Where Do Babies Come From?

When I was growing up back in the thirties and early forties of the last century adults did not talk to little children about where babies come from. Society was still quite Victorian.

If there had been a birth, a tiny infant would just turn up in a mother’s arms at church. Children were of course curious but were discouraged from asking questions, and simple answers were not offered.

If a child did ask where babies come from there was always the story of the stork with a baby wrapped in a diaper suspended from its beak. Storks made the deliveries. We children knew very early that it was just a made-up story.

I recall coming in from play one day when I was seven and finding my much older married sister, Ruby, sitting with my mother in our living room.

Mid-afternoon visits were not common so on the side I asked Mother why she was here. I was told her ankles were swelling and Dr. Creighton was coming to see her. That was all. Not many weeks after that I learned that she had a baby and that, at my young age, I was an uncle. It was all so mysterious.

Like any child I had a natural curiosity about such mysteries so I worked out my own theory. For one thing, I noted that it was usually the mother who carried the infant into our little church on a Sunday.

I learned also by listening guardedly to adult conversations that the baby’s existence was in some way connected to the mother’s recent visit to the little hospital on Fifth Street.

So, here was my theory: When a woman goes to the hospital for any reason, after she gets well and is about to be discharged, the hospital gives her a baby to take with her. I saw it as a going away gift that she could keep. I never went so far as to address the preceding question of where the white-clad nurses got the babies to give away in the first place.

My explanation satisfied me for a while and then it fell apart. Mae Darion was a single woman who worked for our family. At one point she was admitted to the hospital on Fifth Street for an undisclosed reason. Meanwhile, Mrs. Elliott from the west end of town was also admitted.

Both Mae Darion and Mrs. Elliott were discharged about the same time. But as I listened in on adult talk I learned that the hospital gave Mrs. Elliott two babies and Mae Darion none. I didn’t think that was a fair distribution of prizes. My theory collapsed.

I don’t think I was greatly cheated by being kept in the dark about these fundamentals of life in my earlier years. There was plenty of time in growing up to fill in the blanks and get a sensible understanding of reproductive processes.

Yet, unfortunately, children who aren’t instructed by adults near them may be driven by their curiosity to gather information from less trustworthy sources on the playground — sometimes helpful but usually crass.

This whole subject is in my thoughts these days because three days ago two of our grandchildren, Robyn and Richard, journeyed home from a Toronto hospital with a beautiful baby girl — Naomi Grace Junko Hicken. Two older brothers, Joshua (seven) and Alexander (four), had been well prepared and received Naomi joyfully even before parents and baby left the hospital.

In the weeks before Naomi’s arrival, Robyn tells me, there were plenty of questions, especially from the four-year-old. This was one of them:What was I before I was born? Was I air?” Robyn gave age-appropriate answers to this and other questions, but always made the point that all human life is from a God who loves us even before we are born and always will love us.

We have recently welcomed two more great- grandchildren, Isabel Grace Bastian and Eleanor Jane Ellis, and are already eager to welcome another at the end of the summer. In the months that follow, for Joshua, Alexander, and eventually Isabel and Eleanor, there will be many more curious questions for parents to answer.

And while we respond to the flow of down-to-earth questions little children ask about the biological origins of human life we must be sure to help them to ask and receive the fundamental God-is-our-creator answer that undergirds all others.

When the prophet, Jeremiah, announced his call to the prophetic office he began with the word as he had heard it from God: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jeremiah 1:5a). What security that assurance gives to young or old who embrace it — God created us, loves us, and knows us altogether!

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: R Hicken

Advertisements

Sex Education in Sexually Confusing Times (Part Two)

The Garden of Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field, circa 1860.

In the past seventy years our culture has made major social and legal shifts, purportedly to allow greater personal freedom to all. But these changes have created a quagmire that increasingly bogs society down and brings confusion to civic life.

Consider some of the shifts: traditional marriage reduced in priority, easy divorce, living together unmarried, same-sex marriage, casual sex without commitment, addiction to pornography, abortion as a “convenience,” and now transgender experimentation.

Where should Christians start in foundational teaching of our children on this subject?

For starters, we must remember that in the Christian community the Bible continues to be the primary sourcebook on what we must believe and how we must live. It is an ancient book but not scorned by wise people who find its counsel on such matters surprisingly contemporary.

