Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Children Without an Inheritance” first appeared in the May 2000 issue of Touchstone.
Children Without an Inheritance
Prophecy, in the biblical sense, is more than foretelling the future. It is also trying to understand the present in the light of God’s revealing Word. For many people, perhaps for most people, the very idea that a magazine writer or their parish priest should dare to speak of “prophecy,” or call them to it, is ridiculous and lacking in humility. And yet, real prophecy is entirely about humility. It is the admission that God understands what we do not—what we cannot use our fallen human minds or limited human wisdom to understand. “Thus saith the Lord” is a surrender, therefore, and not a boast.
The need for such surrender struck me more fiercely than usual as I tried to sort through the accounts of the February murder of a six-year-old girl by a six-year-old boy in Michigan, and more intensely still as I read the reactions to it. As is too often the case, the boy was being housed (“raised” seems too approving a word) with his mother and her boyfriend, or as one paper described him, an “alleged uncle.” His father, meanwhile, is serving time in the county jail. There he informed authorities that people at the house traded crack cocaine for guns.
His report appears accurate. The gun the boy used to kill his classmate in their first-grade classroom was already “hot” before he pulled the trigger. He took it from a bedroom where it had been kept, loaded, by a now indicted nineteen-year-old man who also lived with him in the “flophouse” (what the local prosecutor called the place). When police searched the premises, they found both a supply of drugs and another stolen weapon, a twelve-gauge shotgun.
What the usual talking heads began to try to finesse, almost immediately, is the high correlation between this sort of gun violence and “non-traditional homes,” especially since such “homes” are frequently embroiled in a general criminality. If highly motivated reporters and police detectives, suddenly in the spotlight themselves, were having a hard time figuring out the details of the boy’s “home life,” one wonders what hope a six-year-old ever had of making sense of it. What would his definition of an “uncle” or of a “mother” or of a “father” be?
Thus, while calling the boy’s situation a “flophouse” may be only an example of a frustrated official’s resort to the language of melodrama to express his personal disgust, it can also be taken as a way of avoiding any comparison between this “non-traditional” home and any other. Likewise to talk about trigger locks and gun safety in the midst of this calamity (whatever their general merits) is to miss or to avoid the deeper matters of family and parental responsibility that touch us all, and just as irrelevant as a discussion of equipping bottles of crack with child-proof tops.
Even though we all know single parents who are diligent and faithful in meeting their responsibilities and in trying to raise their children properly, we ought to notice that they do so despite their circumstances and not because of them. It is difficult enough to live decently in this fallen world with the aid of every divine blessing, including an intact family headed by a father and mother, who are also a husband and wife, and more dedicated to God, to each other, and to their children, than they are to their appetites. To live well without such a gift is not “normal” or “an alternative family structure.” It is a miracle of human heroism and the result of a different sort of supernatural grace.
We may wince now, out of concern for giving offense, at words like “decent” and “intact,” but when God made his eternal Son man by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, he did not give his Son only a mother. God also provided his Son’s mother with a husband, and he gave his Son the same just and decent man to be his earthly father. God made them a complete family after the pattern that he had declared for the good of all mankind in the Garden of Eden. In doing so, God provided his Son with the sort of home in which he could grow in wisdom and grace among men and live out the perfection of his humanity.
Some may carp, of course, that we don’t live in the Garden of Eden, but then neither did Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They lived in the same fallen world and faced the same ordinary human problems that we do. Some will also ask in horror if I mean that wounded or broken families have been abandoned by God, but that is to ask the wrong question. Jesus Christ on the cross was not abandoned by his Father, and neither is anyone else who faithfully bears with him the cross that overcomes the fallenness of this world by divine grace, whether at home or anywhere else.
The correct questions are these. Is it right when men and women choose for their own children, or for anybody else’s children, less of a life than God Almighty chose for his only-begotten Son? Is it right when men and women, of their own free will, choose to provide their children with less of a home than God has given them the ability to give? Can it ever be right to choose an appetite for inanimate objects and fantasies (such as money, drugs, sex, power, or self-esteem) over the divinely given realities of husband, wife, children, and home? Does anyone have the right to play God with the lives of children, and to call his or her experiments an “alternate lifestyle”?
