Parenting, Peace and a Better World

This may be my first post on parenting. I can’t remember for sure. Lately, I’ve been thinking about parenting–both in my family of origin and in our little home. My parents gave me an amazing, yet simple, childhood, and now their 50th wedding anniversary isn’t too far in the future. They’ve provided an important example.

This morning I started reading a book on Christian parenting, and I thought I’d share some of the quotes here for contemplation. These may be incomprehensible to some people or they might sound cheesy to others, but these lines spoke to me, so I’m sharing them here. I’ve added my own headings and rearranged the material to better suit these headings. These words were written between 1890 and 1911.

Importance of the Home

The well-being of society, the success of the church, the prosperity of the nation, depend upon home influences.

The elevation or deterioration of the future of society will be determined by the manners and morals of the youth growing up around us. As the youth are educated, and as their characters are molded in their childhood to virtuous habits, self-control, and temperance, so will their influence be upon society. (p. 15)

Importance of Love (Between spouses and between parents and children)

[Home] should be a little heaven upon earth, a place where the affections are cultivated instead of being studiously repressed. Our happiness depends upon this cultivating of love, sympathy, and true courtesy to one another….

If the will of God is fulfilled, the husband and wife will respect each other and cultivate love and confidence. (p. 15)

Make your home atmosphere fragrant with tender thoughtfulness. (p. 16)

You must not have strife in your household. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” It is gentleness and peace that we want in our homes. (p. 18)

Every home should be a place of love, a place where the angels of God abide, working with softening, subduing influence upon the hearts of parents and children….

Wherever the love of God is cherished in the soul, there will be peace, there will be light and joy. Spread out the word of God before your families in love, and ask, “Where hath God spoken?” (pp. 18-19)

The home that is beautified by love, sympathy, and tenderness is a place that angels love to visit, and where God is glorified. The influence of a carefully guarded Christian home in the years of childhood and youth is the surest safeguard against the corruption of the world. (p. 19)

Parents and children should unite in offering loving service to Him who alone can keep human love pure and noble (p. 19)

Parenting (Discipline and living examples)

…parents should, in their words and deportment toward each other, give to the children a precious, living example of what they desire them to be. Purity in speech and true Christian courtesy should be constantly practiced. Teach the children and youth to respect themselves, to be true to God, true to principle; teach them to respect and obey the law of God. (p. 16)

Let every lesson be of an elevating and ennobling character…. Children who receive this kind of instruction will…be prepared to fill places of responsibility and, by precept and example, will be constantly aiding other to do right. Those whose moral sensibilities have not been blunted will appreciate right principles; they will put a just estimate upon their natural endowments and will make the best use of their physical, mental, and moral powers. (pp. 16-17)

God would have our families symbols of the family in heaven. (p. 17)

Much depends on the father and mother. They are to be firm and kind in their discipline… (p. 17)

Never forget that you are to make the home bright and happy for yourselves and your children by cherishing the Saviour’s attributes. (p. 17)

Troubles may invade, but these are the lot of humanity. Let patience, gratitude, and love keep sunshine in the heart though the day may be ever so cloudy.

The home may be plain, but it can always be a place where cheerful words are spoken and kindly deeds are done, where courtesy and love are abiding guests. (p. 18)

Administer the rules of the home in wisdom and love, not with a rod of iron. Children will respond with willing obedience to the rule of love. Commend your children whenever you can. Make their lives as happy as possible…. Keep the soil of the heart mellow by the manifestation of love and affection, thus preparing it for the seed of truth…. Remember that children need not only reproof and correction, but encouragement and commendation, the pleasant sunshine of kind words.

The first work to be done in a Christian home is to see that the Spirit of Christ abides there… (p. 20)

NOTE: All material is from chapter 1 of The Adventist Home by Ellen G. White.

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus

Yesterday my mother shared the following quote with me. She is reading Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg, and she knew this would be meaningful to me:

The gods of Israel’s neighbors concerned themselves with sacrifices and ceremonies.  They were not terribly moral, and they were often fickle and cruel.  The God of Israel was unique in tying worship of him with compassion for others.21 When his people began to believe that rituals were all he required, God sent prophets to remind them that justice to the poor was his greatest concern.  This was the heart of Jesus’ teaching too. (p. 79)

21 See John Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1994), 229-47.

She also shared these:

Friday Web Round-up

Peace & Nonviolence Quotations

nonviolenceHere are a few lines from a book I started recently, The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace.

