz.  There were fewer and fewer dry eyes in the crowd.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Then Liz read a Sara Teasdale poem to Rick.  
As dew leaves the cobweb lightly
Threaded with stars,
Scattering jewels on the fence
And the pasture bars;
As dawn leaves the dry grass bright
And the tangled weeds
Bearing a rainbow gem
On each of their seeds;
So has your love, my lover,
Fresh as the dawn,
Made me a shining road
To travel on,
Set every common sight
Of tree or stone
Delicately alight
For me alone.
I think monogamous marriage for life is a great and glorious way of life for those who are cut out for it; that’s why I’m still performing marriage ceremonies in spite of the fact that my own marriage failed.  My marriage to Lindon Fowler failed, but marriage as an institution did not fail.  
The best way to strengthen marriage and to have it continue lasting as an important human institution is to stop trying to force people who lack long-term marriage skills to get married.  There is a majority of people in our country who think that marriage is like chewing gum--or tobacco, depending on what part of the country you’re from; if you’re just given enough time, you’ll catch on and become a pro in a flash.
There is no paradigm for just what will make your marriage work for you.  The plan, the promise, the persistence--these are all in your hands and, to some degree, in your hands alone.  Others may want to help because they care, but the two of you will make it work and make it last if it does, and you will find your own ways to ensure that.  We all of us are outsiders.  We will not understand the foundation or the cornerstones.  The mortar, only you will know how to mix and dry and cure.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010




I.
It’s a beautiful sight to see a baby or a small child absolutely glow with delight when mommy or daddy return after a time of separation, even if it’s been no longer than it takes to walk to the laundry room and transfer a load of clothes from the washer to the dryer.  It is not a pretty sight, in contrast, to see a child of any age showing disrespect to a parent who deserves respect.
Talking about parents in general is a tough job since there are so many different kinds of parents--many of whom are great parents and plenty who are bad news any way you slice it.  Some parents make a child’s life; other parents take the lives of their children.  Some parents are the major sources of support of their children and contribute immeasurably to their children’s successes; other parents have children who must succeed in spite of their parents. 
One of the Ten Commandments, the foundation of ancient Israel’s moral and spiritual codes, says that children, in healthy cultures, honor their parents.  The Ten Commandments were not for kiddies, but rather for adults.  Honoring mother and father in the context of the Ten Commandments was not a call for young children and teens to obey their parents; that teaching is in scripture, but the Ten Commandments calls on adult children to honor parents, which meant respecting them and caring for them when they need care.
That commandment in its fullness reads:  “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exod 20:12 NRSV).  Not all ten of the commandments have a “tag” or an explanation attached to them, but this is one that does.  There’s a rationale given for honoring parents, and it’s a powerful rationale.  You honor parents, at least in part, to keep the your culture alive; said another way, when the generations lose respect for each other, a whole community, a whole way of life, dies out.  That is something worth remembering in our country today where there is woeful lack of respect among the generations for other generations, younger people often showing no respect for older people and older people, just as frequently, refusing to honor younger people.
Another characteristic about the Ten Commandments worth remembering is that they are more designed for collective adherence than for individual adherence.  Obviously, individuals have to live by the guidelines in order for them to be kept, but they were developed as a word to and for a whole people.  So, for example, it’s not simply an individual who is supposed to refrain from killing another human being, but whole communities or countries that are supposed to live by the standard; and I presume the logic is that if the group sets the standard, then individuals within the group are more likely to live by the standard.  Similarly, if a whole culture lives in such a way that parents are honored, it’s much more likely that individual children will live accordingly.  Conversely, if the culture treats the elderly with disdain, the young people growing up in that culture will simply follow suit.  
Let’s give organized religion a word of praise here.  They were taking the lead in elder care long before it became a highly profitable undertaking in an aging culture making the enterprise increasingly attractive to secular corporations who are often more interested in profit than in compassion; although we all know of examples of extraordinary compassion shown in a secular care facility and some examples where compassion for the elderly has not been shown in a religiously affiliated institution.  As usual, generalizing leads to distortion.
The great American preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, said:  “We never know the love of the parent till we become parents ourselves.”  That is profoundly and painfully true.  If we could fix that, most major conflicts between parents and children of all ages would disappear.  Even those children who know that they are loved can’t imagine how much they’re loved.  Nor can children comprehend that their blessing is as golden to a parent as a parental blessing is to them.  
Both parents and children must be forgiving of each other, just as spouses and siblings and friends must be forgiving of each other.  I say it again: forgiveness must be operative continually.
At some point, most all of us are going to do something or say something that hurts those whom we love most, and as humorist Dave Barry pointed out, “There is nothing in the world more embarrassing to a teenager than a parent!”  Along the same lines, author Kathy Lette confessed:  “I am not allowed to sing, dance, laugh, or wear short skirts. Having a teenage daughter is like living with the Taliban.”  
The tricky part of forgiveness in the parent/child relationship structure is that young children somehow innately assume that parents don’t make mistakes; thus, a parental mistake feels to a child like an intentional effort to hurt.  Without making a child feel scared that she or he ended up with a dangerously inept parent, I think it’s important for parents to communicate with their children about the fact that parents make mistakes too.  This remains true as parents age.  Everything is a new frontier for parents, and since no two kids are exactly alike even when we parent more than one child, everything is still new and challenging.  The way I raised child number one didn’t work at all with child number two.  The Earl of Rochester once said:  “Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.”
Here’s another thing.  Just as a child moves through individual life stages so also do parents, so who is surprised at calamity in a household where the mother is going through a rugged menopause right when one of the kids hits puberty.  And many of you know the relatively new set of pressures on modern middleagers due to increased life expectancy; they are called the “sandwich generation” because they are dealing with pressures from teens still at home at the same time their aging parents need them in ways they hadn’t needed them before.  And it’s not at all unusual these days to see child and parent--both in their senior years.
If I’m an aging parent, I can still make mistakes with my adult children, and I will.  If I’m a loving adult child, I will still make mistakes with my aging parent, and I do.  I say again, forgiveness must remain operative in all stages of the relationship between parents and their children.
Good parenting is no guarantee of a quality product.  There are some great parents out there who end up with a child that grows up to do all the wrong things, and there are some people who are worthless as parents who end up with the most accomplished and well-adjusted child imaginable.  
At the same time, good parenting usually helps rather than hinders, and we always have to remember that whatever we build with a strong foundation--whether it’s a house or a relationship--has a much greater chance of lasting than what is built on a shoddy foundation.  Practically speaking, this means that even if there are bumps along the way, strong parental relationships with younger children will more likely lead to strong parental relationships with teen children and adult children too.  Again, there are no guarantees.
Hindsight can be much clearer than foresight, and that must have been what Diane Loomis had in mind when she reflected back on her parenting experience.  Her words:

If I had my child to raise over again
I'd build self-esteem first and the house later
I'd finger paint more and point the finger less
I would do less correcting and more connecting
I'd take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes
I would care to know less and know to care more
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites
I'd stop playing serious and seriously play
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars
I'd do more hugging and less tugging
I'd see the oak tree in the acorn more often
I would be firm less often and affirm much more
I'd model less about the love of power
And more about the power of love.


II.
I am thinking about a biblical “parent hall of fame.”  Who were the exemplary parents mentioned in Hebrew and Christian scripture, and why were they remembered?
Some scholars of Christian scripture believe that Paul’s second letter to Timothy was the last thing he wrote.  Nero had Paul put to death probably in Rome, probably about the year 63.  Paul believed that the continuation of what he had given the latter part of his life to--namely, spreading Christianity--rested largely on the shoulders of his younger protege, Timothy.  They shared a very warm relationship; Paul was definitely his father in the faith.  We hear nothing about Timothy’s biological father except that he was Greek, but both his grandmother and mother are mentioned in Paul’s final piece of correspondence, Second Timothy.   He wrote to Timothy:

Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
Timothy was well-grounded, spiritually speaking, and Paul didn’t take the credit for it; he certainly would have if he could have.  Paul, instead, attributed Timothy’s spiritual grounding to good parenting and grandparenting. Our parents cannot give us the gift of healthy spirituality, but if parents model that for us it’s so much easier for us, so much more natural for us, to recognize that spiritual seeking is an important component of balanced, productive living.
We can only have a functional spirituality if we choose it; it can’t be a gift, but the parent who models sincere spiritual seeking makes it so much easier and so much more likely that her or his child will incorporate that into the way she or he lives.  The faith Paul praised in Eunice and Lois, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, was a strikingly sincere faith, and Paul believed Timothy had chosen the same path thanks to their example.  
I believe that encouraging by example is the very best way for parents to deal with matters of faith and spirituality.  Those parents who are part of religious groups that believe there is only one “right” way to believe, spiritually speaking, are under tremendously greater duress about this than are parents who are open to the concepts of multiple truths and multiple expressions of God.  Parents in restrictive religions can’t rest until their children conceive of and act on religious matters exactly as the parents have; everyone in the group must have the same beliefs and must act on their faith in exactly the same way.  Parents in inclusive religious groups believe that the spiritual life is one of several aspects of life that needs to be nurtured in the healthy, well-rounded and balanced person.  As long as their children are nurturing the spirit, even if it’s in a way that differs from how the parents do it, these parents can be happy.
Of course, if your kid takes a college course in Native American studies and comes home for break to tell you that she or he has finally found THE spiritual path for her or him, and thank Mother Earth for the highly spiritual substance, peyote, you might wonder.
Another mother I want to nominate to the biblical parent hall of fame is Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Even though she, with others, questioned his sanity at times, she stood with her first-born (whom you could call “unique” and/or “eccentric”) literally to the end.  Practically all of his followers had abandoned him by the time Rome executed him, but his mother, Mary, was one of the handful who stood as close to the cross as they could to support him with their presence until, in agony, he said, “It is finished.”  You know what she had to witness that day ripped open her heart, but there she stood.  
Any parent who has a child who lives against the grain endures some extra heartaches because almost all non-status-quo types suffer some kind of rejection if not some kind of active persecution.  Every harsh or diminishing word that first pierces the heart of child whose only crime is being different will eventually pierce the hearts of that child’s parents too if they are sensitive parents.  
Mary heard all the names Jesus’ detractors had called him.  She knew how numerous people made fun of him, and she knew about the threats on his life.  She was hardly surprised when she leaned that Pontius Pilate had sentenced him to death.  Excruciatingly painful as it was for her, Mary stood at the cross while her first born child died.  Perhaps, she thought, when his eyes caught hers, he would see the great love she had for him once again and be strengthened in his ordeal.
