Tuesday, October 12, 2010

suffer the little children—or something like that

The phrase just came to me tonight after a not-good phone call. And I realize that I have no idea what this phrase means. It has a bibley sound to it, but I wasn't familiar with it at all. It was a fragment, must be a fragment of something much larger. I wanted to know — so I turned to the Internet.

And I came upon a blog devoted to caring for infants in Malawi villages. Orphans gathered in an orphanage village called Mzuzu SOS. Children malnourished and alone no longer.

And I came upon a four part expose from 1968 of Pennhurst State School for Mentally Retarded Children. And there were kids in straightjackets, and kids with their hands or feet bound to the bars of their cribs. And children sitting cross-legged on the floor rocking back and forth with rhythmic repetition. And the children, said the narrator, happy to have something positive to say, "are no longer sterilized." Wow.

And I found a movie trailer of the same name that was unwatchable, and I couldn't hit delete fast enough for my own health and safety. And this film was apparently based upon a Stephen King short story of the same name, which was called in one description, "a delicious fright."

And I found a Stephen King disclaimer, stating that 'Suffer the Little Children' had, and I quote, "no redeeming social merit whatever" (King, 1993:801).

And I found a book on the murder of eleven year old Melissa Moody by her uncle, somewhere near Boswell, Oklahoma. And the point being made was that abuse in one generation raises the next generation of abusers. Details provided.

And I found The Smiths lyrics, of the same name, which sounded an awful lot like the case I'd just been reading.

And yes, I found Jesus.

And yes, I've always wanted to say that, if only on the page, or screen or whatever, just for fun to see what it feels like. But in saying it here — I mean it quite literally. I literally found Jesus. Or Jesus' words, anyway.

Which is really finding Matthew, I believe, not Jesus, right? And Mark. And Luke.

The key quote appears to be:

Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:14)

Which, to my neophyte ears sounds a lot like someone proselytizing young vulnerables and not wanting to be restrained. You know, something Jim Jones would have said. And meant it.

But the website I found this on explained to me that this meant that Jesus loved children.

Ok, fine.

By the time I had spent more Search Function time than I should have on this little puzzle, I reflected on the phone call I had just received.

It wasn't about abuse.

It wasn't about malnourished, orphaned village babies.

It wasn't about psycho-killers.

It wasn't about social merit or the lack thereof.

And it wasn't a Stephen King horror show.

And my not-good phone call gained a 'suffer-the-little-children' context. And I realized that my kids are really alright. And that everyone suffers. And that our children suffer, even without the trauma-drama. And that maybe this phone call wasn't about suffering at all, but about life. And a moment that will pass.

Not earth-shattering.

Not horrifying.

Just a glitch in the matrix, and one that might possibly open new doors. And that maybe (just maybe) this moment is a turning point. And the turn may well lead to a much finer vista than the one being left behind. Or something like that.


  1. The perplexing Biblical passage is just yet another case of lousy translation. This like most other problems in English bibles can be laid at the feet of King James. (The rest are due to the Bible being a pain in the ass of a rat's nest of problematic thorniness, if you ask me.)

    The Oxford Study Bible, which is among the best readily-available scholarly editions, earning the respect of both Jewish and Christian authorities alike, renders Mark 10:13-14 thus:

    "They brought children for him to touch. The disciples rebuked them, but when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

    You can compare a raft of English translations here:


    And just for fun, here's the Norsk New King James:

    "Og de bar små barn til ham for at han skulle røre ved dem; men disiplene truet dem som bar dem. Men da Jesus så det, ble han harm og sa til dem: La de små barn komme til meg, hindre dem ikke! For Guds rike hører slike til."

    I do recommend the Oxford Study Bible if you have an interest in this sort of thing. They've done an excellent job of annotating to death the issues that vex translators and interpreters, so that what remains opaque is due to the opacity of the sources rather than the biases and shortcomings of the translators.

  2. oooh, Erin, you got me at the first two lines and my knees began to crumble. What could be more intoxicating than a woman speaking of bad biblical translations, and then handing me a translation in Norsk, of all things! I'm hooked! Biblical translation is exactly my sort of thing — though I tend to stick to re-translating biblical text and prayers myself (see e.g. late October post entitled 'war stories'). I'm okay with Hebrew, less okay with Aramaic and Arabic. But my ancient Greek is for shit, although I studied it as a child.

    The Norsk, by the way, looks downright yummy.

  3. Well, it would appear that Tina was right about us.

    You're way ahead of me on translation skills; I just managed a herd of translators at a software company. I get by with German and Norwegian, I can listen to but rarely generate French, and I have just enough smatterings of Hebrew and Japanese to be dazzled by those who know more. That would be just about everybody.

    But you might enjoy my voters' guide:


    The Norwegian passage is charming, isn't it? Who can resist small children being called "små barn"?