The Bible does not say anything about techniques regarding sex, or the science of conception, or the practice of “safe sex” but it gives a good foundation to believers on the basics of reality and morality in this arena.

Consider how the story of creation is put forward at the threshold of the Scriptures (Genesis 1:1): “In the beginning …” There was a beginning. God was there already and he spoke. He didn’t need a box of tools because by the power of his word creation sprang forth with its unmeasured vastness and wonder. And, at the outset, it was very good.

Think of this introductory passage as a hymn to creation. Here is its climax: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). We are created to be stewards.

It gets even better: Notice that in the verse that comes next the word “create” is used three times. Notice also that God creates two distinct genders — male and female. Neither more, nor fewer: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God created he them, male and female he created them (1:27).

For Christians, this is where sex education begins, in the simple but profound declaration made by the God of creation. That’s why we respect our bodies and give God thanks for his provision of the fundamentals of our beings. These simple foundational points can be taught early in Sunday school, and especially in Sunday-morning services when God is worshiped in truth.

Chapter 2 of Genesis tells the creation story differently from chapter 1 but without contradiction. It begins with God’s creation of Adam and his assignment to care for the Lord’s park-like garden. Then comes a further provision: The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (2:18). This picks up on a theme in chapter 1 cited above: male and female created he them.

The Lord God then created animals and brought them to Adam to see what he would name them. But among them there was no creature suited to be the helper the Lord God had promised. There follows the story of how Adam got his wife so widely known but never boring to repeat with color. And from that ancient presentation there are profound hints about love and sexual attraction today.

This opening of the Bible does not end with a clean, idealistic account of the sanctity of marriage. It is equally candid about fallen man’s misuse and abuse of God’s holy gift. The issues of bigamy, polygamy, adultery, fornication, scandalous unfaithfulness to covenant — all these are addressed but never approved. The Bible gives us Jesus’ word that nothing in succeeding centuries erases God’s intention as addressed in the story of creation (Matthew 19:3-12).

Our Lord calls his followers to purity of heart (Matthew 5:8). The Apostle Paul exhorts believers to purity and fidelity in the strongest of words: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3).

The story of creation twice told ends with these affirming words: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The Bible has much more to say about our sexuality but it all begins here.

Bookmark and Share

Sex Education in Sexually Confusing Times (Part One)

The task of sex education is to help growing children, at the level of their understanding, to know that their sexuality undergirds and shapes their view of the world.

Their sexuality is not an aspect of being human that can be separated out and experienced independently. It is integral to the whole of their humanness.

Of course, there is a case to be made for the decisions about sex education to be the purview of the family and faith communities — and by a school only with parental consent.

But leaving that question aside to deal with the general matter of children’s education, the issue is not so much what information is taught as what assumptions and belief system underlies the information.

Society no longer universally holds to the Christian belief that human beings are far more than animals who are socially advanced and intricately developed. Biblical teaching is that all humans are unique creatures among God’s creative order bearing his image and accountable to him for their behavior.

Again in the general case, though with exceptions that prove the rule, a family of mother, father and children, provides the best environment. Wholesome sex education begins in the loving, respectful attitude of parents to one another and the children from infancy onward.

That doesn’t mean family relationships are always free from stress but that love and respect govern or “reign”. And it doesn’t mean that sex education is necessarily substandard in homes limited by the deprivation of one parent.

Christian sex education is based on the revelation that God created humankind to be male and female, each bearing fully his image (Genesis 1:26,27). From birth onward this differentiation of humans into male and female has serious implications. Sex education should help us to understand and rejoice in what God has created us to be.

Sex education can be enhanced in the home by the use of Biblically-based literature, videos and whatever other Christian resources are recommended by a denomination’s resources center. It’s best to let growing children acquaint themselves at times privately with whatever is made available to them, and as well at times in conversation with parents.

The intimate aspects of sexuality may thus be taught in a gradual way according to a growing child’s ability to understand. The Christian faith maintains that there is a mystery and metaphysical and spiritual aspect to sex and this must be respected in growing children.

Modelling is the means by which children are best helped to develop a sense of responsibility concerning their sexuality.

Because the sex act gives intense pleasure, some secular minds tend to treat it as nothing more than the satisfaction of a physical appetite. For such persons, the psychological and spiritual aspects may be ignored or devalued.

