12 Years A Slave

Standard

Photo by Michael Rosenquest, via Flickr

There are times when you walk through the world filled with awe and joy and gratitude, aware of the wonder, the beauty, the innate goodness of all that exists on earth.

Other times it’s like a veil is ripped from your eyes, revealing the brokenness of the world in all its heartbreaking clarity. A brokenness so deep, so profound, so widespread, you realize it’s beyond the possibility of healing by any human effort.

And sometimes, being aware of one sensitizes you to the other.

I had another post planned for today, a post about joy and the search for the beautiful and the holy. But as I watched the passing moments in preparation for that post, the brokenness made itself clear, too. It came out most clearly in the news that a shelter for abused and neglected children in my town got muscled out of its planned location by residents saying “not in my back yard.”

Then last night, Christian and I started watching 12 Years A Slave. I expected it to be disturbing, but I wasn’t prepared for how deep it pierced, how mercilessly it convicted. It’s not just about the past, you see. What I realized, watching that movie, was that the state of our world, the problems that plague our nation today, began there, with the dehumanization of an entire race of people.

When I write it out like that, it’s a clear “well, duh” moment. But I had never seen the connection before–or at least, not in a way that transcended the theoretical. Like many people, perhaps most, I’ve always placed a dividing line between the past and the present. Our nation has done so much to work toward equality; what good is there in lashing ourselves for slavery and reconstruction and Jim Crow? It’s past. It’s done. The world isn’t perfect, but the real problems have been addressed.

Watching that movie unfold in all its shattering ugliness, I realized they haven’t.

A friend of mine told me once told me a story that I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over. In a teacher training they were told that they had to understand the culture their students inhabited: a culture in which kids thought it was normal to receive their Christmas gifts from the Voluntary Action Center, and in which parents paid for a Lexus with spinning hubcaps before putting food on the table for their kids–because that was what was considered important in the circles in which they moved.

I thought: There is no way. It sounded like a lesson told by bigots, not by educators. To this day I have trouble believing it.

And yet if, indeed, a mindset like that exists, it’s because for hundreds of years one group of people–mine, I’m sorry to say–systematically dehumanized another, suppressing the expression of intelligence and the desire to achieve in order to keep them safely under control. Whites literally tried to beat it out of them.

We don’t do that anymore. But we do blame people for not breaking out of the cycle of poverty and poor education. There’s a less obvious and more plausibly denied racism that we cling to–the underlying assumptions that poverty and poor choices are a person’s own fault, because they just didn’t try hard enough. Ignoring the history that created the culture of poverty. Acting like it’s in the past, and thus not a real problem at all.

It makes me wonder: if I had lived a hundred fifty years ago, would I have been a participant? A collaborator? Would I have had the clarity of vision to recognize the abomination for what it was?

These are the times when I see the world and I want to weep for it. For myself. So broken. So far beyond helping ourselves. I move in my privileged middle class circles and rage at the super rich like the real battle is between me and those higher on the socioeconomic ladder, when the reality is I’m just as much to blame.

But I’m grateful for the clarity of vision, however painful, because it strips another layer of sanctimonious pride off my soul. And if somewhere there is a solution, I’ll be more likely to see it.

Itching For A Fight (a 7QT post)

Standard

___1___

It began Tuesday morning, when I pulled into a spot at the public library twenty minutes before it opened. I let Michael get in the driver’s seat and play with all those fun controls while we waited. We were not the only people killing time between school dropoff and library opening time. There were half a dozen other cars in the lot. In the white sedan beside us, a blond college-age girl sat navigating her a smart phone…with the car running. For over fifteen minutes.

Now, it was not a hot day. Nor was it a cold day. My blood pressure rose every minute she sat there spewing pollutants into the air unnecessarily. I wanted to get out and knock on her window and suggest that she shut her car off. When we all got out to walk into the library  at the same time, I sent a little prayer winging skyward: Do I speak, or do I keep my big mouth shut?

The compulsion to speak was nearly beyond control. But I could not for the life of me come up with any way to address it that sounded anything other than  nose-in-your-business.

And so I didn’t say a word.

___2___

This is not an easy dilemma to solve. On the one hand, it seems clear that life in this world will be much better if we stay the heck out of each other’s business. I may not agree with your choices, but it’s wrong to stick my nose in and give you the third degree about it. Our personal choices are our own.

