Like father, Like Father.

The devaluation of father and the death of God are the same thing.  Or, at least, they comfort each other.  They share an elective affinity.

I’m not arguing causality here, in either direction.   I don’t know that devaluing father causes the ideology of God’s death.   Nor do I know that atheism leads to a feeling that dads are optional.   I suspect neither relation is direct.  I suspect both of these arise out of a third thing, which seeks to destroy all father symbols, concrete and invisible.

Is it any more complicated than a “no” to father’s rules?   Milton’s Satan, the famous sympathetic figure at the fountainhead of rebellion for its own value, just prefers to rule in hell than serve in heaven.   And we’re still intended to think (I think) with Milton that this is a stupid choice, but the stupidity is only clear when the joys of friendship with the father are felt, so that the loss of choosing autonomy can be weighed.   And that loss Milton fails to show, rather than tell, for all his genius.   Ever since, “no” to father’s rules has not meant “no” to fathers eventual friendship, which is the only reason for the rules.

All this has been forgotten by the race.

Leaders, fear deference

I would not have written the laws and regulations about sexual harassment that control the American workplace in the 21st century. They over-reach.   They facilitate the false grievances that cluster around “political correctness” in all its forms.

But humans ARE corrupt, and so tend to abuse any power advantage.  And these laws are an understandable effort to protect the powerless.  When people won’t do justice voluntarily, the political electorate always steps in to fill the vacuum with the blunt, dumb instrument of a legislated solution.  Laws often over-reach.

Any human relationship that is not explicitly equal is therefore unequal.  One person has the ability to coerce the other, no matter if he would or not. One is Strong, the other is Weak. This much seems like stating the obvious but there are many people who don’t see the imbalance, especially when they are the Strong.

In heirarchical organizations these power imbalances are structural, not relational.  The lines on the org chart indicate them.  Smart stewards of the organization understand that the diagram of power relationships doesn’t become irrelevant as friendships grow.   Personal closeness does not reduce the danger of abuse.   Rather, as individuals grow in friendship over years of working together, their warmth can allow a laxity that the Strong can interpret wrongly.

I’m not just talking about the danger of two people having an affair.   Sexual or emotional attractions develop as co-workers spend time together.  Adults just recognize these attractions as an organic and distracting part of spending time together, and starve them as a matter of conscience.

But there is another, distinct danger: that the Strong will oppress the Weak unconsciously even as they paradoxically grow closer, on matters far short of something so explicit as sex.

One of the features of Weakness is wordlessness. The weak never protest oppression as soon or as loudly as they justly could.  The friendship can lull the stronger of a pair into taking silence as permission. But only permission is permission, and it is the moral obligation of the strong to give the weak space to deny permission.      “Is that ok with you?”  The wise leader asks this question, a hundred different ways, a hundred times a day, because he fears deference to his position.

Deference is not the same as the respect that leaders want and try to deserve.  Deference is when the follower suppresses disagreements in order to just go along.   Good leaders don’t want followers who just go along.  It’s dangerous.  Often, the followers have important opinions that can avert a disaster, and smart leaders work to create bold followers who don’t defer but rather, speak up.


We homeschool, and so we hear occasionally the concern about the “socialization” of homeschoolers.  Homeschool families think this concern is silly, of course, and gladly take the debate every time another news story appears about some rotten event in a public school somewhere in America.  Which is every minute or so.  But I have to admit I’m an extremist in this debate.  The debate seems to be about whether children outside a government imposed group get “enough” socialization, which therefore must be a good thing, which good thing children apparently get from the physical presence of other children.  Given that premise, I think it’s a debate about a fiction.  There is no such thing as children, collected at random, socializing each other in any good sense.  It does not happen.

Oh, children certainly influence each other.  But I know very few parents of any persuasion who would actually argue that the influence of 15 children chosen at random in a room all day is a good influence.  Few humans would argue that those 15 children, left to themselves, will make each other better.  At anything.

Imagine for yourself what you’d put in the set of bad habits.  Bad social habits, speech habits, study habits, even as far as all those acts or thoughts you’d call a felony.  Let’s label the whole set of behaviors and traits we want in our children ” manners”.  It’s a useful, though archaic term.  But we understand it means much more than just not eating jello with the salad fork.   Manners form the wholistic impression of another person that you have after spending the day with them.

The truth is, most parents, believers and unbelievers of all stripes together, would agree on almost the whole set. Most parents have an instinct for the behaviors they want in children – in the abstract.

But that’s where the commonality ends.  In the concrete manners of actual children, there is the widest variation in whatever you’d call admirable or despicable, and the habits and demeanors of the actual children have little correlation with the claimed values of the actual parents.

Any one child, not previously known to you, will have a random distribution of manners (not formally random, but random as far as you can know in advance).  Would you consider it useful to lock your child in a room for 8 hours with one other child who you do not know, and whose parents you do not know?  This random child will not be evil, of course, and in fact may be assumed for the sake of our logic to be exactly as well-mannered as your own child.  Assume that then.  Assume that this unknown child is no more good and no more bad than your own child, however you define those values.