Those who promote such a view seem concerned primarily that sex be practiced safely, using the best of modern technology to avoid sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.

Christian wisdom is contrary to such a view. The Scriptures hold that sex within marriage is honorable while sex outside of marriage is labeled adultery or fornication — each regarded as serious sins (Hebrews 13:4). The Bible speaks forthrightly against premarital or extramarital sex as follows:

But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality (promiscuous behavior) or any kind of impurity (the wider range of illicit sexual conduct) or greed (insatiability) because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3).

In this very personal arena of our humanness the grace of God (His undeserved generosity) must be emphasized. It is His grace that enables sexual purity. And for those who have failed or are failing, he offers the grace of  repentance and forgiveness. In Christ, wholesome attitudes toward sex can be recovered and purity restored.

Photo credit: Márcio Binow da Silva (via flickr.com)

Bookmark and Share

How Powerful Are Genes and Family Influence?

I lost both parents 52 years ago this past Christmas season. My mind travels back to ponder ways I am like them due to the genes we share and my long exposure to their influence throughout childhood and youth.

As a young man, I was not wise enough to ask my parents many questions and write their answers down to save family lore. But their children (three older siblings, a ten-year lapse, and then me and my younger sister, Eunice) retained enough insights to patch together often-repeated highlights of their early days.

As well, Carol, our niece by marriage, has shown keen interest in our family history and her research has added to what we know.

My parents came to Canada from Lancashire, England, choosing to settle on the sparsely populated prairies in the West. My father arrived alone in 1904, one year before Saskatchewan was declared a province.

Imagine the resolve and courage my father and mother must have shown. At 20 years of age and not long married, Dad left my mother behind, boarded a ship in Liverpool, and sailed across the vast Atlantic Ocean to Halifax at the eastern ship approach to the young country of Canada.

In Halifax he boarded a train of turn-of-the-twentieth-century vintage and endured what must have seemed an endless journey of two thousand miles into something like oblivion—the unknown and largely unsettled prairies of Western Canada.

He landed in Roche Percee, where there was a developing coal mine in the southeastern region of what was about to be incorporated as the Province of Saskatchewan. His design was to put his coal-mining skills to work and thus provide for the arrival and support of his wife, Esther Jane (née Millington). She was able to join him five months later.

He had good reason to begin his life in Canada as a coal miner, because back in England at fourteen years of age he had been taken into the Lancashire coal mines to work full time with his father. This was permitted by law, and so by the age of 20 he was well qualified, having spent stretches of six years underground, digging coal.

Although he had completed only five weeks of schooling before being taken out of school permanently, he soon graduated from coal mining in Saskatchewan to become a market gardener and later a merchant. In today’s parlance we would say he had no education at all and few “marketable skills.” But he had ideas and vision and endurance.

He was also intensely motivated. This showed to the end of his life. Hard work was a challenge, not an insult or imposition. I remember him as restless, always moving, thinking of other possibilities. To the best of my knowledge he wanted to get out of the rut of the working poor. It was that, I believe, more than anything else that pointed them toward Canada.

His behavior and interesting brogue never let his family forget that he was a Lancastrian by birth and acculturation. In one sentence he might speak of the ’air on his ’ead. In the next his subject might be the hair in the hatmosphere. He never confused the patterns.

For my mother’s later journey to join him she had the association of some other family members. But she also had the added challenge of an ocean storm that kept the ship rolling in rough seas and the passengers secured below deck for several days. Then she had to face the same tedious railroad journey into the far reaches of the developing Dominion of Canada.

My mother’s family also was poor but she had a certain sense of propriety in her manner. She was the disciplinarian of our home. She had the notion that children should obey always never be “cheeky” with adults, and believed that laziness was an offense and would be sure to lead to the poorhouse. She read the Bible to us daily and I think that’s where she got some such ideas.

As immigrants from England to Western Canada, they had no savings to fall back on and no family behind them to rescue them. They knew that if they were ever to come to a place of reasonable security it would be by their own ingenuity and hard work.

I look back on their homesteading venture as noble. They were not complainers, but occasionally they gave us glimpses into how exacting their pioneering life had been. Once my mother spoke of a time of drought early in their days in Canada when she walked three miles across the prairies to the nearest neighbor to exchange turnips for a few carrots so there could be some variety in their diet. All of this helps me to understand why they lived so frugally right up to the end of their lives.

