IQ and EQ

I’ve never had my IQ measured. Have you? I’m not going to ask people to share results, but I’m curious as to how many of us have been tested. How about a quick poll?

Everybody knows what IQ is: a measure of how smart you are. We use it to measure both ends of the spectrum: genius starts at 130 or 140; mental retardation starts at 70 and goes down from there.

K and J bumper carJulianna’s IQ is 60, as measured last year. It can change a bit in the first few years of elementary school, so she’ll be tested again, but for now that’s the number we use.

But have you ever heard of Emotional Quotient? It’s a self-reported test, so it’s not scientific, but if you’re interested, you can take a survey here to see how you measure.

People with Down syndrome are often really emotionally intelligent. When I’m asked to talk about Julianna, one thing that always comes up is her ability to connect with people. She’s all heart, both good and bad–when it’s bad, the world is ending, even if it’s just a scraped knee. But oh, how she loves. And loves complete strangers as well as loved ones and friends.

We went to visit my grandmother on the 4th of July, when she was recovering in the nursing home. I remember visiting my great-grandfather in a nursing home when I was about her age. I found it positively terrifying. As we walked in the door, Alex and Nicholas clearly felt the same intimidation. Their body language sucked inward; Nicholas drew very near my side and didn’t venture away as we passed the ring of elderly in their wheelchairs, sitting in the foyer. One man smiled widely and tried to engage us in conversation. The boys shrank.

Julianna, however, made a beeline for him. “Oh, hi gway gee-paw, hi!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. (Great grandpa.) “I be see!” (I be six.) Of course, he had no earthly idea what she had said, but his face lit up. A brief encounter that brightened his day and gave her joy.

More willing than her brothers to brave the cannula on her great grandma.

More willing than her brothers to brave the cannula on her great grandma.

She seems to find the person in any room who most needs a hug, and if you’re crying she comes right over to comfort you. “Doh cwy, Mahk-oh,” she’ll say to Michael, who is less than enthusiastic about her as a comforter; his favorite people in the world are, in order: Mommy, Alex, and Daddy.

It’s hard to measure emotional intelligence by any objective standard, but even considering that, we as a society place little value on this trait. And that’s a shame, because it’s at least as important as the more traditional form of intelligence. Maybe more so. Intelligence is great, but empathy, compassion, kindness–these are the things that make life worth living.

As a society, we pay lip service to the importance of people with intellectual disabilities, but I’m not sure we really mean it. What we value is the high IQ. Everybody wants to meet, shake the hand of, and honor people of high intelligence. People whose contributions can be measured in dollar signs or publicity or glory. The overflowing person-to-person love shown by people with low IQs and high EQs makes us uncomfortable. They don’t always understand and observe the conventions and boundaries the rest of us cling to.

For me as a parent of a child whose love knows no bounds (except dogs. She’s terrified of dogs), I face a daily conflict. I want her to learn that the rules apply to her, too. Yet in some ways I think the boundaries are a little silly, and worse, they force her to dampen that which makes her most valuable to the world.

I suppose my point is that we really ought to rethink the things we prize. High IQ is good. Achievement is good. But neither of those is more important than empathy, kindness, or compassion. We have things we can and should learn from people we label as “retarded,” “simple-minded,” “handicapped” and all other manner of dismissive, derogatory labels. Because a lot of times, they’re way better than we are at the things that matter most.

Published in: on July 17, 2013 at 7:57 am  Comments (10)  
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Should Men Shave….Everything?

Actor Jude Law at the 2007 Toronto Internation...

Actor Jude Law at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As bloggers, sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. We get so caught up in the prettiness of our prose and the profundity of our thoughts, we start to think that the most important thing we do is get site traffic and lots of comments.

Well, yesterday I wrote a very heartfelt post, and your response warmed my heart. But I can’t possibly follow up yesterday’s post with something comparably profound, so here’s my contribution to taking the blogosphere a little less seriously.

So ladies: raise your hands if you have been irritated by the style of men walking around unshaven. I don’t understand this style at all. It looks so gross and sloppy. What is the attraction? Now, from the men’s point of view, yes, I can see the attraction: it would be nice not to have to shave every day. And your face needs a break from the razor once in a while. Got it. No problem. But to wear it as an everyday, all-the-time style? Really?

