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Jeff the Baptist, vol. 1, #3 Feedback & Comments

How Many Is Too Many?

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.
---Martin Luther King, Jr.

About sums it up for me.

I wish he were still with us, and not because he was Baptist <g>. I wish sometimes that I could talk to him. I wish I could ask him what was running through his mind as he, first, rejected the scriptural inerrancy and emotionalism of his hometown church, only to return there later in life. Who was it that wrote that one shows greatness not by going to one extreme but by reaching out to embrace both?

Oh, the advice that he could give.

How Many Is Too Many: Responding to Your Thoughts

I think this column is changing my life. How is it possible that such honesty can be encountered via email? I don't know, but it is. The reactions I received from How Many Is Too Many? ranged over a wide spectrum. I received everything from a 'Bravo! Bravo!' to a vigorous 'two thumbs down'. But one thing is certain about the words you wrote: there was an honesty so stunning and beautiful that all I could do was ponder it with awe.

It is that beauty that is changing my life, I think. Perhaps, as one critic noted, I am growing too intellectual. Maybe. But, when minds meet and hearts unfold beyond those barriers we erect to get by day to day, there is that something kind of wonderful, that quiet joy of knowing another and, in turn, being known. It's so frightening and, yet, so sweetly fulfilling.

Perhaps the magic of being known in this way is where the power of childbirth lies. At the risk of further ruining any chance at a future ministership <g>, I'm going to pursue this just a little more. So, no finished piece this time. Instead, I want to respond to what you wrote. The hardest part is choosing from among the responses. Thank you for them all. I'm sure that I'll roast myself some more with the ones that I did choose.

The thing that I feared most about the column seemed to happen for some readers. They thought that, for whatever reason, I was dissing parenthood. Not at all. No way, no how. I could never do that. To listen to a parent talk about her child is a certain joy. To see the pride, the happiness, and the awe of the parent as he follows the growth of his young is a wonder in itself to behold.

However, what I was disagreeing with was the conviction that it isn't possible to find true fulfillment without parenthood. I was dissing the mainstream idea that if you don't have children, then you had better be planning to. I was dissing the patronizing smile that plays over the listener's face as you explain, yet again (while wondering why you should have to), why you don't expect to have children anytime soon.

My fiercest critic lambasted me for the idea that I would not have children for fear of contributing to over-population. I was intrigued by that statement because I didn't write it. Nor do I think it. However, the two are connected (in my mind) if for no other reason than our prolific ability to pro-create is forcing us to re-consider how much we will want to. For many, ultimate fulfillment is found in parenthood. If we are no longer able to be fruitful without questioning the outcome, then we must begin to ask where fulfillment may be found.

One reader's insight pointed out that we express our creativity through raising our children and that I didn't give enough respect to that idea. On the one hand, she noted, no matter what we do, our children are going to become what they become. On the other, we do have a great amount of influence in how the miracle manifests itself. That's very true, I think. I do believe parenthood is a very creative process, and I hope I didn't leave the impression that I don't see it as such. What I reject, though, is the idea that parenthood is the only process through which we receive the full appreciation of what it means to create.

One very thoughtful reader noted that she knows "no greater rush of glory and glee when [she's] had an artful moment, be it teaching, painting, dancing or telling a story." It is at those times, that she feels her "own essence connected to all that there can be." For her, "art does have a life of its own." I couldn't put it better.

Conventional wisdom says that, once married, it's time to begin having children. Some get downright adamant about it. If you're not going about the business of having children, then you must be selfish in some way. However, I think a great portion of ourselves, our potential, often gets laid aside and forgotten in our rush to become parents. What a tragedy! I wish there were more respect in this world for those who choose to express their ability to create in ways other than parenthood. I wish they wouldn't be looked upon with such mistrust. We honor parenthood a great deal, as we should. I wish that we could also honor the idea that art has a life of its own and that, in the creation of it, we experience a precious part of ourselves that is unique among all the cosmos.

What a world that would be…

One last thought. One reader rather playfully, or seriously, sent me a delightful photo essay concerning "The Joys of Adoptive Grandparenthood." I had never really considered the idea: the photo-essay asked the question of what it means to be a parent. Who among us has not known the frustration of being willfully misunderstood by one's biological parent? Of being ignored? Who has not found that understanding in an adopted "parent"? What does it mean to be a parent? Do we deny ourselves parenthood in this lifetime when we choose not to have children? I don't think so. I'm right there with the First Lady: It does take a village to raise a child, whether we want to admit it or not. Perhaps a person becomes a parent in many ways, not just the traditional one.

Maybe someday we could stop taking parenthood for granted. Maybe someday we will see a world where the question, "Why aren't you having children?" is not heard so much as "Why are you choosing to have children?" Maybe someday we could see the ability to create life for the miracle that it really is. Back to my fiercest critic: She wrote, "…every single night when I put him to bed and kiss his little cheeks, I say a prayer of thanks that this little miracle has come into my life. My life would be empty without him, but I know that now because I have him. It wasn't empty before he came into our lives."

That, to me, is parenthood, whether it originated biologically or not.

-- Jeff the Baptist


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