For a father in the biblical parent hall of fame, I nominate the prophet Hosea because he stepped in to provide full care for his children when their mother, Gomer, repeatedly walked out on them to pursue her numerous extramarital affairs.  Not all fathers left to care for children when the mother is out of the picture for whatever reason step up to the plate and care fully for the children, but first-class single fathers have appeared across time though much less frequently than single mothers.  
Preoccupied while blatantly and wantonly Gomer was cheating on him, Hosea still took care of his kids.  He gets no special reward for that because that’s exactly what he should have done, but had he not done so few people would have looked down on him; many more people, even today, look down on a deadbeat mother than a deadbeat father.  That double standard is unfair, however.  Both parents are equally responsible for the well-being of the children they bring into the world.  If one of the parents is unable to or unwilling to take on the responsibility, then the other one should step up to the plate.
Hosea may have been a fictional character, but whether fictional or historic he was a fine father.  He was able to love without limits, and just for the record he never stopped loving his unfaithful wife.  At one point, when it looked like she’d left him for good, he went out in search of Gomer and found her tied to an auction block, being sold as a slave.  He himself bought her and brought her home yet again.
Finally, I nominate Job to the biblical parent hall of fame.  Job was a wealthy man who loved his family more than he loved his money.  He had seven sons and three daughters, and one of the writers of the book of Job seems to suggest that the children of Job, all adults when we join the story, are serious partiers.  The boys appeared to have been the party planners or instigators, but they included their sisters in their get togethers.  They were a close family.
Job was known for his righteousness.  Sadly, he believed in a god who was a punitive god and a god who played games with people’s lives; that’s for another sermon.  As related to his children, though, Job got up every morning and prayed and tended to his own spiritual health, but because he thought some wild things were going on at the bashes his kids were throwing, he spent a part of his prayer time trying to encourage God to think well of his children despite their behavior.  He must have prayed prayers that sounded like this:  “God, they are really good people at heart; they just get carried away with their partying.  I hope you’ll overlook the exterior, God, and see in their hearts the good people they really are.”
Well, we don’t know if those prayers had any impact on the god Job envisioned or not, but there’s no question about the fact that he loved his children and would have done anything for them.  Sadly, again, the god of the book of Job decided to let the satan test Job, and the satan destroyed all of Job’s property and killed all ten of his kids.  Thank goodness, God doesn’t really act this way, but Job believed God did.  His grief was immeasurable, and he must have wondered over and over again day after day what he could have done differently to have persuaded God to protect his children.  After all, if anyone deserved to have her or his prayers answered, it was Job. 
Later in life, the god of Job would allow Job to have his fortunes restored, and he and his wife had other children.  One of the writers of the book seemed to think that was a happy ending, but we know that one life can’t replace another. 
By the way, God doesn’t bring tragedy to our children, to punish them, to punish us, or for any other reason. 
III.
When we try to use the Judeo-Christian scriptures to give us guidance about how to appreciate and honor our parents, we are dealing with cultural chasms too deep to cross.  The extraordinarily high regard in which parents, yea all elders, were held in those cultures that produced both Hebrew and Christian scripture far surpasses the way that children in our time and place, even those whom we would recognize as especially attentive to their parents, treat their elders.  Built into those Jewish traditions, as in many eastern societies today, was an absolute respect and love for parents and grandparents and other elders, rarely ignored.  
A society that has allowed elder abuse to become a social epidemic can hardly understand a way of living where age is a badge of honor and not a target for disrespect and disdain.  That said, we still look back to the ancient wisdom to be challenged to improve our attitudes towards those parents who deserve honor and attentive care from their children.
Having pointed this out, we are even harder hit to understand a disturbing snippet from the ministry of Jesus.

