Have You No Shame?

…Without a well-developed idea of shame, childhood cannot exist.

-Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, p. 9

I bought this book used. The person who owned it before me made a comment in the margin that the sentence I have quoted above is ‘disturbing.’ I don’t think they understood the point.

Throughout the book, Postman is making the argument that the concept of childhood is a relatively young one that began to develop in the 16th Century after the invention of the printing press. With mass amounts of printed material becoming available, Westerners decided that children needed boundaries to protect them from the flood. Before that time, he argues, children essentially lived in an adult world. They did not go to specialized schools; they didn’t live lives essentially distinct from their parents. By the age of seven, they were a part of the work-force – whatever that looked like at the time.

The sense of shame he writes of is the sense that some things are shameful, or inappropriate, for certain groups of people – children in this case. Over the centuries, it became agreed that some things simply weren’t suitable for children, and parents were entrusted with being gatekeepers of such things.

Now, especially with the internet, but even with television before it, this task is all the more difficult; and even beyond the difficulty, Postman is asserting, we are losing the sense that many things are inappropriate for children to begin with. We are losing that sense of shame – the sense that there are boundaries, the sense that parents are to discern the acceptability of content introduced to their children. That is what is disturbing.

Blogging through The Disappearance of Childhood, by Neil Postman

https://i2.wp.com/www.faculty.rsu.edu/users/f/felwell/www/Theorists/Essays/Postman%20files/Disappearance%20of%20Childhood.jpg

-Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (1982, 1994)

The publisher’s description:

From the vogue for nubile models to the explosion in the juvenile crime rate, this modern classic of social history and media traces the precipitous decline of childhood in America today ˆ’and the corresponding threat to the notion of adulthood.

Deftly marshaling a vast array of historical and demographic research, Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, suggests that childhood is a relatively recent invention, which came into being as the new medium of print imposed divisions between children and adults. But now these divisions are eroding under the barrage of television, which turns the adult secrets of sex and violence into popular entertainment and pitches both news and advertising at the intellectual level of ten-year-olds.

Informative, alarming, and aphorisitc, The Disappearance of Childhood is a triumph of history and prophecy.

I’ll be sharing quotes and thoughts for the next few weeks. Join me, won’t you?

Duty to God and Neighbor (Poetry)

I recently discovered an old book by Isaac Watts (who incidentally was the inspiration for this blog) entitled Divine and Moral Songs for Children. There are some interesting poems that you might find helpful for children (or just helpful in general). A couple that I really like have to do with loving God and loving neighbor:

With all thy soul love God above.
And, as thyself thy neighbour love.

and,

Love God with all your soul and strength,
With all your heart and mind:
And love your neighbour as yourself;
Be faithful, just, and kind.
Deal with another as you’d have
Another deal with you;
What you’re unwilling to receive,
Be sure you never do.

You can browse all the poems HERE.

Lust, Fertility, and Freedom

Chesterton is dropping bombs.

1) Modern humanity shows itself less human than its pagan ancestors by exalting lust while disparaging fertility:

It has been left to the last Christians, or rather to the first Christians fully committed to blaspheming and denying Christianity, to invent a new kind of worship of Sex, which is not even a worship of Life. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility. The new Paganism literally merits the reproach of Swinburne, when mourning for the old Paganism: “and rears not the bountiful token and spreads not the fatherly feast.” The new priests abolish the fatherhood and keep the feast-to themselves. They are worse than Swinburne’s Pagans. The priests of Priapus and Cotytto go into the kingdom of heaven before them.