A friend articulated it this way later that afternoon: “I kind of think whether people run their car for half an hour is their prerogative.”

___3___

Not so fast.

Photo by Rachel Knickmeyer, via Flickr

Because it’s not your prerogative to do things that screw up the world for everyone else. We all have to live on the same planet, and that means we all have to think about how our actions impact others. That’s the reason we have rules at all. Nicholas has been asking questions lately like, “Why does green always mean go?”

“Because that’s the rule they made, honey.”

“But why?”

There is no why, it’s just a rule someone came up with so we could all coexist peacefully.

This issue–unnecessary consumption–is a global issue. It impacts all of us.

___4___

Christian has tried for years to convince me that arguing with people is useless, that no one changes their mind because you engage them in flame wars or even spirited debate. All that happens is everybody leaves with bad feelings. This philosophy wars with my nature–I come from an extensive, widespread net of extremely opinionated people  dating back at least two generations, and probably further, only I was too young to know them. But in the past decade and a half I’ve come to recognize the truth of what my husband says. More often than not, I take deep breaths and abstain from pointless argument.

___5___

But then again, evangelization can’t be limited to people who already agree with us. And if I feel convicted on an  issue because of my faith–in this case, that we have a responsibility to take care of the earth we’ve been given, and that there are dire consequences if we thumb our nose at that responsibility–then I’m not really living out my call to discipleship at all, am I?

___6___

Dawn on Cloud Nine, by Krasnickaja Katya, via Wiki Commons

So…I’m opening a can of worms I’ve been avoiding all week. I’m just going to say it.

I believe in global warming.

I know that a good number of my readers probably don’t, but there it is. I don’t see how you can look at the explosion of devastating storms and years-long drought in recent history and not think, “Gee, isn’t it just possible that something we’re doing is having an impact on this?” These weather events are not judgment from God, and they are not just oh-well-it’s-a-fallen-world-after-all. If they’re getting more severe and more common, we need to take a hard look in the mirror and think about this quote from Fitzgerald:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

___7___

I don’t see how we can close our eyes and pretend this isn’t happening, and say “it’s nobody’s business but my own if I burn fuel for fifteen minutes, or half an hour, in a parking lot.” I don’t see how we can say “it’s nobody’s business but my own if I don’t recycle.” Actions have consequences. How can we call ourselves Christians if we put “it’s-my-own-business” ahead of “the good of the whole world and everyone in it”?

End rant.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about winners, 100th birthdays, blue blocking glasses, and my desperate need for Youtube recommendations

Big Boys, crazy hair, and sex ed (a 7QT post)

Standard

___1___

We had a friend over for dinner last weekend, and as we were asking her about her studies and her plans for the future, Alex sat across from her shaking his head. “This is why I don’t want to grow up,” he said. “There’s too much work.”

___2___

This reminds me of what I always say about my two younger boys. Nicholas is desperate to be a big boy. Michael thinks he IS one.

Michael 2

___3___

Michael’s been in speech therapy since the beginning of March, and I don’t know that I’ve talked about it much. We’ve taken the last two weeks off because his therapist was out of town, and Michael took so long to warm up to her–he’s been going through a raging case of secondary separation anxiety–that I didn’t want to set him back by having a sub. She says he works very hard, but it’s really difficult for him to make the various vowel sounds. He does have one very consistent word now–“Ma-ma!”–and a few inconsistent ones–baw (ball), tsoo (juice), meh (milk) and “wa-wa” (water). He also calls every color purple: “poh-poh.” He can point to the right ones, he just calls them all purple. And although he can’t talk, he makes an engine noise, something between “zoom” and “shooo” and “brrrrrr,” to illustrate all his various engine-powered toys.

___4___

See, this is why I don’t talk about Michael’s speech therapy. Because lists of words are BOR.ING.

So let’s try something different.

Hair closeup

What in the world is THIS?

Hair closeup 2Oh, it’s just my 9-year-old’s head after he visited the hairspray booth at Julianna’s school festival.

Why yes, in fact his head does still look like he’s on the set of a bad horror flick every time he takes a shower. Thanks for asking.

___5___

We have a nest full of baby birds in the bathroom vent for the basement bathroom. They are really noisy. About every three minutes they send up a chorus of chattering that lasts ten seconds, and then stops again. All I can think is that every time something moves outside their vent, they think it’s Mama Bird bringing them juicy worms or whatever they eat. Man, and I thought my bunch never shut up.