A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Child of Humanity has nowhere to lay his head.”  Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt 8:19-22 NRSV, adapted).
The contrast in this little story is astounding.  An enemy of Jesus pledges to become his most ardent disciple, and a disciple--someone who has already identified himself as a devoted follower of Jesus--hedges when a demanding assignment comes his way.  
Scribes and Pharisees resented Jesus for trying to make the ancient law relevant.  They were literalists, and scribes were the lawyers who kept on offering only literal interpretations of the ancient law as acceptable.  Here, though, a scribe comes up to Jesus and effectively ends his career by saying to Jesus, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  Instead of turning summersaults and yelling out, “Chalk one up for our side,” Jesus said to the scribe whom we have every reason to take as sincere, “Are you sure about that?  Have you noticed that those who follow me as my disciples have given up all the frills?  Lawyers like you have nice lives and ample funds and lots of respect from the community.  My disciples, many of them, used to live privileged lives, but they were willing to let go of that in order to give their attention to serving the poor and the sick.  In order for us to do what we must do, there are times when we have nothing materially.  Foxes at least have their holes, and birds at least have their nests, but my disciples and I end up many a day with no place to lay our weary heads.  Are you really up for that?”
Before he can answer, this would be disciple hears the conversation, and he has evidently not thought through fully what the demands are for those who are willing to live like Jesus lived.  He doesn’t back out exactly, but all of a sudden, he is thinking of his father’s funeral; and the father is still kicking--no where near death as far as anyone knew.  But someday, yes, the son would be responsible for giving his father an honorable burial so when Jesus blurts out, “Let the dead bury their own dead,” everyone is stunned.  We are stunned.  How could Jesus have been more crass and callous--especially in that culture of high regard for parents?  
What he said makes no sense if taken literally; if read literally, the statement really is an affront to respect due parents.  Obviously, the dead can’t bury the dead so he’s clearly referring to the spiritually dead.  Those who are really living life can’t allow future crises and tragedies to keep them from investing fully in today, in the tasks at hand.  Of course, when that disciple needed to go and attend to his father, in sickness or death, Jesus would be the first to encourage him to go and would go with him.   
The call or opportunity to serve the neediest and most rejected people in society is by no means an excuse to neglect or mistreat parents.  In fact, to do that would be to violate what Jesus stood for. 
I have some suggestions for adult children in regard to maintaining strong relationships with parents.
  1. Aging parents these days are usually not sitting around in rocking chairs with nothing more to do than get the morning newspaper and wait for the mailperson to deliver.  If they are, that’s OK, but it’s no longer the norm.  Busy adult children and busy aging parents need to establish some suitable pattern of consistent quality communication so that both are comfortable initiating and receiving the contacts.  This is affected tremendously by how close they live to each other.  Those who live closer to each other usually, not always, have the easiest time with the quality communication piece.  There is such a thing as too much communication just as there’s such a thing as too little communication.  Balance is the key, and that has to be worked out relationship by relationship.
  2. Both aging parents and adult children are still growing and changing; they are not exactly the people they used to be, and change has to be embraced.  I’ve seen too many adult children create a rift with their widowed parents who decide that romance doesn’t have an age limit.  Often, the real concern is what will happen to family money if the aging parent marries again, and, realistically, that has to be considered and worked out since there are those in our world who are busily looking for somebody else’s money most of the time.  
  3. How to ask for help and how to offer help has to be determined with respect for boundaries and independence, and it’s not just aging parents who need the help all the time.  There are a good number of adult children who need the help of their parents too.
  4. To the best of our ability, we want to live without regrets so let’s get it right as often as we can and ask for forgiveness promptly when we don’t.
Kendall Hailey had this insight, and I like it a lot:  “The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.”
Amen.

