Every third Sunday at Tiny Church, we have guest musicians come in and play for the service. Our accompanist plays the hymns and leads the congregational singing, but the guest musicians play music at the beginning and end of the service, plus two pieces in the middle.
This past Sunday, my fourth grader was scheduled to be the guest musician. She chose four pieces she knew well, and for a week prior, she practiced them to flawlessness.
And on Sunday… well, who can say how it happened. She’d been to three birthday parties that weekend and as an introvert was peopled out, perhaps. She was tired. She didn’t have a good breakfast. I don’t know. But she got an attack of stage fright the likes of which I’ve never seen in her. No pep talk could snap her out of it.
She is old enough to be aware of what I write here, so the details are between her and those of us in Tiny Church. Let me just say that she made it through the first piece beautifully.
Robert took her out afterward so she could compose herself, and I went right into the call to worship. It’s one of the most uncomfortable moments of ministry I’ve ever had. I wanted to be with her, but I had a job to do.
Since then she’s talked to her parents, her grandparents, and her piano teacher about what happened. We’ve laughed about the fact that no matter where people start, every last one of us concludes with the same expression: Get back on the horse.
Myself, I was flummoxed about the whole thing. What brought this on? Then I remembered playing The Baker’s Wife in a college production of Into the Woods. It was a fantastic experience, but very intense—several nights of performances, but with the same classload and homework as always. My worst performance of the entire run was when my dad was in the audience. My Dad was never one of those hyper-critical, impossible to please types. Still, I so wanted to do a good job that night. But my timing was off, my voice sounded terrible, and realizing this just made me sieze up even further.
Remember when I said intense? One of the RAs found me outside, crying uncontrollably between scenes.
So what’s a perfectionist raising a perfectionist to do?
I told her later that I wished I’d asked the congregation for a show of hands: how many of you have experienced stage fright? Or nervousness at doing something new? And let her see the sea of hands. Surely everyone would raise a hand, except people who a) are lying or b) have never challenged themselves.
It’s probably just as well that I didn’t do that, because it would’ve put her on the spot. Plus, I don’t think kids get it. They don’t get that adults had (and have) fears and phobias. Adults must seem so… competent to kids. Sure, kids see us lose our cool; they see us spill the cereal and scrape the car door against the garage. But mainly, they see us succeed. Hold down a job. Set a goal and meet it. Be where we’re supposed to be, more or less on time.
I read a lot of stuff about parenting, and of the many critiques of helicopter parenting—and there are many, and rightfully so—the most significant is that it doesn’t serve kids well. Children don’t learn resilience when we’re always smoothing things over for them. But I also wonder whether resilience gets built when children witness adults taking risks. I don’t mean stupid risks (no cooking meth in your basement). But I don’t mean cute risks either (taking a ballroom dancing class). I mean real, authentic, bowel-quivering risk.
Maybe just letting them in on the risks we do take would help. Every night at dinner, we do a modified examen with our kids—we all share our most and least grateful moments (framed as most/least favorite when they were younger). Often my least grateful moment is something in the news, or concern for someone who’s sick. It’s less often that I share about the rejection letter I received, or the withering comment that came when I stuck my neck out about something. But maybe those moments are important for children to witness.
Of course, parents should provide a sense of stability and security for their kids. We don’t want to come off as capricious. But the world our children are inheriting is a world of rapid change. The roles and rules are not spelled out. People who can conquer their own fear of the unknown, take risks, and shrug off disappointment will be much better off in life.
On Sunday I said to Caroline, “You were really scared, you tried something hard, and you didn’t die.” Let me be clear that I do not think she failed. But maybe children need to see us fail. Or more to the point, maybe they need to see us fail and not die.
Pleins argues that reading Darwin and the theories he developed through the lens of an uncompromising rejection of religion has prevented us from seeing the full scope of Darwin’s genius, which reckoned with religion in evolutionary terms every bit as much as it did with natural selection or adaptation.
…”I’d say that Darwin teaches us that it is quite natural for humans to be religious and that it is appropriate for Darwinians to be curious about why humans seek a religious purpose to their lives. That doesn’t require that we think that religion is entirely artificial. That it’s merely a coping mechanism. One can be a Darwinian without having to condemn religion or the sense—a sense that Darwin often explored—that there is something more.”