___6___

Yesterday Michael decided he needed a snack an hour before dinner. He got in the refrigerator, perused the offerings, and brought me….wait for it…

A chocolate syrup bottle and a caramel syrup bottle.

___7___

One of the unanticipated benefits of teaching natural family planning classes in our home is the way the information permeates the kids’ environment. I did a series of interviews a couple of years ago with families who were second-generation NFP users. I wanted to know what made the message “take.” I asked them how they went about The Talk, and do you know what they said? “We never did The Talk. It was just in the air.”

The more I think about it the more convinced I am of the wisdom of this. The Talk is a big, threatening thing, and it compartmentalizes a topic that should not be compartmentalized. If we are going to live our lives through the lens of our sexuality, then we can’t treat it like it’s a one-and-done lesson. It has to be part of everything we do.

I spy NFP charts on the TV screen on a Sunday afternoon...

I spy NFP charts on the TV screen on a Sunday afternoon…

Clearly we’re on that path. Crossing my fingers that it works as well for us as it did for the people I interviewed.

Fastest-written 7 quick takes ever! Go me!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about hanging out with The Glitch Mob, a new meaning for #SOTG, and that terrible moment when you get cilantro bath soap and nobody cares

Parenting In Fear

Standard

Last week I read a news story that really disturbed me. It was about a woman who was arrested after leaving her kids in a vehicle while she shopped for a phone. The story is really short (you can read it here), and there aren’t many details given. But here were the things that I thought as I read it:

1. She obviously didn’t go anywhere out of sight of the kids, because the story says as soon as the officers approached the car she came out.

2. In April in Connecticut, it is unlikely to be dangerously hot in a car.

Perhaps there is more to the story. She was reported to be “uncooperative.” Maybe she was belligerent and if she’d been rational and calm, they wouldn’t have arrested her. Maybe in the course of the confrontation, she revealed other things that showed her to be an unfit parent. I don’t know. But purely on what was reported, this story disturbs me.

I’ve debated for a week whether to blog about it because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I say publicly, “This is an overreaction. This is not child endangerment. What did this woman do to deserve being arrested and having her children taken away from her?” that it puts me at risk of having someone knock on my door and say, “If that’s how you feel, maybe we need to take your kids from you.”

And this, at heart, is what I find so disturbing. I shouldn’t have to live with that fear.

We live in a society that is becoming steadily more judgmental about parenting decisions. In the back of our minds, we’re always aware that if we misstep in public, or if someone disagrees with a choice we make, we could be reported to the authorities. There’s always that threat of having our children taken away. Case in point: a blog reader told me once that she let her child play outside with another kid, and DFS came by and did an investigation because they thought she was endangering/neglecting her child.

Making parenting choices based on the fear of what other people think is not a recipe for good parenting.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think child protective services are the enemy. There are a lot of children who need much more and better than what they’re given. And there is such a thing as endangering a child by leaving them in the car. But there’s got to be room to weigh individual circumstance. There’s a big difference between someone who runs an errand at a strip mall, within sight of the car, for ten minutes when it’s 50 degrees outside, and someone who goes into the Mall of America for an hour or three when it’s 85 or 90.

Most parents weigh their decisions carefully, taking into account a wide range of factors unknown to anyone on the outside.

It makes sense to me that police officers would come up to a car when they realized there were kids in it and no adult. It does not make sense to me that when the mother immediately appeared–making it clear that she did have her eye on the children–they would arrest her for not having her eye on them.

Like I said, there could be more to the story. But this is what has been bothering me for the last week. What do you think? Have you ever made a parenting choice based not on what you thought was the right thing, but on the fear of being judged unfit by others?

Child Abuse, Part 2: Personal Defense

Standard
SEX ED

SEX ED (Photo credit: 707d3k)

One of the comments on yesterday’s post took issue with the idea that teaching children about their dignity as human beings, and in particular the dignity of the body, can be any protection against predators. I’d like to address that as a starting point today.

Realistically, there is no foolproof way to protect our children from any of the dangers they may face. But to me it seems self-evident that whatever defenses we can arm them with are wise investments. I do believe that young women and men who truly understand their value and dignity as human beings are more likely to be capable of protest when they are pressured, either by peers or by authority figures, to do things that violate that dignity. It’s no guarantee, but it’s another tool in the arsenal.

