Parents. Children.

Yesterday, with all the grief that attends just completing reading a great book, and with all the joy-in-anticipation of beginning a new one, I began reading Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. This deeply personal and somewhat cathartic book is about the forming and reforming of identities, those attributes and values which are passed down from parent to child across generations not only through strands of DNA but also through shared cultural norms (vertical identities), and those traits that are foreign to one’s parents ‘and must therefore acquire identity from a peer group’ (horizontal identities), identities which ‘may reflect recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors’.

Through a series of reflections on deafness, dwarfism, autism, Down syndrome, disability, prodigies, schizophrenia, rape, crime, and transgender sexuality, Solomon is concerned to challenge notions of ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’, to examine the value judgements we carry, create, project and/or dismiss about such, and to ward off temptations to play down the ambiguities and ambivalences that surround notions of extra/ordinary.

In lieu of the likely event that I do not get around to writing a review of the book, and because I wanted to share something of my interest so far in reading this book – and for the consideration of fellow parents – here’s the (scene-setting) opening two paragraphs:

‘There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads. In the subconscious fantasies that make conception look so alluring, it is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own. Having anticipated the onward march of our selfish genes, many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs. Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity. We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do. Loving our own children is an exercise for the imagination.

Yet blood, in modern as in ancient societies, is thicker than water. Little is more gratifying than successful and devoted children, and few situations are worse than filial failure or rejection. Our children are not us: they carry throwback genes and recessive traits and are subject right from the start to environmental stimuli beyond our control. And yet we are our children; the reality of being a parent never leaves those who have braved the metamorphosis. The psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott once said, “There is no such thing as a baby—meaning that if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone. A baby cannot exist alone but is essentially part of a relationship.” Insofar as our children resemble us, they are our most precious admirers, and insofar as they differ, they can be our most vehement detractors. From the beginning, we tempt them into imitation of us and long for what may be life’s most profound compliment: their choosing to live according to our own system of values. Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us’.

Choosing a school for your child

So anyway, this week, following a process significantly more taxing upon one’s mind and conscience than that which attends the purchase of a house, we finally settled on a school for our daughter. After shortlisting two schools, here’s what swung it for us:

  1. It’s right next door to the fush ‘n’ chup shop, which means healthy lunches and so fit minds.
  2. It’s over the road from the fushing ‘n’ hunting shop, which means that I’ll be significantly more excited about doing school pick-ups and drop offs, and that kids who aren’t interested in taking up pansie sports like netball and touch rugby can pop over and buy a crossbow or gun and take up some really worthwhile sport like sheep- and/or zombie-hunting. I’m all for cat culls too.
  3. The main road which runs right through the middle of the campus encourages the entire local community to get involved in the battle to keep class sizes down. (This means fewer queues at the hunting shop too.)
  4. They offer free drum lessons!

So on your bike kid … have fun out there, and if you learn how to count or think along the way, then that’s OK; we can deal with that later. And as fa spellin an stuff wee got spel cheque noow aniwaye cept that mynes not workeeng. So just stick with the basics – playtimes and fush ‘n’ chup lunches.

BTW: For those of you who currently reside in other sectors of the empire, this video (sent to me by a guy whose wife – or son – stole my Bible; so not the most reputable of types) may help decode some of this post:

Around: ‘Love seeketh not itself to please’

‘The Clod and the Pebble’

‘Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.’

So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

‘Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven’s despite.’