“Let man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth. For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love; this is an old rule.” –Buddha (p. 3)

~~This reminds me a bit of Paul, who came a few years later: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

“As Justice is a Preserver, so it is a better Procurer of Peace than War.” –William Penn (p. 5)

~~This reminds me of Pope Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.

“There is another manifest Benefit which redounds to Christendom, by this Peaceable Expedient: the Reputation of Christianity will in some Degree be recovered in the Sight of Infidels; which, by the many Bloody and unjust Wars of Christians, not only with them, but one with another, hath greatly impaired. For, to the Scandal of that Holy Profession, Christians that glory in their Saviour’s Name have long devoted the Credit and Dignity of it, to their worldly Passions, as often as they have been excited by the Impulses of Ambition and Revenge. They have not always been in the Right: nor has Right been the Reason of War: and not only Christians against Christians but the same Sort of Christians embrewed their Hands in one another’s Blood: Invoking and Interesting, all they could, the Good and Merciful God to prosper their Arms to their Brethren’s Destruction: yet their Saviour has told them that he came to save, and not to destroy the Lives of Men…” –William Penn (p. 6)

~~The truth Penn gets at reminds me of Mark Twain’s “War Prayer“: “O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it.

“They look only at the passive side of the friend of peace, only at his passivity; they quite omit to consider his activity. But no man, it may be presumed, ever embraced the cause of peace and philanthropy for the sole end and satisfaction of being plundered and slain. A man does not come the length of the spirit of martyrdom without some active purpose, some equal motive, some flaming love.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 11)

“Nor…is the peace principle to be carried into effect by fear. It can never be defended, it can never be executed, by cowards. Everything great must be done in the spirit of greatness. The manhood that has been in war must be transferred to the cause of peace, before war can lose its charm, and peace be venerable to men…. The cause of peace is not the cause of cowardice.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 13)

~~These remind me of a line on the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ website: “we believe that until Christians are willing to devote the same discipline and sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that soldiers dedicate to war-making, violence will always prevail.”

Vocational Ethics

KingdomCallingMy father-in-law recently lent me Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. Sherman describes tsaddiqim of Proverbs 11:10 as just or righteous people, “the people who follow God’s heart and ways and who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for his purpose” (p. 16). These people “steward everything–their money, vocational position and expertise, assets, resources, opportunities, education, relationships, social position, entree and networks–for the common good, for the advancing of God’s justice and shalom” (p. 17).

Major sections of the book are devoted to four major ways Christians can use their vocational skills to work for peace and justice in the world–bloom where you’re planted, donate your skills, launch your own social enterprise, participate in your church’s targeted initiative. I haven’t yet finished reading the book, but the emphasis throughout appears to be on how our jobs and the skills we develop in our employment settings can be used for the kingdom. I appreciate that her focus is on God’s peace and justice rather than on our own career advancement.

In the introduction Sherman asks a series of pointed questions:

Are we engaged in efforts that are relevant to the groans of creation and the cries of the poor? Are we producing disciples whose work is contributing to profound transformations that set people to dancing in the street? Have we joined King Jesus on his grand, sweeping mission of restoration? In cooperation with him, are we bringing foretastes of justice and shalom–or are we largely engaged in mere charity? (p. 20)

Today’s devotional posted on the White Estate website speaks to these same questions and themes. Commenting on Mark 12:30, Ellen White states

To every one is committed some special endowment, for which he will be held responsible by the Lord. Time, reason, means, strength, mental powers, tenderness of heart–all are gifts from God, entrusted to be used in the great work of blessing humanity….

The essential lesson of contented industry in the necessary duties of life is yet to be learned by many of Christ’s followers. It requires more grace, more stern discipline of character, to work for God in the capacity of mechanic, merchant, lawyer, or farmer, carrying the precepts of Christianity into the ordinary business of life, than to labor as an acknowledged missionary in the open field. It requires a strong spiritual nerve to bring religion into the workshop and the business office, sanctifying the details of everyday life, and ordering every transaction according to the standard of God’s word. But this is what the Lord requires.

