Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Perspectives on Children

My husband Ray and I had experienced a rite of passage on Sunday. We were able to sit down at a family birthday party...for almost the entire party. As any one experienced with toddlers knows, this is a long awaited event. For the past four years, all holidays, parties, and families gatherings of all kinds have been a tag team event. One parent sits, while the others plays defense, guarding the kids more closely than a star basketball player. No conversation ever reaches a natural conclusion, because the parent playing defense needs a break, and the parent on the bench has to get on the court mid conversation. Our four year old daughter Shannon has been fine for a while, but for our almost two year old son Jacob, this was our first time.

Guess what? Our extended family are interesting and fun to sit and talk with! I knew this of course, but it had been so long since I had actually experienced it, is was something of a distant memory.

I had a great conversation with Ray's cousin Jill. We were talking about kids in our world today, and the pressures put on them by our school system. I bemoaned all of the teaching to the test that is dominating our school systems. Too often this crowds out real learning and keeps kids from finding their own niche and interests for learning. Educators who understand this is a problem are fighting against a system currently deaf to these concerns. She shared about how difficult it is for one of her children, who has a learning disability. It is challenging To function in a world that values only academic excellence, and not God given differences.

I reflected upon one of the great Protestant reformers, John Calvin. He is a theologian who literally changed the world with his ideas. When he was writing, teaching, and preaching in the 16th century, he taught that God has given each person unique gifts and abilities, and that our vocation in life is to live these out. This sounds tame today, but in Calvin's time, the feudal system was still entrenched. His teaching led to riots, even sending him in exile in fear for his life. The dominant world view was that a person's vocation was determined by the circumstances of their birth. If you were born to a carpenter, you became a carpenter. If you were born a farm hand on the land of a wealthy land owner, you spent your days tending the farm. Calvin's teaching challenged the entire economy and world view of the day. And it won. It is a fundamental notion in our own society in the United States.

But we have perverted this understanding. His teaching is that each person should use their gifts and talents to the best of their ability to glorify God in all they do. Capitalism changed it to the idea that each person should compete with all of that they have in order to the top of the materialistic heap. Thus the competition begins early in at least middle school, often in elementary school, sometimes all the way down to preschool. Regardless of how academically gifted a child may be, they are taught in subtle or not so subtle ways that the only thing of value is to get good grades. Good grades will lead to good college choices. Good college education will lead to a high paying job. And a high paying job is what everyone wants and needs. Kids who cannot compete in this way for a variety of reasons, ranging from the way God created them to the socioeconomic and/or family sytstems they live in, are considered "problem kids."

The vast majority of kids will grow up to be average ordinary citizens. If the only thing our society values are the small percentage who "make it," then we have stopped equipping the majority of our kids for the world. And we have certainly not taught them that God has created them special and unique, with inherent value by virtue of being God's.

What if each child was raised to value their own abilities, whatever they might be? What if each child were taught that glorifying God with their lives, in whatever ways God has given them abilities, is what life is all about? For truly, it is.

When I pray for my kids at night, and whenever I have the privilege of blessing a new born baby in our church family, I pray that God will give me/us the grace and wisdom to help to raise them into the person that God intends for them to be. I know children are a gift from God, and my role is to take good care of the precious lives God has entrusted me with caring for. Christians have a word for taking care of what belongs to God: Stewardship. Stewardship is what we actually spend our lives doing- caring for and using the abilities God has given, the resources of time and money and possessions we are entrusted with. Everything is a gift from God on loan for a while.

How far the world has come from John Calvin's teaching.

(An interesting footnote: when I spell checked this, using the webhost blogspot service, the computer did not know the word Stewardship. How far indeed.)

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