I met a woman this past week who had given birth back in the summer and she was at that stage where all she wanted was a night’s sleep. Her baby had started out having his days and nights turned around, then he’d gotten one ear infection after another. She’d taken six months maternity leave, but now was having to go back to work and wasn’t sure how she was going to do it. Listening to her, I remembered when Spencer was about that same age and began getting ear infections that the doctors seemed unable to cure, so we asked her mother, Ruby Apple, what to do. Joan’s mother was a walking encyclopedia of farmer almanac, old-timey remedies. Rub a potato slice on spider bites, for instance, or rub Vick’s Vapor Rub on your stomach to get rid of unwanted fat. So we asked her what you did when your baby had an ear infection and she said for us to try whiskey, so we did, but it only made us lightheaded and woozy.
Oh, babies. I was thinking this week about how major religions identified their leading characters. The Dalai Lama, for instance, was discovered living with a peasant family in a small village in Tibet at the age of two. Mohammed was 40 years old when he was visited by the angel Gabriel and received his first revelation from God. We’re not sure when Buddha was recognized as the Buddha, but we do know it didn’t happen until after he had died. We know roughly 400 years passed before his teachings were written down.
Christianity, on the other hand, began with a baby, whose status was known even before he is born, or so the gospels tell us.
“You will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” the angel Gabriel told Mary.
“You will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
I’m not pointing this out as evidence of Christianity’s superiority. I wouldn’t want you to say, “Aha, Jesus’s greatness was known even before he was born. That means Christianity is better than other religions.” I’m not saying that. I am saying we shouldn’t overlook the inclusion of an infant, since it is a rather unique event among religions and therefore merits reflection.
Concerning children, I heard two interesting comments recently. A woman and I were discussing the tensions between the United States and North Korea and she said, “Why don’t the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea realize we’re all children of God?” The second comment was made by an atheist friend of mine who said, “The problem with religion is that it infantilizes people.” I wasn’t sure what infantilize meant, so I looked it up just as soon he left. I had told him one could be Christian and intelligent, so didn’t want him to know I didn’t know what infantilize meant. It means to cause a grown person to act like an infant or child. The psychiatrist Sigmund Freud believed that. He thought religion kept adults from accepting responsibility for their own lives. He also thought cocaine would cure his stomach problems, so you might take his assertions with a grain of salt.
So if we go around saying we’re a child of God, are we regressing to childhood? Yes, of course some people use religion as an excuse to never grow up. They attribute everything to God, thereby denying their own responsibility for anything. I know a man who’s been fired from every job he’s ever had. When he talks about it, he says, “I guess it just isn’t God’s will for me to have a steady job. I think he wants me to depend upon him.” When he said that, I thought for a moment it was God’s will for me to shake him, but then I accepted responsibility for my own feelings and didn’t do it. Do you see how that works?
Religion can cause some people to regress to childhood, it can infantilize them, but it certainly doesn’t have to. So what does it mean when we say all people are children of God? What we’re saying is that those persons most precious to us, our children, and by that I don’t mean just our biological children, but the world’s children, in all their innocence, worth, and promise, symbolize our value to God. God loves us as we love them. We are God’s children. This is not an excuse to reject responsibility, it is an indication of value. We are God’s children. All of us. Which means the next time we get angry at someone and wish them ill, what we’re really doing is wishing misfortune to befall one of God’s children. It would be no different than someone wishing our children ill. Put yourself in God’s shoes.
Do you remember how people gathered in the streets celebrating when Osama Bin Laden was killed? Despite all the evil he had committed, I was sickened by that, and I figured out why this week. I thought how heart-wrenching it would be to have a child who, despite your best efforts and deepest love, perpetrated great evil, then for that child to die before they had committed themselves to a more loving path. It is never a cause for celebration when someone’s child dies so deeply broken.
We are God’s children, all of us together.
We were playing Play-Doh with Madeline this week. She made a little lump about the size of a jellybean, laid it on the kitchen table, then rolled out a little Play-Doh blanket for it. We asked her who it was.
“It’s baby Jesus,” she said.
“Who’s Jesus’s mommy?” I asked.
“Elsa,” she said. Elsa is the queen in the Disney movie Frozen.
“Well, then, who’s Jesus’s daddy?” Joan asked.
“Olaf,” she said. Olaf is the snowman in Frozen.
I was going to correct her, but then decided against it, because I thought it was pretty good theology. I mean, think about it, if God can have all these children, then why can’t Jesus have all these parents? Why can’t Jesus have all these people cherish him? And a snowman, too. What the heck!
What if that caught on? What if every adult loved every child as their own? Wouldn’t that be something!
Love widely, friends. Cherish, as you are cherished. Wherever you are, whomever you are with, give birth to love.