Last week I celebrated my birthday. This was a BIG one… the big 6-0. Seems huge. I have told several people—60 just seems old. When you are in your 50’s you can convince yourself that you are still at the upper reaches of middle age. But 60? That’s old. Bordering on elderly. Within sight of ancient. (One friend reminded me that biblically I only have 10 more years left to live, cf. Psalm 90:10.)
But, it is not the demise of my fading youth that is on my mind this morning. Actually, what I am thinking of is the difference between everyday life in the 21st century and what life was like when I was growing up. My, what differences there are!
I grew up without cell phones, computers, tablets or the internet. I can remember when we got our first color TV set. Color! It was such a novelty that neighbors crowded into our living room to watch this amazing thing. Back then only the rich had air conditioning. We used window fans. And we had screen windows and doors to let breezes in. (Anybody remember the creak and bang of a screen door slamming shut?)
We lived dangerously back then. I would ride my bike all over the neighborhood without (dare I say it) a helmet! I played without knee pads and elbow guards. I drank water out of the garden hose. I played in the dirt. Yes, dirt got under my fingernails. Who knows, I probably ate some. I played with earthworms and dragon flies, beetles and snails. I caught fireflies in my hands and shut them up in a jar, creating my own living-insect lantern. I ate fish sticks and hot dogs and bologna sandwiches on white bread. I lived on the edge.
I learned early that living in a community meant observing certain boundaries. I didn’t go into my neighbor’s yard without their permission. I threw trash in the garbage, not on the ground. I was told not to steal, lie or cheat. I said “Please” and “Thank you.” (Captain Kangaroo told me to do this.) I didn’t butt in line, instead I waited my turn. It was the right thing to do. I got up when an adult needed a seat and let them take my chair. I didn’t talk back to my elders. I treated older people with honor and respect. Seems odd today. It was just the way things were done. It is how we lived.
Many mourn the moral decline of our country. And the grief is well-founded. I am of a generation that still remembers beginning my school day hearing my teacher pray and read from the Bible. (Although for me, this didn’t last past the third grade.) It used to be that it was rare to hear someone cuss in public. Indeed, where I grew up, it was still illegal. Believe it or not, it was against the law to publicly swear. Society in general was calmer, more civil, more safe. When I was a kid, our family would go away for a week’s vacation and leave our house unlocked the whole time. No need to lock your doors, nobody was going to bother your home. You knew this. Sunday was still observed as the Lord’s Day. If you needed groceries or medicine or gas… well, hopefully you had stocked up on Saturday. Sunday was holy, and no stores or gas stations were open. It was a different era, where God and country and family were still honored and considered sacred.
It was a time when moral discipline was expected. Today if a child misbehaves in school and is disciplined for it, then the parents form a posse and hunt down the renegade teacher who would dare abuse their little darling. It was not like that for me. If I acted up in school and was punished by my teacher, the most likely outcome would be a note sent home explaining what happened. This then would be followed by my suffering further punishment at home. Talk about double jeopardy! We used to experience double suffering for a single offense.
This reminds me of the nature of “discipline.” We are now told that children should not be “punished.” This is not PC. Rather, they must be disciplined, trained, reformed, rehabilitated, molded. Huh! When I was growing up, I was punished. I didn’t get spanked. Nope. I received a “whippin’.” Or, as my mother would say, a “whuppin.” I can still hear the words, “Do you want a whuppin?” Oh, I was punished in other ways. We didn’t get whippins all the time. But for serious offenses, it was time for a whippin. Anybody else remember this? For my sister, Connie, and me, the scenario went like this. Our yard had many forsythia bushes in it. Mama or Daddy would announce that we were going to receive a whippin. We were instructed to go outside and pick out our own switch. The forsythia was usually our switch of choice. Sometimes I tried picking a forsythia switch that was so flimsy that it barely would stand upright. Not good enough. Back outside I would go. I had to pick a branch with just the right length, thickness and stinging potential. And oh, how they would sting. That’s the thing about switches—you feel the initial blow, and then the supple end of the switch wraps around your legs and strikes an immediate second, stinging blow. It would only take a few whacks with a switch to convey moral truth to any wayward youth.
Yes, when I was growing up, there were actually occasions when my parents beat me. Yes, I am a survivor.
Yet, the funny thing is, I don’t feel that I was a victim of child abuse. It did not traumatize me. I bear no emotional wounds. My psyche is not scarred. Nor did it turn me into a violent abuser of others. I have no violent compulsions to beat small children, kill rabbits and squirrels that appear in my yard, or even go on a shooting rampage in a shopping mall. Receiving those whippins didn’t turn me into a monster. Rather, it helped mold and form my character.
You see, I know my parents loved me. And they used corporal punishment because they wanted me to grow up to be a good person. Even though they were not Christians, they understood the seriousness of immorality. They knew that wrong was wrong, and needed to be dealt with. Without any theological training, they recognized the destructive nature of sin in the human heart, and as manifested in childhood misdeeds. And they addressed the matter with due gravity. I am thankful they did.
Now understand my point. In our modern society we probably will not return to a general acceptance of corporal punishment as a legitimate means of training children. (Although I do not think that would be a bad idea.) But we do need to take sin seriously. Sin is a powerful force. It destroys lives, communities, societies. Our nation daily suffers from its devastating effects. How are we to deal with this? One means, just one, is to train the next generation to love God, obey their parents, respect others, and be morally responsible citizens. But this is only accomplished by disciplining children, training them to suppress their native sinfulness, and to learn how to treat others with moral rectitude. In other words, we have to take sin seriously. We must understand the “exceeding sinfulness of sin.”
“… by means of the commandment sin is shown to be even more terribly sinful.” (Romans 7:13 GNT, also consider Hebrews 12:7-11, Proverbs 13:1 & 24)
Truth Builders is a ministry initiative of Advancing Native Missions. However, the content of this site is the personal opinion of Victor Morris, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, views or conclusions of Advancing Native Missions, its leaders or staff