Ladies, what is attractive about this? You don’t seriously like kissing guys who haven’t shaved, do you? All that scratching making your chin raw and red? Do you really like him walking beside you looking like he just got out of bed, when you spent half an hour (or an hour, or two hours) doing your hair and makeup, and choosing an outfit? Someone please enlighten me!

On the other hand, there’s a counter movement that I find at least as creepy:

Whoa. Ew. Just…ew.

Give me my man clean-shaven on his face and leave the rest alone, thank you very much.

Okay, floor’s open. I know I’m not the only one with opinions on this matter.

Published in: on July 9, 2013 at 7:16 am  Comments (24)  
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7 Quick Takes

___1___

Alex brought this home from school this week. They had to write a song based on the blues.

Alex Sings The Blues

___2___

Julianna’s language can be killingly funny. She tries so hard to tell us something, and we listen, we have her repeat, but we are so lost. So we take a stab at it. “Bacon?”

Doh doh doh doh doh!” she says, rapid fire, with deeply tolerant impatience and an exact imitation of Mommy’s inflection when saying “no” repeatedly.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well to the blogosphere.

Picnic, playground, Pinnacles 002

Random unrelated cute picture

___3___

We went to a (wwwwwwayyyyyy overpriced) Mothers Day buffet on Sunday. Nicholas brought back his first plate. “This,” he said solemnly, holding up a white square, “is squished cheese.”

___4___

Michael has another ear infection. So for the first time in our parenting career we are having the tubes discussion.

___5___

Michael has also developed a not-so-cute habit of banging his head on things when he’s not happy. It seems a rather self-destructive way to embark on the tantrum stage. Unfortunately, Alex and Nicholas think it’s funny. I’m having to tell them not to laugh at him. I can already see my least favorite stage of parenting; it’s no longer around the bend, it’s just down the stretch a little way. Blech.

___6___

Because I’m pathetic, the news story about Angelina Jolie’s preventive double mastectomy this week was the last nudge I needed to make a couple of doctor appointments I’ve been procrastinating. One of them is minor, the other not so much: I will be getting tested for BHD next week. It’s a genetic condition that runs in families and impacts 50% of people in any family that has it. Except mine, where every single person who has been tested has been positive. It doesn’t have major everyday implications, but certain conditions will be treated differently if you have it, and there are long-term health risks to be watched. So off I go at last.

___7___

I had procrastinated on this decision in part because I didn’t want insurance to have any excuse to deny coverage at any point for anything, with that “pre-existing condition” thing. When I was at my primary care doctor’s office yesterday, we talked about it. “Well,” she said, “the universal health care law took care of that. That’s the best thing about the new health care law–that and free contraceptives.”

I thought: There’s a lot I like about the national health care law, but free contraceptives are on the “what I DON’T like” list. Am I supposed to witness right about now, as to all the practical, non-religious reasons why I think contraceptives are bad for women?

I didn’t. I didn’t have the energy. Or the time. I failed. I know. One of these days I simply must buck up the courage and have the conversation. It’s so weird, the difference between my primary care doctor and my NFP-only OB/gyn. I like my p.c.–I like her a lot, actually. She said “gosh darn” yesterday and I wanted to hug her. But it’s such a different world between her office and his. Hers is fancy, his is…home. Hers, I am always on my guard, because I know my world view is so different and I have to be careful about what I say and what I hear. At his office, I feel completely, totally safe. At home, as I said. It’s just interesting. I know this has got to be a peculiarly “traditional Catholic” kind of difficulty. How do you guys deal with this?

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 217)

Published in: on May 17, 2013 at 7:14 am  Comments (1)  
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Paradox and Contradiction

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness*

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness* (Photo credit: anitakhart)

Call it reversals, call it paradox–Christianity is full of them, and they are a sometimes insurmountable stumbling block for people contemplating religious belief. To destroy yourself in order to find yourself, to die in order to live, to consider yourself blessed when you are mourning, or poor in spirit, or persecuted…to people steeped in the idea that our purpose on earth is the pursuit of the good life, these concepts are foreign and threatening and, well, nonsensical. Why should I deny myself enjoyment and pleasure? Why should I deliberately impose restrictions on myself that are difficult or unpleasant? The more I indulge myself, the happier I’ll be. The rest of it is moral repression imposed by people trying to control the ignorant masses.

