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Dear friends,

Welcome to my blog. I am honored to have you visit. I hope you'll find my articles a blessing. I welcome your input and especially comments and questions.

I write as a Christian from Jerusalem, Israel about Biblical subjects.

I am particularly interested in the subjects of children, families, women's issues, corporal punishment, science and nature as these subjects relate to the Holy Scriptures.

For more information, see my website: www.biblechild.com

With every good wish - Samuel Martin

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Tiger Mother vs. The Bear Mother

The Tiger Mother vs. The Bear Mother by Samuel Martin

Many people of late have been talking about the book written by Amy Chua “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” I have not read the book yet. I’ve read the following article though and I thought it might be interesting to offer some ideas on this whole issue. My point of reference in this regard is the Time magazine article found at this link: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2043313,00.html

I am not sure what Ms. Chua’s religious orientation is, but as a Christian, I would like to introduce you to an equally if not more ferocious mother: “the Bear Mother.”

Anyone who spends even the most limited amount of time watching nature programs will know that a tiger does not stand a chance in fighting a bear. A bear is much more ferocious and fearful.

So here now is where I am going to get a little Biblical and we are going to talk a little about the ferocious Bear Mother. She is far more ferocious than Amy Chua or any other Tiger Mother ever thought of being.

The Bear Mother

When King David was facing the insurrection of his son Absalom, we read a very interesting passage which described him and curiously it ascribes to him the probable feeling of one “enraged.” (II Samuel 17:8) Certainly, if your own son was plotting your murder and to depose you, one would not have the happiest feelings at that moment naturally speaking. Yes David was probably pretty angry (more like devastated and heart broken as we learn from his later reactions about his loss of Absalom) and one who is “enraged” is compared of all things to being “like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field.” (II Samuel 17:8)

Of all the choices to describe an enraged person, the Biblical writer here chose a female bear robbed of her cubs as the most extreme description to describe rage. In the mind of the ancients, in their world view, there was not a more violent expression of rage than that exhibited by a mother bear whose cubs had been taken from her. There is an important teaching here I think for us today. This teaching is not only for mother’s, but in this short discussion, I want to focus in on mothers a little bit. This is dedicated to all mother’s. Love you mom. And also to my wife and mother of our children, Sonia, love you darling.

The Bear and the Bible

We have all read the stories in the Bible about bears and some of them are quite interesting. However, let us have no doubt that here in Israel in ancient and even fairly recent times, bears did exist (they are extinct now). Going back to recent times it is noted that “in the time of the first Crusades these beasts were still numerous and of considerable ferocity; for during the siege of Antioch (in modern day Syria -  a short 250 mile journey from Jerusalem), Godfrey of Bouillon, according to Math Paris, slew one in defence of a poor woodcutter, and was himself dangerously wounded in the encounter.” (CBTEL [Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature], vol. 1, pg. 797 – article ‘Bear.’)

I won’t rehearse the many Biblical references to bears, but rest assured that we are talking about “the genus Ursus being meant in the Hebrew texts…” (ibid.)

Note also what is recorded again in CBTEL which is very relevant to our discussion here.

“The sacred writers frequently associate the formidable animal with the king of the forest, as being equally dangerous and destructive: and it is thus that the prophet Amos sets before his countrymen the succession of calamities which under the just judgment of God, was to befall them, declaring that the removal of one would but leave another equally grievous (v.18,19). Solomon, who had closely studied the character of several individuals of the animal kingdom, compares an unprincipled ruler and wicked ruler to these creatures (Proverbs 28:15). To the fury of the female bear when robbed of her young there are several striking illusions in Scripture (II Samuel 17:8; Proverbs 17:12). The Divine threatening in consequence of the numerous and aggravated iniquities of the kingdom of Israel, as uttered by the prophet Hosea, is thus forcibly expressed: “I will meet them as a bear bereaved of her whelps.” (13:8; see Jerome in loc.)., which was fulfilled by the invasion of the Assyrians and the complete subversion of the kingdom of Israel. ‘The she bear is said to be even more fierce and terrible than the male, especially after she has cubbed, and her furious passions are never more fiercely exhibited than when she is deprived of her young. When she returns to her den and misses the object of her love and care, she becomes almost frantic with rage. Disregarding every consideration of danger to herself, she attacks with great ferocity every animal that comes in her way, and in the bitterness of her heart will dare to attack even a band of armed men. The Russians of Latachatka never venture to fire on a young bear when the mother is near; for if the cub drop, she becomes enraged to a degree little short of madness, and if she gets sight of the enemy will only quit her revenge with her life. A more desperate attempt can scarcely be performed than to carry off her young in her absence. Her scent enables her to track the plunderer; and unless he has reached some place of safety before the infuriated animal overtakes him, his only safety is in dropping one of the cubs and continuing his flight; for the mother, attentive to its safety, carries it home to her den before she renews the pursuit.” (Cook’s Voyages, iii.397).” (ibid. CBTEL)

