Gender Confusion: A Story



abuseThe bare bulb glowed yellow on the water stained ceiling.  If she stared at it fully her eyes wouldn’t see well.  Her mother was scream-crying, frantically pushing, palms out. Long brown hair, sweaty and tangled, covered her face.  His shouts quieted as he grabbed her small frame and thrust her onto the couch.  He furiously punched her into the rough, green cushions over and over. Hands over face, she sobbed repeatedly, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”  Broken.

The little girl sat still, shallow breathing.  If she kept her feet behind the line on the slatted wooden floor, she would be safe.  She carefully squished each toe behind that line, pushing her back hard against the wall so as to remain unnoticed.

His heavy engineer boots sounded across the hollow floor and the door slammed.  Sitting quietly, the girl listened until the sound of boots on stair had faded.   Her mother quietly closed her bedroom door behind her.  The child listened as her mother’s angry tears melted into broken-hearted sorrow. She dared not move, but stared at the porch door expectantly.  Tension still hung heavy.

A few minutes later her mother began applying make-up at the living room mirror, carefully covering bruises already appearing under eyes and over cheek.  She was herself again.

On their way to the girl’s aunt’s house, she held her mother’s hand tightly and looked around noticing all the other ladies wearing make-up.  It was then she realized why women wear make-up and men don’t.  Women must hide their bruises, their shame.  She felt a deep embarrassment at being female.  A lady walked by.  She had short hair, unmade face and manly clothes.  She was strong.  The girl had seen other ladies like her. She would grow to be like them.  She would grow to be a manly woman.

This little girl was two.  She would barely remember this day, and would certainly forget her own thoughts, but the seeds of her forming identity were sown. Would future counselors help untangle the mess or would they encourage her further into her confusion?



Legalistic Grace



It’s amazing how Christians can take a doctrine as beautiful as grace, and turn it on its ear so it becomes a burdensome law. I know I’ve done it and I see others falling into this trap all the time.  Legalism can be tricky.  It is easy to escape one form of legalistic thinking only to fall into another form.  Some legalisms even look a lot like grace.

For example, I’ve heard this basic conversation,  in various shapes, but always with the same underlying pattern.

“You know, I’ve just had so much trouble with my six-year-old. You wouldn’t believe how stubborn he is. I can’t get him to listen to me at all! If I tell him to come to dinner he just screams ‘no’ every time and locks himself in his room. I really just don’t know what to do.”

Ladies will commiserate, trading stories of how their children too, are demanding and disobedient.  They all seem burdened with parenting.

Someone will then brave a solution. Has she tried stickers? Essential oils? Taking away video time? Is her child eating refined sugar? Maybe she should just leave him locked in there.

Several of these suggestions might be temporarily helpful, but my heart saddens because none of them are directed at the heart. None of it points to Christ, only toward outward actions. They are telling her how to raise a pharisee, clean on the outside, dead bones within. I fear for these ladies.  What will their children be like in ten years? Yet, I already know if I  share from the Bible, I will be considered legalistic.  I offer my solution anyway.

“Have you tried pointing your son to God’s law?  You could teach him the verse, ‘Children obey your parents.’  Of course, the end goal is to point him to Christ, but he might not be interested in that if he doesn’t see where he has gone wrong. You could explain that he will receive a spanking, or some other consequence, because he has disobeyed. None of this should be in anger or in a spirit of adversity, of course, but in gentleness, knowing that we are all in this sin thing together.  Then you might pray with him and ask God’s forgiveness.  Of course, after forgiveness comes celebration.  Hugs and snuggles and happy assurances of God’s generous forgiveness are in order. Isn’t it wonderful how he forgives even when we don’t deserve it?  Aren’t Jesus’ mercy and grace beautiful!”

Silence. (Crickets chirping.)

“Um…It would probably be a good idea to follow this all up with lots of fun training periods where you make a game out of coming.  That’s how I did it with my own kids. I would stand on one side of the house and call, “Come here!” My kids knew to run to me and they would get swung around and hugged with lots of praise, ‘Look how well you’re obeying! Jesus is helping you!’ I’d repeat this from different areas of the house throughout the day.”