Thomas Merton once thought so.

“Here I was, scarcely four years after I had…walked out into the world that I thought I was going to ransack and rob of all its pleasures and satisfactions. I had done what I intended, and now I found that it was I who was emptied and robbed and gutted. What a strange thing! In filling myself, I had emptied myself. In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress and anguish and fear.”

and

“There is a paradox that lies in the very heart of human existence. It must be apprehended before any lasting happiness is possible in the soul of a man. The paradox is this: man’s nature, by itself, can do little or nothing to settle his most important problems. If we follow nothing but our natures, our own philosophies, our own level of ethics, we will end up in hell.”

(Quotes from The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton)

Notice he didn’t say capital-H Hell, as in a place where Satan torments you for all eternity. He said little-h hell, as in a life full of misery, anger and bitterness.

And he’s right. The 2012 “Better Life Index” found that our country is #1 in terms of personal wealth and #12 in terms of happiness. Out of 36. Another survey, the “Happy Planet Index,” listed the U.S. as 105 out of 187. Ouch.

Granted, it’s not a terrible ranking. And granted, plenty of people who call themselves Christians are also bitter and angry and miserable. But let’s consider the possibility that if all our wealth of TV viewing and video game playing and enrichment activities for kids and wide-screen TVs and smart phones and wall-to-wall carpeting and supersized master bedrooms and sporty cars and vacation homes at the beach and girls’ weekends and football games with the guys–if all those things can’t make us the happiest place on earth, then…maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree altogether.

Published in: on March 27, 2013 at 7:37 am  Comments (8)  
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Kids, Kids, and Everybody Else’s Fault: A 7QT Post

___1___

That, incidentally, is a space shuttle tire from the Shuttle Columbia. Co-ol.

That, incidentally, is a space shuttle tire from the Shuttle Columbia. Co-ol.

“Mommy,” Alex said the other day on the way home from piano lessons, and then paused. “Huh. I guess I’m old enough to start calling you ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ now.”

Nicholas, AKA The Parrot, repeated Alex’s words almost word for word. Usually it drives Alex insane and causes a great deal of shouting, but today he ignored it. “I’ve been old enough for a while, I guess,” he went on, “but I like calling you Mommy and Daddy.”

“I do too,” I said. “That’s why I haven’t been in a hurry to tell you to call me Mom.”

Beginning that night, guess who started calling me “Mom” instead of “Mommy?” Here’s a hint. H’s not yet four, and his name begins with N and ends with “icholas.”

___2___

And he’s not just calling me “Mom” automatically, without thought. No, he says it over and over. “Mom, I’m gonna use the toilet. Mom. Mom. Mom, I’m gonna use the toilet, Mom!” It’s clear he’s trying very hard to get me to react. So far I’ve managed not to let on that I’ve noticed. I’m hoping if he doesn’t get a rise out of me, he’ll cease & desist.

___3___

It’s a busy day today, and a busy weekend. I think everyone in the entire city is having birthday parties. Including us….

___4___

The big day itself: last Saturday, sharing a birthday celebration with her great grandmother (after whom she was named!)

The big day itself: last Saturday, sharing a birthday celebration with her great grandmother (after whom she was named!)

Julianna’s having a birthday party tomorrow for her school classmates. You know, when you have a child with special needs, you’re always on tenterhooks, worrying that she’s going to be made fun of or passed over. And when she’s nonverbal–we can’t even have her talking up her own party, or find out from other kids who thinks  they’re coming. So we’re entirely dependent on RSVPs, and if you’ve given a party int he last few years you surely know no one RSVPs anymore. I was really worried that she was going to have a bust of a party, but we actually have six classmates who have responded now, so I’m happy.

___5___

Her celebration has extended a full week, with presents and cards arriving late and multiple celebrations. She’s really cute when she sings “Happy birthday,” but I have to admit that on the forty-seventh repetition it’s wearing a bit thin. Just a bit.

___6___

On a less cute subject: After Sandy Hook I didn’t really watch the news, but yesterday, in preparation for an article I’ve been assigned, I spent a good hour reading news reports about it. It was horrible. I spent the entire time bawling. And for several hours after, I was a lot more cognizant of what a blessing my kids are.

