Like Parenting, Christianity is Less Carpenter; More Gardener

A few weeks ago Hidden Brain had a wonderful little episode titled Kinder-Gardening. You can listen to the episode to the right if you would like.

If you have not heard this episode, it focuses on two competing metaphors for being a parent: a carpenter and a gardener. Where most of the books parents are encouraged to read and much of the conversation about how to raise children are influenced by the parent as carpenter metaphor, it stands to reason that for most of human history it is the parent as gardener metaphor that has guided us. 

The key difference in these metaphors, as you can imagine, is the locus of control. If a carpenter does the proper work they will get the proper product. The carpenter is a metaphor of control and is the dominate metaphor for living in the United States. Those of us in the United States have a false sense of control in our lives that it is almost laughable at how fragile we are when we are only slightly out of control. Just watch many Americans stand in a line or have to wait for the server to bring the menu, you can see frustration boil over because the lack of control is maddening (I know this all too well myself!).

Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash

The dominance of the carpenter metaphor bleeds into parenting to the point that society believes that raising children is like building a table. Just look at the most popular books on parenting. The carpenter parent metaphor is booming business. However, for anyone who has raised a child you know that there is so much that you cannot control that it is almost laughable to think that anyone could build the proper child to being with! Thus the metaphor of parenting as gardener may be more helpful.

Just as you cannot control the weather, birds dropping odd seeds and bugs eating your fruits, so too you cannot control much of a child: their DNA, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their friends, etc. Parenting today feels like having to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill set of the gardener. 

Which leads me to Jesus. 

Jesus was raised by a carpenter and yet the vast majority of his parables use gardening imagery. In fact, other than the parable of the foolish builder in Matthew 7 and again in Luke 6, I could not think of any parable that connected to carpentry. 

It is interesting to me that even Jesus had to unlearn the carpenter and learn the skill of the gardener so to teach God's children how to live. 

Perhaps the invitation is to put down the hammer and pick up the shovel.

So, Your Teen Thinks You Are Lame. Thanks Be To God.

Prior to my current position, I served as a youth minister for two different churches. If you think you are an expert in navigating the any social setting from the family dinner to a formal state dinner at the White House, I recommend you hang out with a group of teenagers. They don't care about your social skills. They think you are weird. Also the only reason they make eye contact with them while their heads are down looking at their phone is because they are rolling their eyes at you.

I heard from many parents that they are frustrated or sad or exhausted that their teen does not want to be around them. To that I say, "thanks be to God!"

Teenagers are gifted with the evolutionary trait to pull away from their parents for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is that until they pull away from their parents, teens will not learn how to socially engage with their peers. And as much as we don't like to admit it, chances are our teen's peers will out live us. Meaning, teens have to learn to engage with their peers.

It has been said that religion at her best helps us to "die before we die." Letting go of our children is a practice in learning to die before you die. This is not easy, which is why it is critical to engage in a community of faith to walk with you in this "little death." 

Parenthood Reveals My Self Idolization

When I think about it I am a little afraid of the outside influences on my sons. I think about the "quality" of his teachers, friends, coaches and other influences. I ponder what movies are appropriate and how much "screen time" they should have because, I tell myself, I want to find positive role models and good influences in my sons' life. 

Which is true.

But is also sort of masks a little truth which is if I allow all sorts of influences in my son's life that I can control then that means there is a possibility that my influence on him will shrink. It is the diminishment of me that is a big reason that I am able to find all sorts of reasons why my son cannot hang out with those people, have that teacher/coach, participate in that club/trip/experience and/or have too much screen time. 

Both of my sons teach me things everyday and I continue to be in awe at their curiosity and innocence. What I was unprepared for are the things that my sons reveal in me through my actions as a parent. And one of these revelations parenthood reveals to me is how much I idolize myself.

It is convenient that I always have concerns about how other people and things influence my sons but I rarely have any concern about my influence on him. The Bible speaks about elevating yourself over others. Jesus speaks about removing the plank in our own eye before talking about the speck in others. Putting myself at the center of my sons' lives is just another way that I am reminded of just how far I have to mature to be able to die to myself.

The tension of doing things to be seen

Near the beginning of the "sermon on the mount", Jesus teaches the following:

"Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

The common understanding of this text is straightforward and literal - don't do acts of piety in order to be seen.

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” - Albert Einstein 

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” - Albert Einstein 

The truth be told, there are some things that I do in my life in order to be seen - especially by my sons. I want him to see me be graceful toward others, so sometimes I act graceful even when I do not feel graceful - just so they will see graceful models. There are times when, as a pastor, you have to do things that you may not want to do in order to set a better model for others. I do not get the luxury of going to worship and just sit there and not talk with anyone - even if that is what I feel like doing. I have to be "pastoral" sometimes just to be seen and set a model.

Do you know how many times pastors go home or sit in their offices and scream or cry at the amount of venom they encounter? And at least half of our emotions are because we cannot do what we want to do or what others seem to have no problem doing. Pastors have to act in ways in order to be seen, not for bragging, but as a way to set an alternate model. And before we jump to the conclusion that pastors are hypocrites (which everyone really is), there are strong social pressures on pastors to be a certain way.

For instance, pastors cannot cuss, they have to wear suits (or at least tuck in their shirt), be older/experienced, etc. There is a pressure for a pastor to "look the part" and if they don't then there is an aura of suspicion. 

From internal pressures and external expectations, pastors are asked to do a lot things in order to be seen. And that makes this teaching of Jesus very difficult for church leaders.