2) Our hatred of fertility comes from a failed notion of freedom, which is actually a form of bondage:

Perhaps the nearest to a description of it is to say this: that my contempt boils over into bad behaviour when I hear the common suggestion that a birth is avoided because people want to be “free” to go to the cinema or buy a gramophone or a loud-speaker. What makes me want to walk over such people like doormats is that they use the word “free.” By every act of that sort they chain themselves to the most servile and mechanical system yet tolerated by men. The cinema is a machine for unrolling certain regular patterns called pictures; expressing the most vulgar millionaires’ notion of the taste of the most vulgar millions. The gramophone is a machine for recording such tunes as certain shops and other organisations choose to sell. The wireless is better; but even that is marked by the modern mark of all three; the impotence of the receptive party. The amateur cannot challenge the actor; the householder will find it vain to go and shout into the gramophone; the mob cannot pelt the modern speaker, especially when he is a loud-speaker. It is all a central mechanism giving out to men exactly what their masters think they should have. Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. They can feel that any amusement he gives (which is often considerable) really comes from him and from them, and from nobody else. He has been born without the intervention of any master or lord. He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation. He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines. When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world. People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life. They are preferring the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things of our dying Capitalist civilisation, to the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilisation. It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows

So then, we have progressed, right? We know what people once worshiped Ishtar, the goddess of fertility. How laughable. We’ll cut down the idol of fertility. Pay no attention to the fact that we will exalt Lust to that primary position.

Give us freedom. Babies are like so many balls and chains. Forget the fact that it is a ball and chain that makes us not want children to begin with. We’ll replace the living and breathing kind with the shiny pixelated kind; with the career ladder kind; with the go on extra vacations kind – with the kind that doesn’t breathe. Maybe we can buy a new Prius. Freedom!

Whenever We Do Work Together (Living Into Focus)

Adopting technology often deeply affects our relationships and interactions. Maggie Jackson notes that even in the difficult and tedious labor of taking care of homes and families, whenever we do work together, ‘we’re creating the glue that binds us to the humans we love.’ She is concerned that the relationships may be thinning out so that we are ‘roommate families’ rather than having intimates with deep, intense interactions with each other.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 16 (emphasis added)

Leah comments:

What really stuck out here for me was when Maggie Jackson said “…whenever we DO work together…” On a daily basis I struggle with involving my oldest son, who is 3, in some of the chores around the house. He likes doing it, but my desire to be “productive” fights against including him. I think “I could get this job done so much faster without him, and then get even MORE stuff done.” Yet, as Maggie points out, these experiences provide the “glue that binds us to the humans we love.” There are deeper objectives that must take priority. I hope to remember this.

I thought this was a great observation.

Today at work we had a down-time conversation about children. One of my co-workers just became a grandparent for the second time. He made the comment that two was enough. I began to ask probing questions at that point and found that his reasoning was basically that it is too expensive to have a bunch of children. I find that most people tend to reason that way nowadays.

This lead to me pontificating for a few minutes about the evils of our cultural system, which has become such that it wants us all to act like kids, but at the same time is not child-friendly. In generations gone by children were looked at as practical assets. In the Old Testament, for instance, male children were the greatest possible asset a family could have, because male children meant more hands to work in the farms and fields and to serve as protectors of the the family. Not so these days. We have built a culture in which children primarily exist to be served and and are not given the opportunity to serve.

Christians, seeking to live counter-culturally, and, more importantly, for the good of our children, must find ways to allow our children to serve. This may mean that we must allow them to make some messes with flour and eggs, and it may mean a few headaches for us, but it is vital that we allow them to serve. If we do not give them such opportunities, they will never be allowed to develop in their sanctification. Yes, kids need sanctification too. And a major part of our sanctification is learning to lovingly and joyfully serve others.

Ironically, no one ever serves others more willingly, lovingly, or joyfully, than when they are a child. My kids love to do things for me. It delights them. There’s just not a lot they can do from my perspective. But who cares about my perspective? Helping me scramble the eggs isn’t much from my perspective, but it’s huge from the perspective of a five-year-old. I need to serve my children by allowing them to serve. And these moments of service provide moments of familial intimacy, ‘the glue’ that binds families together in love and joy.

Did I mention that I can learn a lot about service from simply watching how joyfully my kids are willing to serve? Let’s remind our families that we are more than roommates with similar genetics.

Some Music Resources for Kids

1. Scripture Songs: There are all sorts of varieties out there. Our family enjoys Kids Scene Scripture Songs. You can check out a sample HERE.

2. Cedarmont Kids: The Cedarmont Kids produced all kinds of videos and albums back in the day. Some of it is pure fluff (kids need some fluff!), but it is enjoyable. You can view an example HERE. Google and YouTube yield all sorts of results for those videos.