___7___

Speaking of Sandy Hook, and the various bickering going on ever since: does it bother anyone else that no one’s sacred cow could possibly be responsible? Schwarzenegger & Tarantino say don’t blame violent movies. The game makers say it’s not video games’ fault. Gun lobby says it’s not the guns’ fault. Some people want to say a weak ATF is the only problem. Mental health advocates say we can’t warn the public because of those sacred privacy regs. Essentially, everyone says “leave my baby alone, pick on someone else.” If no one and nothing is to blame, then what we’re saying is that we’re completely powerless, we can’t do anything at all, we just have to put up with twenty kids getting killed for no reason at all. Unconscionable, people. News flash: the only solution to a violent culture is one that address everything violent. Everyone is going to have to give a bit, or it’ll all just keep happening. (Read that post, btw. We all have a responsibility in this.)

Well, now that I have that off my chest: have a great weekend!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 206)

Published in: on February 8, 2013 at 8:43 am  Comments (3)  
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Losing Our Religion: A Response

Religious symbols

Religious symbols (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NPR did a series last week called “Losing Our Religion.” In this storythe only one I heard in full–the interviewees talked about their ambivalence and in some cases rejection of faith. The ones that really struck me were those who experienced suffering and untimely death in their families, and concluded that God couldn’t exist, because deity is not compatible with suffering.

“So at some point, you start to say, why does all this stuff happen to people? And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be, I’m being tried? I find that almost – kind of cruel, in some ways. It’s like burning ants with a magnifying glass. You know, eventually, that gets just too hard to believe anymore.”

It’s hard for me to put my thoughts together on this, so it may be a bit disjointed, but here goes.

In some ways I understand doubt very well. Like many others in the modern world, I respect reason and am skeptical when people claim things just are because they are. I want to know things for certain, and the things taught by faith cannot be known for certain.

Another quote that really stuck me was this one, from Daniel Radcliffe:

I have a problem with religion or anything that says, ‘We have all the answers,’ because there’s no such thing as ‘the answers.’ We’re complex. We change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity.”

How did he come to that conclusion? In my experience, religion is excruciatingly nuanced and complex, if you take the time to dig into it. And yet an awful lot of faithful people do paint religion exactly as he says.

Maybe it’s human nature to try to simplify the world so you don’t have to wrestle with it anymore. But faithful people have done the faith a real disservice by trying for so long to make it into something that provides “all the answers.” Because Christianity is a constant wrestling match between belief and doubt, between the best and the worst of your nature as a human being.

Here’s what I know about faith:

  • I doubt all the time. It seems irrational to believe there could possibly be Somebody out there bigger than everything, with a Capital-P Plan. And yet there are moments in each of our lives, regardless of religious belief, when we suddenly become overpoweringly aware of something Bigger Than Me. Motherhood provides those moments to religious and non-religious women alike. And I have found that when my brain quiets and I become open to the power of nature around me, I can feel God. Perhaps one reason faith has suffered such a beating in the modern world is the fact that we are never quiet, never free of music and texts and tweets.
  • Faith that you can claim by words (“Are you a Christian? Have you been saved?”) or wearing a pretty little cross, is okay as a first step, but if it doesn’t challenge you and make you uncomfortable two or three dozen times a day, then it’s pretty immature. Faith is something that should always be needling you, challenging you to be more than you are. Not affirming your own self-righteousness.
  • Faith can be a comfort, but that’s not its purpose. Anyone who thinks religion’s purpose is to make us feel better, I submit, is completely stagnant in their faith, and when tough times come calling, it will shake the foundations of that faith. Why do bad things happen? Because people do bad things. Blaming God for it is a copout. But if people–especially children–are given an insipid, watered-down, feel-good kind of Christianity, how can we be surprised when they recognize it as woefully insufficient for the real world?
  • There is much more commonality between faith and science than the current monologue would lead you to believe. Faith and reason do not stand at odds. The underpinning of my advocacy of natural family planning is the belief that a human’s body and soul/mind are connected. That where the body goes, the mind tags along for the ride. How often does science demonstrate the same thing? All the time. Thus, a woman who is raped has not only bodily injuries, but injuries to the mind and soul. And how many times have studies shown that when you exercise and eat healthier (physical), you feel better, too (spiritual/mental)?