When I think of the early chapters of their lives as immigrants I am filled with awe at their courage and determination to establish themselves in the New World. They both lived to be 83. With a few weeks more than six years of education between them, they established themselves as self-supporting, responsible citizens.

If they were alive today they would blush to learn that I write this way. They were humble people, aware of their imperfections and those of their offspring. But God had put in them a flame of energy to achieve and they exercised it with a will. I treasure their heritage.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: foundin_a_attic (via flickr.com)

Re-post: Reflections on Fatherhood

Photo credit: jonboy mitchell (via flickr.com)On Father’s Day, June 21, 2009, I preached at Wesley Chapel in Toronto. In the sermon I included a tribute to my father as follows:

It is now 42 years since my father died, but I still think of him every day. Sometimes when I’m shaving, I see a likeness to him in the mirror. Or in the flow of the day I’m reminded of some ways in which I’m like him by temperament.

What a potent force fatherhood is if a father’s influence can remain active in a son’s memory and make-up for nearly half a century after his death!

My father was a small man, 5’4” tall and no more than 125 pounds even into his old age. But he was every bit a man, physically strong, agile, and one who faced life as a warrior.

He was not refined or cultured and for good reasons. At 13 years of age back in Lancashire, England, his father took him into the coal mines to mine coal. Imagine, at that age having to get up early, walk a great distance above ground to the mine entrance, and then walk a further distance under ground to the active section of the mine, there to put in a full day’s work. In the winter months he saw daylight only on Sundays.

He didn’t fare much better in formal schooling. At five years of age he was sent to school, but after six weeks he contracted scarlet fever and was taken out. He was never sent back. The family does not know how he was taught to read and write but I remember that he could write an adequate letter with no more misspellings than an average high school student’s, and he was an avid reader of the editorial section of the daily paper — in spite of his educational deprivations.

In the first decade of the Twentieth Century he brought his young bride, my mother, to the sparsely settled prairies of southeastern Saskatchewan. He started work there as a coal miner in a place called Roche Percy, Saskatchewan, because coal mining was all he knew.

He soon had a government-awarded homestead three miles south of Estevan and began market gardening. Then, while continuing that, he also sold Watkins Products in the area and, as a third job, continued to take coal from a mine in the side of the hill on his property. He eventually built a small bakery in Estevan which later, under the management of my older brother, Wilfrid, became a Red and White grocery store on the main street, owned by my father. Later still he established a second-hand furniture store—what was then called a furniture exchange.

He obviously was ambitious and entrepreneurial and I think he passed a portion of those traits on to me. He also worked very hard right to the end of his life and I think I gained from his example. Most importantly, although he was not an active believer until late in his life, he went to church regularly with the family. This reflected a value he held and it was because of that value I was kept under the influence of the gospel while I was growing up. To this day I am a beneficiary of his decisions.

My father was obviously limited in certain ways because of the poverty and dearth of social niceties in his upbringing. But he also had admirable natural qualities that were God-given, and from those I have gained immeasurably. I know that what he had he gave me without reservation and for that I salute his memory.

Bookmark and Share

Re-post: Renewing Fatherhood on Father’s Day

As both a calling and a developed skill, has fatherhood lost its nobility in society generally? Or is fatherhood doing reasonably well and complaints to the contrary are contradicted by the facts? The answer is somewhere between, but leaning toward the gloomier side.

Consider this prophetic statement by David Blankenhorn, in his book Fatherless America (1995): “The good news, largely ignored in today’s script, is that married fatherhood is a man’s most important pathway to happiness.” Blankenhorn makes this claim even though in his book he portrays an American culture in which fatherhood is not seen as a widespread blessing.

He writes that over the past two hundred years, fatherhood has lost, in full or in part, each of its four traditional roles:

1. Irreplaceable caregiver. 2. Moral educator. 3. Head of family, and, 4. Family breadwinner (with the understanding that sometimes this role has to be shared or reversed).

Blankenhorn writes, “In 1990 more than 30 percent of all children [in the United States] were living apart from their fathers – more than double the rate of 1960.” He goes on to say, “Scholars estimate that before they reach age eighteen, more than half of all children in the nation will live apart from their fathers for at least a significant portion of their childhood.”

