A friend suggested that I download the excellent unspoken sermons of George McDonald the other night, when I was casting about for recommendations for free reading material of a political, historical and theological bent.
The first chapter is entitled Child in our midst, and is a reflection of Mark 9: 33-37, and the relationship of the child-like and the divine.
I was reminded of this yesterday, when briefly discussing the result of the Parliamentary vote with my daughter, who it seems had been engaged in conversation at school. Though my initial reaction was horror, I guess to some extent the playground is a microcosm of the adult world, the school admits pupils to the age of 13, we live in liberal Brighton and one can hardly be surprised if things have filtered down.
Our daughter doesn’t know about sex, but she does know the biology behind reproduction, i.e. that when men and women get married, they can then have a ‘special cuddle’ (yes it’s twee, you try explaining it to a then 6-7 year old) whereby the man gives the woman a sperm which fertilises her egg etc. The subject arose when she asked how the babies were getting into mummy’s tummy, I don’t hold with lying to children, nonsense euphemisms about gooseberry bushes and storks just confuse children, hence we told her the truth in an age appropriate way. She was more than satisfied by the response, no special books or silly furtiveness was required, but we did show her some pictures of what the baby looked like in the womb at certain stages during my pregnancies, which she enjoyed. (Pro-lifers take note).
I was told what homosexuality was at the same age in Year 4. Looking back it was a scream. The ernest and stern Mr Sutton, headmaster of our interesting and eclectic prep school (consisting mainly of the children of farmers in the backwaters of the Dengie hundred) decided that as an experiment he would personally supervise sex education lessons for the fourth form. We were given blue workbooks with diagrams of the male and female organs in cross section as well as a couple in flagrante, so to speak. It looked a ghastly, painful and disgusting business to my mind. There was no way I was ever going to do that – ever! To the great amusement and perhaps relief of my parents, I coloured the male member in green and red diagonal stripes resembling a barber’s shop pole, for reasons best beknown to myself.
I remember distinctly Mr Sutton explaining what ‘gay’ was, that it meant two women or two men had fallen in love with each other, we might read about it in the paper and that it absolutely wasn’t funny, these people couldn’t help it and we mustn’t laugh about it or make fun of those who were gay. Anyone who did would be in trouble, whereupon the bell rang for playtime and Damian Jones proceeded to call everyone a “gaylord”, as a change from the previously preferred insult of choice – “Joey”.
Which kind of brings me to the point. Bullying and name calling sadly will always occur at school, although it should always be given zero tolerance when uncovered. I remember being grieved when Jennifer Holland Brown, cheeky upstart in the third year accused me of being a lesbian because I’d accidentally kicked her leg in the swimming pool, whereupon all her friends joined in. It lasted 10 minutes if that, but these days there would be scores of counsellors telling me ‘its fine to be a lesbian, you should celebrate that’ and reporting her parents for installing homophobia, whereas actually kids can be rather horrible to each other at times. I was irritated by the sheer cheek of a younger girl as well as peeved by the untruth because I knew that I most definitely wasn’t a lesbian! Calling people out for being supposedly different, whether true or false has happened and will happen in schools since time immemorial. Nobody’s race, faith (and it was the fish wearing Christians at my sixth form who got the grief) sexuality, hair colour, weight, appearance or family life and standard of living should be used to single them out, but sadly it does happen and schools need to do what they can to ensure it isn’t ignored or tolerated which includes punishing offenders. Enacting the gay marriage bill in the name of stamping out homophobic attitudes is a panacea.
But back to George McDonald and becoming like a child, here was my 8 year old’s response.
“Two men and two women? That’s just silly. But that would mean two sperms and two eggs? How would they have babies”.
It was gently explained to her that men and women sometimes did develop feelings for each other.
“But if everyone did that we wouldn’t have any more babies and then what would happen?”
But I suppose to explain it is unusual, is homophobic?!
As George McDonald says:
“God is represented in Jesus, for that God is like Jesus: Jesus is represented in the child, for that Jesus is like the child. Therefore God is represented in the child, for that he is like the child. God is child-like. In the true vision of this fact lies the receiving of God in the child.”
We forget that God is child-like at our peril. The most absurd thing I think I saw yesterday was this clip from Channel 4, with a gay man explaining with child-like simplicity how a gay couple could now be married in the eyes of God. Because God was clearly waiting for the Parliamentary result to change his opinion.
Suffer the little children.