But, a quick additional factor:  few people would deny what so many have observed; bad influence is easier to imbibe than good.  This is a commonplace observation across cultures and centuries, common enough that is has entered the canon of common-sense.

We are more permeable to the bad than the good.  Christian anthropology, of course, accounts for this empirical observation with the doctrines of Original Sin and Total Depravity, which I’ll paraphrase: the primal bad lives inside each of us, and without outside help is stronger than our residual good.  You don’t have to have accepted Christian dogma to see this.  Let’s keep it simple: bad easier, good harder.

We further observe that as we mature, our permeability to unthinking influence reduces.  We become choosers, we become more discerning, we grow in courage, we become more sure of our values and less needy for peer approval.  (All this, hopefully.)  In fact, the very definition of adulthood might be rooted in this passage from unthinking conformity to discriminating moral agent.   But we never outgrow the universal ratio: bad easy, good hard.

So your child is in a room with a randomly chosen child who you do not know.  What you do know, with mathematical certainty, is that both of them have an inward bent that makes each other’s bad manners more likely to pollinate the other than their good.  Bad easy, good hard, at the stage of life when the discriminating powers are at their weakest.

I want to stop at this point and make sure the logic to this point is accepted, or rejected, because it is easy to glide over an uncomfortable truth by fuzzing it out.  It is not a speculation that these two children will make each other worse, however you define that word.    It is a mathematical certainty.  And it grows more certain the more time they spend with each as a closed system, with no counter-acting influences.  (We factoring out for our thought experiment all the counter-acting influences, in order to isolate the effect of the children on each other.)

This does not mean that they will have no good influences at all on each other.  Of course they will.  But that doesn’t help us; we’re concerned about the net affect, the goods minus the bads. Don’t console yourself or deny the line of reasoning by focusing your inner eye on some good influence and letting the bad ones drift to the peripheral vision.

Also, at this point you’ve imagined some actual child of your acquaintance who you think would actually be a good net affect on your own child.  Maybe your child has children in her classroom who you know to be a good net effect.   And it is easy to just extrapolate from that one connection to them all.  But remember: the number of connections between your child and other children are are many, and most or all of them are chosen by people you don’t know for reasons unconnected to the net effect on manners that you would use if you could control all the choices.  The good examples do not extrapolate.

Maybe you don’t find any of this to be true in real life.  Maybe you find that your child comes back home to you after time at school with better manners (however you define them) than when school is out.  Let’s stipulate that what you think is true, is true.   Since I’m making essentially a statistical argument here, your experience is only meaningful if more parents than not share it.  If you are in the minority, and if parents can’t control whether or not they will have your experience, then they must make the assumption that they will not.

Most parents do not, in fact, find their children made better by time spent with other children, and you’ll hear them admit in casual conversations where the topic is one other than education choices.

It’s the mindless assumption –  that random will turn out good – that I object to.  You’re a good parent; would you leave your 7 year old child in a room with a television set for hours and let him choose what to watch?  Of course you don’t, and I’m not talking about our pornography-soaked airwaves here; you wouldn’t have let him choose his own influences if you were parenting him in the Ozzie and Harriet years of the 1950’s.  In every other area of your young child’s sensorium, you move the data from random to filtered as carefully as you can.  You understand that good parenting means that you bring into your child’s life good influences and filter out bad ones, until he has the maturity to choose for himself.

Why, then, in this one area, do you reason that a random collection of influences is likely to net out good?   It is counter-intuitive.

You’ll notice I’ve left out of this whole discussion what influences might come from teachers or other adults at your school- they’re irrelevant, since you could presumably bring adult influences into your child’s life from a variety of     (My son’s teachers, in the two years he spent at public school, were good teachers and good people so far as we could know.)

The first step in my equation, then, is this:  the average child, coupled with another average child, and all other factors held steady, will degrade in manners, however the average parent defines manners.

If this is true, then the second step is easy and devastating:  the process grows exponentially as you add children at random to the group.


If this entire argument has left you cold, then approach it in a laboratory setting.   In a roomful of those who extol “socialization”, do this little thought-experiment (don’t tell them what it is about):

1. Ask them to write down 3 traits they like about themselves, and the people who, in each case, they most learned that trait from.

2. Ask them to write down a moment in their lives when they started down a path they now regard as a wrong path. Then, ask them to name the one person who was most influencing them at that point in their lives.

If they are sufficiently unaware of your agenda as to not bias the answers, the overwhelming majority (perhaps all) of the answers to #1 will NOT be friends from school, and the overwhelming majority (perhaps all) of #2’s answers WILL be friends from school.

Case closed. THEY don’t believe the “socialization” in public schools is positive. It is simply a religious dogma they have required themselves to believe.


Or maybe you doubt the validity of that laboratory.  Use yourself, your total experience at school, as an experiment of one, and ask yourself what social formation did you get at school that has been determinative for your adult life?

“To work in teams.”   I deny that public school teaches children to work in teams better than they would if they were raised by wolves.  This is simply not demonstrated.    If this is true, then the children who come out of public schools would be more team-oriented than others…has anybody, anywhere, claimed to have actually observed this?