Religion and business are not two separate things; they are one. Bible religion is to be interwoven with all we do or say. Divine and human agencies are to combine in temporal as well as in spiritual achievements.

Questions

  1. Do I currently see my job as being important in the eyes of God?
  2. How can I use my skills to bless people in my place of work–coworkers, customers, clients, vendors, etc.?
  3. How might I use these skills to bless people outside of my working hours? Who could benefit from my expertise, either directly or through training?
  4. Are you surprised Ellen White says it requires more grace to be a mechanic for God than to be a foreign missionary? What do you think about this comparison?
  5. In addition to reading Kingdom Calling, what other things can I do to learn how to use all of my strength for the kingdom of God?

Spirituality & Peacemaking

If I were to teach a class on spirituality and peacemaking, these are some of the resources from which I would draw inspiration:

Modern (Evangelical) Church History

Reading two books I received for Christmas, I came across the following accounts of modern evangelical history. Though these are not exactly “scholarly” sources, they present the history as I have previously heard it described. Ron Sider speaks a bit about this history in the collection of interviews, Heaven and Earth. Also, look for the reflection questions at the end of this post.

moneyThe Man Who Quit Money (Mark Sundeen, 2012)

For those not raised fundamentalist, the Rapture seems a cartoonish fairy tale. But in the past half century the notion has become mainstream. As the percentage of Americans belonging to mainline Protestant denominations has steadily dropped since the mid-1960s from a quarter to a tenth, those belonging to evangelical or fundamentalist churches have held fast at about 25 percent. Factoring in population growth, that firm percentage reflects an increase in numbers. In the popular imagination, the child’s nightmare has been replaced by the Apocalypse of the Book of Revelation, with its four horsemen and pits of boiling sulfur. Those raised in the faith accept as fact that this world’s days are numbered. Clocks will stop, and time as we know it will cease. (pp. 29-30)

The year was 1946, decades before fundamentalism reached the mainstream. “Born again” and “personal savior” were phrases cried out under revival tents, not under the dome of the United States Capitol. Billy Graham’s evangelical crusades would not begin until 1948, and Jerry Falwell would not found his church until 1956. (Though some might quibble, I use the terms “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” interchangeably. Both describe a faith based more on literal Bible reading than on membership in an organized church.) As the size and scope of secular government increased during the New Deal and World War II, and mainline churches focused on social justice instead of personal salvation, more Christians responded to what looked like the apocalypse–D-day, Auschwitz, Hiroshima–by seeking the moral certainty of scripture. (p. 33)

Among evangelical Christians, all of whom await the Second Coming of Jesus, there are historically two camps: postmillennialists and premillennialists. For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most were of the “post” variety, meaning that they expected the Messiah’s return after the thousand-year reign of peace. In order to hasten His arrival, they set out to create that harmonious world here and now, fighting for the abolition of slavery, prohibition of alcohol, public education, and women’s literacy.

The chaos of the Civil War and industrialization cause many evangelicals to rethink their optimism. They determined that Jesus would actually arrive before the final judgment. Therefore any efforts toward a just society here on earth were futile; what mattered was perfecting one’s faith. As historian Randall Balmer writes, these believers “retreated into a theology of despair, one that essentially ceded the temporal world to Satan and his minions.”

This schism widened in the twentieth century. After the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which fundamentalists were humiliated by the national press, premillennialists retreated into their own subculture, shunning the politics and causes of the times. “They turned inward,” writes Balmer, “tending to their own piety and seeking to lure others into a spiritualized kingdom in preparation for the imminent return of Jesus.” (pp. 36-37)

redRed Letter Revolution (Shane Claiborne & Tony Campolo, 2012). This excerpt adds more details to the history of the terms fundamentalism and evangelical.