Note: This passage is very instructive on a number of levels, but before we address these, I would like to say that the reason that this issue is important to us today, who wish to learn more about God, is that presently, more than at any other time, we can study God’s creation in the most intimate of ways down almost even to the very fabric of the universe and life itself: the atomic level. The study of animals and their habits is the same thing. We have today the greatest of ease corroborating the facts herein referenced about bears (or any animal mentioned in Scripture) because we can find hours and hours of documentaries, case studies, stories, can go to zoos and ask question, etc,. about bears (or any other animal almost) to know their habits and whether or not these assertions about them are true.

There are a couple of points which this text raises in reference to the Scriptural teachings about bears and in this case mother bears in particular. Note the previous passage, where it mentions that the reason for the mother bears rage is that she “misses the object of her love and care…” and “Her scent enables her to track the plunderer; and unless he has reached some place of safety before the infuriated animal overtakes him, his only safety is in dropping one of the cubs and continuing his flight; for the mother, attentive to its safety, carries it home to her den before she renews the pursuit.”

These highlighted texts are facts of a long observation of the habits of bears going back into the earliest of times reaching even into the Biblical period. But isn’t it interesting when we look at this animal and how even God compares Himself to a female bear robbed of her cubs, we see that this animal acts this way for one reason and one reason only: THE POWER AND THE PASSION OF MOTHERLY LOVE.

My cousin Holly commenting on this issue says it so eloquently as only a loving mother could: “I love the image of fierceness with which He [God] will defend us and the sweetness of His parenting style. Not a better model is there?

No human male (including myself here) can ever for a moment hope to understand, appreciate or experience this, but for a mother, it is instinct. I think that most mothers share this ferocious love and passionate care for their children.

Yet, what is even more interesting in getting back to our discussion at hand about Tiger Mothers and Bear Mothers, we start to see some differences. While the Time magazine article paints the Tiger Mother as aggressive (can we say violent?), angry, demanding, harsh, rude, and hostile to her children, I ask you and challenge any person to show me any evidence, written or visual, which shows Bear mothers as being anything other than the most sweet and tender, docile and protective, fun loving and patient, happy and long suffering, etc. with their cubs. Oh yes, Bear mothers are fierce, but that ferocity is rarely if ever directed to their cubs.

We all remember the television series’ Gentle Ben and The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (which was hugely popular when it came out). While these are indeed films and theatrical in nature, they show that bears are capable of exhibiting great love, especially to small children as was the case between Ben and Mark in the first mentioned series. Come on, Ben was real and while he was a trained bear, he was a bear nonetheless. Honestly, you never saw a more loving 800 pound bundle of sweetness.

In fact, most people in general love bears and rightly so because we are generally a caring oriented people and bears in fact exhibit some of the best characteristics of love and caring especially for their offspring.

But, you get on their wrong side, especially when it comes to their offspring. Look out! And rightly so! We can point again to the example of Ben. Many times in those episodes of Gentle Ben, Ben was portrayed as very protective of Mark and coming to his rescue over and over again. Then, in the end, you see Ben in Mark’s mom’s pantry eating them out of house and home with the most pleasant look on his face eating the honey or peanut butter.

So, now I would like to pose a question to all of us who are moms and dads. While almost all of us are ready to defend our “cubs” with our own lives should anyone or anything attempt to harm them, how many of us follow the bear in being the most sweet and tender, docile and protective, fun loving and patient, happy and long suffering? Is there a lesson here for all of us? Speaking as one very imperfect dad, I know I’ll be firing up Youtube and looking for Gentle Ben episodes when ever I want to remind myself of what I need to be doing. Frankly, God knew what He was doing when He designed Ben. In fact, when we see Ben, we get a little glimpse of God Himself as my dear cousin Holly said: fiercely protective/100% sweetness.

There is another point about bears. If the bears used in Gentle Ben or Grizzly Adams are good examples, tame bears at least by nature seem to be very friendly animals. This certainly is how Ben and Mark were on camera in Gentle Ben. It really seems that bears can exhibit real qualities of friendship and I think there is some Bible teaching here if we are willing to see it.

Do we all remember that amazing section of Scripture in John’s Gospel starting in chapter 13 going through to 17? Here Almighty God speaks to mankind through Jesus as a father. Remember what He said:

“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8,9) (ESV)

So, in this section, we have Jesus speaking as a Heavenly “Father” to His children and by extension to all of His children through the secretarial agency of St. John. And what does he say?

