Two-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, was also a novelist, and some say his best novel was the one that carried the title, Sybil, published in 1845. In this novel, Disraeli has his characters criticize forced child labor. After a vivid description of what the men looked like as they came up out of the mines after a long, long day’s work–12 or 13 hours–Disraeli’s narrator gets around to a more heart-rending image:
So, too, these emerge from the bowels of the earth! Infants of four or five years of age, many of them girls, pretty and still soft and timid; entrusted with the fulfillment of responsible duties, the very nature of which entails on them the necessity of being the earliest to enter the mine and the latest to leave it.
One poignant detail after another in Nigeria of late. A couple of days ago some news sources reported that several of the fathers of the Chibok schoolgirls–at least 200 of them, proudly abducted by the terrorist organization Boko Haram–are speaking out about the complexity of their tragedy. Not only do they feel utterly helpless before an evil organization, but also the fathers of these beloved children, missing for a little over a month now, report that not a single representative from their local government or from the Nigerian federal government, no police investigators, and no military personnel have come to them to ask any questions about the identity of their daughters whom the fathers still hope will be rescued. One of the fathers who was willing to give his name to the press, Abana Maina, said, “We want the International World to help us in prayer so that God may help us to rescue these girls one day.”
How I wish, not only with the issue of the safety and rapid return of these young ladies, that people in none of the religions of the world would be taught that God allows tragedy but might, in some cases, reverse it. That, however, is for another sermon or another book or another career to promote.
Some of us parents who have walked the floors at night, worrying about the wellbeing of one of our children who was out and unreachable for several hours, have had a taste–and only a taste–of what the parents and siblings of these girls are going through. If there were a hell, this would be one of the emotions that stokes the fire.
As with war, God neither causes nor corrects abuse and aggression. While each of us understands the feeling of the father who has asked people around the world to pray that God would make a way for his daughter and all the others to be returned safely home, a God who could grant such a prayer-wish and who waits to be asked is not a God any of us would care to be connected to anyway.
Let’s not forget that the girls are more than pawns or puppets and that they are the ones suffering the most acutely. Sometimes, in trying to understand the depth of someone’s pain, there are those of us who focus on how the situations affect the ones to whom we can most readily relate, and those tend to be the ones connected to those who most acutely suffer. As we may not know what it’s like to suffer the way this person or that one has, we might concentrate on how the tragedy affects someone we CAN see and relate to–for example, a relative of someone who suffers. Not to minimize the horrors the parents of these girls are enduring, we still have to understand that the children themselves are terrorized directly; they are not supporting characters in the drama.
The Apostle Paul who didn’t know doodley squat about raising children, which didn’t keep him from expressing an opinion–or, as was the case with the snippet Gail read for us earlier, borrowing an existing commentary on the subject and weaving that into his own composition; adapting if he were so inclined.
Children, the right thing for you to do is to obey your parents as those whom God has set over you. The first commandment to contain a promise was: “Honor your father and your mother, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” Fathers, don’t over-correct your children or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment. Bring them up with Christian teaching in Christian discipline (Ephesians 6:1-4, Phillips).
This directive to children is one section of a whole code of behavioral guidelines for a complete household. There is advice for the wife and mother in the typical home as well as advice for the husband and father in the home. Then, Paul gets to his words for children that is followed by directives for slaves in the household. German scholars call these lists of appropriate behaviors haustafeln, household codes. Paul uses them in more than one place. I say this just to confirm the fact that Paul wasn’t writing along to the church in Ephesus and suddenly decided to slip in a quick word to get a quick word in for kids.
Now let’s concentrate for a moment on what Paul said to kids within the household unit. You may know that Paul’s letters were received by the pastor of a church, and the pastor read the letter to assembled congregation so the children in the congregation would have heard Paul’s word as it was read to a small church group as a whole. In this case, what he said to them was that it was their responsibility to honor their parents, which was stated in the Ten Commandments–specifically, in the first commandment on the list of ten to have a promise attached to it. The promise was that if children obey parents, they will inherit long life.
