Monday, April 29, 2013

A Lamentations Blog Series on Motherhood

As I mentioned, I am enrolled in Moody Theological Seminary, and for the last week or so, have been deeply embedded in the Old Testament Book of Lamentations. Whether this book is written by the prophet Jeremiah or not (there is some disagreement) is not of particular concern for my purpose, which is to apply the practice of lament to our current day.

As I read the book and studied what others have to say about it, it struck me how Lamentations is a social commentary: it includes everything from the expectations God set up for the Israelites, the consequences that would be incurred by their obedience or lack thereof, and the final straw that broke everyone’s back: the destruction of Jerusalem when God’s justice was poured out in 587/6 BC.

As the Israelites were a community of individuals just like we are today, it is fitting to study Lamentations’ components: disobedience in the form of self-centeredness, reliance on human wisdom, neglect of integrity and family responsibility, obliviousness to accountability and naively thinking everything is just fine in spite of those who warn otherwise. 

The ramifications of Lamentations are: consequences for putting ourselves first and being outside of God’s will, accountability for our own lapse in meeting our responsibilities, hurt and pain that we only experience after the fact, i.e. after our self-indulgent actions have passed.

The topic that has been on my heart heavily the last several years has been Motherhood. As I read Lamentations I realized that, just as Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets warned the people of their wayward ways for more than two hundred years, I have witnessed, beginning in my formative years and up through today, the respect for Motherhood shrink. And the saddest part for me is that much of this lack of respect comes from mothers themselves.

I came upon the idea of lament as social commentary in three theological journals. The first is the April, 2013, volume of the journal Interpretation which is conveniently dedicated to the book of Lamentations. Two scholars whose essays appear there are Erhard Gerstenberger and Beau Harris. Speaking on Lamentations generally, Gerstenberger writes: 

“I repeat my contention that Lamentations does not exclusively relate to one determined defeat and sacking of the holy city, but to a cumulated ensemble of defeats and humiliations, sufferings, and frustrated hopes.” 

This accumulation sums up my perception of the pressure and tension Motherhood finds itself under today.

Beau Harris explains my purpose in writing this series when he says, 

“authentic dialogue introduces all of its participants to new ideas, experiences, and insights that are brought to the dialogue by the many different partners.  
      Alternatively, a conversation between two people who agree on all their talking points will not stimulate growth in either person because nothing new has been introduced to them by the other party.” 

I’m raising some emotional issues that may bruise some and encourage others, but hopefully and prayerfully offer a beneficial perspective.

Derek Suderman and Conrad Grebel write, on pages 201-202 in volume six of the Journal of Theological Interpretation, that the lament is indeed a social commentary, addressed to a broad community which moves 

“lament from an individual encounter with the divine into a profoundly social context that highlights the significance of a listening community committed to hear such cries and discern a faithful response...”

They continue:

“Laments are also addressed to a social audience and thus function rhetorically as warnings, threats, accusations, and appeals for empathy and support. Thus, in addition to providing an empowering voice and significant social critique, the function of lament requires the attentive, discerning ear of those who hear or hear about these pained cries” (p. 209).

Suderman and Grebel cite theologian Walter Brueggemann with pointing out that lament challenges the status quo and promotes self-reflection and self-critique, bringing attention to an  “irritant” that “things are not right.”

So it is I begin a five-part social commentary on the fallen state of Motherhood, written as lament, based on the linguistic attributes and prominent role of suffering and sorrow found in the Biblical Book of Lamentations. 

"Arise, cry out in the night, 
as the watches of the night begin; 
pour out your heart like water 
in the presence of the Lord." 
                                Lamentations 2:19a

Saturday, April 6, 2013

How Fleeting the Time with Our Children

I just rode the Amtrak train to Chicago and back. On the way to Chicago, a young father sat with his daughter, and she appeared to be about eight-years-old. The father played games on his handheld the entire train ride.

On the evening train trip home from Chicago, a family of mom, dad, and two sons aged about 5 and 7, sat in the seats across the aisle from me. The mom and seven-year-old were directly across so it was hard not to observe their interaction, or lack thereof.

The boy had with him a large Rainforest Café drink cup that probably cost ten bucks or more, along with a rainforest toy frog. Obviously this family was on a vacation or leisure outing of some sort. Yet, the mom was engrossed, and I mean completely and totally engrossed, with playing a game on her handheld. I don’t play these games, but it looked something like the old Centipede game that I played on a big ol’ bulky arcade machine back in the 80’s when I was in college. You know—the games that cost jars of saved-up quarters in order to play.

The little boy talked softly, and when he did, his mom told him to “Be quiet.” He barely moved, and she loudly admonished him to “Sit still.” At one point she said, in a frustrated huff, to “Go sit by your Dad if you don’t want to sit here.” The poor child. The entire time the mom barely took her eyes off her game. Her frustration resided not in the son’s behavior, but in it being an interruption to her game. So the boy continued to play quietly with his Rainforest Café frog so mom could continue to white-knuckle it with the handheld.

About a half hour later, the little boy was fast asleep, his knit hat pulled down over his eyes due to the bright internal lights of the train, which do not turn off during the ride. He was leaning up against the cold hard side of the train, in a rather uncomfortable position. Looking over and seeing her son sleeping this way, the mom took a small camera out of her purse and took a picture of her son sleeping. She couldn’t pay one iota of attention to him while awake, but she’s all over him with a camera while asleep. After taking the photo, she went back to playing her game. Never occurred to her to take that young boy in her arms and nuzzle him into a more comfortable position against her body while he slept.

My compassion is as much for the parent, who is choosing to replace time with a child for time with Angry Birds or Tetris, as it is for the child. I know regret. My kids are grown and gone. That is why I write this. Oh the regret parents will have when they look back and see the wasted moments, the precious commodity of time they can never get back! If you have children, and they lovingly want your interaction, give it to them.

I’m not talking about indulging bratty behavior. I’m not talking about spoiling kids. The boy with the frog only wanted his mom’s interaction; he was not a brat. He was on a train, sitting next to his mom, and he wanted to share the adventure with her. He obviously did not find his expensive Rainforest Café cup and frog to be a replacement for his mother.

“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man’s life is but a breath.” Psalm 39:4-5

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10