“To tolerate differences.”   Honestly?  Was it your experience in school that you learned from the other children around you to tolerate differences?  This is a confusion of two things: you do see and experience  more different types of people at a school of hundreds of kids, but you don’t learn to tolerate them.   The first is simple numbers, the second is a personal virtue.  The first is of little value, in and of itself — the second is valuable, and comes from parents.  The truth is, children are notoriously intolerant of differences.  In crowds, they are positively fascist.

“To negotiate.”  This is an argument that has come late, at least in my hearing, and is frankly the oddest.  Children learn to “negotiate” by being around a wider variety of children?  I negotiate for a living; I’ve never seen this learning process in any children, nor have I observed the skill especially in the those parents who value it.  I suspect it is another fiction.


I am not arguing that all parents should homeschool (not all should), nor that public school is bad (of course they aren’t), nor that all children are made worse by public school (not all are.)   And most parents simply can’t school at home because they need both incomes.   They should not feel guilty about that.  I’m not even saying that public school is terrible for children.  It isn’t.  I’m just trying to get past a fiction so that parents of all kinds can have a slightly more honest conversation.

I’m simply arguing that the term socialization, which means, in most speakers’ mouths something like “a process wherein children make each other better”  –  does not exist.   Children, by definition, do not make each other better as a net effect.  There is no debate, then, about how to make up for the socialization the child misses by being at home.

Missing it, for us, is the point.

To Isaac, On Your Baptism Day, October 7, 2012.

To Isaac, on your baptism day, October 7, 2012.

Isaac, Hear the words of your father.

All these dear ones, your mother and I – we can never be prouder of you, since today you said, to all the world, that Jesus is your King.

Baptism doesn’t forgive your sins. Jesus did that when you trusted Him. But He gave us baptism as a picture of His death and resurrection, and all pictures connect mysteriously to what they picture. We don’t know how this works, but we know it is true. So in this picture, somehow, you were buried with Jesus and raised with Him in new life. Hallelujah. The stone table is cracked, the law worked backward and killed the witch, the one ring is dropped into the fire of Doom. The sword is pulled from the stone and the grail is found. The princess has been kissed and the dragon has been tamed. The labrador retriever has turned sane. The corpse of the Lion is missing, for He is not here, He has risen.

And you, Isaac, are in Him, like a tender branch in a great tree.

There will be dark days. Long in the future, I hope, when most of these dear ones have gone into that silent cloud of witnesses, you may feel alone. You may even feel like Jesus is far away. It may not always feel like you are in Him, but you always will be.

Take this golden cross, placed around your neck now with your mother’s kiss, as a picture of your baptism. Let it be a picture to you that you were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

It’s real gold, it’s not just a trinket. Your mother and I wanted to give you something worth treasuring the rest of your life, because this day is as important to us as any of your birthdays.

Let this be a picture to you when days are dark that He bought you with His blood, that He, the Great King, said He would be with you till the end. Touch this cross, and remind yourself that you belong to Him.

There will be dark days. Soon, I fear, you’ll feel that you’ve failed Him. Touch this cross, turn away from yourself. Tell Him freely how you failed, take His forgiveness in, and be at peace.

There will be dark days when you’ll be tempted to betray Him, like Edmund betrayed Aslan, and your mother and I will not always be here to encourage you. But your baptism will stay with you forever and will whisper to you that in Christ an old Isaac died, and in Christ the real Isaac lives. Timothy Isaac Smith, Jesus is your King, and He is stronger than Aragorn the heir, nobler than Theoden of the horse-lords, braver than Peter of Narnia.

You are baptized into this King of kings. Live in Him forever.

The word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)

To Turn, And Toddle: More On Love And Power

“…whoever does not turn and become like a toddler…”

When Jesus enjoins childlikeness it has nothing to do with their “innocence”. Modern exegetes just insert “innocence” into this passage in an unthinking reflex. Jesus is indeed talking about “humility”, for sure, but from the context here and other passages (see Paul in Romans 12, for one) the point of biblical humility is to know your place. (“Humility” is another word we’ve simply replaced with a proxy. We insert something like “feel like a wretch”. There is a place and time to feel like a wretch, but it has nothing to do with humility.)

Back to childlikeness…children are clear about one thing, and that is that they know they are not adults, and are content in that. Humility, here, is to be happily in a parent’s control. The essence of childhood is to be controlled by someone else; when you begin to control yourself, you are an adult.

Jesus is attacking power here. And by “power” I mean the desire to control. Biblically, this desire to control is the primal Satanic infraction, and it runs like a black thread through human history, to me, you, and now. The desire for rank, the love of money — all attitudes condemned in the NT are arguably forms of one passion, the wish to control, rather than be controlled. Money, for example, is meaningless outside its function as the ability to control your life. “Freedom” is accurate too — money gives freedom, and to be free from some things is good (freedom from hunger, for one), but the bible has no sympathy for the accomplishment of freedom from childlike dependance on God.