The book is called Evolving God and it’s going on my Goodreads.
The spirituality of snow is a spirituality of repose. It offers the opportunity to celebrate simply being, not the doing which fills most of our lives most of the time. It literally creates a blanket which absorbs the noise that fills our ears during less snowy times.
I write in the book about Sabbath as a spiritual snow day. That said, an actual snow day would be nice, O DC area weather gods.
I’ve written about emotional labor before; here’s another article about emotional labor in the restaurant business:
For a good long while, I let myself think that the slender platinum blonde behind the counter at Pret A Manger was in love with me. How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte? Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.
In the three decades since Hochschild published The Managed Heart, the emotional economy has spread like a noxious weed to dry cleaners, nail salons, even computer-repair shops. (Think of Apple’s Genius Bars—parodied by The Onion as “Friend Bars”—where employees are taught to be empathetic and use words like “feel” as much as possible.) Back when she wrote her book, Hochschild estimated that about one-third of all jobs entailed “substantial demands for emotional labor.” Today, she figures it’s more like half. This is, among other things, terrible news for men, who (unlike women) are not taught from birth how to make other people happy. Perhaps that explains why men are losing ground in the service economy.
From home birth to homemade baby food to homeschooling, raising kids is a way for parents to express their individuality.
We see [the] principle of individualism writ large when it comes to parenthood. Parents often value individuality—both their own and their children’s—above other concerns.
These main factors have led to the growth of what historian Stephanie Coontz calls “the myth of parental omnipotence”—the idea that parents can and should personally ensure their children’s success through their own hard work and hyper-attentiveness.
I’ve been casting about for a Lent discipline. I finally settled on it: to do nothing extra. I will be content with good enough. That sounds a bit lame on the surface—I’m going to half-a** my way through Lent—but I think I’m on to something. That omnipotence stuff is very powerful in our culture, and not just with parenting. The myth of omnipotence seduces us into thinking we’re in charge of our lives. We are not—and what could be more Lenten than that?
What do you have planned for the weekend? I’m pinching myself because Robert and I came into some tickets to the biggest party in town. You know those people who respond to “how are you” with “better than I deserve”?
I have a great life. It would be poor stewardship not to enjoy the heck out of it.
In her most recent book, Twentysomething: Why do Young Adults Seem Stuck,co-authored with her twenty-something daughter Samantha, Robin Marantz Henig delves into the hard data… what—if anything—is it about kids these days? the mother-daughter team asks. And why is it that every generation seems to think that there’s something different going on with kids these days, as compared to any other?
In 2000, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett proposed the existence of a new stage of development: emerging adulthood. Whereas before, we’d go straight from adolescence to full-blown young adultdom, now, there was a step in between, an area where our adult selves were emerging but not-quite-emerged…
As Marantz Henig is quick to point out, Arnett isn’t the first to discuss this possibility. In a 1970 article in The American Scholar, the psychologist Kenneth Keniston also thought he discerned a new trend of unsettled wandering. He termed in simply, “youth.” And that youth “sounds a lot like Arnett’s description of emerging adulthood a generation later,” Marantz Henig writes, going on to say that, “despite Arnett’s claims to the contrary, we weren’t really all that different then from the way our own children are now. Keniston’s article seems a lovely demonstration of the eternal cycle of life, the perennial conflict between the generations, the gradual resolution of those conflicts. It’s reassuring….”
As a member of Generation X, who heard a lot of the same criticisms leveled at me and my generation that I am now hearing about the Millenials, it is reassuring indeed.
First up: the moon and Jupiter conjunction in just a few days:
Jan. 21: Very Close Moon/Jupiter Conjunction
For North Americans, this is a real head-turner, one easily visible even from brightly lit cities. A waxing gibbous moon, 78-percent illuminated, will pass within less than a degree to the south of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. (For reference, your closed fist held out at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of the sky.)
