Monday, October 29, 2012

How Would Jesus Parent? ~ Guest Post from Sam Martin

I am so incredibly honored to have a guest post from Sam Martin, author of Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me:  Christians and the Spanking Controversy.  Sam is a Biblical scholar for whom I have tremendous respect, and his work to support more families in a greater understanding of grace-filled parenting is bearing tremendous fruit.  Along with his excellent work regarding corporal punishment, I am very excited about his studies and writings regarding the role of women.  He has some amazing articles in the works that you will not want to miss! 

How would Jesus parent? This, in fact, is a topic of great interest on the web. Numerous magazine articles, a book, scores of blog posts and opinions with a whole range of views and counterviews.
Dulce has a wonderful post titled: Biblical Instructions for Discipline: How Should a Christian Parent?  I found this post to be a real blessing.

Before reading Dulce’s post I was thinking on this issue, so we’ve both decided to give a go at talking about a specific text in this light of asking the question of: How would Jesus Parent?”

I think most of us will admit that there are not too many specific texts where we could point to and say that this is a definitive text which shows how Jesus would parent. People have very strong views on that issue to be certain, but I think that most would agree that this is up to interpretation. That is fine, but I think we have to be willing to look for examples of how Jesus would parent through texts which might not be so obvious right of the top of one’s head.

Dulce’s post has covered many of these in a really beautiful way. So, let’s consider one more. It is found in John’s Gospel Chapter 8:1-11 and it says the following:
“but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]] (John 8:1-11 ESV)
The basic approach that I want to take to this text involves a type of dynamic orientation. I’ve used this same type of approach in interpreting the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. I have a blog post about this to be found here.

In this text in John’s Gospel, we have a number of actors and it is my belief that one can assign familial roles to the actors and based upon those assignments, one could determine with some certainty some basic ideas about how Jesus would parent.

To parent, you have to a be a parent. God is, of course, a parent. (Matt. 6:8; Acts 17:28) One not need to belabor that point because it is fairly obvious to all Christians that this is the case.
God has many children as Acts says: “For we indeed are His offspring.” (17:28). Paul is just as explicit: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,…” (Romans 8:16)
Now, Jesus Christ is God. He is the “Emmanuel”, the “God with us.”

So, when we read John 8, we can say with absolute certainty that in this story, Jesus takes the role of a father. Now, that father in this story is going to “parent” some of his children in this story.
In the story, the parent (Jesus) is approached by His children. The children in John 8 are also obvious. They are first, the scribes and the Pharisees. Some of these children were “older” (v. 8) and one of these children is a “woman.” (v.3)

The parent has quite a large family of many ages and in this story, the male children come to their father asking him to punish their sister, who has broken a serious family rule.

But what does their father do?

First, we have to note that the children are testing their father to see what He intends to do and He remains totally calm.  He bends down and writes each of the names of the accusing children on the ground without saying a word.  This is not the end, because the accusing children still want their father to punish their sister.

But, their father says: And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 ESV)

In other words, you are accusing her of something. You be the first one to punish her.
But, then He bends down again and writes one by one names next to the names of His children and these names represent individuals with whom His older children had done the same thing that they were accusing the young girl child of.

Then all of the older children left starting with the oldest to the youngest and no accuser is left.
Then, the father tells the young daughter that no one remains to accuse Her. He acknowledges that she did in fact sin, but tells her in this instance, don’t do it anymore.

What can we learn about Jesus’ parenting style?
1.      It is based upon knowledge. He had greater knowledge than His children. This is generally the case for parents. We have more knowledge than our kids and they need to be reminded of that.
2.      His older children were accusing the young, defenseless vulnerable youngster in the family. Jesus as the parent treated all equally.
3.      Jesus as a parent shows that He is not going to put up with accusations from a place of hypocrisy.
4.      Jesus attempted to gently “in secret” attempted to show His older children that He knew their claim against their sister was hypocritical. [Jesus did this first writing the names of women who those accusing the woman had been with.]
5.      When His older children did not heed His first “in secret” warning, He made a more public, specific announcement of their hypocrisy. [By then kneeling down again, then Jesus wrote the names of the various men next to the women they had been with doing the very thing they had accused the woman of.]
6.      Jesus, as the parent, did not punish His daughter, the woman for the first offense, for which she had violated the family rules. He warned her and told her not to do it again. There is also an implicit warning to the older children by His first instance of writing on the ground. Only when they did not listen and follow his warning, they were then judged publically before all and punished.
7.      The punishment was meant to touch the soul, not the body and we see the action of the accusers, who one minute were calling for the immediate death of a woman, but in the next minute, were leaving never to come back having disgraced themselves before all.
Jesus gives an example in this story of how He parents His children. His punishments are designed to touch the heart, not the body and his forgiveness is given due to repentance and a willingness not to continue in sin.
Your thoughts welcomed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

