Category Archives: In the News

Let’s take a whack at sin.

This week, Matt Lauer was the most recent cultural icon to tumble at the revelation that he had offensively coerced women into sexual situations against their will.  Lauer, unlike some of the politicians, musicians, and comedians who’ve been accused of similar sins in recent days, was widely perceived as a good guy — upstanding, smart, and friendly.  Not the kind of sleaze ball you’d expect to grope a gal in the back room.

The headline has people reeling.  What is going on with our culture when one after another of our idols falls?  When #MeToo has been retweeted half a million times?  Women, so long powerless against this kind of abuse, have linked arms.  Revolution is brewing.

A quick scan of the Yahoo news feed reads like a chapter of Judges.  Among the first 15 headlines today, there are reports of a 10-year-old’s suicide, a grown man sucker-punching a guy with cerebral palsy, a missing teen who’s run off with her gym coach, and two gruesome murders.  That’s not to mention the sex assault stories.

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Photo by steam_rocket on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

We have a problem.  Yes, it’s a sin problem.  But it’s also a vocabulary problem.  We have no words for this.

Here it is in a nutshell:  modern folks can’t abide the idea of sin, and to a point they are quite logical.  We’ve discarded the old-fashioned notion along with the (laughable) authority of sacred texts and the (naïve) concept of God.  How could an ancient document, written in another culture and handicapped by its uninformed viewpoint, possibly speak to the choices of free-spirited, diverse people today?  Absurd!  How could any one group’s religious worldview be allowed to dictate morality for everyone else?  How could we ever know which perspective is “correct” in a competing marketplace of ideas, especially when all cultures and people are equally worthy of dignity, and each viewpoint, it’s assumed, equally valid?

If there is no morality, there must be no God, at least not a good, or potent, or opinionated one.  Those who cling to their deity but dismiss His jurisdiction in our lives play a dangerous game.  A God who bows to the sensibilities of human foibles isn’t much of a god by any stretch.

By the same token, if there is no God, there can be no right and wrong.  Right and wrong by definition flow from a concept of divinity; to sin is to sin against God.  You might protest that still we can sin against one another, but that’s problematic, as we’ll see.  The existence of good and evil depends on a transcendent, authoritative, and absolute set of values that could only exist if there were a transcendent, authoritative, and absolute Intelligence lurking behind the universe.  If not, the closest we can get to “right” is “right for me,” “right at the moment,” or “right on, man.”

So far, so good — the average American (picture a contestant on The Voice) would concur.  Twitter chirps about finding your own truth, and, admirably, living by it.  Whether truth is self-determined or imposed upon us, it would make sense to live according to it; to disregard truth is to live in delusion, to live a lie.  And that is a wrong worth fighting.

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Photo by MTSOfan on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

But the next logical leap is not so easily embraced — without an objective right, the closest we can get to “right” is sanctified selfishness.  If there is no absolute morality governing the universe, then the best we can do is seek personal fulfillment on our spin around the sun, a cause which tends to put us at odds with others’ ideas of a good time.  And so a husband, bored with marriage, has a fling with his secretary; a wife, finding love with her best friend, realizes that her truth requires a brave step from the closet and a new identity.  It’s complicated, the carnage that results from broken vows and mangled relationships, but it’s the costly logic of our modern morality.

And to a point, it’s a cohesive morality.  The problem with Facebook philosophers is not that they have abandoned ethics.  Your average secular American will gladly throw down for the right of total strangers to enjoy freedom and pursue happiness.  Attitudes that denigrate others (racism, sexism, homophobia) are the ultimate evils, because they impinge on others’ ability to pursue happiness.  The problem is that this modern morality is unmoored, and will logically self-implode.

When autonomous, liberated people, in pursuit of their personal ideal of happiness, and unencumbered by any external requirements for virtue, run smack up against the contrary opinions or desires of others, we reach an impasse.  Who wins?

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Photo by Martin Gommel on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s husband versus wife.

Neighbor versus neighbor.

Citizen versus cop.

Politician versus media.

White versus black.

