Saturday, February 19, 2011

That's a Frustrating Question

I am currently reading a chapter from the book, Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life) by Joel Shuman and Brian Volck, M.D. called, "What are Children For?" First of all, the very title is enough to reel me in, being one who has some strong interest in medicine or rather "not taking" medicine (seriously, the decision to not take hormonal birth control seemed like one involving life or death), secondly, it's challenging. Ask yourself what those sweet, cute, or maybe at times annoying, whiny, creatures are for? I've found myself asking the same things at various times through out my life, especially when I was really struggling with my identity and future: are children (or maybe i should say human life) necessary for any purpose other than selfish reasons? It's an interesting question and this chapter kind of sums it up (this post might be more quotes than anything else).

When asking the question in today's world I would have to answer that family life, children, and even humanity seem to be to complete the cycle, a cycle that maybe is just an unconscious invention of society. I believe it's still a modern construction that we're supposed to grow up, get married, get a job, have some kids (one two or three), and go along hoping for no bumps or interruptions to this easy road. This is a normal, good life, and one we're either supposed to reject or accept to be "normal." And it's readily available for everyone. No matter our religious views I believe we're still deeply entrenched in the cultural ideal of "controlling your destiny." So, I was so thrilled to read in the opening paragraphs of this chapter that we, in modern society, operating from a viewpoint that you really can have whatever you want due mainly in fact to technological advancements, are subtly "alter[ing] the way we see our children." It is remarked upon by Jackson Lears who said, "that Victorians transformed children from miniature adults to superior pets. The subsequent hundred years has further transformed children into something more like a consumer item." And this is where I really don't have to say anything further because I read this next part which is just too good. Read it.

"Ethicist Amy Laura Hall notes how contemporary sentimental images of children differ from those only a few decades earlier:
Look at the Ann Geddes pictures, an image of a child as a pumpkin, or a child as a flower: the baby as the commodity you get to consume or pluck and put in your vase, versus the kind of images you have with Norman Rockwell. Amost all of his images of children are children with skinned knees, are of the chaos of kids-I think about hte one with the boys running and trying to pull up their pants, they've been swimming in the water hole with their dog. The images of children that he depicts are children with other children, who are showing signs of mess, which children inevitably are...[Anne Gedde's images are]...a kind of really dangerous idolatry...a kind of purely platonic form of "baby," the "baby" one can fashion according to one's own desires, the "baby" as consumable. And notice that those babies never have a sign of food on themselves; if you know anything about toddlers they are constantly covered in food. These pictures are children that do not consume; these are babies that we consume. And those icons of childhood are indicative of a dominant culture in America that sees children as a way to accessorize and fulfill one's own life, rather than as interruptions into our own hopes, dreams and goals.

So I could go onto a million different tangents from this text (one being, "see?!? This is why I really want to take children's portraits, and why I really don't want to shoot them in a studio space but rather the spaces they are most "childish." ) but I'll try to just say that this, as insignificant as it may seem, really does show an altered state of perception. We don't want to be out of control, we want perfection in our lives, and frighteningly there are several ways to go about having or at least having the illusion of said perfection.

The authors go on to further question, "then what are they for?" They begin talking about how Stanley Hauerwas asks his students the similar question and he receives answers about how "Children are fun" or "a hedge against loneliness" or "a manifestation of our love" to which he disputes such claims (by saying things like, "think about your brothers and sisters...get a changes.") Which still begs the question then, "so what is the answer?" So the authors talk about how life must be seen as a gift from God ("incomprehensible outside of relationship with God."). They even go so far as to say that life is not sacred because only God is sacred--God gives us life and we are to "respect life but not worship it." BUT "if a particular life can be called "sacred," it is only in the awareness that this particular body is God's unique irreplaceable gift." Therefore to accurately view "life" we should as Christians see new life as "extravagant gifts, yet subordinate to the greatest gift of salvation through Christ." I think this is showing that it might be true that we have all we could possibly need through Christ--all our needs have been met through His ultimate gift, yet we are still given other gifts (like children, family, friendship, etc) but that they can only be viewed properly through the lens of Christ. "...the family, and indeed any human relationship, can never be regarded as an end in itself." i.e. we need to do something Good with these things we've been given.

Again, we have had all our needs met through Christ and so when we begin to think that family, children, friendships are entitlements that through modern technology and consumption we can meet our own needs and wants is an altered perception and we should instead focus on children and all human relations as really huge gifts that overwhelm. What do we do with these things?! What do I do with this life that is growing inside me?! What do I do when my perfect plans have been dashed? What do I do when I don't have a "real" job or am still in school with a child? What do I do when life isn't looking the way I planned? Well I think that's where the practices of being a Christian come into play, as the authors say, "all gifts-including the gift of children-are to be received in confidence and gratitude." Through faith, Seth and I are praying we can receive this really beautiful gift gracefully and well, not so as to have our own needs met but to better understand the larger Christian story of being humbled, broken and receiving the Good Grace that only Christ provides. Further, parenthood, as a part of this Christian narrative, is going to be about this running utterance throughout my blog entries about "welcoming the stranger;" thankfully, "What are Children For" further elaborates on these ideas and I will be sure to share them as I read them. :)

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