First Born

My husband and I are both the eldest in our families, so we experienced both the pitfalls and privileges firsthand.  I distinctly recall making a promise to myself at age nine that the phrase, "But you are older and should know better!" would never cross my lips.  The words might not have, but the sentiment has stuck in my subconscious lately. 

Our first born is nearly nine years old.  Like most first-borns, she has always communicated well (she was using complete sentences in both Spanish and English at 13 months), and even though I know better, I have often fallen into the trap of expecting more of her than I should because she sounds older at times.  Academics are very easy for her, she reads above grade level, she loves to cook full meals, gladly helps with her younger siblings, and we have a lovely friendship.  She is closer and closer to becoming a woman, but is still very much a child.

We have had several transitions lately, and the one that affected her the most was a change away from our family bed.  Of all the kidlets, it has been most important to her to be next to me, and the youngest still nurses several times at night, so she would be on one side and the baby on the other.  However, with four kidlets, it got to be too much even for our king size bed, as somebody was always inadvertently kicking someone else and the little ones still starfished.  A few weeks ago we switched so that only the two younger ones were in bed with me.

Outwardly, she handled it very well.  She didn't fuss at night and I thought things were going pretty smoothly.  She made a couple of comments about things being unfair with the little ones, but I brushed them off, being preoccupied with all the other things going on in our lives lately.  Sometimes, I am really dense.

The truth is that both of the tinies have had some particularly challenging behaviors (they are tenderhearted little Klingons whose rages are terrible to behold and arise out of the most seemingly insignificant things).  I was in the middle of finals and all the extras of turning in grades and end of the semester stuff, and in the midst of it all, I expected my eldest to be "easy" so that I could spend my energies on the others.  That was incredibly unfair.

Even worse, I used Biblical truths insensitively.  I reminded her of things like the importance of children obeying their parents, forgiving others and kindness and whatever else she seemed to need.  Because we weren't connecting well, it came across as bullying and letting her know that this was just one more area where she was falling short.  

Thankfully, she has a safe circle of friends to whom she can vent.  As embarrassing as it is to have her openly sharing my shortcomings (and as aggravating it is when it seems like she has exaggerated them!), on more than one occasion it has helped to open my eyes to things that I was brushing off or oblivious to.  I read her posts about her hurt and resentment and saw that she was terribly missing the extra closeness we had had.

We had a tear-filled, heart-sharing time of reconnection.  I apologized and she graciously forgave me.  We also talked about the difficulties of being the oldest and how it can lead to unfair expectations.  Together we brainstormed on different ways to strengthen our connection to each other.  When she weaned so many years ago, we started having times of cuddle-leche.  Now her preferred way to connect is for the two of us to go to Starbucks.  :)

We also talked about the promises and privileges that come with being the oldest.  Over and over in the Bible, firstborns were specially dedicated to God.  Both of her names actually mean that she has been consecrated to Him, and I am convinced that there is a reason this amazing daughter was the first of our beloved kidlets.  As she looked back and began to realize some of the things that she has been able to do that her siblings haven't, she also realized that while not everything is fair, she has received many privileges from being the oldest.

I still make so many wrong turns as a mom.  I am so very thankful that grace is for mamas, too, and for the open and tender heart of my lovely first born.  I want to protect her from the perils of perfectionism and all the other traits that can so easily entangle firstborns, and do everything I can to help fulfill all the beautiful promises for who she is.  And for all the times when I make mistakes, I want to fall into grace for both of us.