Pick a headline from today’s news, and it will invariably boil down to conflicting visions, the greed or inconsideration or power-grabbing or self-aggrandizement of happiness-seekers.  But lacking the vocabulary to call it sin, we run into difficulty.  It’s “inappropriate,” “a flaw,” “behaving badly.”  The same behaviors that have been tolerated, even laughingly encouraged, for decades, have been unmasked for what they really are — hurtful, even devastating, selfish, lustful, cruel.

And so we lambast the Matt Lauers and the Bill Cosbys, the rogue policemen and the chanting racists.  We shake our heads, “Thank you, Universe, that I am not as bad as that guy.”  But don’t you see?  We are.

The fact of the matter is, there is most emphatically a deep human consciousness of right and wrong, good and evil.  Rape and murder and manipulation and greed — these things are wicked, and have plagued us time immemorial.  We see the rise of liars to positions of power, see their oppression of the poor and weak, and we know, we know, it’s wrong.  And if we follow the logic, it leads us back, full-circle.

There is a right.  There is a wrong.  It is universal, timeless, and absolute.  It did not evolve in different directions on different continents, or ebb and flow with the centuries.  It must have come from somewhere, from someone.

And if there is such a thing as sin, then it might be smart to figure out what’s in that category.  Not according to whim, not based on my own (“flawed”) logic, but above and beyond me.  And then to track the big ones backwards, find the little pebbles that start the big old rock slide, root those out.  Little ones, acceptable ones, like pride and lust and laziness.  Because nobody sets out to be Harvey Weinstein or for that matter, Idi Amin.

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Photo by zemoko on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

As Trevin Wax so beautifully put it, “So, the offense of the Christian gospel is twofold. We will seem narrow and strict when we insist on calling out sins. And yet, we will seem too generous when we insist that anyone no matter their past can repent and be restored. Our stark vision of sin is grace to the victim; our call to repentance is grace to the offender.”

Sin, y’all.  Let’s call it what it is.

Photo by Gareth1953 All Right Now on VisualHunt.com / CC BY

In a World Dry as Kindling

Dear Kids,

As you might have noticed, we were born in America.  We come from families with a long history of working hard to beat the odds, of excelling in all kinds of jobs—or not, as the case may be.  We have drinkers and pirates and politicians and scalawags, artists, creators, teachers, and pastors lining up in our DNA.  Some were noble.  Some were despicable.  Some were heroes and some victims (like as not, those two qualities combined.)  They are the stuff of legend.

As for our family, we’ve enjoyed a modest happiness, sheltered from much harm, sleepy with blessings and hopeful with dreams.  We’ve visited wide sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, fields full of sunflowers, mountains that scrape the sky.  We have sung around campfires and feasted on turkey every Thanksgiving.  We are no one special, except that by the grace of God, we are loved.

We are not special.  We are loved.

There are in this wide country a great many people who tell a different story.  Oh, their families, too, have high points and low, moments of love, moments of hate.  Maybe they don’t expect breakfast most mornings, maybe they’ve never seen much beyond a boarded-up window.  But people are people, dreamers and drifters, lovers and loved.  We all laugh easy when we go to bed warm and full, when we wake up hopeful.  We all come into the world wired for friendship and meaningful days.

It isn’t too hard to see where hate starts, where, if you were bent on it, you could rip a flag along fraying seams.  Envy, mostly, pride, or thoughts of revenge, fulcrums that pivot us toward dark places.  We all want justice for our enemies and mercy for ourselves.  We all die a little with the death of a dream or a door slammed.  It’s easier to be hard than tender.  It’s certainly easier to hold a grudge than forgive.  Sustain enough injuries, and scar tissue grows up, cording thick around our hearts, squeezing out grace.

A long enough drought and it only takes a spark to burn a million acres.

Our country is dry right now, really dry.  Hearts are hard from hurts and words spark angry like flint striking stone.  There is no logic than can forestall a forest fire.  Only water, only love.

I pray for you.  You scamper through dry woods, while clouds thick with static gather overhead.

What if?

What will come?

I want to immunize you against the taking sides, the never-ending, unforgiving duels.  Capulets and Montagues fling arrows, bruised and outraged egos bristle back, cycles claim another generation.

But, love.

