Good Gifts: Children and Communion

Well, I’m down to one, one child at home.  Nicole just started at UNC and David just went to Job Corps.  It hasn’t been easy.  In addition to the bittersweet joy and sadness, moment-by-moment mood swings, I suppose it’s natural to have moments of regret; at least I know I do.  “I could have done more.”  I could have done what I did good even better.”  “I did things wrong.”  “If I could do it again, I’d…”

Last week, I was reading in Matthew 7, and verses 9-11 took on a radical new meaning for me.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

As a father, I have reflected on this passage often over the years.  Of course, we sometimes get confused about what “good gifts” are and focus on giving things to our children which may be ‘good’ in one sense, but perhaps not the best sense, but I think most Christian parents understand “good gifts” to be: food, nurture, spiritual formation, acceptance, love, shelter, medical care, character, education, and the like.

Sinners that we are we often fail to give the good gifts in good measure and unfortunately we sometimes give ‘stones,’ though I hope I’ve never given a ‘snake!’ 🙂

What struck me the other day as I reflected on this in light of children leaving home and some of the regret one naturally feels about not having given good enough gifts often enough–and all parents have to face this, but it doesn’t mean wallow in it or think one can’t continue to give good gifts–was this insight from God.

What is the best gift?  What meets the true definition of Good each and every single time without fail?  Jesus Christ, of course.  That’s when, for the first time, I linked the above passage with Communion.

In John 6:48-51, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

In Luke 22:19 we read these words we hear proclaimed each Sunday:  “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”

Even before they know it, our children ask us for bread.  Even when they don’t understand what they are asking for, they ask us for bread. This includes the literal  nourishment of food and drink, of course.  A baby’s first cry after “Whatever that was that just happened to me, it hurt like crazy,” is “I am hungry.” Nor do I believe it is a coincidence that the last words the Incarnate Son of God spoke on the cross before he said “It is finished” were “I am thirsty.”

But like so many things in the flesh, our children’s first cry for food and drink points towards God and a spiritual hunger and thirst.  They are also asking for the true Living Bread of Life and the Living Water.

I often tell people about how I loved feeding my children their bottle when they were babies.  When I did that I knew with absolute clarity and certainty that that was exactly what I was supposed to be doing at that moment.  Nothing else had a claim on my time.  Nothing else could take priority.  It was the perfect peace of knowing that whatever else in life was confusing or stressful or conflicted, this moment was pure.

As I reflect on my children growing up and leaving home, I now know that when Kerri and I brought them to church, when we brought them to the Lord’s Table, we were still giving them their bottle–which is both food and drink.

There is no better good gift we can ever give to our children than to take them to worship and celebrate the sacrament together.  As God’s child, when I have asked my Father for good gifts for my children, He, as always, has faithfully responded by giving them Himself, even when I haven’t seen it because I was looking for a different answer.

I give thanks to God that whatever else I might do differently if I could do it over again, this one thing I would never change.  Like us, they are really His children anyway.  The best good gift we could ever give to them is Him.  When I take them to worship, it is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.  Perfect clarity. Perfect certainty.  Perfect peace.

Creationless Creation

Over at Salvo, Jennifer Fulwiler has a great article, “Mad About Babies:  What’s Sex Got to Do With It?”

Until a couple of years ago, I was militantly pro-choice. When I heard people make anti-abortion statements, it filled me with a white-hot anger that I could barely contain. Behind my views was a buried but unspoken sense that there was something inherently unfair about being a woman, and abortion was a key to maintaining any semblance of a level playing field in the world.

My peers and I were taught not that sex creates babies, but that unprotected sex creates babies. We absorbed through cultural osmosis the idea that every normal person will have sex at some point in his or her life, and that the sexual act, by default, has no significance outside the relationship between the two people involved. In this worldview, when an unexpected pregnancy came up, it was seen as a sort of betrayal by the woman’s body.

Later, after her conversion, she “started to see the catastrophic mistake our society had made when we started believing that the life-giving potential of the sexual act could be safely forgotten about as long as people used contraception. It would be like saying that guns could be used as toys as long as there were blanks in the chamber. Teaching people to use something with tremendous power nonchalantly, as a casual plaything, had set women up for disaster.”

Our society, she argues, as disconnected the once shared conditions for consideration of two questions:  When it it acceptable to have sex and when is it acceptable to have a baby.  She makes this comparison:

Conditions under which it is acceptable to have sex:

  • -If you’re in a stable relationship
  • -If you feel emotionally ready
  • -If you’re free of sexually transmitted diseases
  • -If you have access to contraception

Conditions under which it is acceptable to have a baby:

  • -If you can afford it
  • -If you’ve finished your education
  • -If you feel emotionally ready to parent a child
  • -If your partner would make a good parent
  • -If you’re ready for all the lifestyle changes that would be involved with parenthood

As long as those two lists do not match, we will live in a culture where abortion is common and where women are at war with their own bodies.

