Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 28, 2000
Out of Littleton tragedy . . . wisdom
Endangered: Your Child in a Hostile World, by Johann Christoph Arnold, Farmington, Pa. Plough Press, 2000 (Distributed in Canada by Novalis). 186 pages, softcover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Last year, Johann Arnold spent time with the grieving family of Cassie Bernall, the young woman who was among more than a dozen people killed at the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colo.
From that visit he saw published the book She Said Yes, a major religious bestseller, written by Cassie's mother Misty. (This book was reviewed in WCR, Oct. 25, 1999).
This year, Arnold publishes his own book on the challenges of raising children under adverse circumstances. Endangered: Your Child in a Hostile World informs us that the tragedy in Littleton grew out of a culture that is loudly and proudly rooting for a global shootout. That culture, he believes, is us.
From Littleton, a community that symbolizes so much of what has gone wrong with the raising of children in America, comes redemptive words. Arnold quotes a pastor who ministered to youth at the high school Cassie attended: "Young people don't want comfort and security. They want self sacrifice and risks."
They need trustworthy models who assume the challenge of parenting with integrity and conviction. "If you don't live for others, you end up being consumed with yourself."
Endangered is a book that takes the raising of children at once seriously and reverently. At a time when having offspring is discounted and when they are often either ignored or valued only as consumers, Arnold makes a strong claim for having and respecting children, period.
The context from which he writes may be the United States but the lessons he shares are universal.
We inhabit a world with mixed hospitality for children. In his own country, Arnold has known many youth who claim their families gave them all that money could buy but never really cared about them.
Ironically, Arnold has also visited families in Iraq where the Gulf War bombing put many children at risk. There he found children highly valued in their own right. In Cuba, he discovered that children may have few material playthings but they had families that truly loved them.
What is going on here? Is it possible that in nations with high living standards like Canada children risk more than they do when the reverse is true? These are issues worth pondering.
The Harvard psychiatrist and Catholic writer Robert Coles says: "What kids desperately need is a moral purpose, and a lot of our children aren't getting that. Instead, they're getting parents who are . . . sending them to the right colleges, buying the best clothes . . . and providing interesting vacations."
Ultimately, however, it is the love we give our children and not the material things that will remain with them for life.
The book is comprised of short but rich chapters revealing how parents often avoid seeing things from their children's perspective and fail to work through life's problems with them; on the continuing value of healthy sacrifice for one's children; on discovering that having difficult children may be a blessing in disguise since here is where unconditional love is best learned.
Parents need to encourage obedience but must not stifle independence. The energy that makes a child hard to manage is often the energy that afterwards makes the child a manager of life.
Reverence your child, says Arnold. For him, abortion is the ultimate irreverence. Every child, however healthy, can transform its parent. Every life entrusted to a parent, however briefly, is a special gift. Find the particular meaning God has for each child. Children teach us to live in the present and ultimately give us reason for optimism and hope.
Out of life's greatest tragedies like Littleton and Taber come people able to share life's most important lessons. Endangered offers wisdom born from experience.
Readers can download a free eBook version of Endangered at the author's website: www.christopharnold.com
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a lecturer in religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)