Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
“The Whole Heart”
Scripture Text: Mark 12:38-44
As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you; this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
We were very young parents with our first child. Perhaps to compensate, many books were read, classes were taken. Kathy learned a great deal; I enjoyed the benefit of her wisdom. So many ideas and helpful resources. Many of which were there to say, this is the new way to raise children, and by new they meant, better.
Buying into one of them was a less than stellar moment for us. One of the new theories was the desire to be gender neutral – Children would be better off if they were raised without gender specific roles.
We were determined to not perpetuate the myth and shackle of gender stereo-types. I would be a parent; Kathy would be a parent. Our son, Josh, was our child. There would be no “boy” things or “girl” things, just toys and books and fun.
We began to see the limitation of our theory when Josh was given a doll so as to foster nurture. It was a toy meant to embody our theory of gender neutrality. Dolls foster nurture; here was a doll that looked like him; this would foster a nurturing spirit in our young child. The doll was called, “My Buddy.” And, the doll was a spot-on twin of our kid. He was bit plumb with blue eye and a wild shrock of blond hair.
Josh took to Buddy immediately. Carried him from room to room. Yet, his attention was not really nurturing. Buddy was often seen flying down the stairs, landing hard, cartwheeling to a rest and then hauled upstairs to fly yet again. Josh wrestled with Buddy and Buddy was always the loser, always a bit concussed.
There were many other places where we saw our theory crash and burn. Yet, as most novel social/behavioral theories do, we persisted in our belief. We were wrong, but ever convinced we would be right.
Thinking of Buddy and our misguided theory, I remembered another. This was not my theory, but a policy of a soccer league. Our daughter Zoe was five and there were not enough folks to coach so the league acted in desperation and enlisted me to coach. I was assured: “they are five, just encourage them.”
And true enough, this was not high stakes youth sports. The games consisted of three types of action. There was the majority of children who glommed together and kicked the ball back and forth in a huddle. From time to time this swirling mob of kicking and shoving would eventually score a goal for one of the teams. The second type of activity were children who just went out and sat down and picked flowers, looked for bugs, or otherwise enjoyed the show. Lastly, there was always one child who needed to cling to my leg and cry.
What Buddy brought to mind was the direction I was given by the league: do not keep score and do not declare a winner or a loser. Everyone plays; everyone wins was the theory of the league. This, I was told, would promote healthy activity and self-esteem.
The only problem of course was that the kids all kept score. At the end of each game, some would shout, we won 5-2. And another would shout, we crushed them. And the other team was just as aware as they high fived with the lowered head of a defeated team. It didn’t matter if I kept score; the kids did. They wanted to win; they wanted there to be a winner.
We don’t often identify our social theories as theories. We consider them the truth of tradition or the hope of change. Yet, when we say, things have always been this way (tradition), we are putting forth a social theory. In essence, what we should say is, I believe things have always been this way and I believe they should remain this way. Tradition.
Gender neutral parentings and sports without winners and losers are social theories of change. Kathy and I believed this way of parenting would make for better lives, better families, better children. We were not wrong so much as we were naïve that this was simply a matter of providing toys. In our world today of both spouses working, gender fluidity, and the likelihood that the roles of men and women will be ever shifting as parents during a child’s life, given all of this our theory wasn’t wrong, per se, it was just not very artful.
A few months ago Justin and I were speaking of social theories and parents and how this relates to ministry. I launched into a long excursus about Dr. Spock. Being raised by a mother who fully digested Dr. Spock and yet spending a good deal of my childhood with a grandmother who would have told Dr. Spock he was out of his mind, I saw both sides of a great cultural divide. With the aid of Dr. Spock my mother took up the theory of nurturing a child unto confidence. Without the aid of Dr. Spock my grandmother sought to insure I was a productive, non-moron who did what he was told and behaved. Near the end of the excursus Justin asked, “are we talking about Dr. Spock from Star Trek?”
I could be wrong but I would argue that the vast majority of our social debates and definitions and controversies in the twentieth century came down to theories about women, and by default, what it means to be a mother. A mother should stay at home (tradition); a mother should go wherever she wants to go (change). Pay disparity between men and women is a matter of economics; the pay disparity is punishing women for having children. The ideal of motherhood is sacred and should be revered as unique; any affirmation of women as nurturing, loving, the traditional Mother’s Day card, is a perpetuation of sexism.