Even many people who have sworn off formal religion still recognize the inherent spirituality of these last two examples. Shouldn’t this tell us something important? Namely, that there is something beyond us in this universe? Whether it’s God or The Force, something is out there, built into the very fabric of our beings. Let’s at least start from that point of commonality, and seek truth beginning from that point.

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 8:05 am  Comments (14)  
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Vignettes from the car on a post-Christmas trip

The annual family Christmas shot, taken after Mass. Another one of those pictures that tells you everything you need to know about our family at this point in time: Miss Independent off on her own, Nicholas being cheesy, and Michael trying his utmost to get free. :)

The annual family Christmas shot, taken after Mass. Another one of those pictures that tells you everything you need to know about our family at this point in time: Miss Independent off on her own, Nicholas being cheesy, and Michael trying his utmost to get free. :)

Loading the car to go to the in-laws’ house takes forever. There’s been snow where we’re going, and a lot of it, so we have to load the snow pants and the boots. Michael’s unreasonably cranky, so I have to run back inside to grab the Basi Pharmacy Du Bebe. We’re going to miss trash day, and post-Christmas the recycling fills two rooms (or maybe that’s just because Michael keeps unloading the bags and throwing paper everywhere), so we have to load up the cardboard and paper recycling for a trip to the bins.

The kids are strapped in, cold, and getting restless. Christian’s taking forever to come out of the house, and when he appears, I realize why: he’s carrying THE BOX. The big honking box that held Julianna’s rocking horse, so big that we stuffed it full of other boxes. The box we had to stash under the stairs during the Great Santa Visit of Christmas Eve, because it announced in giant letters, “ONLY AT TOYS R US!!!” and that seemed like a bit of a stretch to a 7-year-old who’s almost connected the dots.

I see the box proceeding across the garage toward the back end of the van, and I think, Uh-oh.

It takes two seconds. “Daddy, what was in that box?” Alex demands.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“But what was in it?”

“Just don’t worry about it, it was in the basement.”

Alex subsides as the hatch closes behind him, and we take off to get gas and a carwash. But then he can’t hold it in anymore. “Did Santa bring Julianna’s horse or not?” he demands. “Because it says TOYS R US on it.”

“Alex, I don’t know, I found it downstairs,” Christian says, while my muscles tense. This whole season I keep thinking it’s just time to tell him already, but it’s important to my husband to stretch it out as long as possible. (He didn’t find out until 4th grade, which I think is a bit ridiculous. I think I knew in the first grade, and it didn’t throw me at all, whereas he was crushed.) So, as I have done half a dozen times this season already, I do what I have to do: I distract. “Hey, anybody want to listen to Christmas CDs?” I ask. “I brought some for the drive.”

“YEAH!” comes the chorus.

Crisis averted. Barely.

Ten minutes later, they’re talking about the weather. “This is just like summer,” says Alex, who is wearing a heavy coat, to Nicholas, whose hands are firmly encased in mittens. “Only with spots of snow. And it’s a little colder.”

“It’s just like red…only blue,” I whisper to Christian.

*

Today Alex is quite sick. I didn’t think you could get the croup at age 7 3/4, but there it is. I sing again in praise of vaporizers, because yesterday afternoon I thought we were going to have to go to the ER, and in the middle of the night his breathing, two feet from the mist-spewing funnel, was calm. But please pray for him (and all of us) anyway. I’m a little nervous about this virus running laps through the family.

Published in: on December 31, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (10)  
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My one and only post about Connecticut

Dignity

Dignity (Photo credit: true2source)

When the first updates appeared on Friday, I searched Google just enough to see what everyone was talking about. Then I went into internet withdrawal. I don’t need to know the details. The whole thing is horrible; me getting cut to shreds about it isn’t going to change anything. I can hurt, I can pray without knowing all the gory details.

But neither do I want to ignore the topic altogether. So today and only today I will share my thoughts.

In the wake of this shooting, all the predictable sound bites are coming out–on both sides of the political divide. What upsets me is that after an incident like this, when our world has lost a slice of its future, people cling to political philosophy more strongly than ever, as if those philosophies, whatever they are, are more important than the people they’re supposed to serve.

This should be a time for everyone to realize that we need to find some common ground, to work together toward a future in which twenty young children dying a violent death in their classroom is impossible.