You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14)

He makes it even stronger saying:

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)

Now, here is where we see a little glimpse of God Himself in the instinct or lifestyle of bears. Look at what Jesus also says in this same chapter of John 15:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (15:13)

Here we have something defined by Jesus in a very specific way. He says very clearly that the highest expression of love possible is that one would lay down his life for his friends. When we also realize the Biblical teaching that God Himself is the very exponent of Love, we start to understand that a person or being who is ready to die for his friends is really operating in the realm of the Divine. It is not natural to be willing to die for another person.

Recall the earlier section of this paper where we were rehearsing eyewitness accounts of the reckless abandon that a mother bear exhibits for her cubs when threatened or somehow lost and not under her careful watch:

“When she returns to her den and misses the object of her love and care, she becomes almost frantic with rage. Disregarding every consideration of danger to herself, she attacks with great ferocity every animal that comes in her way, and in the bitterness of her heart will dare to attack even a band of armed men.”

I think that when we think about this, we need to understand that the reason Solomon and the other Biblical writers used the example specifically of the bear was to teach us some deep spiritual truth that they saw in action when they observed bears and their actions and perhaps it relates in some way to friendship.

So, God Himself, calls us friends and He sums up the reason for this discussion in John 15 about friendship. The reason that He related this information is;

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12) … These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:17)

So we are commanded to love one another and to be friends.

Now, here we have God, our Father, telling us that He is our friend and He is telling us to love one another. So we are supposed to love everyone. Of course, when we look at the bear, especially the mother bear, she loves her bear cubs more than herself and anything else and I think there is an important teaching here. I think that we who are parents, the first and foremost people we are supposed to love and be friends with are our children!

Our children are not to be our servants, athletes, doctors, lawyers, scholars, performing artists, musicians or business people, No. They are to be the absolute objects of our love and affection and they are to first and fore mostly be our FRIENDS.

Before she died, I was trying really hard to contact the late Yolanda King, one of the children of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sadly, just days before she died an untimely death at age 51, I had just received my first contact with her office in California. I had the chance to see some of the transcripts of Yolanda talking about her “buddy-daddy.” I have never forgot the following excerpt because it is a powerful witness and example to a real practitioner of Biblical parenting. God bless you Dr. King for your amazing example of what kind of a dad I aspire to be. Here is a great excerpt. I am quoting it here and you can find it around the web and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity because it is a transcript from a live audio recording given during a radio interview given by Yolanda King in 2005. (http://www.goodradioshows.org/peaceTalksL23-24.html). For those practitioners of parenting based on the “rod”, you’ll note that you have no supporter in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

What do you remember about your father at home when you were young?”
YOLANDA KING: My father was a buddy-daddy. He really spent most of his time with us playing, having fun, doing things that children love to do, which is, of course, play. He didn’t believe in spanking kids. Of course, my mother said if he had spent more time with us, he probably would have changed his mind [laughs]. But when he was with us, he really just loved us. Loved on us. And the time was short, but it was quality time. And my dad was really quite a funny man. He was a bit of a cut-up. He was a jokester. He loved to tease, he loved to laugh. He probably could have been quite an athlete as well. He taught me to swim when I was four and taught me how to ride a tricycle and then into a bicycle, and we played basketball and baseball and went to the local amusement park. He and I, the two of us, would ride the dangerous shake-you-up rides, he called them “faith machines.” We’d get on them and just have a ball, he was a big kid. 

I realize, now, that those were the times - some of the few times - when he really had to let his hair down and relax. So, that playful side of him, which was very much a part of who he was, he shared with us. And I'm thankful for that, because the Martin Luther King, Jr. that I know - the Daddy that I know - was a very different person from Martin Luther King, Jr. that everybody reveres.”

Sounds to me like we all can learn something from the Rev. Dr. King? I know I can.

Dr. King was clearly friends with his daughter Yolanda. We can all learn to be better friends with our kids I think just like God wishes to be friends with us and commands us to love each other. It seems like to me that if this is what our Heavenly Father commands, it is probably a pretty good idea if we earthly mothers and fathers do the same thing? Make sense?

Now, Tiger Mothers are not friends with their children as far as I can see if we take the material in the article referenced earlier. Far from it. Maybe I need to read more about them, but anyone who raises their children in the following way is in my view not in any way trying to be their child’s friend:

“Her stories of never accepting a grade lower than an A, of insisting on hours of math and spelling drills and piano and violin practice each day (weekends and vacations included), of not allowing playdates or sleepovers or television or computer games or even school plays, for goodness' sake, have left many readers outraged but also defensive.” Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2043313,00.html#ixzz1D1uMwhFM

The above mentioned description makes me physically ill. Give me a Bear Mother any day!