They stare at me blankly and I realize I should have gone about this in a much more Socratic way. They continue where they left off.

“It’s just a stage, he’ll grow out of it.”

“And after all, (comforting eyes), all we can really do it pray.”

“You know,” another adds authoritatively, “All the experts just say to give them more control and than they won’t grasp for it.”

I hesitate, because this is partly true, but it still doesn’t reach the heart, so I try again, hoping to push for feedback. “Of course, they want control in this situation because they want to be God rather than bowing down to God.  So, no matter what you decide, you always need to point him to Christ.”

Finally, they voice their disagreement, “You know, we need to be careful. We don’t want to become legalistic.  The Bible really doesn’t say that much about parenting, and even the verses we have are up for interpretation.  It’s so easy to just make a check list and think if you follow it, your kids will be saved.”

Another agrees,  “And after, all, a six year old can’t really understand much anyway.  You can talk to your kids till your blue in the face, but only God can change them.  Just ignore his behavior. Give him grace.  He’ll grow out of it.”

Their grace-based parenting is really legalism is disguise. I recognize it because  I was once a bit  legalistic myself.  And like them, I was convinced I fully got the grace thing.  I belonged to the scheduling, “blanket time” kind of legalism, but it’s really the same thing.  Thankfully, God put wise, older ladies in my life, who gently pointed me in a more balanced direction, while my kids were still fairly young.

Although I doubt they would word it this way, they are attempting to avoid legalism by not taking God’s law too seriously. In their minds, grace equals permissiveness. Avoiding the law, though, does not avoid legalism.  The pharisees were not wrong because they loved God’s law too much.  They were wrong because they found their own self-righteousness in it. When they realized they were not keeping it perfectly they would change it so that they could keep it.  It is possible to do this in the name of grace.  Also, it is not possible to be truly law-free.

All of our kids act up and all parents have to make decisions about discipline and rules.  If we  are avoiding God’s law,  we are getting the rules from somewhere else.  These ladies had already made up their mind that their kids could not obey the Bible, so like the pharisees, they replaced God’s law with more attainable rules. Often mothers follow the spirit of the age to find these rules.  Instead of “Children obey your parents, for this is right”, it’s “Eat organic, avoid red dye, gluten and caged chickens.” or “Don’t have too much screen time.” Parenting magazines will give dozens of ways to avoid conflict, rather than expecting submission. All these things can be useful at times, just like blanket time, scheduling, or baby-wearing can be useful, but they do not convict of sins, therefore they do not show children their need for a savior. They do not reach the motivations of the heart.  Trying to get rid of God’s law in the name of grace is just another form of legalism because we always replace it with something else, and that something else will not lead to Christ like His law will.

God’s law is the only law that perfectly reflects our Creator, and it is His image we are being conformed to. Unlike much of the agnostic pop-psychology influencing our magazines and college classes, it is God’s law that understands exactly who our children are. God’s law is what our children need, not just for its perfect fit, but also because it is unattainable.  We cannot keep it and we are therefore reminded constantly of our need for mercy.

Legalism is not “trying to obey too much”.  It is trying to obey for the wrong reasons.  If you are obeying out of a spirit of guilt, fear or pride than you have probably fallen into the pharisee trap.  However, if you are obeying because you love God, you see His law is a beautiful reflection on his character, and you want to be more like Him, that is a good thing.  If you are obeying because you see that your sin is separating you from others and you want to be able to love others better, that’s exactly what the law is there for.  Jesus summarized the whole law into two commandments; love God, love others.

So, ladies, if you want to avoid legalism in you parenting, embrace God’s law.  Bind then on your fingers. Write them on tablet of your heart. When you and your children fail, don’t worry.  There’s no need for legalistic pride or anger-from child or parent.   Jesus has you covered. When you succeed, thank God.  He’s the one working through you. The law is the school master that brings us and our children to Christ.  Without God’s law, why should our children think they need mercy or grace?