Here child, fill your bucket, pour it down over your own head.  Fill it, fill it, let it run in streams around you, a circle of safety, damp with tears.  Turn your anger into weeping, turn your eyes to heaven, turn your bruised and fragile cheek.  Bend your sword into a shovel, dig up your unplowed ground, plant thickets of mercy.

Let justice roll down like mighty waters.

It is easier to despair some days than hope, easier to choose apathy than passion.  And hope that lands in disappointment can risk your heart.  The whisper, Where is God? becomes a scream.  Your faith must be as strong as your ego is vulnerable.

I remember a poem I learned years ago, a word for the misery of our times.  It’s “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold, melancholy, wistful, the sound of losing faith.  And yet he ends with hope—albeit a battered and a mournful one.  You are yet too young to grasp these words, I think, but someday when your heart is low, maybe you will hear them.  They are partly true.

The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

 

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

 

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

 

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I wish I could sit down with Matthew Arnold, ask him if he’d lost faith or only lamented the general loss of faith in the world.  I, too, lament, but there we part.  I stake my life on this: where all is lost and broken, there is hope, hope in the person of One who bled to water the thirsty ground, hope in the One who watched hate win, only to rise again above it, triumph of meekness over might.

If this bone-dry world, sweet kids, is all there is, then we are “here as on a darkling plain”—Charlottesville, Hitler, and slavery is all there is.  Hate wins.  But if this world is just the hard-cracked shell of a seed that must first break to burst out again in life, well, then, we wait.

I pray for you to hold fast to faith.  Take courage.  Risk everything you have to love.  And drive your roots down deep, so that on a scorching day you won’t dry out.

Yours while we wait,

Mom

“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” –Jeremiah 17:8

in the waiting,faith

Startled

Sometimes Facebook juxtaposes just the right pair of posts, just the right images to startle me awake, to catch a new glimpse of truth.  Today I saw a such a pair.

Post #1, a video:  colorblind people see color for the first time with innovative new glasses.  Now, I’m going to let you roll that around in your mind for a minute before I hit you with Post #2.  A stream of people unable to distinguish red from green, trapped in a world where everything is a muted, muddy brown, suddenly seeing all the great glory of a simple garden, overwhelmed.  You see them see colors and suddenly you’re seeing color through their eyes, and you realize how much we take for granted, how much beauty overload we live in all the time.  You wonder what else we can’t see, what else is hiding in plain sight.

Now.  Post #2:  women at the March on Washington hold a sign proclaiming “If Mary had had an abortion, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”  And it’s a kick in the gut, one of the few statements left that still has power to shock.  Really?  And it’s a flood of horrifying thoughts, one struggling to top the last—you’d trade the Christmas story for a coat hanger?  Jesus’ death on a cross wasn’t awful enough?  You have that level of hate for the Savior of the world?  You lay the blame for all that’s wrong at His feet—at ours?

But then I understand.  Post #1 is the explanation for Post #2.  There is rampant blindness in our culture, like a population struck with scarlet fever.  I am not exempt.

We do not see the beauty of Christ, because we are dazzled by rhinestone substitutes.

We do not see the Great Story of the world, because we are sidetracked by our own little dramas.

We do not see the long stretch of eternity, because we are caught up in the vapor of now.

We don’t see the struggle and pain of others (but stub a toe and we’ll nurse it all the day long.)

We don’t see the glory of people Not Like Us, because we’re too busy gazing in a mirror.

We miss the rich tapestry of the races.

We miss the quirky strength of the genders.

We can’t see the value and dignity and perfection of the disabled, the bent and twisted ones, the elderly, the mentally challenged, the helpless, unborn human beings whose presence causes us discomfort or inconvenience or shame.

We are so very blind.  And I wonder what it will take for us to see, like Neo to wake up in the Matrix.  But like our colorblind friends, we have been given a pair of nifty glasses; all we have to do is put them on.

So let me pop those puppies on, let me remind myself of Truth.