I used to believe young children should be shielded from all references to sexuality, because it would sully their innocence. But this implies that sexuality is a) not innocent, and b) something separate from personhood, when the truth is that the two are braided together so tightly that separating them leads to dysfunction.

I am now convinced that lessons about sexuality cannot be imparted in a single conversation upon the onset of puberty, but must, MUST be introduced a bit at a time. You don’t dump Pi r squared on a student without laying the foundations first; they’ll never, ever understand it. They might be able to plug in numbers to a formula, but they won’t understand. The same is true of sexuality. A child’s psyche isn’t prepared to deal with so much earthy, bodily frankness if it’s never been introduced before.

So in our family we start in early childhood by laying foundations.

1. The key concept is this: the body is holy because it is the dwelling place of God. God lives in the soul, and the soul is housed in the body. Our bodies were given to us in order to make the world a better place. A place that looks more like what God’s vision for it.

2. Because of this, we take care of our bodies. We don’t play with them as if they’re toys, and certain parts of us are not meant to be touched by anyone other than a parent or perhaps a doctor in an examination, and beyond a certain age, not even by a parent. We care for our bodies by keeping them clean, well-nourished (healthy eating and exercise are part of this lesson) and well rested.

3. We call body parts by their proper names. Euphemisms and slang imply that there’s something that needs to be hidden because it’s bad to talk about. The kids are comfortable with words like breast and penis and labia and scrotum. (More comfortable than we are, to be honest.)

Once these foundational concepts are worked into life, it’s not such a stretch to talk about where babies come from. God puts the baby in the mommy’s tummy, but you know the child is going to ask how. It would be easy to punt and say something lame and evasive, but I think that’s shortsighted. Kids need to understand that something holy and miraculous happens in the sexual act, and that they have a part to play–that their choices and their dignity are relevant.

So I tell the kids that mommies and daddies have a special hug they give each other, and sometimes when they do, God takes something from the mommy and something from the daddy and makes it into a baby that grows inside the mommy.

Alex has probed further, and I have had to say, “You don’t need to know that yet.” I think of Corrie Ten Boom’s story about the suitcase a lot.

Now, when we need to address abuse by authority figures or even something Alex sees in the movies that doesn’t add up, we aren’t constructing elaborate evasions in a misguided attempt to preserve his innocence. This weekend we were watching Superman Returns and Alex, puzzled by the complicated relationship between Lois, Superman and Richard, and how that boy could be Superman’s kid, asked, “So…are they married?”

“Alex,” I said, “the thing you have to understand is that the special hug is meant to be given by people who are married to each other, because that special hug makes babies, and every baby has a right to grow up in a family with a mom and a dad who are married to each other. But the hug can be done by people who aren’t married. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, but sometimes people do.”

What I’m trying to get at is that the issues of sexuality are all tied together. You can’t just address child abuse in a vacuum. Because then, yes, it does destroy a child’s innocence. But if you give them a vision of their own dignity as human beings, that facilitates those other, more difficult, conversations. It gives them one more ring of defense in case, God forbid, they do face a situation you can’t protect them from. And in the long run, it should help them live an integrated, holistic life, too. This is my theory. I’m the first to admit it’s unproven, but it’s in the testing phase, and so far the indications look good.

Child Abuse in the Church: A Parent’s Response, Part 1

Standard
Rhodes - What light through yonder window .....

Rhodes – What light through yonder window ….. (Photo credit: BR0WSER)

When I was twelve years old, a teenage kid working the ticket booth at the movie theater told me I could pass for seventeen. I developed early and I had the curves to attract attention. But although I may have looked older than some of my peers, emotionally I was far behind them. I was sheltered and dreamy and utterly naive. I was in a dangerous place, but I didn’t know it. I could have become a target for anyone with a twisted sense of morality, or just a raging case of hormones.

Fortunately for me, I had protective parents. The distance between their farm and the town didn’t hurt, either.

Not all kids are so lucky. During the thick of the sex abuse scandal in the Church, I was working as a liturgy director. As one who worked closely with schoolchildren, I went through the training that was put into place in our diocese. Volunteers, staff–everyone has to take it. We use Protecting God’s Children, or Virtus. I went to a two-hour training session, and every week thereafter I was expected to read a lesson that came via email, along with a test question at the end. They tracked compliance.