3. Good old hymns: We made it a goal in our house to make hymn lessons a part of our routine. So, for example, we would actually work on one song, as if it were a lesson, until the kids were comfortable singing it. I’ve talked to other parents that started with the same hymn as us: Holy, Holy, Holy. It’s a beautiful hymn that isn’t too difficult to pick up. Here’s a VIDEO with lyrics. Another one that kids seem to pick up fairly quickly is Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. You can see that HERE. Our kids were also able to pick up Trust and Obey fairly early on. You can see that HERE. And, last but not least, my personal favorite to sing with the kids is I Must Tell Jesus. You can see that HERE. I like to play this song on the guitar and my kids would willingly repeat the chorus a hundred times if I let them keep going.

4. Psalms: This is tough because Psalm singing has become so rare in American Evangelicalism. There are, however, some that are still sung fairly widely, such as Psalm 23. My own solution to this has been this: I have used The Book of Psalms for Singing and simply created my own tunes using the guitar to sing along with my family. We have learned several whole psalms in this way. The website linked above allows you to listen to the tunes listed for each Psalm in various Psalters.

Recent Reading: The Magic City, by Edith Nesbit

I have yet to read anything by Edith Nesbit that I didn’t enjoy. Her children’s books tend to be a bit long and plodding at times for the modern reader suffering from distractions and attention deficits, but that is part of what makes them all the more worthwhile. They are entertaining, yet countercultural reading for the modern child. At times her writing smacks of well-to-do Victorian England. But hey, that’s the world in which she lived. Not everyone has ponies and large gardens, but that shouldn’t cause us to despise her stories.

Her dialogue is always a pleasure, and this book has a lot of it. Her moral vision is helpful, and this book has plenty of that as well. This is not a review, and I will not spoil anything; I will simply give my main takeaways from the story.

The Magic City is imaginatively enlivening. The main character, Philip, is an imaginative builder, as most children are. What child in the presence of sand would not build a sandcastle? The difference is that Philip’s toy building projects come to life. His play castles become real castles in an alternate world.

Philip is orphaned and lives with his older sister. The main story revolves around Philip’s struggles as his older sister gets married. He will no longer be the main focus of her life. This causes his struggles. His new stepsister, Lucy, comes into play and has a sanctifying influence on Philip – drawing his hatred at first, but ultimately winning his love and making him a better person through her own. Chivalry comes to life in a new context with these two brave children, as they seek, despite the friction of being new step-siblings, to deliver Philip’s magic city from the hands of a Destroyer.

The love and devotion of children, in the midst of heartbreak and confusion, is the great takeaway of the story. It provides an imaginative glimpse into how bravery, humility, sacrifice, and selfless love (witnessed and practiced) can change even, or especially, a child. In addition to that, the lively imaginative feel of the book is inspiring for those who aspire to greater creativity. I heartily recommend the book to families with young children. My eight-year-old daughter enjoyed it tremendously, and I did as well.

The book is available in print or FREE for Kindle HERE. You can read an overview HERE. You can read a wonderful introduction to her life and writing HERE.

20 Principles for Christian Parents (Richard Baxter)

Here I offer a condensed summary of Richard Baxter‘s The Duties of Parents for their Children:

1. Understand their need of a Savior and dedicate them to God’s covenant mercy

2. Teach them the principles of their relationship to the Covenant of Grace

3. Serve as an authority and do not let them be self-willed

4. Serve as a loving authority, both to be feared and befriended

5. Teach them to have reverence for the Scriptures and holy things

6. Always speak with reverence and seriousness about the things of God

7. Teach them by example to respect those who are worthy of respect and to loathe the life of sin and godlessness

8. Teach them and show them that the way of holiness is the way of happiness

9. Teach them of the dangers of sensuality and encourage them to care for their minds before their bodies

10. Teach them to care for their bodies and exercise physical self-control

11. Allow them to engage in sports and hobbies, but not to the point that those things become central priorities

12. Discourage pride and promote humility

13. Teach them of the dangers of materialism and seeking riches

14. Teach them to control their tongues from lying, crudeness, and taking the name of the Lord in vain

15. Guard them from company that will further corrupt them

16. Teach them to value time, improve time, and consider that their time is short

17. Use corrective discipline (a) not too often but not too little, b) according to the temperament and ability of the child, c) primarily for sins rather than pet-peeves, d) never when you are angry, e) with tenderness and love, f) with the aid of Scripture texts