Sunday, June 13, 2010




I.
I’m just now watching the HBO television series called “In Treatment,” which must have aired originally a couple of years ago.  Someone recommended the series to me, and I can get the whole season very inexpensively through Netflix rentals, so I am.  
The basic premise of the show is that this therapist is, indeed, affected personally by what’s going on in the lives of several, not all, of his clients.  The series follows them, these clients whose problems and pains have an impact on the therapist beyond the counseling room, for the whole season.  Viewers see these clients working with the therapist all season long.  As is often wise for someone in the helping professions, the therapist has his own therapist, and it’s fascinating to see how he has to work in his personal life to be able to deal long term with some of the very complex and painful problems people bring to him. 
The therapist’s name is Paul, and one of his clients is an early teen girl who attempted suicide after years of sexual abuse by her gymnastics coach and as a result of her parents’ divorce, from which her father walked away, moved away, refused to allow her to live with him and the new woman in his life, and established a pattern of communication wherein he called all the shots; meaning, they could only talk or see each other only when he initiated it, which nearly always was random and fairly quick.  
I’m happy to report that this young teen, Sophie, makes great progress during season one, though there are plenty of bumpy roads.  In the final episode of the season, her father shows up as Sophie is about to enter the therapist’s office for her session.  He demands to attend the session with her, and Sophie talks the therapist into agreeing to this though Paul wasn’t comfortable with the abruptness of it.  
Just when we think that the father is going to play Sophie the way he has for years, the tables get turned on him, and Sophie chews out her father for how he treated her for two and a half years, and though he pledged his love for her time and again, she kept saying tearfully to him, “How can you love me when you don’t even know me?  Did you know, Dad, that my accident wasn’t an accident?  I rode my bike into that traffic on purpose; I was tired of the pain and tired of living.  You didn’t know that, did you, Daddy?  No, because you don’t know me.”  Very poignant, very powerful.
In the musical, “Into the Woods,” Bernadette Peters’s character sings an all too true song about children.  Here are some of the words:

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say, “Listen to me”
Children will listen.
A story popped up this week in the New York Times with the title, “Stop Texting, Dad!  I’m Talking to You!”  Ouch from all of us technology addicts!  
Janice Im is an early childhood development specialist.  She was waiting for an elevator recently, somewhere in Virginia, and she witnessed an exchange between a parent and child that greatly troubled Ms. Im, though she wasn’t surprised because of the research she’s been involved in lately.
She guessed that the little boy waiting with his mother for an elevator was about two and a half years old.  That guess alone tells you that she is a childhood specialist; any of the rest of us would have said “two or three years old,” but very few would have guessed “two and a half.”  
Well, the mother was busy with her Blackberry, texting up a storm, and the little boy kept saying, “Mommy.  Mommy.”  His mother vacillated between ignoring him altogether and saying, “Wait a minute.”  
“Mommy, Mommy,” he’d say.
Silence.
“Mommy, Mommy.”
“Wait a minute.”
From there the kid began to tug at his mother’s shorts, which got him no further.  The Blackberry was still winning out.
Finally, in desperation, he bit her leg, and that worked!  He had her attention!  A word of concern from the article:

Much of the concern about cellphones and instant messaging and Twitter has been focused on how children who incessantly use the technology are affected by it. But parents’ use of such technology--and its effect on their offspring--is now becoming an equal source of concern to some child-development researchers.
Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been studyiing how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. After five years and 300 interviews, she has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread. Her findings will be published in “Alone Together” early next year by Basic Books.
The title of Ms. Im’s book is scary, isn’t it?
So it’s not just children and teens blocking out their parents with technology; it goes the other way too, and it may be worse with parents who have more money than their children and may be able to afford the constant transition from technology types:  cell phone to laptop to iPod to iPad.  
How can someone feel or sense that she or he is valued by someone who never gives her or him undivided attention?  “No attention” spells lack of interest, and most children, it seems, are inclined to pass on to their parents the same kind of treatment they received from their parents.  This isn’t always true; there are no absolute rules to guarantee that children will grow up well and love the parents who loved them as the parents age.  
James Baldwin said:  “Children have never been very good at obeying their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  According to Jack Canfield, “The greatest deficit in America isn’t the trade deficit. It’s the attention deficit of our children. The average child gets 14 minutes of attention a day from each of her or his parents. So the greatest thing you can give a kid is time spent listening to him or her."
Harry Chapin sang the haunting “The Cat’s in the Cradle” years ago; it made me wonder what I’d be like if I were ever fortunate enough to be a parent:

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son,
You know we’ll have a good time then
My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw,” I said “Not today
I got a lot to do,” he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I'd like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

II.
In Arabia, before the development of the Islamic faith, children were considered as property.  The Qur’an speaks specifically against the idea that parents own their children.  Instead, children are given as gifts by God to be held in trust according to Islamic standards; children--both females and males--are to be physically cared for and properly educated.
In Arabia before Mohammad became a powerful force, infanticide was practiced for various reasons, one of which was what one scholar called postpartum birth control.  The Qur’an speaks of a handful of “grave” sins, and these include:  polytheism, homicide, and infanticide.  Two related passages from the Qur’an.

Say:  “Come, I will rehearse what Allah hath (really) prohibited you from”: Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want; we provide sustenance for you and for them; come not nigh to shameful deeds. Whether open or secret; take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.
O Prophet! If believing women come unto thee, taking oath of allegiance unto thee that they will ascribe no thing as partner unto Allah, and will neither steal nor commit adultery nor kill their children, nor produce any lie that they have devised between their hands and feet, nor disobey thee in what is right, then accept their allegiance and ask Allah to forgive them. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Lest you think this is an outmoded concern, do I have to remind you of how many parents in this country kill their children for hosts of reasons including what they call discipline and because, they claim, God led them to or told them to kill the children.  
Muhammad was himself an orphan by the time he was six years old.  His mother died shortly after his birth, and by the time he was six, his father had died.  He was raised from then on by an uncle.  Undoubtedly because of his own experience as an orphan, thankfully a well-treated one, he always had a soft-spot in his heart for orphans, but he was opposed to adoption.  Faithful Muslims were to treat orphans as members of the community of faith, but not as members of their own households, which could conceivably confuse heredity and marital laws.  
While Muhammad embraced a great deal that had been
taught by the ancient Hebrews, he was not as embracing of orphans in his religious teachings.  They weren’t to be tossed aside, as we’ve seen, but they weren’t to be brought into families as equal, beloved members as was more likely done by the Hebrews.
The preacher in the book of Deuteronomy preached this as a part of her or his message:

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites [that is, the clergy], the aliens [immigrants, in other words], the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments” 
(Deut 26:12-13 NRSV).
Spiritual seekers and people of faith are supposed to take care of children; it’s our responsibility.  If they are our children, of course, we take care of them.  If they are parentless, they are still our responsibility; they are children.
All of our children are precious, but so are the children of others whom we don’t know.  No person is stronger than the person who lifts up and empowers the powerless, and children are powerless by virtue of their size and status.  We can’t let them be brutalized or neglected by any source, including their parents. 
One of the stories from the life of Jesus that many people love is where he blesses the children.  The story is told in at least two of the Gospels.  I think Luke had the greatest concern for outsiders among the four Gospels so I look to that Gospel first when I’m studying a passage about the peripheral people.  Families might value their children, but it would be hundreds of years before we’d begin to have whole societies who valued children for who they were as they lived their little lives--not for how they could become a part of a free labor force to keep family finances rolling or for how they might, if they were boys, keep the family name alive in the next generation.  

People were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the empire of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the empire of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:15-17 NRSV).
So, blessing two birds with one breath, as it were, Jesus states boldly that children are important and that they are as deserving of his attention as are adults.  Jesus is also saying the way a child believes in whatever it is she or he believes in, with both utter innocence and with absolute acceptance is the way adults who want to be a part of his movement have to come into God’s empire as citizens of the empire--believing in it though only parts of it can be seen and believing in it with absolute acceptance anyway.  
Part of what the disciples did when traveling with Jesus was crowd control; otherwise, people seeking Jesus’ attention but especially his widely known healing skills would literally have overwhelmed Jesus.  We get the idea that not all holy men and holy women welcomed the opportunity to work children into their schedules.  The disciples were operating off that preconception.  Get these kids out of Jesus’ hair so he can heal those who really matter, the grownups.  
Jesus responds by saying to his disciples, “Don’t give the kids who want to be near me any grief, and don’t give the parents of the infants trying to have their babies blessed or healed any grief for bringing the little ones to me.  They count just as much as the adults.”  In other words, we can’t neglect the children.  
Anyone, then, who wants to be a part of the Jesus movement knows from the get go that caring for children, teaching the children, loving the children remains a major part of our responsibility in every generation.  James E. Faust has put it just the way many of us believe it:  “No gift bestowed upon us is so precious as children. They are proof that God still loves us.  They are the hope of the future.”
Many Jews, past and present, have not/do not believe in a life after Earthly life.  Some do; most don’t as I understand it.  That is why for many generations children took on an extra value for many Jews.  For a substantial number of those Jews who didn’t and who don’t believe in an afterlife, people live on through their children and grandchildren, their descendants.  Those Jews weren’t concerned about rewards or punishments for themselves in some unknown place, out there somewhere.  They wanted to make a contribution to the world in which they had lived, and they could do that by bringing up the children in all the right ways and leaving them to keep making the difference the now-deceased parent had been making or hoped to make.  A better way of envisioning this, I believe, that takes the pressure or burden off your offspring is not to expect them to follow in your footsteps, but to be empowered to use their respective gifts to make the world a better place.  They need to do it their way.
It’s admirable that Jews who see themselves as living on through their children and grandchildren aren’t worried about all the good things coming to them like prizes in Cracker Jacks boxes in another world, but are much more concerned with continuing to want this world to be a better place, and who can we trust more to keep our concerns going, in their own ways, than those who knew us best, our children?

III.
If you listen to my sermons with any kind of regularity, and I’m not assuming that just because you’re in a pew here that you are necessarily listening to me, you’ll know that parenthood is central in my life and that my sons mean the world to me.  As far as I know, this attitude is shared by all Silverside parents.
Not meaning to shock you, but I’m not the perfect parent by a long stretch, yet, I do think I got it when it came to understanding that my children were gifts to me and their mother.  They didn’t ask to come into the world; we brought them in, and it was our joyful responsibility to care for them and share life with them in all the positive ways that are possible at the various life stages.  It never occurred to me that Lindon and I should have kids because of what they’d be able to do for us.  They didn’t owe me anything, and they were not around to serve me or my interests. 
Parents who burden their children with this, “You owe me,” song and dance have forgotten how many votes were cast to move ahead with conception.  I do believe children owe respectful parents respect.  As far as forming a pool of free labor or providing personal domestic or valet services, no.  
Parents who dare to say to their children, “After all I’ve done for you...,” are parents who have no understanding of unconditional love, and unconditional love is the only kind worth having.  Conditional love eventually turns out to be no real love at all.  Children, sadly, and many adults don’t know the difference between conditional and unconditional love.  They, therefore, make the mistake of saying yes to what looks like love to them, but that eventually will obligate them to whatever the person promising pseudo-love demands.   
For a pile of complicated reasons, I kinda sorta missed out on most of childhood--not completely, but mostly.  And one of several joys of parenting Jarrett and Carson was the opportunity to revisit childhood and fill in that gap, reclaim some of what I’d missed.  In ways, I re-grew up with them.  In order for that to have happened, I had to learn a great deal from my sons, and I did; I still am learning from them.  
From the Children’s Defense Fund:

USA Today reported this week that the national poverty crisis now affects 1 out of 5 children in the United States, up from 1 out of 6 just four years ago. This astonishing figure is a sober reminder that the recession isn't just stretching our safety net, but it's also threatening the success of the next generation of Americans.  Indeed, childhood poverty in the United States ignites a devastating chain of consequences that leads to equally devastating places:
Four-year-old kids living in poverty are 18 months behind their peers. These gaps in early childhood persist throughout a child's youth, with clear and established links to the high school dropout rate, teenage pregnancy and unemployment.
Only a little over 15 percent of fourth graders from poor homes are reading at levels considered proficient by the U.S. Department of Education. According to a recent study from the Casey Foundation the clearest sign a child will drop out of high school is subpar reading scores in elementary school. Almost half of all high school dropouts are on government assistance and a high school dropout is eight times more likely to be incarcerated.
One of the best ways to support our children in their struggles is to support whole groups of children who have struggles similar to the ones with which our own kids contend.  As parents, naturally, the most pressing concern we have is that things are right for those amazing people whom we call our kids.  But crusades for educational reform and medical research for one child aren’t going to go very far.  
Chances are, until all children fair well, few children will fair well anywhere in the world.
Regarding relationships with children for which we are most directly responsible--as parents, stepparents, and grandparents--I have some guidelines.
  1. Children are children and should be allowed, even encouraged, to delay adulthood until childhood naturally fades. When the Apostle Paul wrote about love he included a reference to putting away childish ways when he became an adult. Childish ways aren't childish to children.
  2. Children are like snowflakes. No two are exactly alike, even identical twins.  Therefore, expecting the same patterns of behavior from several children including siblings is an indication of being ill-informed about the nature of human beings.
  3. There are childhood emotional bruises that will never completely heal.  Time does not heal all wounds, and children are breakable.
  4. Children are inclined to mimic the behaviors that they witness in their parents' lives even if they detest those behaviors, even if those behaviors are extraordinarily subtle.  So, children of divorcees are more likely to divorce than children whose parents stay together healthily.  Children of alcoholics are more likely to have substance abuse problems than the children of parents who do not have those illnesses and struggles.
  5. Children cannot learn what they are incapable of taking in developmentally. This includes spiritual lessons.  The church forever more has been guilty of trying cram doctrine down the throats of children, doctrine that even informed adults don’t understand fully.  
  6. Unless given a reason not to be, children are inherently trusting and have to be taught in this crazy world that a substantial number of adults are not to be trusted.  This is one of the saddest commentaries on the modern world and one of the burdens on children that didn’t used to be there to the degree that danger is there today.
  7. There is no good reason to keep children away from clear teachings of Jesus, but not every story about Jesus is a story for children.  I’d favor a lesson on “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” over a story on one of the miracles lest children think of Jesus as a magician or an early relative of Harry Potter.
I am the child,
All the world waits for my coming,
All the earth watches with interest to see what I shall become.
Civilization hangs in the balance,
For what I am, the world of tomorrow will be.
I am the child,
I have come into your world,
About which I know nothing,
Why I came I know not;
How I came I know not;
I am curious;
I am interested.
I am the child,
You hold in your hand my destiny,
You determine, largely, whether I shall succeed or fail.
Give me, I pray you,
Those things that make for happiness.
Train me, I beg you,
That I may be a blessing to the world.