So, turn and become a child. That is, gladly take God’s control like a child gladly reposes within the parent’s control.


Beyond this immediate point: the desire for control is always bad, and is opposed to love, and control and love are irreconcilable, like night and day. That which you love you will seek to not control.

A parent does need to control the child he loves, but the entire point of parental work is to work yourself out of a job by ceding control to the adult child, in love’s fufillment. Even in parenting, love seeks to not control. “Love” that does not work to cede control is pathological, and pathogenic.

It is deceptively hard to give up the desire to control and not clutch. The clutch is our instinct. But not only is it difficult simply to do, it skews cognition. The person you clutch you will not know. Love is the mode of knowledge between persons; clutching both closes the subject’s spiritual eye and forces the object to veil itself. The ostensible lovers, when one clutches, do not, in the most literal sense, see each other. They recede.

The purpose of political speech is to get or hold power — control of the money, control of the sex, control of the guns, control of the lightbulbs. The desire to get power corrupts absolutely. No, deeper than that; it issues from the primal corruption, and corrupts further in an endless spiral of the moral equivalent of bloodshed. The person so desiring has already lusted in his heart and has rendered himself incapable of loving any object in the same field of vision.

Politics does some good, just like the parent does good by forcing the child away from the fire or toward the altar. But force is such a limited and transitory good that a child that did not graduate from it would eventually be labeled a freak. The political activist is content to treat citizens like his own unwilling children, forever, and is morally stunted enough to feel accomplished doing it.

This all usually prompts some objection that it is too absolutist. But, ask yourself: did Jesus assign any value above zero to political activity? No. Love and power have nothing to say to each other. Where one grows the other dies.

(None of this is to argue that it is always good to be controlled, or always bad to control something or someone. Really, don’t be that simplistic.)

Why we write memoirs

It’s not just that I want you to hear my memories.   We’ve all had that experience when we were young, that boredom as the old ones tell us the same stories for the hundredth time.   I felt it with my father.   At some point you will cross the tipping point, where you will realize one day you are actually interested in the old stories.   You may be decades from that moment.   That’s ok.

It’s not exactly a need to transmit memories.  It’s not a cognitive or didactic task the old one feels, though most of them interpret it that way.  No;  I don’t want to teach you any lessons from my childhood; there are none.   I don’t want you to appreciate how much easier you have things than I did, or my father did.   That’s actually seldom true; most people have great struggles.   You are, you will.

It’s not dying memories, it’s a dying vision.   When I slow the car down on Miller’s Fork road to peer back under the sumac, I really do see less than my father saw.

To a discouraged leader

You walked into the meeting so upbeat at the opportunity to share your vision. But even as you talked, you could see the lists of objections forming behind the eyes of several listeners — the usual suspects, whose first reaction to most new ideas is to throw up a smokescreen of reasons why we can’t do it. Before you finished your first presentation, you could feel the wind leaving your sails. As you walked out of the meeting, you were as much dejected as you had been excited earlier that morning.  Then, you go through the stages of grief, inwardly and privately, telling yourself that you are never going to cast another pearl of vision before these swines of negativity. You’ll just live in the dull world they apparently inhabit, checking off duties, punching the mental clock, letting the workplace just drift and collecting your paycheck.

And of course, despite your best effort to kill your own soul, it miraculously persists. It catches you unawares. Before long, you have a new, exciting idea about how things can be better for everyone, and you find yourself almost against your will sharing your passion out loud to the swineherd again. (Isn’t it encouraging how those healthiest parts of you can’t actually be killed? What you like most about yourself just erupts in spite of everything. )  The truth is, no-one can suppress their own vision.  So forget that.  It can be exhilarating, in an ironic way, when the leader is forced to admit and embrace her own health. To admit to herself that what causes her pain among the swine is never going to stop, and she would never want it to, really.  No, there are only two choices: succeed in getting these pigs to see what you see, or go find better pigs. (That’s quite enough with the swine metaphor, I agree.) Continue reading “To a discouraged leader”

Movie: “Searching For Bobby Fischer”

In the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, the child chess prodigy Josh has two teachers: the Fun Teacher and the Real Teacher.   (Am I revealing my bias yet?)   The Fun Teacher is the guy in the park who makes chess fast, freewheeling, aggressive, carefree – fun.   Under him, Josh gets to exploit his natural talent against less talented opponents.  It’s fun to bring your queen out early, to slash and burn, to make decisions in an instant and see them yield victory.  (Presumably, it is not fun to consistently lose at speed chess.   This part was not covered in the movie.)

The Real Teacher has a different set of values and a different agenda for Josh.   He wants Josh to be able see far ahead in the game.  He sets up an empty board and makes Josh play out positions in his mind.

These two teachers are in conflict with each other, and they pull Josh in two different directions.   The Real Teacher, in particular, wants Josh to stay away from the Fun Teacher, who he says is teaching Josh the bad habit of moving without thinking and taking stupid risks.    He’ll be ruined, says the Real Teacher; he wants to play like this, says the Fun Teacher.  Structure versus flow.   Discipline versus spontaneity.   Josh’s mom sides with the Fun teacher, while Josh’s dad sides with the Real teacher.