18. Teach by example (not ‘do as I say; not as I do’); strive to be the person that you would desire them to emulate

19. Be proactive, not just a spectator, as they seek someone to marry

20. Especially for mothers: 1) Look for every opportunity to teach them throughout the day and 2) be especially concerned with teaching, and encouraging, them to read

A word for those who cannot have children:

But if God deny you children, and save you all this care and labour, repine not, but be thankful, believing it is best for you. Remember what a deal of duty, and pains, and heart’s grief he hath freed you from, and how few speed well, when parents have done their best: what a life of misery children must here pass through, and how sad the fear of their sin and damnation would have been to you.

Read the original work in its entirety HERE.

Side Effects: She Swallowed the Spider to Catch the Fly

This nursery rhyme, ‘There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,’ was quoted in the PBS Frontline documentary entitled Medicating Kids. As someone who has children, is a student of psychology, and works in the pharmacy business, it resonated. Medication can do wonderful things, but it can also do harmful things; and those harmful things, which we call side effects, need to be treated with another medication, and another: swallowing the spider to catch the fly. I’d recommend the documentary for anyone interested in ADHD and other psychological disorders diagnosed in children. You can watch it for free HERE. Note that I am not making a personal statement here; I am only recommending the documentary, which is quite intriguing.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I dunno why she swallowed that fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly –
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird;
How absurd, to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly –
Perhaps she’ll die

There was an old lady who swallowed a cat.
Imagine that, she swallowed a cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die

There was an old lady who swallowed a dog.
What a hog! To swallow a dog!
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat…
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a goat.
Just opened her throat and swallowed a goat!
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog …
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow.
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat…
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog…
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat…
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse –
She’s dead, of course.

The Pleasure of Self-Limitation

It is plain on the face of the facts that the child is positively in love with limits. He uses his imagination to invent imaginary limits. The nurse and the governess have never told him that it is his moral duty to step on alternate paving-stones. He deliberately deprives this world of half its paving-stones, in order to exult in a challenge that he has offered to himself…

I have [played] myself, by piling all the things I wanted on a sofa, and imagining that the carpet around me was the surrounding sea.

This game of self-limitation is one of the secret pleasures of life.

– G.K. Chesterton, The Romance of Childhood, from In Defense of Sanity, pp. 251-252

I thought of this quote yesterday and had to go back and look it up. My wife and I were walking with our children in a large outdoor shopping center. Throughout the plaza are large, elevated patches of garden holding various plants. As is always the case when we visit there, my daughters climbed up the planter walls and started using them as balance beams. We were surrounded by space: sidewalks, roads, stores. And they limited themselves to the smallest space available. So, I said to my wife, Chesterton is right. She had no idea what I was talking about (but that’s beside the point).

Every time we walk through Kroger, with its black and white tiled floors, the choosing of a particular color to step on ensues; every time they wander off into the neighborhood, we always find them coming home – to a small house in a big world.

Last year I listened to an interview of a wide receiver in the NFL. He talked about learning to run routes. In college he usually ran straight down the field or wandered around through zone coverages until he found an opening. Now, in the NFL, he had learned the discipline of proper route-running. He found, he said, that limiting yourself to one route and one sure destination freed him up to play at his fastest (which is 4.3/40 fast). If you know where you are going, you can run hard to get there. If the route is sure, you can knock obstacles out of the way to get to that spot. It limits you, but it makes you faster.

There is a romance and liberty in limitation if we have eyes to see. If all were right, a man who limits himself to one wife would find romance and liberty. If all were right, a man who limits himself to one God would find romance and liberty. For romance and liberty do not demand wide open spaces; they only demand a willingness to see the beauty of the limitation itself. Can your children see this better than you?