But that is only one side of the picture. The late esteemed newsman, Tim Russert, wrote a warm, affirming book about his father. It so moved his readership that it brought Russert nearly 60,000 letters and e-mails. Day after day he read them to the very last one and out of them came his second book, Wisdom Of Our Fathers, Lessons and Letters From Daughters and Sons.

The missives he received were overwhelmingly, though not entirely, positive. They described fathers who had been there for their children, had taken time for a bedside story, turned up at a spelling bee, played catch with them in the yard, and at times of need had given them good counsel.

They were not super-dads. The letters from grown children, according to Russert, admit there were flaws. But the commitment of which the children wrote was such that it has left an enduring imprint on their children’s memories.

Now a new e-book, The Demise of Guys, available on Amazon.com, addresses the picture more darkly. It speaks with insight of the malaise among the general population of young men today. The book notes quite broadly a lack of energy among young men to make full preparation for a full life, the lack of interest in developing long-term relationships with women, certainly lack of motivation to get out on their own and make their own way in life. This phenomenon is obvious enough that it keeps coming up in other social opinions spoken or printed.

The author of The Demise of Guys traces the causes that he believes have contributed to this state of affairs – such as excessive time spent during developing days on the internet, video games and especially the hurtful, pervasive influence of pornography. He explains the effect these addictions have on the brain to deaden the pleasure zones and motivations for a fulfilling life.

The celebration of Father’s Day this June 17 brings this conflicted issue of fatherhood back into focus. It would be a good Sunday on which to look at the two contrasted above pictures of fatherhood.

It would be a good Sunday for Christians everywhere to gather and pray unitedly for the fathers in their connections. And it could be made a time for fathers themselves to ask their HEAVENLY FATHER to father them afresh, giving grace to embrace their four assignments — Irreplaceable caregiver, moral educator, head of family, and family breadwinner (noting that this role must sometimes be shared or reversed) — with divinely endowed courage.

Photo credit: JeffS (via flickr.com)

Bookmark and Share

In Your Opinion, Was Buckie Treated Properly?

Angry childWhen Kathleen taught preschool she started each new group of children with a little exercise. Addressing one of them, she would say, “Betty, please pick up this piece of paper.” When Betty complied, Kathleen would lead the children in a round of applause saying in a musical voice, “Oh, Betty obeyed me!”

Soon afterwards she might say, “George, would you mind closing the door?” George would respond and the class would be led in another round of applause. This is how she taught the meaning of the word obedience.

One day she said with mild excitement, “Okay, everybody please stand up.” Four-year-old Buckie refused. She asked him three times to be sure he understood his own response. Each time, his response was, “No, I won’t.”

Recognizing this as a challenge, Kathleen picked him and his chair up together and moved them gently to the nearby wall. She explained, “Everyone in my class must obey me. If you can’t obey me then you can’t share in what the rest of the class is doing.”

Buckie’s face clouded. Even for a four-year-old isolation from the group can be unpleasant.

Needless to say Buckie soon relented and joined the class. He never balked at Kathleen’s instructions after that day. Children are pliable and learn quickly what does and doesn’t work.

Resistance to authority is an inborn trait and must be addressed, brought to consciousness, and appropriately restrained in the early years of life. Teaching a child to obey is actually the child’s first step toward freedom.

A significant number today might see Buckie’s treatment as controversial. “A little child should be allowed to assert himself,” some may say. Or “leave him alone and he will figure it out for himself.” Or even, “Humor him a bit.”

Christian parents, however, should see their children with Christian realism. Early in life every human being is prone to resist authority and we all must learn, as Buckie was learning, to obey the requests of parents and teachers and eventually managers, bosses and civic officers.

We take our tips on these things from the Scriptures. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Parents are to be the teachers, insisting on obedience.

Recall that, to raise the child, Jesus, God chose devout parents, who as pious Jews followed the requirements of the law toward him (Luke 2:39). “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). From such parenting, we are told that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

A recent rash of teenagers physical attacks on teachers in the classroom and vulgar hate songs against law officers in the streets should alert us that children left to grow up however they please makes for incivility and even violence as a way of life.

Picking a child up, chair and all, and isolating him for a brief moment is not a bad way to tell him in the earliest years that legitimate authority must be obeyed. The four-year-old learns early what is true throughout life: that we all face boundaries and comply with rules and we must be taught the art early.


Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Mith Huang (via flickr.com)