Continue reading “Movie: “Searching For Bobby Fischer””

The Moral Cocoon versus The Intellectual Cocoon

We homeschool.  There’s a lot of talk about homeschool children growing up in a cocoon.   Should they?   Yes, and no.

But first:  almost every parent creates a cocoon of some type for their children.  The instinct of even the least reflective parent is to control what strikes the child’s sense-organs.   “Children should not grow up too fast”:  it’s  universal.   In its simplest form, this means children’s responsibilities should be scaled to their age.  But we also all agree they should not be presented with moral content they are not yet armed to process.

This is pre-cognitive for parents.   All do it,even those who think they don’t.   I guarantee you if I have 15 minutes with the most secular parents I will then be able to describe their parental cocoon.   So it’s not actually a debate about “cocoon or not”:  we’re only debating the shape and size of the cocoon, the opacity and granularity of the filter.    (If you’re one of those strange persons who thinks your child should experience everything the random airwaves throw into your child’s personal space — you should be shot.   This discussion is not for you.) Continue reading “The Moral Cocoon versus The Intellectual Cocoon”

The Father Gives the Gift of Work to His Son

A single clear idea, well fed, moves like a contagious disease: “Physical work is wrong.” Many people besides [D.H. Lawrence] took up that idea, and in the next generation that split between fathers and sons deepened. A man takes up desk work in an office, becomes a father himself, but has no work to share with his son and cannot explain to the son what he’s doing. Lawrence’s father was able to take his son down in to the mines, just as my own father, who was a farmer, could take me out on the tractor, and show me around. I knew what he was doing all day and in all seasons of the year.

When the office work and the “information revolution” begin to dominate, the father-son bond disintegrates. If the father inhabits the house only for an hour or two in the evenings, then women’s values, marvelous as they are, will be the only values in the house. One could say that the father now loses is son five minutes after birth.

…the son does not actually see what his father does during the day and through all seasons of the year, a hole will appear in the son’s psyche, and the hole will fill with demons who tell him that his father’s work is evil and that the father is evil.

-Robert Bly, Iron John, p.20

I stole the quote from Carpe Cakem….I struggle incessantly with the feeling that my work (in an office) alienates me from my son.   This is the first time I’ve seen it written out.

Backtalk and authentic prayer





[Note:  “Backtalk” may be a regional term.  It’s familiar to me from growing up in small-town West Virginia.]

It seems the sweetest of children eventually hit a stage when they mouth off about everything.    Some parents call this “backtalk” and generally think it is to be suppressed as much as possible, or maybe just ignored.    But suppressing or ignoring  “backtalk” is often a mistake.    The child is exposing his heart and mind.   I can’t imagine why we would not want to know what he really thinks and feels.    Actually, listening carefully to backtalk is a treasured opportunity.   It is the pathway to friendship.   And if suppressed, it harms the child’s ability to pray authentically.

Christian parents see backtalk as just simple rebellion, and they fear rebellion more than anything else, because they tend to conceive their piety in a universe that has more of an Islamic flavor than a Christian one.    Not that rebellion is ok — it isn’t.  But disagreement or argument is not necessarily rebellion.   If you want a biblical sense of what kind of verbal honesty God can accept in a relationship, read the Psalms.    David was a backtalker.

Continue reading “Backtalk and authentic prayer”

Pyramid Religion and Parenting

In Islam, God is the Ruler.  He sits atop the pyramid of the cosmos and watches everything down below to keep them all in their right place.  In this type of religion, the problem of our world is disorder and the solution is His will.  Force.  Dominion.  Obediance or rebellion.    All that matters is His will.  You don’t matter a damn, except as an agent of compliance.

Oh, sure, in this cosmos, God is “merciful” — which means that occasionally He doesn’t kill you when you deserve it.  But His mercy is a mystery in the bad sense of the term; it emerges from a black box, nobody can predict it or count on it. So we are like the man in the familiar parable who has inexplicably been saved from the firing squad by a last-minute message from the unseen emperor.    Except…add to this parable the little detail that THE FIRING SQUAD RE-CONVENES EVERY MORNING.

In the Old Testament, God also sits at the top of the pyramid, but the story is a love story.   He at least tries to find ways to reach the bottom in a search for teh heart of His beloved people.   In this cosmos, “love” or “mercy” are not emerging from an utter black box, because it is rooted in His personality.  He is lonely in His core. Think of it:  He says He needs us — or, Israel, at least.  So His love is not an occasional add-on to the inner core of His personality.  He made us, not as a hobby, but because He is Social, social in His core.   It’s either the Trinity or a pyramid.

But there is enough of “God at the top of the pyramid” verses in the Old Testament that the West imbibed it as a moral vision.  After all, it is the order of the political world, so it is nice and neat that it should be the order of the spiritual world.

The New Testament is a radical document because the Incarnation turns the pyramid upside down. No other religious assertion sets out frankly to flip the cosmos over and over like a child turning handstands.