A final message for all of us – Let’s agree to keep the Tiger in the cage and let the Bear out more often. I am thinking to print a picture of Mark and Ben and put somewhere in my house where I can be reminded of it and its importance.

There is one final thought which I have to throw out there. We would be enraged at the idea of anyone, anywhere at any time even thinking about laying a finger on our children like a good mommy bear, but isn’t it amazing that some of us (I almost said all of us and I am definitely including myself here) become Tiger Mothers or Fathers and often don’t extend these same feelings to ourselves when we are the ones who are doing the finger laying or worse. Something to think about.

Finally, and I think rightly, a good place to end is the Good Book where it says:

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-9) (ESV)

Note: This paper has dealt with the fauna and please note in the passage above that the flora also are teachers. I’ll give them their due in part two of this series one day about what you can learn about parenting from a stroll in your garden. Smell the roses and stay tuned. (maybe Tiger Lily versus Lily of the Valley is a working title – we’ll see – Google it and I think you’ll agree there is something to be said here. Remember God made all this too and it can speak to us if we are willing to listen. We need spiritual “ears to hear” and “eyes to see.”)

I for one am looking forward very much to that great godly bear hug one day and to playing in His forest when:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them (you and me?). The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.” (Isaiah 11:6-8) (ESV)

In the spirit of Romans 12:17-21 and Job 12:7-9,

Samuel Martin - www.biblechild.com
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2 comments:

Michael D. Maynard said...

Samuel,

This is a very thought provoking and well written blog. I am an avid hunter and outdoors person and enjoy nature shows that showcase animal behavior such as you discuss here.

One difference between animals and humans is something you mention, but briefly, instinct. Animals are born "ready to go" but humans babies are not. A bear cub needs no training to walk and find its source of nourishment. It begins to interact with its siblings naturally without months of training from the mother bear. The same with the tiger. A deer fawn hits the ground ready to run. A human infant takes up to a year learning to just walk and has to be held to the breast.

The contrast between human and animal young is profound. Nearly all of the essential activities for survival are programmed into animals before birth while ALL have to be taught to the human.
A young bear cub has a built in desire to hunt and forage once weaned and is ready to kill for food, while requiring some fine tuning of hunting skills by the mother bear. It already knows what to do as demonstrated by the play among the siblings. If you watch a pair of cubs play it gets quite ferocious. They know how to use their natural weapons, teeth and claws. Often the mother bear has to intervene if one is being too rough. The cubs are learning and practicing lessons from one another that does not require the mother bears continual attention. The same for Tiger kits. Their play could be fatal to a young human child.

The punishments doled out by a mother bear can indeed be harsh as they are very strict. I have seen a mother bear growl, snap at and swat the cubs when there is a dangerous situation and the cub is not reacting to it appropriately. The same with the tiger. There are "problem children" in any family that require a little more "encouragement."

So to say that we can learn child rearing lessons from the mother bear, I respond, yes and no.
It is a balancing act requiring reason that God has given humans but that infants do not possess.

In nature a male bear will kill cubs in his path if he realizes they were sired by a different boar. Sometime parents joke about this but a human father and husband will lay down his life defending his family. That demonstrates a whole new level of love and care that God initiated and incorporated into marriage and the human family plan.

Statistics clearly demonstrate that when corporal punishment is abandoned the jails and prisons fill up with teens and young adults - as today in the U.S. They were never taught to fear to disobey the rules when young. There must then be something to "spare the rod and spoil the child." A swat on the infants (NOT A BABYS) behind when needed or a swat from the mother bears paw may bring a cry but neither will die and both may become better parents and creatures of God.

This quote from the American Bear Association web site on Black Bear behavior. It illustrates that a balance is necessary. It states, "The mother bear is affectionate, strict, protective and devoted to her cubs."
Noting - both affectionate and strict with her offspring.

Just my two cents worth.

Thanks for your blog Samuel.

Anonymous said...

Samuel, a little bit of research will show you that MLK's kids are not anything we would want our kids to be. One of his daughters contemplated suicide, MLK3 is said to be anti-social, lacking in discipline and unable to control his spending. Two of the siblings are suing the third (who started but never finished college) over that sibling allegedly stealing from their parent's estate... And the problems go on and on. Tales of Jr's promiscuity are numerous and I find it interesting that he is apparently your best example of somebody who agrees with your parenting style. I would think the results of his not spanking might motivate more people to begin spanking immediately.