The fifth commandment on that most famous list of communal behavioral expectations does not promise a long life to obedient children individually. Rather, it is a promise of longevity, on the basis of common sense, to a society in which children practice parental respect in comparison to a society in which appreciation for parents is neither taught nor expected. There is a time when obedience to parents’ guidelines is honor parents but in reality is much more a matter of safety and survival, but a maturing honor of parents can’t be tied to behavioral demands by parents of their adult children.
I find it interesting, therefore, that the original commandment among the ten was probably directed not to little kids in the process of growing up, but to adult children. Adult children, honor your parents because you love them, yes, but also out of a healthy sense of duty as well as the practical realization that a society that throws away it’s elders like yesterday’s suddenly dated pieces of technology will not endure.
Paul, however, is clearly using the commandment to admonish children still growing up in the homes of their parents. There is a caveat. Even a guy who loved rules realized that eventually neither obedience nor honor can be coerced. And with that in mind, this household code that Paul used, with tweaking or not, has a built in warning for despotic parents. Overhearing parents had better watch out, or else they’ll lose out. A growing up kid who has no motivation to respect a parent’s wishes other than the fear of retaliation will escape such a parent’s sphere of influence as quickly as possible.
Evidently, the writers of the code that came into Paul’s hands believed that fathers more than mothers were the ones inclined to berate children who didn’t inherently love scads of enforced rules. Thus, Paul and the code to dads: “Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger.” Or, as the Phillips translation has it, “Fathers, don’t over-criticize your kids.” Don’t weigh them down with so much criticism that keeping the commandment about honoring parents becomes an impossibility. There are many reasons children fail to honor their parents; the one Paul points to here is the emotionally abusive parent who has removed respect for kids out of the relational equation.
What do Nita Balderston, Robin Bryson, Patty Fregdant-Yost, Bob George, Don Neal, John Neal, Ann Sharp, Lisa Frankel, Walt Stapleton, Marion Symonds, and Bonnie Zickefoose have in common other than the fact that they are members of Silverside Church? Hint: it’s something good!
Answer: They were once upon a time Silverside kids or teens or both! Where would we be without these core members today?!? Not in a very good place! If we can gift the future Silverside with a core such as this one from our present crop of kids, there would be no better endowment.
In the now-old film, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Paul Lynde—playing the father of teens—sang these memorable words:
I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Who can understand anything they say?
They a disobedient, disrespectful oafs!
Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!
While we’re on the subject:
You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
But they still just do what they want to do!
Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
So what IS the matter with kids these days? Generally speaking, not a thing except what taints them from the outside. Of course, there are are exceptions.
At Silverside, I know I can talk about this in a company of affirmation and agreement, which is to say, all the parents I know—and I think I know them all—are excellent parents, whatever the ages of their children. We love kids—our kids and the kids of others. Kids get priority treatment around here—not because we hope to get a payback from them, though it would be great to see many of tomorrow’s leaders coming out of the ever-growing group of kids we have here at Silverside today. We make kids a priority, and we do what we can for the kids to give them an enduring foundation for spiritual health and well-being because they deserve it. An enduring foundation is one that will always contribute to their overall wellbeing, which includes the comfort of self-affirmation rather than self-condemnation, the birthright many of us inherited in our hellfire and damnation church-homes. An enduring foundation is one that can be built upon; it is a foundation and not a finished structure. A fitting spirituality is not one set for the ages as it were; rather, it is one that is adaptable to times and circumstances. Believing that all aspects of a spirituality for one generation become or should become or can become a template for the spirituality of some future unknown and unknowable context is mostly naive, and somewhat selfish—but mostly naive.
My background for evaluating a healthy spirituality was based on maximum church attendance, maximum Bible study, and maximum scriptural memorization. That got me started, but had I left it there I’d quickly have outgrown it; and I’d have been left with nothing to replace were it not for the amazing opportunity at just the right time to begin the study of religion and spirituality with a larger-world focus.
All of us here hope that abductions and abuse of children would come to a screeching, permanent stop; if not, the kind of spirituality we want to equip our Silverside kids with—as they are the potential golden energy core for our future—is a spirituality that would have taught them that spirituality is not about private meditation time exclusively or primarily, but heavily focused on making the world a better place. Today, that we would mean we cannot sit idly by while kids are abducted by terrorists anywhere in the world, as one of countless concerns for justice in all of creation.