Thinking humanity, thinking family: Gary Deddo on Karl Barth’s Theology of Relations

gary-deddoGary Deddo‘s doctoral thesis, published as Karl Barth’s Theology of Relations: Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family (New York: P. Lang, 1999), fills a too-much neglected vista of Barth studies – the ethical implications of Barth’s theology for the family. Insofar as Deddo attends to this, his study carries Barth scholarship in a constructive direction, not only for ‘theologians’, but for all who determine to think theologically on issues germane to family life and ministry to/with/for families. Moreover, his essay is in itself a cogent and profitable introduction to the broader, fruitful and creative landscape of Barth’s theological anthropology – that human personhood is determined by and for the Word of grace. According to Deddo, this means at least the following six things:

A) Humanity’s being has the form of relationship to God which indicates that humanity is to, from and with God as Jesus himself has this form of relationship with God and so constitutes the form of relationship with God through Him in which humankind participates.

i) Humanity’s being has the form of a being from God and so a being united to God, but does not be without God, nor is to be confused with God. Because Jesus is both like humankind and yet unlike humankind, persons in general are united with Jesus but are not identical with him.

ii) Humanity’s being is in the form of being differentiated yet determined for communion with God. Because our Brother’s life is in esse koinonia and intra-relatio with the Father and Spirit, humankind too – to which in the incarnation the Father, Son and Spirit have determined to be for – is made to participate in the intra-trinitarian life of communion with the Father through the Son in the Spirit.

iii) Humanity’s being-in-relationship is a being of ordered correspondence of humanity with God and so humanity’s being is an image of and witness to God. Jesus corresponds in his being to God in that he is God’s presence with humanity, embodying in flesh – i.e. from the side of creation – God’s relationship with all humanity. Jesus is the enactment of the will and kingdom of God among us. Human being involves acting in a way which corresponds to who we are graciously made to be – God’s relations, the imago of the Imago, the daughters and sons of the Father of Jesus.

matisse-danceB) Humanity’s being in relation with God has also been given its covenantal content (action) and is so constituted in both form and content as a being for God. Thus, Jesus is not merely the revelation of who God and humanity are, but Jesus is by virtue of that relationship that God and humanity know. He is the one Mediator between God and humanity. He is the ontological reality of the divine-human relationship. Human being is constituted and maintained only by participation in the action of relation that the Son knows with the Father in the Spirit. There is no such thing as autonomy – for God or humans.

iv) Humanity’s relationship with God is a covenantal and so personal relationship of being for God. The life of Jesus – the divinely-elected Son who freely responds to God’s calling in and through the history of his relationship with God – is a life of thanksgiving, obedience, invocation, and freedom for God. The life of Jesus is true human personhood, and revelatory – unveiling for us that God is personal, and that humankind is established in Jesus and corresponds to Jesus who is the imago Dei.

v) Humanity’s being in relationship to God is a dynamic and eschatological history in which humanity becomes what humanity is graciously determined to be – for God. Humanity’s covenantal relationship with God is not intrinsic to human personhood qua human personhood (indeed, there is no such thing), but is the gift of divine grace enfleshed in Jesus Christ in whom – and in whom alone – humanity comes to exist and to exist in relation to God, and to have a future in relation to God. Humanity’s being is in becoming in relation to God.

vi) Humanity’s being in relationship means humanity’s being for God – transcending, proceeding and giving of humanity’s self in perpetual return. So Jesus – the Man for God – is God’s own self-giving and outgoing to humankind that humankind might be included in, and mirror, the inner Triune relations. The relations of God and humanity as revealed in Jesus are not external but internal relationships in which each participates in the life of the other. God’s action in Christ takes place so that humankind might participate in the Triune life – life itself. Humanity is not alien to God’s being, but of its essence.

Turning more specifically to the question of the family, Deddo proposes a ‘six-fold grammar of Relations’:

i. The God whom we worship in Jesus Christ is the Triune God who exists in loving covenantal communion and who has created, reconciled and redeemed us for participation in that very communion of Father and Son in the Spirit. The parent-child relationship is one unique context in which this communion may be communicated and reflected. But families find their true place not in conformity to society in general, but in communion within the Church, a family of families.

ii. As human beings we have our personhood only as a gift of being in covenantal communion with God which calls for our personal participation. This life of fellowship is to be manifested in lives of worship as the Church of Jesus Christ. It is in this context that each one of us, no matter what our family experience, hears and is reminded of our true identity as children of God and finds the norm for being parents and children in right relationship.