Review of Lila



Marilynne Robinson is a wonderful writer. She drew me in, both heart and mind, from the first page.  Lila, a neglected child of the Depression Era, is kidnapped (out of mercy) by a wandering farm hand. The author follows her rough life, filled with desperate decisions and shows the hopelessness growing in her heart. As an adult Lila meets a soft-spoken Calvinist pastor, one whose theology judges the very people Lila loves. The gentle pastor marries her and is a constant means of God’s grace to her, but she is left with the question of God’s justice. How can all those wonderful people she loves from her past be on their way to hell? Ms. Robinson sets the stage to grapple with the problem of evil.

Along side this another strand of thought is being developed. The author begins by lilashowing the sacredness of things. Things become sacred because of those related to them. A shawl is special, set apart from other shawls, because of the one who owned it. The person’s grace has actually changed the value of the thing. She then grows that idea to show how one person’s grace toward another changes that other just like God’s grace changes us. Finally she attempts to answer the problem of evil. God loves his people and His people love even those who aren’t His people. How can we, as God’s people, enjoy the new heaven and earth, knowing those we love are in hell? Maybe God is more generous, more gracious than we ever imagined. Lila concludes that those she loves will also be in heaven with her, because this is God’s grace toward her.

Ms.Robinson does a wonderful job showing the beauty of God’s transforming grace through his people. I left the book more thankful for those who have been grace to me and with more determination to be more gracious to those in my life. I was disappointed with her apparent answer to the problem of evil. If we feel God is unjust, there are two options. One, God isn’t as harsh as we think, or two, we are worse than we think. I tend to agree with both of these, but Ms. Robinson tends to excuse sin and belittle God’s justice. I left this book feeling the non-Christian characters were innocent victims of their circumstances. How could God really judge?

Ms. Robinson’s book reminded me a lot of Flannery O’ Conner’s writings.  They both write about the same themes, but while Flannery seems to lean heavy on justice and light on grace, Robinson seems to do just the opposite. If Flannery were to write about Lila, she would dissect every corner of her heart. She would open up self-deceit and pride. Ms. Robinson seems to take a more psychological, therapeutic approach. Both perspectives have their insights.  If these two ladies ever met in heaven and conversed, I would love to listen in.

From the Trenches


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I have always taught my children that love is stronger than hate.  Countless stories in history illustrate this, and of course, there is the Ultimate Example479 in Scripture.  It’s funny, though, how real life can come crashing through our ideologies.  Reality, for us, came in the form of eleven scraggly, nine to twelve-year-old boys.

They stood barefoot, on cracked cement, daring my kids to play in their own yard.  Most of these boys came from single parent homes where their mothers worked long hours, leaving them unsupervised.  My kids had been afraid to leave the house for several days.

My boys needed to defend themselves in order to win respect, yet I didn’t want them becoming part of some “might makes right”, Darwinian culture.  As I was contemplating, a fairy tale my old pastor had written came to mind.  The main character, needing to be a hero, but not having the weapons to do so, began shouting, “Love is powerful to save!”  I realized more clearly how we needed to fight.

I looked at these insecure ragamuffins, trying desperately to find communion with each other in a common enemy. Waiting behind an open door, I sent my boys out. The moment they saw me they would disperse.  My boys were to defend each other, with cheer, not anger, as if they were tumbling with friends.  It didn’t matter if they won.  What mattered was that they were brave and kind.  Then they were to invite the little “gang” over and attempt to befriend them. Our story would be stronger than their story.

First there was a loud scuffle, then talking, and then fourteen boys sitting happily on my front porch eating popsicles. My twelve year old later told me, “They all jumped on me, but then started fighting each other.  So, I crawled out and invited them over.”

They talked, comparing home school to public and picking favorite T.V. characters. Soon the conversation turned. The leader whispered to my son, “Shh, don’t tell your mom, but go get the rest of the popsicles from the freezer.” When my son refused, the boy bragged, “I steal all the time, ’cause I’m sneaky like that!”

My son asked, “But don’t you ever think about the people you steal from?”

At this, my boys were declared “nerds” and many of the neighborhood kids moved on, leaving popsicle wrapper scattered.  The bullying subsided, though. The few remaining boys became regulars at our house. By the time we moved they had heard the gospel many times.  They joined us for Sabbath dinner, holding their own in Bible memory games.  When they were mean, we would step aside and pray together for God’s forgiveness.  They tagged along for church and played catch with my husband afterward. During the summer, they would appear after breakfast and stay until bedtime. Their attitudes toward life began to change.

