IT TAKES A WHOLE VILLAGE

By: Michelle Lindfors


It takes a whole village to raise our children,
It takes a whole village to raise one child.
We all everyone must share the burden,
We all everyone will share the joy.



A cartoon in this week’s New Yorker magazine features a hapless father buying his young daughter a helmet so she can ride her scooter. He tells the salesman, “I need something sturdy enough to withstand the scrutiny of other parents.”

Indeed, raising a child today can be a competitive sport with constant comparison and one-upmanship. At the times when all is going well with the raising of a child, parents humble-brag about everything from the child’s APGAR score (this is a test given moments after birth to measure a newborn’s well-being), to first steps, to soccer prowess, to math wizardry, to piano prodigy-ness, to SAT scores, college admissions, and on and on. Parents wrongly think that the child’s success is due solely to their efforts and sacrifice and talent. They forget that their children are God’s children, on loan to them to nurture and to guide and to ultimately make them His followers.

Conversely, when all is not well, our culture sends that same false message that every child is the sole responsibility of his or her parents, and that the rest of us are off the hook. If we hear a baby screeching on an airplane, we give the parents a tsk-tsk death stare; if a world-class tantrum is on display on aisle nine near the cake mixes, we roll our eyes and hightail it to the bananas. And when the children who are not faring well are older, we nod our head and commiserate, but privately we shake our heads and wonder what those parents did wrong.

God’s message on families, encapsulated in the African proverb we will sing about on Sunday, though, is refreshingly countercultural. We are all on the hook. What a beautiful vision of child-raising this song extols: It takes a whole village to raise one child. Singing this song is reminiscent of the lovely part of our baptismal liturgy when the congregation stands and promises to tell the child the story of Jesus and to nurture the child’s faith. We’re all in this together.

Like many others in the Chancel Choir, my husband Jon and I are raising our children at Trinity and we are so grateful to be a part of this particular Christian community that assists parents at every age and stage of the lives of their children. Being a parent at Trinity is to be a part of a caring, creative, committed village. Our children have been “raised” by Sunday school teachers, VBS small group leaders, choir directors, Gopher Gulch teen volunteers, Happy Birthday Jesus party craft table leaders, Forest Home summer camp bus drivers, youth pastors and, indeed, just the random smiling adults who exclaim, “Wow, you are sure growing up!” to our kids as they make their way across the patio to grab a doughnut on a Sunday morning.

Sunday’s anthem also acknowledges that this business of raising a child is, paradoxically, both a burden and a joy. God’s vision for families is that we lift up the parents with help and prayer when they struggle and that we wholeheartedly celebrate with them when they rejoice. Praise God for this vision of the church!

In her notes at the end of the piece, the composer Joan Szymko states that in writing the song she wished to convey the cultural meaning behind this West African proverb. She says that in the second part of the piece, each voice part has its own unique role, and, when all four parts are combined, a “truly joyful spirit arise[s].” Singing this part of the song makes my heart smile, as I envision the whole body of Christ, the whole village, coming together in exuberant dance. The solo at the beginning of the piece proclaims the proverb, but it is the energetic middle that embodies the message of the anthem: we are many, yet we are one.

Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you for your wisdom that shines through this proverb, and we thank you that we are blessed here at Trinity with a loving and faithful community to help us raise our children. Bless those among us who are raising children right now—give them the energy, courage, humor, and creativity needed to bring them up to be your devoted followers. Help us all see families around us with your eyes and prompt us to lend a hand in the raising of their children.
Inspire us to keep our baptismal promises to all the children at Trinity and, indeed, may this promise extend to all the children of the world. The more we believe that it takes a whole village to raise one child and live out this proverb, the closer your kingdom is to us here on Earth. May it be so, Lord.
Amen.

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