"Vulnerable Children, Divine Passion, and Human Obligation
by Walter Brueggemann
Brueggemann greets the reader with imagery of the she - bear of scripture (2 Sam. 17:8, Proverbs 17:12, Hosea 13:8) passionately poised to protect her young. He reminds us that God is like that. [TCITB p. 399-400].
He talks about nurturing our own young, generation after generation, with that same passion in the face of the ever-present temptations to take much easier cultural paths. It's easy to forget that, as he says, these paths are mediocre alternatives compared to the one that calls us to maintain our God-given identity and hold fast to much richer deeper memories, heritage (or tradition), and hope that we share following the Way of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
He cites Exodus 12-13. He talks about the Passover celebration as a tool for recognizing that we are part of an "odd" community, a tool that helps impart not only the understanding that we are different but it is also a tool to share identity and worth with children. It gives parents opportunity to share not only what God did for Israel past but for "me," the parent. He talks about redemption in light of God-given value using examples of OT redemption but not without traditional evangelical language. [TCITB p. 400-406]
He talks about the need for saturation. He talks about the tendency for uninvolved children to question and challenge what is so very personal and present for their parents but scripture (and the Passover celebration) equip us and encourage us to be ready with answers. He suggests that perhaps the approach in Exodus 12-13 more targets younger children and Deut. 6, older children. [TCITB p. 402-5]
He reminds us that God told His people, "[when you grow prosperous. . .] do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." (Deut. 6:11-12) Among some subtle and less subtle references to affluence he says, "affluence will produce amnesia: by contrast, the sons and daughters of oddness will recognize that they have been treasured." [TCITB p. 407] He says that despite "saturation nurture in oddness . . . [i]t is predictable that in this saturation nurture some impatient, nearly contemptuous teenager will ask, "what is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?" [TCITB p. 407] He says, "Soon or late, the children of oddness must come to see that the oddness is about a demanding ethic that anticipates response to the requirements of YHWH. This community not only receives the world differently from YHWH; it also enacts the world differently in glad response to the many gifts of YHWH." [TCITB p. 408] He explains this better than I am.
He looks at Joshua 4. He talks about Israel and the stones at the Jordan. He says, "Now the community is moving stones around in the Jordan River. The narrative knows that if you move stones long enough through a complex narrative, some child will ask: 'what do these stones mean?" (Josh. 4:21) And then, once again, the adults are ready with an informed response both proclaiming the promise and acknowledging that we live by it. [TCITB p. 408-409] There is something here too to consider about story-telling and creating curiosity in children. You appreciate food more when you're hungry. I (usually) remember answers to the questions I ask better than random information.
Brueggemann says, "This entire set of transactions between parents and children represented in these three central texts is designed to inculcate the children into a particular version of reality that is rooted in miracle and that eventuates in covenantal obligation." [TCITB p. 409] This is an interesting discussion.
"With the fierce dedication of a she-bear, the parents intend to situate their children in this particular version of reality; the educational process is intense and insistent, because the life and identity of the children are at stake through this interaction, for life and identity of a particular kind are of course in jeopardy if children fall out of the lore of the family, whether by negligence, resistance, or seduction to other versions of reality." [TCITB p. 410] This is not so much a how to as it is vision and encouragement to saturate our children in that which will grow faith, identity, worth, and obligation as one of God's children.
Brueggemann talks about transition. He says, "Nurture and socialization are a process-through education, liturgy, and many forms of saturation-concerned for and contained within family and clan." The socialization process distinguishes between 'us' and 'them'. He sites Joshua 24:14-5. He says, "There is no doubt that the Old Testament expends immense energy on the 'in group'. . . Given that fact, however, it is also clear that the Old Testament, in its final form, also knows that 'the others' are on the horizon of faith and cannot be excluded from covenantal perspective." [TCITB p. 410] God is God of heaven and earth. He says, "In a contemporary society of narcissistic fear and acute self-preoccupation it is important to make the connection between familial peculiarity and a more inclusive awareness that issues in larger responsibility." He looks at how we can do that (extend our caring beyond our own circle) with the biblical passion of the she-bear. He encourages policy making focused on "protection, care and valuing that are as unconditional as the unconditional regard we know for our own children." [TCITB p. 411] Again, this is not a how-to but vision for saturating our children in a faith that will carry them through adversity to reach out and care for a world much greather than their own circle with that same passion they were raised with.
He emphasizes that children left alone without adult advocacy and protection even in our society are as vulnerable today as in ancient times. He proposes that biblical "'welfare' concerned not only food and physical safety, but also nurture in respect, dignity , and well-being" reflecting the very nature of God. [TCITB p. 412]
He cites Deuteronomy 10, Hosea 14, Psalm 10. In Psalm 68, he discusses God as father to those who by definition have no father. He notes the verbs in Psalm 146:7b-9 as powerful "doing" words and notes the people groups who benefit. [TCITB p. 415] He has a wonderful paragraph tying God's character to our obligation to do.
In the last pages of his article (and the book) Brueggemann makes a strong biblical argument in the form of cause and effect focusing on attitude adjustment that will ultimately lead to changes in our choices and actions reflecting IMO an ancient and fast disappearing "fear of the Lord'. [TCITB p. 4:16-4:20]
The author concludes showing us again how nurturing our own children and defending and caring for children who aren't our own are "elements of the same agenda." He cites Matt. 7:9-11, James 1:27, Malachi 4:5-6, John 14:18 to reinforce his point.
A nice conclusion for this book.