It would be convenient to end my story here, nice and tidy. Gospel living, though, is messy – like a war.  At first, my kids tattled on the neighbor kids, appalled at some of their behavior.  After a while, they began to look on them as friends.  As I attempted to order the affections of the children in my neighborhood, they were in turn influencing my own children’s desires.  My kids liked this loose culture.  There was no mortification of the flesh, no self-sacrifice.  One son began sagging his pants. My daughters imitated inappropriate dances neighbor girls copied from MTV. My boys decided it was cool to pick on their little sisters.  A hardness entered their hearts.

My older kids understood the concept of “worldview”.  They were being classically educated, after all.  We had spent time in history class watching ideas incarnate themselves into culture.  My boys could use inductive logic to point out textbook fallacies.  I noticed their knowledge become fuzzy and their logic twisted, as they tried to excuse unacceptable behavior, songs and movies.  The enemy was not attacking their logic and knowledge alone; he was attacking their heart.  Without love, these tools were nothing.

I began turning the neighbor kids away.  My arrows were not yet sharp enough for more.  How my heart saddened as I watched my influence wane!  I turned my attention to my own quiver. It took many conversations, much prayer and perseverance, but their hearts did eventually soften- a more awake, more aware soft. They had always known they were sinners. Now they really understood. I questioned the value of all we had done for our neighbors.  Would everything I taught them be lost in the fog of childhood memories?

The family we had grown closest to was evicted. Before they left, their mother visited.  She explained how a nice, Christian family had offered her a rental house for less than half its value.  This family had visited often and had made an effort to become part of her life.  I smiled.  Their story was not over yet.  My mistake in all this was to think so much was dependent on me.  Others were fighting this same battle.  Love is powerful to save, but not my love.

Soon after, we moved also, to a middle class neighborhood.  Broken cement and beer bottles have been replaced with perfect hedges and shiny cars.   The side-walks lie empty. Everyone is busy living their own life. I am much more careful to prioritize my own kids. They are my first mission field.  Yet, I believe God put us in this neighborhood with some intention.  How else will my children learn to love their neighbor if they are not apprenticing now?  So, here we are.  No one is knocking on our door or even throwing rocks for us to respond to.  Love is stronger than apathy? Pride?  Love is stronger than individualism? Busy materialism? My own timidity? Our story is just beginning in this new place.  I don’t know how the story will go, but I do know this: His love is powerful to save.

The Helicopter Parent and the Noble Savage


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chicken egg      There has been a multitude of articles flooding the internet concerning overprotective parenting.  Although they differ as to what makes a person overprotective, they all agree the line has been crossed, and they all seem to agree on the solution.

I agree that parenting styles have certainly changed in the last several decades.  Not long ago, it was common for a young child to walk to school alone or to ride a bike helmet-less over rough, gravel roads. If a child did not work diligently in school, no one scrupled over holding him back.  Children were allowed risk and they were allowed to fail.  Anthony Esolen, cultural writer, tells how, in his own childhood, kids did chores Saturday morning and then went off to play freely about the neighborhood until dinner.  They played unorganized sports in the street, making and changing rules as needed, solving their own social dilemmas.  Children now spend their weekends being shuffled from one scheduled event to another and then placed in front of a screen.  I personally remember walking to the corner store at the age of six, list in hand.  This was perfectly acceptable in the seventies, but I’m fairly confident I would have CPS at my door within the hour if I did this with my own six-year-old now.bubblewrap

So, a lot has changed in parenting, and many are beginning to believe the changes are for the worse. When parents hover over kids, finishing their tasks, kids do not learn independence. When parents consistently protect their children from failure, their kids began to have such a fear of this horrible thing called “failure”, they become afraid to try. Kids who spend all their free time in sports, structured and supervised by adults, learn the habit of letting others solve their problems for them.  Children, who are kept in a safety bubble, forget how to be carefully aware of their surroundings. Helicopter parenting can stunt a child’s maturation.