Back in the very beginning there was a Trio of Oneness, an everlasting symphony of Love.  And this Love, this triune God, His creativity and laughter and yes, love, bubbled over and made the vast and spectacular universe, from Milky Way to micro-organism.  And there in the middle of an extraordinary garden (red and green included in all their shades), He put a pair of people, and He called them very good.  But a snake slithered in, and the world was broken, and instead of choosing light, we craved the darkness.  All that is broken and hurting and wrong in the world traces back, back, back to that choice, that moment, leaving us crying out, “Vanity!  Vanity!”

But still He wasn’t done, and Love came down into the muck to be spat upon, mocked, beaten, rejected, and finally murdered.  But still He wasn’t done; He burst the bonds of the grave, defeated death, and made a way for blind eyes, my eyes, to see.

He is beauty.  All that is good and right in the world shines because He breathed on it, shines because it bloomed out of His imagination.

Those women, the ones with the sign—they were dreamed up and fashioned out of Love.  There is grace for them just as there was mercy for me.  And the babies they’d just as soon dispose of?  Each one a wisp of smoke that never was?  No.  Each one was painstakingly designed, seen, and adored.

Let’s be the people of color, the people who dole out compassion, joy, forgiveness, and kindness, who lend others our lenses and help them want to see.

Dostoevsky said beauty will save the world.  Thank the Lord, He already did.

Psalm 46 in a World Gone Mad

There is a place in Acadia National Park, in Maine, where you can see the ocean’s strength displayed, see the forces that batter and smash. It is called Thunder Hole, and is so dramatic that visitors to the park flock dutifully to stand a moment and watch. Dark water, surging into a hidden cave, collides with a pocket of air, creating a roar like thunder, splashing as high as 40 feet into the air. We visited Acadia, paused there and watched the waves crash angrily against the rock. Who is mightier than the thunder of the sea? Who is mightier than the raging nations?

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling…

Read more at godcenteredlife.org…

Election Year Exiles

So Michael (my husband) is a council member over at GCL, and they’ve invited me to write for their blog time to time.  This month the focus is politics, so (PoliSci geek here), I was happy to oblige.  

When we read the New Testament in present day America, it is always with a degree of imaginative remove, like watching a period piece on PBS.  We cock our head: you don’t say!  There always seem to be sandals and dusty robes, grapes and flatbread, lots of sheep… bleating.  Peter and Paul and all those Marys — they look dirty, but somehow pristine; wisdom makes them seem to glow.  They look like Morgan Freeman, or Gandalf, and when they say curious things, it’s hard to separate what’s cultural from what’s timeless.

It’s easy to relegate Biblical themes to a Roman Empire movie set — for example, assuming that idolatry was an ancient problem, or that modesty is now outdated.

Likewise, the idea that we are all aliens and strangers is hard to grasp in our patriotic “Christian country.”  After all, the early Christians (and for that matter, the Jews) lived in enemy-occupied territory; of course Peter would talk like that.

Continue Reading HERE.

Counter-Culture

Christianity is so much more ridiculous than most people give us credit for.  Oh, there are a lot of stereotypes:  we’re narrow-minded or we’re stuffy, we’re anti-intellectual or we’re honorable.  It depends who you ask.  But the truth?

We believe in miracles, and beauty.  We sing — a lot.  We give away a chunk of everything we earn, value children, turn the other cheek.  We give up sex outside of marriage and persevere in marriages that are hard.  We spend a lot of time reading really, really old books.  We expect to be insulted and pray for our enemies.  That is to say, some of us do some of these things some of the time.  But our hero did all of them all of the time.

More than any time since the decadent Romans roamed the world, Christians stick out like a sore thumb.  A group that used to be fairly mainstream is more and more a fringe society, out of place.  We’re like the Amish.  Our ethics are antiquated and even our happiness is old-fashioned.  Almost everything we believe and all actions proceeding from that faith are out of step with the spirit of the times.

For starters, Christianity is built around the worship of a heroic, self-sacrificial, transcendent God-man who preached love, justice, restoration, and purity of heart.  But the zeitgeist worships self; scoffs at transcendence; and preaches scorn, comfort, futility, and self-determined, conditional ethics.  Taken one at a time, these beliefs of ours are radical.  Even the preliminary notion of a hero is a jolt.