Most of the time (I’ll be honest) I was impatient with it, because the lesson imparted was common sense. But now I think maybe that’s the point. If we take time to think about issues related to the safety of our children, most of it is common sense. The trouble comes when we get distracted or complacent and aren’t aware. The point of the training is awareness.

In the long run, the most important thing the Virtus training did for me was to sensitize me to the issue. The fact is that if there is a pedophile around, he (or she) will find a way to subvert the procedures put into place to protect our children. That means the impetus is on me as a parent to teach my children about their inherent dignity as a human being, especially where matters of sexuality are concerned, in such a way that they recognize threats to that dignity, and have the confidence and courage to respond.

The lessons of sex I learned as a child dealt with the danger of premarital sex and the value of chastity, but I don’t remember really learning why. Maybe this is because I was a rule follower, so if you told me to do something, that was all I needed; any other information given might well have gone in the “useless information” file.

In adulthood, though, outing the damage and dysfunction caused by obsession with unrestricted, no-strings-attached sex has become my passion. When even Catholics resist making the connections between the dysfunction in the culture and the birth control they depend on, I’m very aware that my kids are besieged. They’re not going to get a holistic vision of the human person unless I give it to them. And they’ve got to have the whole picture; they’ve got to know why, or there’s no chance that they’re going to resist a cultural paradigm that pushes so hard in the opposite direction.

Until recently I always thought of this in terms of peer relationships–hookup culture, pre-marital sex, etc.–but recently I realized that the lesson is just as important in helping prevent abuse by authority. Because when you know the incredible dignity of this body you inhabit, you are much less likely to allow someone else to do something to damage that dignity.

I planned to write a single post on this topic. I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning and, unable to sleep, pounded out almost 1200 words on it. In the light of day, fleshing it out, I’m about halfway through it. So I’m going to hit “pause” for today and beg you to come back tomorrow, when I’ll talk about what we are doing with our kids.

In the meantime I’d like to know what your dioceses and/or parishes are doing to guard their young from predators. If you can, please leave comments here rather than on Facebook (even if you do so anonymously), so that everyone can see.

Part 2 is here.

Waiting

Standard
Waiting..........

Waiting………. (Photo credit: davidyuweb)

“Mommy, get me some dessert!”

Nicholas stood at my right elbow. I looked pointedly at the pizza in my hand and back at him, but my coming-up-on-five-year-old is blissfully (or perhaps willfully) immune to messages sent via body language. Time for plan B.

“First of all,” I said, “that’s not how you ask. Second, am I still eating my dinner?”

“Yes.”

“Is Daddy still eating his dinner?”

“Yes.”

“Then you have to wait until we’re done. Sometimes you just have to wait for good things. Now sit down and be patient.”

He sat down, but patience was beyond him. As I returned to my pizza, he wiggled in place and then asked again.

In one way, I can sympathize. Waiting for good things is hard for anyone, and even more so for kids, who don’t have much practice at it. And yet at the same time, it’s a bit exasperating. It’s not as if there’s any question of him getting what he wants, after all. He knows very well that dessert is going to be served after dinner. It’s not like, for instance, the novel query process, where the outcome is far from certain.

Then again, waiting is hard for everyone who anticipates something good. The proof of that just passed us, in the form of Black Friday. I mean, Black Thanksgiving Thursday. All Black Friday’s Eve. Or something.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this annual ritual. Actually, scratch that. My feelings about the nonsense that is Black Friday/Black Friday’s Eve are pretty unequivocal. And yet, for the last couple of years, Christian has actually gone out as early as the stores offer their blockbuster sales, because the system forces the issue:

1. Sales start at a given time and there are limited quantities.

2. If you don’t get there early, i.e. during the Thanksgiving evening hours, the sale price may be valid, but there won’t be any stock to buy.

The choices are, then: go shopping with the madhouse despite the gnashing of teeth caused by your conscience telling you this encroachment on holiday is just wrong; or stick to your conscience and accept that you will pay a lot more for the item you were going to buy anyway, if you can find it at all.

We should wait. But we don’t.

These are good avenues of thought to pursue on the second day of Advent. This is a season given to us to pause and take stock of the state of our lives. Where are we out of balance? What opportunities for rest and quiet are we barreling past with the radio at full volume? And what things desperately needed for our mental and emotional well-being are we losing as a result?

Cover art