Things are happening in this world that require us to acknowledge the change. In many ways, humanity is the same from age to age. Every generation thinks the next one is going to hell in a handbasket, all the way back to the ancient Greeks. But some things defy such casual dismissal. The shootings are worse now than they were when we were kids, and there are more of them. We must acknowledge this and accept that something has caused that change. We can’t stick our heads in the sands and pretend like our political, personal and entertainment culture doesn’t have an impact. The violence is worse, and it’s not going to get any better unless something changes. Maybe more than one something.

Some say that something is gun control. Others toss out the usual objections: someone determined to commit carnage will find a way no matter what laws are in place. Or: it’s tragic, but this is the price we pay for a free society.

Some people say we have to treat mental illness; if anything makes clear the need for universal health coverage, this is it.

Then again, maybe it’s the fault of violence in entertainment. If movies weren’t so violent, this would never happen: The great art-imitates-life vs. life-imitates-art debate.

Or maybe we can blame the breakdown of the family, and wag our fingers at culture of 50% divorce, extreme promiscuity and all the associated societal ills–out-of-wedlock birth leading to poverty leading to culture-wide desperation. A return to traditional values would cure all.

You know what? There’s at least a grain of truth in virtually every argument I just listed. If there is a solution to this horrible problem, it’s going to be achieved by abandoning the fringes, and finding common ground.

Common ground. This means everyone has to give a bit of what is precious to them. We’ve got to pry our stubborn brains open and look for the nuggets of truth in opposing philosophies. Even more fundamentally, we need to change ourselves. Because we contribute to the climate of disrespect for human dignity. We are part of the problem, too.

When we hurl unreasoned, impassioned invectives at people who think differently than we do: we are part of the problem.

When we share belittling, demeaning jokes about public figures we don’t like, because we think they’re funny: we are part of the problem.

When we watch murder dramas hour after hour, night after night, in which the writers dream up ever-more violent and horrific ways of knocking off human beings: we are part of the problem.

When we go to movies in which violence is pretty much the story: we are part of the problem.

When we watch “reality” shows that are filled with people shredding each others’ human dignity in the name of winning or ratings: we are part of the problem.

When we refuse to have civil discourse and reasoned discussion, based on facts, with those whose points of view differ from ours: we are part of the problem.

When we leave vitriolic, scathing, dignity-shredding comments anonymously or otherwise on blog posts or news articles: we are part of the problem.

When we refuse to seek common ground–in other words, compromise: we are part of the problem.

I know some may find it offensive to equate how we treat each other with murder. Tough. Disrespect for the human person reaches its climax in murder–it doesn’t start there. It starts small, with us, and builds, layer upon layer, until tragedy strikes. And that means we have to act. We have to change, because right now, our children are paying the price.

Published in: on December 18, 2012 at 8:02 am  Comments (12)  
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First World Problems

English: Photo showing some of the aspects of ...

English: Photo showing some of the aspects of a traditional US Thanksgiving day dinner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was pulling into Macy’s yesterday afternoon when a story came on NPR about the food supply, or more accurately the lack thereof, in North Korea. When I think of North Korea, I think of world security, nuclear weapons and a hostile dictator–but I’ve never thought of starvation. Until now.

“I saw one family, a couple with two kids, who committed suicide. Life was too hard, and they had nothing to sell in their house. They made rice porridge, and added rat poison,” he recalls. “White rice is very precious, so the kids ate a lot. They died after 30 minutes. Then the parents ate. The whole family died.”

I sat in a parking place, preparing to go into Macy’s and buy a pricey gift for someone who doesn’t need it, and my stomach flipped over. I started thinking about the things I was worrying about. A missing cell phone that I hardly ever use. The noise the car was making.

Eating few enough calories to allow me to have gingerbread for dessert.

I don’t even know what hunger is.

When I was twenty weeks pregnant with Alex, I woke up on the floor of the bathtub, Christian bending over me. I had been on metformin (to treat polycystic ovaries) for two years, and it was a new enough treatment that there wasn’t an established protocol for how long into pregnancy to continue use. Well, now we knew. For the next six weeks, my body went crazy as it tried to return to regulating sugar on its own. I felt horrible all the time, and learned to dread low blood sugar to the point where I never allow myself to get very hungry–I grab a slice of cheese, or some carrots, or a cracker or two.

