In summary (and I know that I have mentioned this book ad nauseum) the author is a minor character in the book, who is trying to save his godson, Earnest, from his self-righteous parents. It is the kind of book that I would require all teens to read, if I were a Sunday school teacher, then spend weeks discussing it. But is also the kind of book that I'm sure many Evangelicals would want banned.
The other reason that I'm thinking about it is that my life has been consumed with child rearing . . . up until now. Last Wednesday, my last child finished high school.
Our experience in child rearing has crossed the entire spectrum of approaches. When we first had children, I was a hard-core evangelical and preparing to go overseas as a Navigator missionary. We (especially me) believed back then the following:
1) How a child turns out, spiritually, was completely in my hands.
2) Like forms, which hold poured concrete, the more rigid my boundaries were, the better the kid would turn out.
3) You could discipline sin almost out of a child. By discipline, I mean time-outs, taking away privileges and beating them. The Navigators, which we were around, followed the Bill-lunatic-Gothard approach of beating them with wooden spoons. This was based on the Proverb "Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child."
4) We must do our best to insulate the children from "The World" (whatever than meant).
We were always perplexed by the children of the godly people who completely rebelled. I've been told, and it may not be true, that Dawson Trotman's (founder of the Navigators) own children did not turn out so well. He was a strict disciplinarian. He had his kids memorizing Bible verses from the time they could talk.
In part of this spirit of protecting our kids, I had an honest thought that if we ever came home from the mission field, that we would try and recreate the "Wilderness Family" experience. This was a b-movie series about a family that dropped out of American society and went to remote Alaska (or somewhere remote) and lived off the land. I thought that would be best for my kids, you know, insulate them from anything that could be negative.
But I see things very differently now. First of all, I do think that God has given each child an independent mind and, while we do have a powerful influence on them, we can not determine their outcome.
Second, I really think many parents get caught up in their own self-esteem issues. One day, about 12 years ago, light went on in my head over this. One of my sons had on a very wrinkled shirt and we were trying to load up the five in our van to take them to church. Denise said to him that he must change his shirt because it would be disrespectful to God to wear a wrinkled shirt to God's house. Up until that moment, I might have agreed with her.
But I looked at my son and said, "You know, the real truth is that if you go to church with wrinkled clothes, it will make mommy and daddy look bad and we really want people to think highly of us. Just like you want to be liked in school. That is what this is all about. God doesn't care what you wear. I still would prefer you wear a non-wrinkled shirt but that is all about me looking good to other people."
In the Butler's book, the author makes it very clear, yet not blatantly obvious, that the motives of the parents are all about themselves . . . and looking respectable in their Victorian society (and feeling good about themselves in their insecure hearts).
I'm now at the conclusion that at least 80% of the motives of our child-rearing, when you look honestly, is about ourselves.
I want to come back and talk about this more. For one, I've had the observation that those kids who come out of the right end (meaning like Earnest's parents or the way I was 20 years ago) tend to follow one of two paths. They openly rebel or they are so fearful of disappointing someone (their parents, God) that they play the game of the quiet, good person for the rest of their lives. They, in other words, turn their brains off completely and become hollow shells of people.
I just got a notice that a friend of mine's son is going into the pastorate. I am concerned because he seems to be of the later group. I observed how he was raised and he was raised to never think outside the box his Evangelical parents had created for him. He never read anything but Christian things.
I have also observed in my own heart, that for some of my kids I can never see them in the traditional church. And, in an odd way, I don't want to see them there. The reason is, I would much rather them honestly encountering God on their own, than to go to church services (which I know they hate as much as I do) and faking it. Maybe in a perfect world there is a type of church that would encourage them to keep thinking, creating and yet be a Sunday morning type of church.
I want to come back to this. I've leaving on a trip in the morning to attend a scientific meeting in Beverly Hills (of all places) but I hope to write from there.