I agree that overprotective parenting is a problem, but I do not agree at all with the general solution most people offer.  In fact, I believe the solution being given is the cause of the original problem and that parenting beliefs have come full circle.  Parenting philosophies swing back and forth like a pendulum, each extreme reacting to the other.  Helicopter parenting is not just a simple matter of parents needing to loosen up; it is a reaction.  For over a hundred years, parenting has swung back and forth between being very “hands off” to very controlling.  The over scheduled sports of the 80’s and 90’s were a reaction against the “free-range” parenting of the 60’s and 70’s. I still remember the politicians of the 1980’s promising structured after school programs to keep idle kids out of trouble.  Now they have too much structure.  We had this same back and forth swing during the first part of the century.  Although this has been going on for some time, it is a very modern phenomena, one that grows straight out the Constructivist learning theory.

In order to understand the pendulum swing, a person  must know the basic story that has unfolded in the area of educational philosophy.  Constructivism, as a formal theory is fairly new, but the ideas the led to it have been around  much longer.  For centuries these Constructive-like ideas and Christian thought have grown side by side.

Christians believe children are image bearers of God who have inherited sinful inclinations from Adam and Eve.  Because they are image bearer, they are to be treated with respect.  As sinners, they must sometimes be trained against their natural inclinations. The parents’ job is help bring the child in conformity to the image of God so that he can become what he was created to be.  Parents pass on objective standards of truth, beauty, and goodness in such a way that the children will grow to want to pass them on to their own children and to those around them.  If the child does not reach the objective standards found in the Bible, the child is the one that must change, or repent, not the standard. For Christians, children are not tainted by society, they are tempted by society.  It is the taintedness in their heart that causes them to react in a wrong way. So, a Christian parent does set up a sort of mini-culture temporarily for a child, but not to protect the child from becoming evil, rather to strengthen the child first to overcome evil.

Constructivism exists in a Naturalistic, Godless world.  Children are not Image bearers, but animals whose lineage has evolved through much struggle. These animal children are naturally good or neutral, Noble Savages.  They only become wicked if they are tainted by society.  It is the parents’ job to facilitate an environment, where the children can construct morality and knowledge on their own away from the negative influences of the larger culture.  Sometimes the environment they set up is very loose, like in the 1960s and 70s, where children can run around freely.  When that doesn’t work as planned, and it doesn’t, parents begin facilitating a more structured atmosphere. When that fails, they return to the Noble Savage model….and back and forth they go.  When the child does not construct good morals or accurate knowledge, when he does not reach the standard, the problem is with the subjective standard and not the child.  Benjamin_west_Death_wolfe_noble_savage

Notice, though, how both the “free range” kid model of the sixties and the structured sports model of the eighties and nineties are really all based on the same premise.  The way to rear a child is to set up the correct environment. The child is morally neutral, a blank slate. If there is a problem with how the children are turning out, we simply adjust their surrounding influences.

I gave examples above concerning how hyper-scheduling can poorly affect children.  “Free Range” parenting can have its negatives as well.  In an article in the “Atlantic”,  the author tells of several children she observed starting a fire to warm themselves. One child began to throw a glossy piece of cardboard in, but was warned by the group not to do so because it would smoke.  He tossed it in regardless, and was met with a tirade of complaints.  Embarrassed, he now knew not to put glossy cardboard in the fire.  The author is trying to show her audience how children can construct their own morality and learn logical consequences through their peers without adult supervisors coercing them with unwanted rules.

I have worked in schools which follow this philosophy.  Since morality is a social construct, the strongest children tend to set the law. They may be the strongest physically, or the strongest verbally, controlling the thinking of the group.  Bullying becomes a problem and a need for helicopter parenting arises.

Neither of these models works because they are founded on a false premise, namely that children are morally neutral beings in a naturalistic world.  There is a third option though, discipleship.  There is no dichotomy between structure and freedom in the Christian paradigm because the whole point of the structure is to bring freedom.  Christian parents believe in training their child’s heart while they are young, through structure, yes, but mostly through relationship.  They spend a generous amount of time training children in the rules, not just to know them, but to love them, because the rules are really all about love and are lovely, for they point to Love Himself.  Christian children are discipled to see the sin in their heart  for what it is, unpleasant and undesirable, and are taught to look to their Creator for help.  Along with this, they are trained in self-government, to have the ability to do these things they have learned to love, even when it is against their natural inclination.  The structure, God’s law applied to life, gives freedom, freedom from the sin in each of our hearts that causes war, hatred and abuse. It gives liberty not by changing the environment, but by changing the child into what he was originally created to be, a divine image bearer.