As we ponder these questions, we enter the realm of prophecy together, whether we want to or not. There we discover, almost at once, how utterly useless our private opinions are when matters of life and death depend entirely on the truthful declaration, “thus saith the Lord.” There we experience the prophet’s sorrow as we behold how rebellion against God deforms precious human lives, and we watch in horror as prior actions and choices of disobedience, ratified rather than repented of, continue to produce their awful consequences.
I observed this ongoing deformation of souls most clearly in a neighborhood in Kansas City, where I once served as the rector of a parish. The typical household in the area was mother, children, and current boyfriend, and if the children were not already in hell, they were certainly living in the suburbs of it every day of their lives. I tried to work with as many of the children as I could, and a few actually got interested enough to ask to learn more about Jesus and to be baptized. The boy who sticks in my mind couldn’t get his mother to walk the half-block to the church to see him baptized. The last time I saw him, he came to the rectory in tears because his “uncle” had sold his toys and belongings to raise money for a move to Las Vegas. “You can live for free in Las Vegas,” was the “uncle’s” theory.
Current feminist and liberal theory says that there is no advantage to the God-given form of the family that, under grace, is divided only by death. Now, under their new regime, death can become a regular member of the family through separation from God and from his plan for life.
Another thought strikes me, too, when I contemplate my own time as a six-year-old in parochial school. Fighting with a girl, let alone hitting her, would have been unimaginable. Boys, if they were going to grow up to be real men, never did such a thing. Just ask any of the nuns, lay-teachers, or priests who taught in the parish, or my father and grandfathers for that matter. No one used the word “chivalry” when we were that age, but we recognized it when we encountered it later in life. As a matter of fact, boys did not play with girls, except in group activities under strict supervision. When I was in fifth grade, an informal coed softball game broke out in the schoolyard after class. We boys wound up writing punishment essays for two weeks for our lack of respect for the girls, propriety, and the best sort of gentlemanly behavior.
My point is, then, that a couple of generations of feminist insistence that men and women, boys and girls, are completely interchangeable, and that chivalry is oppressive bunk, have begun to bear the bitterest fruit in actual behavior. None of this excuses what the boy did, but it does suggest that the grownups in his life were by and large working for his temptation and fall, rather than for his escape from sin.
And this leads me to one other thought—Where has all the wisdom gone? It seems like most old people today have forgotten to become wise. A great number of the seventy-year-olds and eighty-year-olds when I was a young man (before AARP and other lobbies turned them into an “interest group”) were genuinely wise, and willing to share their wisdom with the children of my neighborhood, grandchildren or not. They had taken their experiences in life and integrated them in some way with things greater than themselves. They could talk about the mistakes and sins of their youth, and even explain why they were mistakes and sins. They were, quite often, diligent and pious in their Christianity, without self-dramatization. When the times to pray and worship came, they were simply there in the church on their knees, without apology or other editorial comment. They were good for counsel. They were prophets.
I wonder if that boy in Michigan has ever known a single wise man or wise woman. The self-regard of senior rights and senior discounts seems to have displaced the honorable wisdom that was a fixture of my youth. It can’t be merely that the “youth culture” has stopped listening, since the idolatry of youth was well underway when I was a teenager in the 1960s, and yet so many of the elderly were still objectively wise. Older people with “I’m spending my children’s inheritance” bumper stickers might want to ponder that it’s not just the money. It is the inheritance of faith, culture, and civilization that they are spending, so that these children in Michigan have inherited all that was left to them.
—Louis R. Tarsitano, for the editors
Louis R. Tarsitano (d. 2005), a former associate editor of Touchstone, was a priest of the Anglican Church in America and rector of St. Andrew?s Church in Savannah, Georgia. He also was the co-author, with Peter Toon, of Neither Archaic Nor Obsolete: The Language of Common Prayer & Public Worship (Brynmill Press, Ltd., 2003).
“Children Without an Inheritance” first appeared in the May 2000 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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