At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.
Jenny Mosher gave an excellent presentation on her developing theology of childhood.
Mosher’s work on childhood grew out of one-too-many encounters with parenting material that recommended parenting techniques based on an an entirely non-Orthodox anthropology. She wanted to explore the vulnerability of children to sometimes dangerous parental choices, to understand how Christians in the Orthodox tradition have thought about children. Like Frost, she thought to start with scripture. Also like Frost, she discovered that scriptural resources on childhood are limited, particularly Jesus’ (who is after all, the model of our humanity which inevitably includes childhood), least in canonical texts.
Beginning with Jesus’ illicit visit to the temple, she discovered that theologians treat this passage as a christological passage. Jesus fully took on the realities of childhood, sanctifying them. Unlike non-canonical sources which tend to portray even the child Jesus as inhumanly adult, the church fathers argue that while Jesus could have come as an adult, he chose to go through the “humiliations” of being a child. In this, Jesus took on aspects of humanity which were, in Greek philosophy, considered too scandalous to be attributed to God. Yet, as a christological principle, Jesus was fully human, therefore, fully a child. Her driving questions from this are, what are those scandalous realities and how do we respect them as sanctified aspects of childhood?
Mosher lists the scandals (I might have missed some here) as weakness, ignorance, dependence, and ‘increase’ by which the church theologians mean change or growth. Each of these are qualities which antiquity rejected as attributes of God, and which caused no source of consternation in christological debates. The very idea of God as a kid was utterly offensive. In ‘offense’ (verb and noun here), the project of establishing the full humanity of Christ included his development into adulthood. In short, there were times when Jesus was not particularly god-like. Rather, Jesus’ awareness of who he was “dawned on him like a rising sun” (such a nice use of metaphor!) Mosher argues that this is precisely like our own growing awareness of adulthood and ‘personhood,’ it dawns on us, each stage as important and as valuable as the last.
Yet, she notes, we are increasingly impatient with childhood and its dependencies, often desperately wishing that our children could do better for themselves far before such a wish is developmentally appropriate. Instead, Jesus shows us that all the stages are good and necessary. If we are impatient with it, it is our problem (ah, that strikes close). Mosher is interested in developing a theology of childhood which sees in these ‘scandals’ the appropriate development of young human beings. She also observes that it was the Christian insistence on valuing these dependencies which allowed for a growing ethic of care towards any person who shared in these qualities, from the developing fetus (exhibiting change and increase) to the disabled. No longer is utility (to family, clan or status) the criterion for valuing, or rather, not valuing the weak.
The best questions of the workshop were raise by others. One participant asked what motherhood looks like with adult children. Another asked if we are stewards only of our own children, or others? Are we stewards of only our own family, or the poor (and unrelated) children down the street?
I look forward to the answers Mosher gives as she continues to develop her theology of childhood.