Further on the parenthood of all believers

Last year, Tony Jones waded into the blogosphere buzz about the death and/or decline of the Emergent/ing Church movement with a post titled, "So, You're Disappointed with Emergent..." Part of his response was this:

Third, I bet you're not disappointed with Shane Claiborne. That's because, to this point, Shane has made the very noble decision to live a chaste life, and he has committed his whole self to an irresistible revolution. Meanwhile, most of the founders of emergent are raising children and paying mortgages and coaching YMCA t-ball. Martin Luther King didn't coach t-ball; neither did Ghandi. Start a revolution if you want, but that's not a price that I'm willing to pay.

This paragraph left me feeling inexplicably depressed.

It wasn't until months later that an aphoristic comment from Amy Laura Hall crystallized for me what had troubled me about Tony's post. I can't do justice to Amy Laura's exact words, but it was something to the effect that not only will The Revolution not be televised, it will be the very thing we do while/by taking care of our kids and households, not the thing we must put those concerns aside in order to pursue.

Maybe we can't all by Martin Luther King, or Ghandi, or Shane Claiborne. But must we really choose between t-ball and revolution?

Maybe caring for children is the epitome, rather than the antithesis, of the revolution to which we're called.

Maybe revolution starts at home.

Granted, coaching t-ball can be, often is, a distraction from kingdom work, when it represents a retreat into the concerns of one's own nuclear family to the exclusion of the world around us.

But then, only the very worst t-ball coaches concentrate purely on the one player that is their own child. So even an activity that is motivated by the needs of one's own child redounds to the children of others.

In any event, any revolution that has no place for children is a revolution that is not worth being a part of.

My brother recommends Wess Stafford's book Too Small to Ignore: Why Children are the Next Big Thing. I haven't read it yet, but from what I've read about it, the message resonates: God cares about the poor and the vulnerable, and a huge proportion of the poor and vulnerable in the world today are children. We cannot claim to be faithful to Him if we don't keep faith with them.

For those of us without children of our own, being a part of the child-friendly revolution means being mindful of the welfare of kids and putting that thought into speech and action, in any of a million ways. Loving the kids already in our own lives, and acting for others through such things as charity and advocacy and involvement in our local schools and churches. Maybe even coaching t-ball.

For those with children, it means including our kids in our efforts to change the world, or our little corner of it. It doesn't mean protecting our kids from the realities of life, but bringing them up as revolutionaries in a world in need of revolution.

Some families do this in a radical way, defying the commonplace orthodoxy that a parent's first and foremost responsibility is to do whatever is "best" (read "safest") for her own children, and choosing instead to live with their children in neighborhoods or nations that the average middle-class American might fear as "unsafe" in order to minister incarnationally among the neighbors they love.

Many families do this in far more ordinary ways. Whether it's sponsoring a child, or participating in operation Christmas Child (or, better yet, a similar program in their own community), or planning as a family gracious ways to respond to the needs we see in our cities, or many, many, other actions, the revolution that starts at home must not also end at home. Children should not be a barrier, much less an excuse, for indifference and inaction to the needs beyond our homes. Indeed, children are often more sensitive than adults to such needs. Let us love them well -- well enough to allow them to participate in the change we hope to see in the world.


Michael said...

There is research that says (and is sited in Stafford's book) that somewhere around 80% of all Christians make the commitment before the age of 18, and yet the majority of churches and missions agencies devote less than 10% of their budget towards children and children's ministries.

So yeah, children should probably factor in to any revolution.

tony said...

Rachel, you're right, it shouldn't be an either-or. But the way it's too often set up, it is made to be that way. Let's hope that some of us can navigate both parenthood and prophetic witness.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...


I think there is a split between how things are and how things could be/should be. How things are is that people often are forced to choose between raising children or doing something meaningful. The problems with that (false) dichotomy:
(1) It applies almost exclusively to women.
(2) We need to redefine our perceptions of "meaningful," anyhow.
(3) Everyone could do both if everyone were committed to the greater community.

I found that being married (before having a kid even entered the picture) actually did sap some of the I-can-do-antyhing juice out of my system, because now I had another person to compromise with (another person who didn't feel like, for instance, moving to Mongolia). That said, there's something valuable in relationship, in the "iron sharpening iron" that takes place there, and children are an extension of the same. I also feel that children are very small and very dependent for only a short time, so it's not like it has to "ruin" your whole dang life to have them. It's funny (and surprising but pleasant to me) that I've gotten more done (in terms of pursuing ambitions both ecclesiastical and professional) since having a child than I did throughout my 20s without one, for what that's worth. I think having relatively little free time has intensified the snatches I have and made me hone my efficiency.

There certainly have been times I've been annoyed with people who take parenting as an excuse to let go of all responsibility outside the nuclear family. But I fault the larger culture that created such a concept as the nuclear family and placed such value on it that it's acceptable to further one's own self-interests at the expense of the community, even within the church. Heck, it's encouraged! (e.g., Come to our services and put your kids downstairs and don't bother volunteering except in the nursery.) I'm hoping as we raise our child(ren) to continue to bring them into our church and business and community life alongside us so that we participate together — even when that's hard, often because it is so unusual and unsupported.

Anyway, I'm quoting you on my blog, because you're putting it so very well.

Margot said...


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