It’s a sign of the times that movies with good guys who come out ahead are universally panned by the critics.  Take Steven Spielberg, for example.  Though his blockbuster hits keep coming, critics dog him over and again with the sneering assessment:  he’s too soft.  As Robert Dougherty states in a review for themovienetwork.com, “The seemingly easy solution is to just make a movie that is completely bleak, has no uplifting message about mankind, humanity, family or ordinary men, and makes audiences feel there is no such thing as heroes — basically the hallmarks of ‘prestige’ television these days.”  While the masses like their popcorn flicks, the critics, arbiters of culture that they are, consistently complain that a movie with hope cannot ring true.  So even The Lego Movie proclaims, “I’m dark and brooding, too!”fontcandy-5

No, heroes are for the unenlightened.  And in the absence of a good that triumphs over evil, we’re left without hope.  And since that’s kind of a bummer, we flip a switch and get… apathy.  Pass the popcorn.

Christians love beauty.  Historically, Christianity accounts for some of the world’s greatest architecture (think cathedrals), sculpture (Michelangelo springs to mind), music (hello, Bach) and literature (Milton) ever created.  As C.S. Lewis put it in Till We Have Faces, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing – to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from – my country, the place where I ought to have been born.”

In a world where Robert Mapplethorpe’s pornography is regarded as high art and Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (it’s a toilet, folks) is considered an icon, the Christian insistence on light, hope, and purpose seems naïve and childish.  Not that abandoning beauty was ever the humanist’s goal; there is a persistent wistfulness underneath most of the scorn.  But having jettisoned God, and with him any fontcandy-4sense of otherworldly beauty, there can be no hope, and the best we can settle for is facing despair head-on.  But leaving Eden left a vacuum in the human heart, which our jaded culture attempts endlessly to fill.  And so while Christians seek transcendence, our neighbor lives for his appetite, a gloomy proposition of ever-diminishing returns.

That strange evangelical family down the block?  The one with a half-dozen kids?  They talk a lot about their heritage.  They plan for future generations.  When a friend is in the hospital (probably to have a baby — they seem to have a lot of babies), they drop everything to bring a meal.  When someone needs a place to stay, they cram the kids like sardines into one room to open up a guest bed.  They come and go a lot — church on Sunday, Bible study on Wednesday, their lives oriented around a community of like-minded weirdos, a family that extends beyond the four walls.  In contrast, secular millennials often have no particular attachment to the past.  Family ties are loose.  Relationships are somewhat transient.  Marriage (of any variety) is perceived as a fun option insofar as it comes with a big wedding party; children are a cute accessory, maybe, if and when they don’t interfere with other plans.  According to recent reports, the birth rates for women in their 20s saw a 15 percent drop from 2007 to 2012.  One writer went so far as to suggest giving all working adults the equivalent of maternity leave, baby or no baby, calling her invention “me-ternity.”  Christians tend to look at their secular counterparts and say selfish (yep, Christians can be judgy), seculars shrug innocently and say, logical.  And why not?  Jesus summed up this fancy-free attitude:  “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

But is it merry, this void of connection?  Christians aim for timeless values, while seculars, feeling free, are paradoxically trapped in time.  Having rejected history and disregarded the future, all they have to live for is this moment, with its gossamer-fragile relationships, its long string of goodbyes.

And so it goes.  Christians espousing personal holiness and self-denial uphold ancient prescriptions for sexual purity: one man, one woman, for a lifetime.  We didn’t set out in our conviction to infuriate three-quarters of the world, but that’s what happened.  While I’m content to be the odd duck and let my neighbor do whatever she wants in her own bedroom, my commitment, my very existence, it would seem, is an affront to her.

In Sweden, forerunners of the gender revolution have abolished gender-specific pronouns in favor of enforced neutrality.  You’ll not likely meet a Christian who feels strongly about grammar, but share with him this development and watch sadness wash across his face.  Why?  We grieve the loss of God-given distinctives.  While seculars literally hold parades for diversity, we Christians quietly revel in it.  Step into my church and meet immigrants, professors, high school dropouts, alcoholics, cowboys, girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, old people, toddlers — all welcomed, loved, and genuinely enjoyed for all their quirks.  We reject snobbish, vapid, body-obsessed androgyny.  We relish our differences.