Christians like their pyramid religion.   Christian preaching and apologetics is not supposed to be an argument over what is the name of the guy at the top of the heap.   It’s amazing how many Christians think of their universe as a traditional religious pyramid, with Jesus in the seat of Allah.   Well,  Jehovah would hardly have needed that whole crucifixion drama accomplish that.

So Christians have Jesus at the top of the pyramid and that is how the universe works.   Sure, it is “by faith”, which is the best of all the edicts to issue from the apex of the universe.

So, they parent from the top of the pyramid.   And then, consistent with that vision of the universe, their children rebel.  We observe that the Western world has seen the emergence of a distinct stage of life marked by inexorable rebellion, because we parent like Islam but can’t quite stomach the necessary level of enforcement to carry it off.  What’s our solution?  Easy:  it’s a feature, not a bug.   Baptize it and call it normal.

Many Christian parents, along with all the rest of the non-Islamic world, have recognized that imperious parenting is not good, they themselves rebelled against it, and so they react by being permissive parents.  And then their friends — or they themselves after they suffer that typical mid-life return to their childhood religion – they react to the Western secular permissiveness by re-ascending the old pyramid and imposing their will on their children.  And evangelical pastors preach sermons on how children should obey their parents (instead of on how to love like God).   And the cycle goes on forever.

No, the opposite of fundamentalist strictness is not worldly liberalism, but Christian agape.  In the New Testament, God found a way to the bottom: become the bottom.  Now, all fathers are givers, or they are not fathers.  Father, now, is not that person who sits at the top but that person who comes to find the son in the garden every day.

Now, both permissive parents and strict parents are revealed to be: lazy.   Truth is, it is actually easier to rule the pyramid than it is to enter the flesh of the beloved.  Infinitely easier to rail and rant and throw lightening bolts from the depth of the storm than to be a baby in a manger.  Nothing is harder, and more nourishing of the child, than love.

Oh, I hear the concern of those who think I’m destroying the authority of God. Relax: the pyramid is not gone.  God still sits on the top, and is still to be feared.  It’s just that He also plays at the bottom, and is available to be loved.  So the bottom has become the top, and the top the bottom, in a ceaseless dance up and down the steps. And — the key point — His presence at the bottom makes His seat at the top an object of devotion, transforming an alienating fear into an integrating piety.

Don’t be a Christian who mouths Christian sentiments but teaches your child the universe is Islam.

Bring the toddlers to the Word (Douglas Wilson)

Pastor Wilson speaks for those of us who think that “seeker sensitive” started in “children’s church” and ends in Ipod Church, where every person just downloads their own church service and plays it into their ear buds.


Many years ago we made the decision to disband our children’s church and nursery, and go to a system of parents training their little ones to worship with us. We have cry room, and so on, but the intent is to have our children grow up into the worship of God. We have had many reasons to rejoice in that decision, and we don’t regret it at all.

At the same time, the point of this exhortation is to let you parents know that we know how much work you do, and to encourage you in it. It is good work, work that will bear fruit for many years, over many generations. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the long view, especially if you have five children under the age of seven, and all of them are squirmy. It is easy to lose sight of that when you haven’t heard more than ten minutes of a sermon at a time in three years, and you wonder if you will ever be able to listen to a sermon again.

But the life of Christ is not best represented by listening to a lecture, undistracted by anything. The life of Christ is pulled in many directions, just like you are being, and you are willing for this to happen so that your children may come to worship the Lord. Laying it down for someone else this way is our glory. It is a sacrifice to bring them to the Word, to the psalms, to the wine and to the bread.

So don’t measure what you get out of these worship services with carnal balances. The weight of glory you are carrying is far beyond the weight of toddlers in your lap.

“Vanished on the altar of therapy” (Victor Davis Hanson)

Works and Days » Ten Random, Politically Incorrect Thoughts

The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is. An entire American culture, the West itself, its ideas and experiences, have simply vanished on the altar of therapy.



This generation of evangelicals really is fatherless and adrift. They know that, they ache over it, they cannot pretend not to know it, but they have no intention of turning back to their fathers. And that means repentance has not yet been given.

—    Douglas Wilson, reviewing The Shack.

Evangelicals have lost fatherhood, because they lost husband-hood, because they denied gender.  You can have “parents” all day without gender, but not “fathers” and “mothers”.  The fact is that evangelicals are EMBARRASSED by Paul’s clear assumption that men and women have different functions,  within marriage, in parenting, and in general.  Evangelicals are MORTIFIED by Paul on gender.

You can’t have fathers when the two spouses cannot be differentiated in their gifts.  And we can’t have such differentiation because it leads inexorably to functional hierarchy, which we cannot have, because we know it is not true (it does not match our EXPERIENCE).   So, evangelical exegetes routinely tell us that any NT text which seems to reflect marital hierarchy actually means… the opposite.

We actually still have motherhood, but fatherhood has been re-defined…as the same thing as motherhood.  So fathers are nothing more in the life of the child than stand-in and second-rate mothers.

