Sunday 23 October 2011

Helping our children to have a right attitude to work, rest and play

Image from Wiki Commons
In his book 'The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness' Tim Chester challenges Christians to examine the way we live our lives and to unmask the many self-deceptions that drive us to lead lives that at times seem out of control.

The Bible teaches that work and rest are both good, but in western countries like Australia, there is a constant playing out of two competing ethics, a ‘work-centred’ ethic and a ‘leisure-centred’ ethic. How can we achieve balance between work and rest? Chester points out that even the way we 'play' is driven by purposes other than the ultimate purpose of this important human activity. He comments:
"Even our time off can be hard work. Our secular age tends to give material answers to spiritual problems. So leisure has become a thing you 'do' or 'buy'....we no longer 'stroll' or 'ramble'; now we 'hike' with walking poles...leisure is no longer rest; leisure is consumption."
At the end of a week that for me seemed out of control and with Chester's comments about adults and play and as a backdrop, I want to suggest that the problems adults have working out a right view of rest (and work) might have many unintended consequences for others, including our children. Our children learn from us through the words we teach them, the lives we live before them and the relationship between both of these and our faith. Children can grow up to imitate us or at times reject that which we have taught and demonstrated. The latter might have positive consequences or simply lead them to other equally wrong and confused notions of work and rest.  Research on the loss of childhood play might be relevant in understanding the importance of play (as a form of rest) to our children. While I don't want to suggest that rest = play for the child (or the adult), changes in the nature of play and the amount of time that adults and their children devote to play is I think relevant to our understanding of rest.

The varied consequences of diminishing play time for children

Psychologists, educators and paediatricians see children’s play as so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child   [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child].

But in a clinical report to the American Academy of Paediatrics, Kenneth R. Ginsburg concluded that "...many children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play."

Major child rearing agencies, early childhood associations, paediatric groups and government agencies with responsibility for children and families have been raising serious questions about declining spare time, and in particular unstructured playtime for young children. For example, a UK report from 300 teachers, psychologists and children's authors claimed that the erosion of unstructured, loosely supervised playtime is dangerously affecting young people's health.

Ginsburg concludes that:

• Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.
• Play is important to healthy brain development.
• Through play children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.
• Play allows children to create and explore a world where they can achieve a sense of mastery.
• They can also conquer their fears while practising adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.
• As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence.
• Undirected play allows children to learn how to work and create with others, to share, to negotiate, and to resolve conflicts.
• When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace and discover their own areas of interest.
• Play is essential for the building of active healthy bodies.

How might the limitation of play in childhood limit understanding of work & rest as adults?

None of the research on play gives any consideration to the possible consequences of the loss of play to the spiritual well being of the child and its impact on later adult life. Neither does the Bible offer too much direct advice about the importance of play for children's health, development and general well being. But we do know that God ordained work and rest for our good, and in doing both we imitate him. We also know that in modelling the Christian life for our children, that they observe our actions as well as listening to the things we teach them. Could the way we structure our children's lives teach children things about work and rest that we never intended? Could the work ethic we hold and our attitudes towards activities like school, study, chores and part-time work (for older children), indirectly teach ethics of work and play that aren't biblical? What are we teaching them about work and rest in and through our lives and the way we shape their lives?

What should be our response?

The answer to the observed problem of children's reduced time for rest and play is not simply a new timetable at home.  The answer to lives that are too busy and lack time for rest, is not simply less work or more rest, but a right attitude to both based on a clear understanding of God's grace.  This will start with parents examining their own lives first, then their children's. There is nothing wrong with being busy, in fact Paul teaches us in Philippians that we are to 'pour out' our lives in the service of God (Philippians 2:17); and we are to honour God and give him first place in our lives, as we "present our bodies as a living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1).

As Tim Chester wrote in an article for Case magazine last year, the Bible presents us with a "liberating God-centred ethic in which we work for the glory of God and we rest for the glory of God".  We need a right attitude to work and play driven by motivations; goals and aspirations centred on knowing Christ better ourselves and making him known to others. Tim Chester reminds us that "...we can find rest in our busyness and joy in our labour." As parents we need to demonstrate and teach our children that a life dedicated to Christ is one that has a yoke that is easy, and one that will bring ultimate 'rest'. Jesus' teaching ultimately points to the fact that our lives need to acknowledge the perfect rest that we find in our relationship with him:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28, 29).
Other reading and resources

Robert K. Johnston (1983), 'The Christian at Play'

Tim Chester (2006). 'The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness'

Robert Banks (1983). 'The Tyranny of Time'

Previous posts on 'Tyranny and Challenge of Time', 'The Busy Life' and 'Time and the Family'

Tim Chester (2009). 'The Busy Christian's Introduction to Busyness' Case Magazine, No. 18. [Theme: City Life]

Kenneth R. Ginsburg (2007). 'The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds'. Pediatrics, Vol. 119, No. 1, pp 182-191.