Do you actually know any Christians?  The word (a religious slur that went viral) means “little Christs.”  Not someone who grew up Lutheran a million years ago or goes to church occasionally or someone who celebrates Santa Claus, but someone who celebrates truth and beauty, love and justice, prayer and worship.  Someone poor in spirit and pure in heart.  Someone who cherishes robust community, authentic relationships, matchless grace and the occasional miracle.  Perhaps we who worship Jesus are even more counter-cultural than you think we are .fontcandy-6

If Jonathan Swift ran for president…

Deborah Nucotola couldn’t have come up with a better idea herself!

A MODEST PROPOSAL  by Dr. Jonathan Swift, 1729

For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.

It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads and cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in stroling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.

I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom, a very great additional grievance; and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the common-wealth, would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed beggars: it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age, who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them, as those who demand our charity in the streets.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years, upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation. It is true, a child just dropt from its dam, may be supported by her milk, for a solar year, with little other nourishment: at most not above the value of two shillings, which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner, as, instead of being a charge upon their parents, or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the feeding, and partly to the cloathing of many thousands.

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expence than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couple, who are able to maintain their own children, (although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom) but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand, for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remain an hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, How this number shall be reared, and provided for? which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build houses, (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing till they arrive at six years old; except where they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier; during which time they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers: As I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me, that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art.

I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old, is no saleable commodity, and even when they come to this age, they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half a crown at most, on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriments and rags having been at least four times that value.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

IMG_1887I do therefore humbly offer it to publick consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar’s child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, labourers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend, or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants, the mother will have eight shillings neat profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child.

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flea the carcass; the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.

As to our City of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose, in the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.

A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased, in discoursing on this matter, to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said, that many gentlemen of this kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want of venison might be well supply’d by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age, nor under twelve; so great a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to starve for want of work and service: And these to be disposed of by their parents if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations. But with due deference to so excellent a friend, and so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the males, my American acquaintance assured me from frequent experience, that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that of our school-boys, by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable, and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with humble submission, be a loss to the publick, because they soon would become breeders themselves: And besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice, (although indeed very unjustly) as a little bordering upon cruelty, which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, how well soever intended.

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty’s prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at a play-house and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for; the kingdom would not be the worse.

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed; and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken, to ease the nation of so grievous an incumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known, that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young labourers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment, to a degree, that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour, they have not strength to perform it, and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come.

I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.

For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of Papists, with whom we are yearly over-run, being the principal breeders of the nation, as well as our most dangerous enemies, and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the absence of so many good Protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their country, than stay at home and pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate.

Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to a distress, and help to pay their landlord’s rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing unknown.

Thirdly, Whereas the maintainance of an hundred thousand children, from two years old, and upwards, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a piece per annum, the nation’s stock will be thereby encreased fifty thousand pounds per annum, besides the profit of a new dish, introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom, who have any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among our selves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.

Fourthly, The constant breeders, besides the gain of eight shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year.

Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns, where the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts for dressing it to perfection; and consequently have their houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating; and a skilful cook, who understands how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they please.

Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards, or enforced by laws and penalties. It would encrease the care and tenderness of mothers towards their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the publick, to their annual profit instead of expence. We should soon see an honest emulation among the married women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.

Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barrel’d beef: the propagation of swine’s flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well grown, fat yearly child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a Lord Mayor’s feast, or any other publick entertainment. But this, and many others, I omit, being studious of brevity.

IMG_1889Supposing that one thousand families in this city, would be constant customers for infants flesh, besides others who might have it at merry meetings, particularly at weddings and christenings, I compute that Dublin would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses; and the rest of the kingdom (where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper) the remaining eighty thousand.

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and ’twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither cloaths, nor houshold furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ’till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

But, as to my self, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expence and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England. For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, and flesh being of too tender a consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, As things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock, would leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers, cottagers and labourers, with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect; I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever.

IMG_1891

I have no children, by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.