The process of slimming my caloric intake has made that more complicated, but I realize now I can’t tell the difference between “hungry” and “sugar imbalanced,” and I’m too scared of the second to risk the first.

"Famine"

“Famine” (Photo credit: Anosmia)

So the voice coming out of the radio yesterday was like a mirror. I suddenly saw my family’s life, modest (even miserly) by cultural expectations, as wanton–our Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas cookies, the plethora of gifts growing under the tree, golf and scrapbooking. I thought of the five homeless men I’ve passed by lately because I was in the far lane, and the one to whom I gave a dollar. They’re all the face of Christ; how far does my responsibility extend? How do we strike a balance between enjoying the bounty we’ve been given and being wasteful, immorally profligate at the expense of others starving to death because we won’t simply give our excess to save them–because we think we need Thanksgiving feasts and new cars and acid-free scrapbooks?

The existence of poverty stretches so many fingers in so many directions, inserting uncertainty and questions into so many other issues. Half the population objects to genetically modified food, but the industry insists it’s necessary to increase yields to feed the world–that natural and organic is a path to world starvation. Is that true? Or is the real reason we need those kinds of high yields the fact that we’re a nation of gluttons? We ate at the Olive Garden on Sunday, and I scoured the menu for calorie counts ahead of time. You could easily–easily–consume 2500 calories in one meal, and not even be aware you’d done it. I ate half an entree, two fried zucchini medallions, one bowl of salad, and half a breadstick, and I consumed over 750. And was still hungry, mind you.

Last night, our Advent calendar activity was to take coffee and cereal to a local homeless shelter. It was the first really cold night of the year, and the place was full. The director invited us to stay and visit a while, but we were too uncomfortable. In the car on the way home, we talked about it. We need to do that, I said. We need to spend time with them, not just sail in like benevolent aristocrats and drop our tiny donation and escape. There were men in that room I recognize after three years of Advent visits.

What is the answer to these conundrums? I’m not claiming an answer–I’m only struggling with the questions. What is the Gospel-driven response to poverty, to hunger around the world? How far does my responsibility and yours extend? Are any of us meeting it, or are we all hoarding most of what was given to us to ease others’ suffering? Where is the line between saving to prepare a stable future for us and our children, and simply being greedy by not passing on what we aren’t using to those who have nothing?

Published in: on December 11, 2012 at 7:50 am  Comments (13)  
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Who Are We Dressing Up For, Anyway?

Photo by dullhunk, via Flickr

There’s a topic that people of faith spend a lot of time fretting over: what we wear to church. I did a search this morning and came up with a very revealing list of online articles. Clearly, a lot of Christians are incredibly concerned about what everyone else wears to church on Sundays.

But a post I read late last week raised a good question, namely: who are we really dressing up for?

I was taught that you wear your best to church on Sunday because God is the most important person in your life, and that’s how you show respect for Him. Over the years, I’ve gnashed my teeth as much as anyone else about the increasing trend toward casual dress at church. People dress up for funerals and weddings and going to work, but not for Sunday–what’s up with that? If you respect your job enough to dress in a suit, you sure ought to be dressing up that much for God! Hello!

But as time goes by, I’m moderating my thinking. Because let’s face it, it really isn’t any of my business what anyone else wears on Sundays. What we wear is only important because it might be indicative of a person’s internal state of mind. In other words, how much you bother to dress up might indicate how important you think the occasion is. Might.

But.

It’s not God who expects us to dress up. God made us naked, remember? The only reason we wear clothes at all is because after the Fall, we can’t look at the body with the appropriate mindset. The obsession with what is and isn’t proper church attire really has no Godly connection at all–it’s entirely a worldly one. We dress up for church because human beings place importance on clothes. Not because God does. More and more, I’m coming to believe that when I wag my finger about what others wear, it’s a sign that my mind is in the wrong place.

I will continue to dress up for church every week, because this is one way I can show respect for the God I’m coming to worship. I will teach my children to show respect for God by dressing up for church. But I’m no longer going to obsess about what other people wear to church on Sundays. Frankly, it’s just none of my business.

Published in: on December 4, 2012 at 7:20 am  Comments (21)  
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