Monday 10 October 2011

The Bible, Human Rights & Justice

Dr Greg Clarke (CEO of The Bible Society) recently spoke at a New College formal dinner about the future of the Bible. His talk was framed by two simple questions, 'What's the Bible done for me?' and 'does it have a future'? It was based on an article he has written for Case magazine in which he suggests that there are two different ways that people can approach the Bible. The first of these treats the Bible as a ‘sparring partner’  against which various claims of understanding and experience are tested to see if it can stand; the other approaches the Bible as a worldview forming ‘coach’. Dr Clarke argues that while the ‘Bible-as-sparring-partner’ was dominant throughout much of the 20th Century, there is now considerable evidence from a variety of sources that this approach is waning, and the ‘Bible-as-coach’ approach is on the rise.

He suggested that the Bible is a transformative text, challenging, interrupting and rebuilding the philosophy, ethics and historical horizons of both individuals and states. He outlined and supported his claim that many things in our world would be different but for the Bible, the people who believed it and, who sought to live lives shaped by it. He cited many examples including:
care of the isolated, disadvantaged, homeless and alienated;
western systems of justice;
economic systems that distribute financial support to the needy;
a great deal of literature and the arts;
the judicial system and so on. 

In short, he suggested that human rights as we know it would not have emerged without the Bible. He cited Archbishop Rowan Williams to support his case:
"It never does any harm to be reminded that without certain themes consistently and strongly emphasised by the 'Abrahamic' faiths, themes to do with the unconditional possibility for every human subject to live in conscious relation with God and in free and constructive collaboration with others, there is no guarantee that a 'universalist' account of human dignity would ever have seemed plausible or even emerged with clarity."

You can read more of Dr Clarke's article in the latest edition of Case Magazine with the theme 'Theology and the future'. This edition of the magazine also includes all three talks given at the 2011 New College Lectures.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Theology & the future of humanity

The New College Lectures were concluded on Thursday evening with Dr Michael Jensen's talk 'Theology & the future of humanity: Smith's 'White Teeth' and Paul's Galatians'. My last post provides a short overview of the first two lectures by Prof John McDowell ('Theology & the future of education') and Dr David Starling ('Theology & the future of the Church').

Dr Jensen chose to contrast the views of humanity embedded in two sources, Zadie Smith’s 2001 novel 'White Teeth' and Paul's letter to the Galatian church. He unpacked the competing meta-narratives used in the novel to describe the future of humanity that is embedded in the work. He discussed three meta-narratives exemplified in the story's main characters: the epic, the tragic, and Smith’s own ‘comic-romantic’ vision. In doing this he highlighted how as Smith develops her story, she humorously critiques several competing futurisms – the religious, political and scientific all shown in differing forms of fundamentalism. We end up through Smith's eyes with two descriptions of the future, the materialist or the religious. For Zadie Smith the best humans are those who "..don't succumb to some fanatical programme for change, but just love." But as he pointed out, Smith’s alternative visions of the human future are hard to take seriously when she presents such twisted examples - scientists linked to a Nazi eugenicist and, Christian eschatology represented by Jehovah's Witnesses. He suggested that none of Smith’s meta-narratives offer satisfying accounts for ‘actual human experience…’.

Instead, Dr Jensen used Paul’s letter to the Galatians to offer a better vision, one that harnesses an apocalyptic eschatology to address the corrupting influence of a potentially destructive group within the Galatian church - the ‘circumcision group’.

Paul’s word to the Galatians offered them real hope, because it suggested that the future of humanity was in their reach. The alternative gospel of the circumcision group was to situate the gospel in themselves and a new form of tribalism. The circumcision group suggested an alternative gospel in which God commands repentance, signified by the circumcision and zeal for the law (Gal 4:17). Instead, Paul suggested to the Galatians that the gospel is not controlled by them as individuals and revealed by their efforts. Rather, God reveals it to us.  And this revelation Paul suggests finds its answer in and through Christ. The cross of Christ is where God makes things right with humanity and offers the potential to become the people he wants us to be. This is a gospel that frees them from the law by the crucifixion of the flesh.

The future of humanity has already entered the present. At the cross, God founds a new humanity—a community bound in faith and formed because of the sacrificial love of God. While Zadie Smith also proposes a priority be given to love, she proposes a randomness to reality, filled with the "faint hope that human beings can summon up enough tenderness for each to break the shackles of history that so weigh us down."

"For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Galatians 5:5,6)

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13)

Further information

The three lectures are already available in slightly shortened forms within Case magazine, a publication of the apologetics centre CASE within New College. Associates of CASE will receive this in the mail next week. Others can purchase them online HERE.

The lectures will also be made available in audio and some video formats in a few weeks.