iii. The Church is a covenant community and as such can be understood as the household of God with God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother. It is the original ‘Family’ by which all other families are to operichoresisrder themselves in correspondence and witness to it. This is the true source for the renewal and healing of broken family relationships.

iv. Being parents is the divine gift of personal and covenantal participation in that ontological relationship of parent and child. Parents are those who in faith by grace beget and parent their children in terms of both promise and fulfilment. This constitutes a witness to, a correspondence to, an image of, God’s creation of us in promise with a view to our fulfillment. God does this by bringing us up by the Spirit to maturity according to the image of Jesus Christ and through His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, intercession and coming again.

v. Parents are those who order their domestic relations after the pattern of being members of the household of God, the Body of Christ, who acknowledge one Father and one Brother over them all. They see themselves as elder and younger brothers and sisters and all being the children of God, who belong together in a maturing communion with Him by the Spirit, thereby becoming conformed to Jesus Christ.

vi. They are those who, as individuals and as domestic families, are equipped and are sent out, who equip and send out their children to serve and extend their fellowship to others that they too might be included in this one family of God by that same Spirit.

Those already familiar with Ray Anderson’s work will find many echoes in Deddo’s, whose study I heartily comnmend.


Who’s blogging what?

  • Halden tells us why John Owen’s soteriology threatens to turn God into ‘little more than an omnipotent demon’.
  • Byron responds to common Christian misconceptions of going-to-heaven-when-you-die in a wee reflection on John 14.
  • Ben introduces us to Matthew Myer Boulton’s new book, God against Religion: Rethinking Christian Theology through Worship.
  • Cramner has a swipe at Google in his post on the Christian Institute’s suing of the Goliath.
  • If you’re a parent (or planning to be) and you need a good laugh (which you do), then click here.
  • The Theology of UglyGrünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. (Parts I, II, III, IV, V). He writes of Grünewald’s piece:

‘… the monks at the Monastery of St. Anthony specialized in hospital work, particularly the treatment of ergotism, the gangrenous poisoning known as “Saint Anthony’s fire.” In ancient times ergotism was largely caused by ingesting a fungus-afflicted rye or cereal. The symptoms of ergotism included the shedding of the outer layers of the skin, edema, and the decay of body tissues which become black, infected, and malodorous. Prior to death the rotting tissue and limbs are lost or amputated. In 857 a contemporary report of St. Anthony’s fire described ergotism like this: “a Great plague of swollen blisters consumed the people by a loathsome rot, so that their limbs were loosened and fell off before death.” The theological power of the Isenheim Altarpiece is that Grünewald painted the gangrenous symptoms of ergotism into his crucifixion scene. As the patients of St. Anthony’s Monastery worshiped, and a more hideous, ugly and diseased congregation can scarce be imagined, they looked upon the Isenheim Altarpiece and saw a God who suffered with them.

Buchanan or Dylan?

I’m facing a potential crisis with my soon-to-be-two-year-old daughter. She prefers Colin Buchanan’s Follow the Saviour to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Now it’s not that I don’t like Colin; in fact, I reckon the guy (and his music, and his theology) is awesome. But I’m trying to introduce my daughter to the classics, the greats of music, like Dylan and Bach. (For the record, she really likes Bach; it’s just Dylan, and Iris DeMent she won’t listen to for more than a track or two. She definately takes after her mother here!)

My questions to fellow parents are: 1. ‘Is this a crisis I really need to avert?’ 2. Is Colin part of the necessary diet of milk (albeit milk of the best quality) through which one must progress in order to get to the meat (like Bach)? 3. If so, are there other flavours of milk that your kids (and you) are enjoying at the moment?

Bringing Up Britain

Parents and those with responsibilities for bringing up children may be interested to know that BBC Radio 4 will be hosting a 4-week series about parenting called Bringing up Britain which starts this Wednesday 2 April at 8pm. It will be presented by Mariella Frostrup.

[Note: I’m not sure if those outside of Britain will be able to listen online]

Those interested in parenting issues may also like to check out one of my other blogs, Paternal Life.