Lots of theories about women and mothers. In this sanctuary today there are probably a dozen different theories that are all in play around mothers, and thus, Mother’s Day. Some theories are traditional; some theories are about change. Hence, it right to ask, what are we celebrating? What mothers have been traditionally, or what we hope for mothers of this generation? Is not such a day set aside fraught with pitfalls of traditions being challenged? What does Mother’s Day look like to young woman of 30 who is a pursuing a career with a child in full-time daycare who struggles to balance the desire to be ever-present with her child, but very successful at work? How do we compare that to a mom of the 1950s who wore the pearls of June Cleaver?
I am not sure. I really don’t know. I thought a mother and a father could simply be a parent; obviously I am not the sharpest tool. I think Dr. Spock is right on some things and terribly mistaken with other things. Whether I tell them or not, the kids know who wins and who loses. About the only thing I am sure about is that all my hunches and statements and declarations are a theory. In other words parts of our traditions must remain; parts of our tradition must change. Yet, is this ever any time where this is not true?
Well, maybe I am sure of a little more than that. I am pretty sure the lesson from Jesus reveals a truth that will guide us, lead us, redeem us. I trust Jesus much more than I trust my theories.
Standing in the temple, standing by the treasury where people came to give their donations, Jesus points to the widow who gives the mite or the copper coins. He lauds her and lifts her up with esteem. Jesus is saying, in essence, this woman who gave everything is the way we all should live.
Given how infrequently Jesus affirmed any one- he did not read Dr. Spock obviously, given how few times Jesus said, this is the way a person should live, maybe there is a clue here for how we should consider Mother’s Day and mothers. The clue here is she gave all she had. And in this she gave more than others.
What if this act by the widow in the temple is something we could celebrate? The life that is lauded, the life that is celebrated, is the one where people give their whole life as a gift. That is the life worthy of praise and esteem.
Yes, Kathy and I believed that we could simply be parents and this proved false. I am the father; she is the mother. Yet, what led us to this theory was not that the gender was wrong or that the gender should be denied, but that being a parent was a shared experience of giving our whole life away. That is what we wanted to do. She gave her whole life away with nurture and love and attention; I gave my whole life away with sarcasm and the ability to reach tall things and continue to drive as children shouted. Different skills, common desire.
Giving your whole life, what Moses said was the key to the law, loving with all your heart, this is the path worth celebrating. Being a mother or a father is not the only way to give your life way, to love with your whole heart. The example Jesus gives is about a widow, not a mother, a poor person not a cultural symbol of virtue. The poor widow gave her whole life in poverty, all she had. And it was money, it wasn’t attention to a child, or devotion to a grandchild.
Sometimes it is a lot easier to give money instead of your heart. There are many times where we are tempted to give the kid a remote rather than give our energy or our time. Giving of ourselves can be easy; giving of ourselves can be heartbreaking. And we are ever tempted to keep score and keep expectations of return and thanks and reciprocity. Maybe you feel different, but I believe I speak for Kathy and myself that we quite often felt much more artless than artful as parents.
But maybe that is the key to navigating the swirling social theories of mothers. What if we admire the intent, the desire, the hope of moms to give their life to a child, to love with their whole heart? What if we are celebrating the heart seeking to be wholly offered so a child could be whole?
In your bulletin is one of my favorite cartoons of all time. I love this Far Side. Mrs. Jones, I would know you anywhere from your son’s drawings. What makes me happy is that I am reminded of how primitive and childlike my attempts are to draw life, to depict, to define. At best I am a first grader with the big crayons and some glue if I am lucky. Mrs. Jones is looking a little rough here, but you can tell she is held in esteem. Some little boy loves his mom. He knows the depth and warmth and joy of being loved by someone offering their whole heart. She is giving her life away and she offers it with joy.
Although I am not sure what the definitions of gender and culture and station should be for men and women, I am sure we will continue to offer many, many theories. Some will be about tradition; some will be about change. Our definitions of what should be will ever be in motion.
I believe somewhere at some artist’s desk there are cards being created for Mother’s Day right now. Some depict a mother of tradition; others depict mothers of tomorrow. What if in each card though is the same theme: we know the depth and warmth and joy of being loved by someone offering their whole heart? No matter the image, both cards convey what we are truly celebrating.
So to the moms present, the moms gathered unto God, and the mothers yet to come we say thanks for trying, thanks for offering your whole heart. We know somedays it is not easy; we know somedays it is effortless. But for today rest assured, feel remembered, or look ahead to a day to come and know we give thanks for you giving us life with all your heart and love and strength. Amen.
- Deuteronomy 6:1 - 9
- Mark 12:38 - 44