This is just another example, to me, of the Church as captive to the culture.  Most American modes of Christianity no longer speaks out against socially acceptable sexual sin (like “responsible” pre-marital sex, living together) and as homosexuality becomes more and more socially acceptable, they will gradually accept that, as the ELCA has most recently.  As long as it’s committed and monogamous, it will fulfill the conditions under which it is OK to have sex.  And, babies have nothing to do with it.

Personality Disorders

In his column today, George Will argues against the therapeutic society, suggesting that the DSM-IV, about to be revised, “may aggravate the confusion of moral categories.”  For example:  “Today’s DSM defines ‘oppositional defiant disorder’ as a pattern of ‘negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures.’ Symptoms include ‘often loses temper,’ ‘often deliberately annoys people’ or ‘is often touchy.’ DSM omits this symptom: ‘is a teenager.’”

By and large, I agree with his overall argument.  However, after having adopted two older, special needs kids ten years ago, I also know that there is such as thing a personality disorders.  It is an endless source of frustration to try and talk to anyone about the trials and difficulties of raising a child with attachment disorder or borderline personality disorder.  The basic response one gets is “Oh, A normal teenager.”

If only.  I also have three biological children, all different, all typical, all currently teens as well.  There is no way to really describe the differences without disclosing private information one rarely shares.  Knowing George Will has a son with Down’s Syndrome, I am surprised—though much less than I would have been years ago—that he seems so unopened to the distinctions.

I have fought for years, advocated and suffered, trying to keep the psychological profession from doping my kids up to control them.  I have seen how social workers, teachers, psychologist and psychiatrist all leap to conclusions with little data, aren’t interested in the knowledge that only parents can provide, and seek to jump to the easy DSM-IV diagnosis.  It makes getting insurance payments much easier, after all.

But still…well, I guess you’d have to live it.  ODD is real, and it’s not teenage rebellion.  It’s like calling suicidal tendencies the blues.

Reducing Families to Economics

I was just browsing the position papers at the National Youth Rights Association, where, under the topic of entertainment, they write:

While we understand the need to warn viewers about the content of a show, movie or game, we feel that age-based ratings systems not only fail to do so properly, but deprive young people of the ability to choose their own entertainment with their own money based on the whims of secret ratings boards, accountable to no one.

The National Youth Rights Association supports efforts by young people to use our economic strength to bring about an end to age-based ratings systems. We call for strict enforcement of antitrust and fair business practice laws to prohibit any group from strong-arming any business into following an age-based ratings system.

I see several objections here. First, the language is intellectually dishonest and falsely characterizing. The ratings aren’t based on ‘whims’ nor is the board ‘secret,’ nor is there any ‘strong-arming.’

Secondly, besides the fact that the movie theater can’t be asked to determine who earned what money, those under-18 teens who may actually be paying with money they earned probably don’t realize that if someone else weren’t paying for their food, housing, utilities, health insurance, car payments (most of the time), car insurance (most of the time), etc. that they wouldn’t be able to pay for that movie.

No one has true “economic strength” who is dependent upon others for most of his or her real income, measured in those things received but not paid for.

Finally, “age-based ratings systems” are sub-sets of a general philosophical position that one can only assume they take as axiomatic based on their desire to also lower drinking, driving and voting ages; that is, that there is no sound basis for “age-based” anything. They give a wink and a nod to the idea that there is a justified “need to warn viewers,” but they don’t really expound upon that, nor do they bother to support their conclusion that “age-based ratings systems… fail to do [that] properly.”

Maybe I haven’t seen it yet, but at some point they’re going to have to address the general questions of if and when the state has a legitimate basis for passing laws based on age. They seem to be avoiding that general philosophical line drawing. Either there is to be no line drawn ever or a line is justified. If it’s justified, they have to argue why, say, 16 is better than 18.

But it’s in those kinds of specific, concrete arguments that they’d need something besides high-minded Obamaesque rhetoric.

If a 16 year old–with or without–a job wants to go see an R-rated movie all she needs to do is take her mom with her. Philosophically, they’re trying to reduce family and citizen relationships to ones of mere economics, hoping to cut parents out of the loop. However, if that’s the case, they undermine their very objective, because those who pay for all those others silly things like medical insurance (i.e. ‘parents’) will always have the upper hand economically.

They need some other grounding for the position. If “it’s my money” is the best they have then they have nothing.