A funny thing happens with this type of careful instruction.  A child soon learns to run around freely, not because he hasn’t been tainted by society, but because his tainted-ness has been washed by Christ’s blood.   He has been encultured to love the things that keep a society free.  He no longer needs the helicopter parent, or the helicopter state for that matter. God’s law, through the power of the Holy Spirit has made him free in a way no man-made construct can do.  Constructivism cannot solve the problem of evil. Human constructs cannot substitute for the Messiah by manipulating the environment so the kids turn out “good”.  It is by His stripes we are healed.  It is by picking up our cross, following Him and teaching our children to do the same, that a culture is healed.  This is the real answer to the helicopter parenting dilemma. In daily life, this may sometimes look like helicopter parenting and sometimes look like Noble Savage parenting.  While the child is young, he will be quite restricted, but as reaches the teen years, he will realize more and more freedom as he lives out God’s love laws on his own.  He will truly have become noble.

When Justice Kissed Mercy


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A Native American Tells of God’s Justice and Mercy


Many moons ago, when the buffalo roamed and the chiefs ruled the land, there was one chief who was considered the greatest among them all. He was the greatest because he was the most loving and the most just. In matters brought before him, he always did what was most loving and most just. One day it was discovered that there was a thief among them. It was told to the Chief, who justly proclaimed that the thief, when caught, would receive 10 lashes for their crime. Time went by, and things continued to be stolen. The Chief increased the penalty to fit the crime up to 30 lashes. After a time, when things continued to disappear, the Chief increased the penalty to 50 lashes, which was nothing less than the death penalty, as no one could survive that severe of a beating. Then, one day, it was told him that they found the thief, and to the horror of everyone, it was the Chief’s mother. A stillness came over the whole tribe as all wondered, would the Chief sacrifice his justice for his love, or his love for his justice? The morning of the execution came, and the frail mother was led out and tied to the whipping post. The executioner walked up to her, and as he stretched back to deliver the first blow, the Chief stood to his feet. There was a collective sigh of relief in the assembly as it appeared the Chief was willing to sacrifice his justice in order to show his great love for his mother. Then the Chief began to walk down the great steps toward her. Each step, as he got dirtier and dirtier, he began to remove his royal regalia, until he stood behind her totally exposed to all. He leaned forward, wrapped his arms around his mother’s frail body, turned to the executioner and said, proceed. Thus, love kissed justice that day. The Chief died for his mother. Christ died for His enemies. The Bible says in Romans 5:6-8 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Clint Hughes, a Christian Native American

Two Separate Questions: The Existence of God and the Truth of Christianity


Saw this on the “Hard-Core Christianity” blog and would like to pass it on. It is an easy to watch, well made video.  I think it would be a great introduction for young teen who are beginning their studies in logic.

Melissa Cain Travis

There is an interesting phenomenon in apologetics debate: skeptics attempting to argue against the existence of God using evidence thought to discredit Christianity.

This tactic is fundamentally flawed. Whether or not Christianity is true is a different question than whether or not God exists. (Note that I am using the minimal definition that the skeptic usually has in mind for “God”: an immaterial, transcendent entity with agency. It’s key to clarify this in your discussions.) So, even a skeptic’s strongest arguments against the Christian faith are not automatically arguments against the existence of God. Now, it is possible to argue in the opposite direction; any good argument against the existence of God (an immaterial, transcendent entity with agency) would automatically apply against the truth claims of Christianity, since Christianity requires God’s existence.

There seems to be widespread confusion on this, so I hope I have helped to clarify things. Friends don’t…

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Age of Enlightenment



“… his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my “chronological snobbery,” the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

-C.S. Lewis in “Surprised by Joy”  (ch. 13)