Kids and Ears

Sometimes you stumble across that perfect piece of cultural flotsam. This is one of those pieces. When the history of 1960-20×5 is written this piece will be part of the social history. And it would be easy, and meaningless, to point out the narcissistic and self-indulgent presuppositions about life and marriage that support such a piece and how they got there. Meaningless because they couldn’t bear it, because lack of ears to hear. Instead I’m going to write not criticism but personal experience.

The one piece of criticism I’ll embed at the start, having kids, contra the article’s father, is not a selfish endeavor. Having kids is in the natural order of things if we don’t get in the way with our own egos, and having kids is the penultimate expression of sacrifice not selfishness. The Psalmist prays to be taught to number our days (Psalm 90:12), and to rightly know that our span is but 70 years, 80 if we have the strength (Psalm 90:10). Kids are part of that teaching. And they are rightly given to the young when you still think you will live forever. Having kids becomes an acknowledgement that I came from dust and to dust I will return.

We have three beautiful annoying full of energy kids. David caused many sleepless nights rocking. Ethan still 2 nights out of 5 runs in the middle of the night to climb into bed with mom & dad. And then he progresses to play “the little one” as he spreads out horizontally and digs the feet into Dad’s kidney saying “roll over, I’m squished”. Anna, the first, is perfect. (Oldest kids always are.)

With three money is always tight. With probably 90% of people out there, day care just wouldn’t make sense. You’d spend the second income after tax paying someone else to raise your kids. So we get by on one income. The family vacation is usually a stay-cation, or if we can swing it a trip to family that we can impose the 5 of us on. And the truth of that is staying at home is a relief. Everything is already there. No one whines three miles down the road, “where is my blankie” and if you don’t feel like picking up the toys at dusk, you can leave them overnight. The only frowns are the neighbors who by now are used to it. I try not to think about the college funds, because that just isn’t going to happen in any serious way. (So Anna, Valedictorian or bust). Also while praying for the $10,000 BA revolution to speed up. The 10 year old car I inherited from my brother better last another 5 years. But you do it gladly as part of the sacrifice. And they will do it eventually also. You have a vocation, a calling.

Being on the not too far side of 40 we figured we were done. As the columnist mentions, getting pregnant in the usual way after 40 is akin to “blowing up the death star”. But somehow we had been so blessed. We saw the sonogram at 7 weeks and it was real. A couple of weeks went by. That hope that usually starts building as the baby growth came around. Negotiations for bedroom space were entered into. Do we get a bunk bed set? Yes. Who gets it? The boys. Who gets the top? David, maybe he’ll be too heavy and crash through and take care of a couple of college payments for us went he joke. Followed quickly by a cross and a hug. And then that little child was lost. That child that the three previous ones had taught us well what sacrifices would have to be made. That child that would have been born on the far side of the half-way point of the 80 if we have the strength.

And unlike article father’s final question (what about our health?), I’d have given mine to welcome that child. No child is the “free one”. They all take parts of you. Which is as it should be. The one who loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the gospel’s sake will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul (Mark 8:35-36)? We learn to give it over gladly.

Lord have mercy on this self-indulgent narcissistic lot, including your poor servant.

If it can’t go on, it won’t – updated (Or Bell, Babies and Bishops, Oh My!)

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to have Ross Douthat’s email inbox. If people are willing to print things like this (headline with Ross’ picture right next to it: Do Not Have Sex With This Man), I don’t want to think about what would be said without an editor. Mr. Douthat himself had a follow-up, here worth reading. This is a First Things divide. How you answer what is the purpose of marriage determines many things. Different civilizations come from different answers to first things.

The Archbishop of Philadelphia says some similar interesting things.

Catholic life needs to be reignited. American culture is a new kind of mission territory. It’s a cocoon of marketing, entertainment, and manufactured appetites; a narcotic of noise, distraction, and relentless propaganda for self-absorption and confused sexuality. Being in the United States in the weeks before Christmas is an education in what the culture really worships. It worships commerce.

Real Christian discipleship rejects and resists the kind of radical personal license and acquisitiveness that animates a consumerist society. So when the Catholic Church teaches about the dignity of the unborn child, the purpose of human sexuality, economic and immigration justice, the rights of religious communities and believers, and the nature of marriage and the family—she’s not just unpopular. She’s hated as the enemy of individual privacy and personal freedom. That shapes the way the Church is treated in the mass media.

The New Yorker gets cool to Rob Bell. I still like Bell. He says some things that should be said in interesting ways. But I also think what you are seeing in Bell is an attempt by one really smart and emotionally sensitive guy to create a Christianity in the hyper-individualistic America, a form of religion acceptable to those who are spitting nails at Ross Douthat. And I understand that desire to build such a thing, but after reading that New Yorker article, especially the last scene, you get a sense of the sadness and futility of the attempt.

Rock-a-bye baby: A Theology of Children, Church and Family – post #1

Last month’s Lutheran Witness had a slate of articles that I was slightly shocked at. I want to explore some of that shock and some of the theology underlying it.
Here is a chart that basically spells out the problem (the chart is my compilation, pastors usually aren’t great at numbers and synodocrats don’t like publishing clear data)….