Evangelical women have been relieved to hear their secular sisters have been right — and previous generations of believers wrong — about the misogyny of the New Testament.   They get the salvation part but none of those pesky careless moments where the writers lose touch with God and lapse into telling us how to live — er, “law” and / or “cultural prejudice”.

So when men and women live together as married people they submit to each other, which is harmless, because there is no female or male role — just a common vague practicum, at which we can regularly confess our mutual and equal failure.

Female parents and male parents are different.  They have different strengths and weaknesses.  There are heroic single parents, whom God blesses.  But the totality of a parenting effort is weak if it includes no distinctively MALE parenting.   Fathers who leave are bad men.   And passive fathers were first weak men,  who’ve often thrown away biblical authority,  just because it said some practical things we thought insulted our dignity, even as it challenged us to be more fully ourselves.

see also this.

Two teachers, but in this order.

Villainous Company: To Love, Honor, And Cherish

“It is often said that great achievement requires in one’s formative years two teachers: a stern taskmaster who teaches the rules and an inspirational guru who teaches one to break the rules. But they must come in that order. Childhood training in Bach can prepare one to play free jazz and ballet instruction can prepare one to be a modern dancer, but it doe s not work the other way around. One cannot be liberated from fetters one has never worn; all one can do is to make pastiches of the liberations of others.” 

(Michael Lewis, an art professor, in the WSJ)

Notes from Neil Postman: “Amusing Ourselves To Death”

The Typographic Mind:  “…the capacity to comprehend lengthy and complex sentences aurally.”

The Peek-A-Boo World:  The invention of the telegraph made possible, for the first time, people to get lots of information every day which they need do nothing about. This is Postman’s central, most useful concept, what he calls the “information-action ratio”.   The information revolution  began in the 1840’s then, because the new medium was suited to breaking up exposition into factoids.   Most of his subsequent criticism of our television culture is simply an extension of this observation about a tipping point in a ratio — not in a supposed antinomy between pictures and words, which is what Postman spends the rest of the book embroiled in.


“Although one would not know it from consulting varous recent proposals on how to mend the educational system, this point – that reading books and watching television differ entirely in what they imply about learning – is the primary educational issue in America today.”


Three education crises in the history of the world:  5th century BC, when Athens transitioned from oral to written culture (to understand it, read Plato); 16th century AD, when Europe invented the printing press (to understand it, read John Locke); and now, centered in America, and the question of television.


Postman:  Orwell predicted the end of thought through an imposition from an oppressive external power.  Thought will die from constraint of truth.   Huxley predicted the opposite; thought will die in an environment where truth is not constrained at all.  Postman says Huxley, not Orwell, got it right:  Big Brother will not watch us; we will watch him, voluntarily.

Studeo: eager to study

First Things » Blog Archive » One College That’s Getting It Right

Like many of us reading these pages, I was in the middle of that spring migration known as “bringing the kid home from college for the summer break” (and, we hope, the summer job). My daughter and I were having breakfast at the local diner with seven of her friends (who had helped us schlep her gear to the car–always a good idea to reward cheap labor), and I was asking them about their first year in college. What did they like about it? What didn’t they? What were the big surprises, how were the roommates? All those kinds of questions I’ve learned are fairly innocuous ways to get to know 19-year-olds and to pick up a little local flavor and some entertaining gossip. After a couple of sentences complaining about the food, they were ignoring me and talking between themselves. Talking about Aristotle. And Plato. About the nature of virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics and how Verdi captured love of country in “Va pensiero” from Nabucco. (“I’m not Italian, but I cry every time I sing it,” one of the girls said.) And what they were most excited about was coming back in the fall and studying the Bible. And the Gospel of John. In Greek. Like I said, I was stunned.

These kids loved ideas. And they spoke knowingly about them, but without arrogance or a pretended sophistication. They weren’t showing off for the visiting daddy professor; they were just doing at breakfast what they had been doing since September: thinking, and thinking about important things seriously but happily, too. (The importance of “fun” was part of the discussion.) The talk hadn’t been pushed in that direction, it happened naturally. These young men and women were truly college students. Studeo, from the Latin, “to be eager or zealous for.” They were eager for understanding. They had just finished their freshman year at St. John’s College in Annapolis—and they could hardly wait to get back.

The Essence of Fatherhood Is The Giving Of Gifts

What is the activity of the father toward the son? He gives his son gifts.  And Giving is not an incidental activity, nor even some chosen discipline extrinsic to the father’s core — the giving of good things to the son ”is” the father.  God is love.

This giving is not for any purpose.  The father has no particular end in sight, except the blessedness of the son.  And the greatest the son can receive is to receive the father.   They love each other, and will, forever.

What is a gift? An ability. A power. A skill, knowledge, sensitivity, perception. There is no limit to the list, for the sum of all the gifts is the father’s character, which, insofar is the father is a father, is infinite.

Since all gifts are abilities, and that means a personal ability which the father possessed before he could give it, then all true gifts are personal and to recieve a gift is to participate in the personhood of the giver. Yet each gift frees the son ever more to be himself, since his own personhood is bigger now, and not at all a reduplication of the father, but rather a variation on the father, subsuming all that the father is, and then more, because the gift in the son is now the father/son in the son.