During the late 1800s, scholars in Germany created a critique of the Bible that really tore traditional beliefs about the Bible to shreds. They raised questions about who the authors of Scripture were and suggest that much of the Bible was only the rehashing of ancient Babylonian myths and moral codes. In addition, theologies came out of Germany from the likes of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Ernst Troeltsch, and others who raised serious doubts about such crucial doctrines as the divinity of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

There was a reaction to all of this “modernism”–the name given to this recasting of these new Christian teachings that were attempts to be relevant to a rational and scientific age–and a collection of scholars from the Unites States and England got together and published a series of twelve books called the Fundamentals of the Christian faith. These books were an intelligent defense of the traditional doctrines that we find outlined in the Apostles’ Creed.

It was in reaction to those books that Harry Emerson Fosdick, a prominent liberal preacher in New York City, preached a sermon called “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” which was printed and circulated throughout the country. Thus the term fundamentalist was born.

The label fundamentalist served us well until about 1928 or 1929. From that time on, and especially following the famous Scopes trial in which William Jennings Bryan argued against Darwin’s theory of evolution, fundamentalism began to be viewed by many as being anti-intellectual and naive. Added to this image of anti-intellectualism was a creeping tendency among fundamentalists toward a judgmentalism, by which they not only condemned those who deviated from orthodox Christian doctrine but any who did not adhere to their legalistic lifestyles, which were marked by condemnation of such things as dancing, smoking, and the consumption of alcohol.

By the time the 1950s rolled around, the word fundamentalist carried all kings of negative baggage…. About that time Billy Graham and Carl Henry, who was then the editor of Christianity Today magazine, began using a new name: evangelical. Again, orthodox Christians had a world that served us well, and did so right up until about the middle of the 1990s. By then, the word evangelical had lost its positive image with the general public. Evangelicals, to a large extent, had come to be viewed as married to the religious Right, and even to the right wing of the Republican Party.

When preachers like you [Shane Claiborne] and me go to speak at places like Harvard or Duke or Stanford and are announced as evangelicals, red flags go up and people say, “Oh, you are those reactionary Christians! You’re anti-woman; you’re anti-gay; you’re anti-environmentist; you’re pro-war; you’re anti-immigrant; and you’re all in favor of the NRA.” Defending ourselves, we say, “Wait a minute! That’s not who we are!” I think evangelicalism also has been victimized by the secular media, which is largely responsible for creating the image by treating evangelicalism and the religious Right of the Republican party as synonymous.

It was in this context that a group of us, who were sometimes referred to as “progressive evangelicals,” got together and tried to figure out how to come up with a new name for who and what we are. We kicked around various names and eventually came up with the Red Letter Christians. We wanted people to know that we are Christians who make a point out of being committed to living out, as much as possible, what those red letters in the Bible–the word of Jesus–tell us to be and do. We’re not into partisan politics, though we have a bias for political policies that foster justice for the poor and oppressed, regardless of which party espouses them. (pp. 3-5)

Note: Donald Dayton provides a history of evangelical social reformers in Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (1976).

Reflection Questions:

  1. Where does my faith tradition fit in this history? Where does my family fit?
  2. How have world events shaped church history and theology?
  3. How would you change church history (the reaction to world history) if you could?
  4. What is at stake with labels and public perception?
  5. Are the red letters central to my Christianity? Why or why not?
  6. What is the relationship between the red and black letters of the Bible, between what Jesus said and what came before and after him?
  7. If you’re a Protestant Christian (the assumed main intended audience of the book), what elements from mainline Christianity and from evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity do you value or accept? If you’ve read the introduction to the book, you know the question could be expanded to include what elements of Catholicism (and Orthodox) are also meaningful to you?
  8. Is there any value in contemplating this history, or is it all nonsense or simply not relevant for our world today?

Love, Justice and the Law (revised)

At times I have had conversations with people who object to the language of social justice because they believe (a) that justice is only a legal term about punishing criminals and giving people who have been wronged their legal due process, and (b) that social justice is really about mercy and compassion, not justice. dollarIn Less Than Two Dollars a Day, Kent Van Til takes on this very argument (p. 154):

Someone else may object that, while helping the needy is certainly a laudable thing, doing so is an act of mercy or love, but not justice. Again, I believe that the Bible speaks against that notion. The Bible makes commands: leave the gleanings in the field, declare a Year of Jubilee, redeem the property of your brother, do not hold back the wages of a hired hand, be open-handed toward any of your countrymen who are in poverty and need, and so forth. All of these are, very simply, commands. Not one of them is found in a biblical appendix labeled “For the Especially Merciful.” Furthermore, this objection is based on a false distinction between love and law. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 14:15; 15:10, NRSV). Law and love are not at opposite poles to each other in Scripture; the support each other. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia reference on “justice” puts it well:

The major point is that God’s justice is no abstraction at odds with an equally abstract mercy. To the contrary, as the description “a righteous God and Savior” implies (Isa. 45:21), God’s justice seeks concretely to express His mercy and to accomplish His salvation (Jgs. 5:11; Ps. 7:17; 35:23f.; 51:14; 71:15; 103:17; Isa. 46:13; 51:5f.)…. By these requirements [“To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8)] God’s goodness is structured into the social order.

To bring this to a real-world situation today, what does God’s love, justice and law say to human trafficking, as described in this video by the Shae Foundation:

Learn more at the Shae Foundation, 3Angels Nepal, Tiny Hands International or International Justice Mission.

Bonhoeffer: Token of the Love of Christ

I have been slowly making my way through The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer, 1937). Here is an excerpt from Ch. 9, “The Brother,” which covers Matthew 5:21-26.

Let the fellowship of Christ examine itself and see whether it has given any token of the love of Christ to the victims of the world’s contumely and contempt, any token of that love of Christ which seeks to preserve, support and protect life. Otherwise however liturgically correct our services are, and however devout our prayer, however brave our testimony, they will profit us nothing, nay rather, they must needs testify against us that we have as a Church ceased to follow our Lord. God will not be separated from our brother: he wants no honour for himself so long as our brother is dishonoured…. He who says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar.

There is therefore only one way of following Jesus and of worshipping God, and that is to be reconciled with our brethren. (p. 145)

This quote emphasizes two important Christian themes–compassion (tokens of the love of Jesus) and reconciliation (forgiveness and renewed relationship).

Questions for thought:

  • Who are today’s victims of the “world’s contumely [rudeness] and contempt”?
  • How can I and my congregation give these people a token of the love of Christ?
  • Who am I (or who is my denomination) estranged from?
  • What would be the first step toward reconciliation in this specific situation?
  • What part have I played in the separation?
  • How can I make amends?

Henri Nouwen: Motives, Wounds & Needs

When I took the class Spirituality and Peacemaking, one of our assignments was to read Nouwen’s Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community (2005). A few years on, I now return to its pages and find it speaking to me in new ways. Here is an excerpt about motives for service:

It can indeed come as a great shock to realize that what we consider works of service in the name of God may be motivated to such a degree by our wounds and needs that not peace, but resentment, anger, and even violence become their fruits…. If we cannot see the dark works of conflict and war in our own daily lives, we will never fully understand the cruelty, torture, and mass murder that fill the pages of our newspapers day after day. The name of God is used for many demonic actions. It is the safest mask of Satan and we have to continually tear it off if we want to be peacemakers. Though it might be easy to recognize the forces of darkness around us, it is very hard to recognize these same forces in our “good works.” Self-doubt, inner restlessness, fear of being left alone, need for recognition, and desire for fame and popularity are often stronger motives in our actions for peace than true passion for service. These are the motives that bring elements of war into the midst of our action for peace.

Only when we are willing repeatedly to confess that we too have dirty hands, even when we work for peace, can we fully understand the hard task of peacemaking.

The great spiritual tragedy is that many cruel and inhuman acts are committed in the name of serving God…. (p. 30)

The wounds and needs that lie behind the wars we condemn are the wounds and needs we share with the whole human race. We too are deeply marked by the dark forces that make one war emerge after another. We too are part of the evil we protest. (p. 31)

Questions for reflection:

  • When have I seen someone (myself or someone else) do a “good” act of service that seemed to proceed from “bad” motives? What were the results?
  • Am I willing to admit that some of my motivations are not right, or do I insist that I am pure?
  • How can I learn to be aware of my own motives?
  • What spiritual resources are available for purifying my motives?
  • Further meditation for those battling pride in service: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (Matt. 6:3-4a). “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
  • Further meditation for those engaged in speaking truth to power (i.e. telling others how they should change): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5).
  • Further meditation on desire and conflict: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2d).