What you can see is that births per 1000 women in the US (I’ve looked at white, non-Hispanic because that is what most of the LCMS was/is) took a dramatic swing down from 1960 to 1980. Somewhere around 1970 it went below the magic “replacement rate”. What that means is that the white, non-Hispanic population of the US is shrinking. It will be smaller in the future than it is today. Communicant Membership is roughly a 10 year stagger. The LCMS by-and-large starts communion around the 12 years old. So the highest birthrate in 1960 leads to the highest communicant membership in 1970. It has been downhill since then.

That downhill slope hasn’t been that dramatic because of the other fact of our modern world – we live longer. Less kids in at the base gets mitigated by less deaths than might have been expected. The population gets older. But we can only extend those years out so far. We have more late 70’s and more 80’s and maybe even a few 90’s, but barring a major scientific breakthrough in longevity (which could happen, remember those ages in Genesis, we could find the genetic switches and a treatment), barring that breakthrough we can’t really extend that. What happens is what we currently see – a cliff. People are go-go, until they don’t go. Eventually that last major birth cohort casts off this mortal coil and we have a smaller church in a short number of years.

From the viewpoint of the church universal (the one, holy, catholic and apostolic) this might not be much of a problem. The church shrinks in the west and grows in Africa, Asia and South America. Just because whites stopped having kids doesn’t mean everybody did. From the viewpoint of American denominations this is disaster. From the viewpoint of a denominational pastor it is troubling. What that chart means is a vicious funnel for pulpits – barring a couple of things I’ll look at in this series. I can see myself about age 55-60 with churches closing left and right begging for that job at Wal-Mart or on the used car lot (because let’s face it, after 20 years in the parish at that age what would I be able to get?) and the retirement fund of the denomination that I’ve paid into for 20 years saying “sorry, we’re broke, thanks for paying for the retirement of the generation before you who caused the mess.”

Now to start setting up the problems. The first answer to any such problem could be evangelism. If we have this problem we could solve it through committed and concentrated evangelism of those who don’t look like us right now. But there is a problem with that. Those who don’t look like us, or who weren’t raised within a particular tradition, often have novel and interesting ways of carrying on the tradition. That fight that my grand-dad started, and left it to my Dad who bequeathed the vendetta to me just doesn’t carry the passion for a convert. If we were smart we’d learn from that, but we are not. Instead we moan that the newbies aren’t “confessional” enough. They obviously don’t have the pure doctrine because look at what they sing in worship, pray, hold their hands, etc. Unless you are committed to adapting your traditions to a new context, you just won’t convert enough. And if you aren’t, you compound the problem with internal doctrine wars. Which is exactly what we have seen since 1970 – the battle for the bible, worship wars, the battle for the liturgy, church growth “heresy”, missional.

Right now in the LCMS a strongly confessional faction is in political power. They got elected largely campaigning on being “your grandfather’s church”. Now smartly when they say such things they are adding they are grand-dad’s in the vein of doctrine and theology – not larger social things. Nobody likes to think that doctrine changes or theology changes. And some parts of it – like the creeds – don’t. That is what the Roman Catholic Church calls the deposit of faith. But if I take a look at the “doctrines” that my grand-dad followed: no usury, no life insurance, no birth control, no women in any leadership positions, no official women teachers, questions if English was a possible language, questions over just how kosher this democracy thing is, the list could go on… God the Father is still the maker of all things visible and invisible, God the son is still born of the virgin Mary and ruling from the right hand of the Father, God the Holy Spirit is still active in the Christian church and the communion of saints. The end note here is that churches tend to hold way too much as inviolate doctrine that is really just expression not of Christian identity but LCMS or Denominational identity. As the old joke goes – the seminarian leaves the home church loving Jesus and comes back loving the church.

So, faced with an inability to adapt practices to a new people due to “confessional/doctrinal” reasons, those in power must come up with some “solution” to the problem or at least appear to offer something. Enter the Lutheran Witness issue. Quoting from President Harrison,

Our LCMS birth rate mirrors that of the broader population of the US which is at an all-time low. So, how do we best encourage our young people to treasure marriage and have children? How do we make the point in a freeing and Gospel-oriented way? How do we encourage those capable of having more children to do so? How do we take concrete action in our congregations to care for children and encourage young parents…be fruitful and multiply. It can be a God-pleasing act to have a large, loving orthodox Lutheran family…

I think you can see what the correct doctrine and solution being offered is (hint, it looks like your grand-mothers existence). So, what I want to do in this series is look at some of the theology (which isn’t all crazy) behind the baby push. Now I’m the father of a very traditional family of three (ok, compared to what they are talking about we are slackers), so I do want to support it where I can as a true option, but I also want to look at some of the theological ugly side (i.e. if babies are gifts, and you aren’t having them, what does that mean), and I want to look at how that might not be the case.

Warning note, this series is me thinking out loud. I’m highly likely to be inflammatory and inconsiderate and make everyone mad. Because this is the true fault line in our culture, and I won’t agree with the LW expression enough for the confessional to feel comfortable, but I’ll be too natalist (especially in one area) for moderns to take. I’d love to hear your comments through-out this series, because it is in the living were this doctrine takes form.