Continue reading “The Essence of Fatherhood Is The Giving Of Gifts”

Sex and Violence

I think it’s pretty clear that God made us to 1) enjoy our own spouses’ nakedness (but no-one else’s), and 2) be non-violent. The closer we can come to these primal conditions, the better. They are not unconnected, as it first appears, since both fidelity and peace are simply aspects of love. When Jesus changes the heart these expressions of love become more nearly natural to us. Otherwise, like all standards of behavior which do not carry grace, they make us despair.

Yes, sex and violence are connected in the all-embracing law of love but talk about them tends quickly to confusion, so let’s talk about them separately.

Sex: God draws bright lines. Inside marriage there is no restraint on full visual eros, but outside the nuptial bower He gives the gift of modesty, just as full. There is no biblical visual depiction of sex from the spectator’s point of view. (Contrast this with violence: there are many descriptions of violent acts, both just and unjust.) There are one phrase descriptions: “rape”, or “Adam knew his wife”. So sex was not made to be seen, from the outside. At all. (We might add that if you’re only watching, you’re falling short of the glory of God.)

In Orthodox iconography the the profile is the beginning of absence. The icon assumes a personal I-Thou relation between the viewer and the person(s) on the board. Likewise, God made the naked human form for an I-Thou moment. The female form is for the husband to look at. So in God’s visual vocabulary there are agnostic lacunae, and here is one of them. Sex is to be un-picturable. The two lovers look at each other, but no-one else looks at THEM. Why? For the same reason that hearing God’s voice is un-describable: the love is so pure the subject-object distinction breaks down — this is ecstacy — and in the midst of the act the perception of the beloved’s form is no longer distinguishable as a separate complex.

The OT is full of the assumption that bodies will be modestly covered, and Jesus and the apostles simply continue that assumption. I can’t find any text in the gospels that suggests that Jesus would have had any different sensibility about sex than Moses.

The Song of Songs? The moral color of the document is contained in its literary voice: two lovers, talking to each other. So it is precisely NOT a depiction of sex in profile, but the record of two lovers talking to each other. We get to see them court. So the Song gives us permission to be fully erotic — visually erotic — with our lawful beloved — but has nothing whatsoever to say about watching sex from the outside. Marry her, and do what you will.

“Art”? There are obviously great masterpieces of Western art depicting the nude form. But I see no biblical category called “art” which somehow carves out a moral lacuna where God’s attitude changes. We in the church have imbibed the world’s cult of genuis, that innovation of the last few centuries; if the art genii descends upon the artist, he enters a special moral world. Christians who like to think of themselves as sophisticates, or intellectuals, or relevant seem to like to prove their credentials by looking at a naked picture with a pale face.Does this mean we become Amish? No, no reason to leave the world. But also no reason to make up justifications for crossing boundaries the New Testament does not explicitly remove.

“Prude”? Somebody made that concept up in about 1920. I don’t know what the New Testament word for that is. So we shouldn’t use it to make each other feel shameful about modesty. I take my young son to museums, and don’t cover his eyes in front of Venus. We have to live in the world. So we take the opportunity to talk about why the Venus makes him feel funny, and I try to preserve his natural tendency to blush at her — not get him over it! — because his 8 year old blush will feed into ardor for his future wife.

Violence. The bible is full of violence, as her critics never tire of telling us. Of course it is, and I’m glad; in a world full of injustice, no just god could ever write a sacred book not full of both forgiveness and violence. Of course if a depiction of violence makes you more likely to act violently that is not good for you, because God has reserved violence to Himself (and the State, but that’s another story.)

But the restraint on violence is not a taboo on enjoying vengeance; biblically, it is not only appropriate to enjoy just revenge, but also to long for it. To see injustice and not want to see the perpetrator smacked around is inhuman, and a frigidity not required of us at all. We actually enjoy justice because we are like God. But we are, as Christians, so enamored of God’s ability to do perfect justice that we can wait till Judgement Day.   “How long, O Lord, till we are avenged?”

My entire point here was to draw lines where God draws them.  Sex is reserved for husband and wife and no other; violence is reserved for God, and not us. 

But, like in all other facets of God’s will for us, we should talk about these things for about 5 minutes before we remind ourselves that we need Jesus to change our hearts.  Or we despair of it all.

On Socialization and Homeschooling

In a room of 100 public school teachers, do this little thought-experiment (don’t tell them what it is about):

1. Ask them to write down 3 traits they like about themselves, and the people who, in each case, they most learned that trait from.

2. Ask them to write down a moment in their lives when they started down a path they now regard as a wrong path. Then, ask them to name the one person who was most influencing them at that point in their lives.

If they are sufficiently unaware of your agenda as to not bias the answers, the overwhelming majority (perhaps all) of the answers to #1 will NOT be friends from school, and the overwhelming majority (perhaps all) of #2’s answers WILL be friends from school.

Case closed. THEY don’t believe the “socialization” in public schools is positive. It is simply a religious dogma they have required themselves to believe.