Ordinary Miracles: By Rachel S. Gerber. Herald Press, 2014. 145 pages. $12.99/paperback; $8.99/eBook.
Their Name Is Today: By Johann Christoph Arnold. Plough Publishing House, 2014. 173 pages. $14/paperback; $9.99/eBook.Buy on FJ Amazon Store
Two titles reviewed by Tom and Sandy Farley
The first parenting books were collections of good advice from experts. We have come to recognize that there is no single way to parent, not only because each child is unique, but because many parents want to raise children in concert with the ethical and religious values they have adopted. Parenting books now range in style from personal memoir, such as Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, to parenting for social change, like Honeycomb Kids by Anna Campbell. We bring you one of each, both with a Christian perspective on the importance of parenting.
In Ordinary Miracles, Rachel Gerber, a Mennonite pastor, recounts her leading to embrace parenting as her ministry. To frame her path, she takes a parable about Jesus from Luke 24, often called the Road to Emmaus. (For more on parables about Jesus, see The Power of Parable by John Dominic Crossan.) Using story as a structure allows Gerber to go beyond how-to manuals organized by ages and topics to share the discovery of her personal parable and its lesson.
Gerber found that the work of parenting can be all-consuming, leaving little time to seek God in study and scripture. She comes then to the same conclusion as George Fox: that the One who speaks to our condition is within. “When we realize this, we stop looking for Christ as something on the outside, someone we need to search for. We begin to see that Christ is already here, encountering us as we go about our daily lives. With the spirit of Christ within us, we become Christ to the world.” Then she reaffirms the message of Teresa of Avila, sixteenth-century Spanish mystic: “We are Christ’s hands and feet to continue his work here on earth, no matter how ordinary, or amazing, or broken our life might seem. As we love and serve others, we do no ordinary task. We play host to our Host, who makes our ordinary extraordinary. We embrace life and whatever it holds because we journey not alone.”
To complement Gerber’s message of personal growth through the ministry of parenting, Johann Christoph Arnold, a pastor in the Bruderhof community, focuses on outreach, the ministry of caring for children in the world. He gathers opinions and research enjoining us to become advocates for children, urging us to make the changes in society that will allow our children to become full human beings. This is not exclusively the job of parents, but of all who care for the health of our common culture.
He echoes the message from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: children need unstructured time to play. Arnold cites an African proverb about tree planting: “When you plant a tree, never plant only one. Plant three—one for shade, one for fruit, one for beauty.” Our educational system seems focused on fruit only with an emphasis on testing at earlier and earlier ages. We need to consider the other two aspects of life: the shade or contemplative side, and the beauty or enjoyment side.
Arnold points to the loving care for people and especially children as the most important value in society. When materialistic pressures to acquire and consume take over, loving care suffers. Instead of being a blessing, children are seen as a liability and an impediment to their parents’ happiness or success. When militarism and its justification of harming others for a cause dominate our society, loving care suffers. Shootings in our streets and schools are not “senseless” violence, but the utterly predictable result of a violence-preoccupied society. It becomes our moral duty to counter these “-isms” with richness of spirit. Arnold addresses many other specific issues, but the foundation of his message is this: “I firmly believe that the well-being of a child is not dependent on his access to material wealth, but on the knowledge that he or she is loved.”
Either of these books would provide evocative material for a series of parenting discussions. If your group wants to continue, we suggest adding the other books mentioned above, as well as Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy and Barbara Coloroso’s Kids Are Worth It!: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline, the most Quakerly parenting book we know of by a non-Quaker.