Parenting, Original Sin, and The Goal

The other day my wife asked our almost 18-month-old daughter to do something (I think it had to do with putting clothes away), and it was fascinating to watch the wheels turn in our little girl’s head.

She started to move towards obedience, then said “no,” then leaned back towards obeying, said “no” again almost put the thing away, and then finally ran in the other direction.

My immediate thought: “you little sinner.”

My second thought: “That was harsh.”

Which pretty much summarizes two prominent schools of thought on child raising out there in the world (and even within the church).

If you go with my gut reaction you are either “biblical” or a “cruel/shame-based” parent”.
If you go with my second thought you are either a “soft/hippy” or an “organic/love-based” parent.

Having reflected on that moment, and my reaction to it, over the past couple of days, I think it all misses the point.

I absolutely believe in original sin. It’s one of the easiest biblical truths for me to believe. But, I think far too often this gets applied in unhelpful ways.

Original sin (and the subsequent “total depravity” doctrine) are misunderstood to mean that given the choice between “right” and “wrong” we will always choose wrong.

No. We can, and do at times, choose right,
choose good,
choose beauty,
choose right relationship.

But we also choose the opposite. And, back to the scene with my daughter, we struggle and agonize over the choice.

Choosing good, choosing to submit, choosing others-over-self does not come naturally. That is what I mean when I talk about original sin, or total depravity, or whatever you want to call it.

I watched my daughter listen to my wife’s request, process it, and then wrestle (in a very visible way) with what to do with that request. And that struggle, that wrestling, is the issue to me. Most people focus on the outcome: did she obey or not. Or they debate the ethics and morality of obedience or imposing rules on a young child.

Which all misses the point: we are hardwired to choose ourselves over others. And that is the problem of original sin.

This is why Jesus’ invitation to follow him involves picking up a cross, denying ourselves, and becoming great (read, good) by serving others instead of ourselves.

I don’t want to downplay morality, but I think the parenting conversation gets lost there and then lives in denial about the real issue (self-centeredness).

The goal is not to raise rule-followers or narcissists, but wise, whole, self-giving human beings. 

That’s what we are shooting for.

“The people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe.”

– John Howard Yoder

New Is Always Better (RePost)

Amy and I enjoy the show “How I Met Your Mother”. (For those not familiar with the show, it’s a sort of “Friends” for millennials). One of the main characters is an extreme philanderer named Barney. Barney is prone to outlandish statements and proclamations of ridiculous rules that explain the world from his perspective. One of his favorite sayings is “new is always better.” (I try to invoke this rule with my wife when I get tempted to buy some new piece of technology…it doesn’t really work).

A few weeks ago someone was telling me about a situation he was dealing with. Another someone had a brand new “theological” insight regarding a controversial issue within the church.

As I was listening my intellectual side was tracking with the argument…even though it was new, it kind of made sense, and I could follow the logic (to a degree) that had led to the conclusion.

But something didn’t sit well with me.

I couldn’t figure it out for a while, and I felt like the only response I had was “well that’s wrong,” or “we don’t do it that way.” The issue came up again recently in a conversation about the passage in Luke on new and old wine skins.

Admittedly, I gravitate towards the new most of the time. I like new ideas, new gadgets, new books, new music, etc.

But the rhetoric that goes along with new (i.e. progressive) ideas is often one of convenience. As in: how convenient that you found this new idea that justifies your world view, that’s awesome! 

But convenience is never the path that Jesus took, and that is ultimately what didn’t sit right with me as I listened to my friend. The new idea was cool and interesting and definitely worth a serious conversation.

But it lacked sacrifice. There was no laying down of lives or taking up of crosses. Stories of convenience lack any kind of power. Stories of sacrifice stir the soul and inspire action.

It wasn’t even about whether the issue at hand was right or wrong (at least for me)…the serious point that was being missed was the exchange of sacrifice for convenience.

There is a part of me that wants to declare “new is always better,” but I am learning to weigh the “new” with a lens (a hermeneutic) of sacrifice and cross bearing. Of course, on this point, I can always be accused of spiritual masochism or a joyless theology, so I will acknowledge that danger. But I will always trust “new” ideas that have passed through the crucible of suffering and sacrifice and life-laid-down-experience over a theology of convenience.

Fundamentals

This year is flying by and as it does I’m struck by the fact that I (we) am entering new territory. This summer will mark the beginning of our fifth year of marriage, my fifth year in Boston, my fourth year with Sojourn. This will be the longest I’ve lived in one place since I graduated from high school, the longest I’ve been in any ministry assignment, and equally long to any other job I’ve held.

When entering new territory I find it important to go back to some foundational truths. Like this, from one of my old professors:

Your ministry is who you are not what you do.”

In other words: character is the foundation of ministry, not talent, not job description…it’s not the role you play. Always a reminder that character comes first.

And then this…these ancient words, from one pastor to another pastor, resonate still thousands of years later:

“…I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encouragewith great patience and careful instruction3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. – II Timothy 4:1-5 (bold for the especially pertinent bits)

New territory can be scary, but also an opportunity. An opportunity to be reminded of the foundations. I’m excited for this next season, for finding out what it is like to be in the same place for a while. To put down deep roots.

But new territory or not the foundation is the same: character, faithfulness, sacrifice…may it be so!