These two bright luminaries will make their closest approach high in the evening sky for all to see. What’s even more interesting is that this will be the closest moon-Jupiter conjunction until the year 2026! [Amazing Photos: Jupiter and the Moon]
My kind of confession. Long and equivocally unequivocal:
For some centuries now, no small confusion has arisen from the fact that we talk about belief in God, rather than love of God. The two amount to the same thing, but the first of these expressions, at least since the beginning of the modern period, pushes us willy-nilly into the field of evidence and argumentation, a field where the standards of commitment have nothing to do with the issue at hand, and so not surprisingly, though for poorly understood reasons, belief in God cannot but be a failing proposition.
As they told us at CREDO, “credo” means “believe,” but really it means “I give my heart.”
But start from love, start from joy, and the demand for further evidence vanishes. To continue to make it would be like demanding to see the hormones that cause an erection before accepting that there is such a thing as eros. It would be vulgar. It is vulgar, every time we hear it from the puffed-up fools who believe they are defending the honour and integrity of something, which they also do not understand, but which they call ‘science’. Science has more often than not been driven by what its practitioners have experienced as joy and wonder before God’s creation. This is a historical fact, and even if you are one of the puffed-up fools who thinks belief in God deserves nothing but mockery, you cannot change this fact.
…Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the ‘John 3:16′ banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God’s absence– the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God’s hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can’t even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.
Four years ago, I made a simple change when I switched one meeting from a coffee meeting to a walking-meeting. I liked it so much it became a regular addition to my calendar; I now average four such meetings, and 20 to 30 miles each week. Today it’s life-changing, but it happened almost by accident.
12 hugs a day. Hug your child first thing in the morning, when you say goodbye, when you’re re-united, at bedtime, and often in between. If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection. Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond? It’s a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today, which should be high on your priority list.)
Some of them I need to work on:
Welcome emotion. Sure, it’s inconvenient. But your child needs to express his emotions or they’ll drive his behavior. So accept the meltdowns, don’t let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you’re the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it. Afterwards, he’ll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you.
Sabbath is a health issue too. Dr. Sleeth (a former ER physician) puts it well:
It’s interesting, when a doctor sits down and does a primary intake with a new patient, they ask about smoking, exercise and diet, but they don’t ask how much you’re working. They don’t get any sense of if you’re working seven days a week, or if you have time set aside — like people have always had — for rest.
I think the lack of rest is reflected in our saying, “We don’t have enough time.” I think it’s pretty much generally felt that we don’t have enough time to really get to the things we want to do in life.
The other day I heard radio show on gun control. It was frustrating because the so-called gun rights advocate had good points to make that the gun control advocate could not, or did not, hear. At the same time, I found myself wishing that the gun rights advocate had offered more constructive proposals rather than shrugging and saying “It’s all a matter of semantics.”
This debate, hosted at scienceblogs.com, is a good model. It’s not pithy. It’s long and wonky. So be it. Serious times demand no less. Mark starts off:
Mass violence is not just a problem in the United States. Similar incidents have occurred in other countries, even mass shootings in countries with significant restrictions similar to what I would advocate. However, the experience of other countries is less in frequency and severity. Yes, other countries have mass violence despite strict gun control, even countries like Norway. However, no other comparable industrialized country has gun violence similar to ours. No you can not compare the United States to Mexico. No, gun control is never perfect. No, we can not prevent all murder, all mass murder, or all violent crime, but we can decrease the death toll.
Now any preventable cause of even a single death should be prevented, and while mass murder shocks the conscience in a way that the anonymous and impersonal forces of nature cannot, this ought to cause us to pause and consider whether what is being proposed will actually do any good. The choices we make in response to these tragedies will have consequences that we foresee and consequences we don’t. These consequences may well include the failure of new laws to save anyone in the future. This concern is not hypothetical – we’re well over a decade into our government’s frantic response to 9/11, and we may well be less safe than we were on 9/10.
Both men own and operate firearms. Both are reasonable, non-knee-jerk types. More of these, please. (I hope they will keep going.)
This is the best piece I’ve read on that appalling murder-suicide:
Costas’s critics… responded by counting out the ways in which Belcher could have killed both Perkins and himself without a gun—a morbid, reality-denying game. …[One] suggested that Belcher could have driven his car into a wall. There are men who do that. But guns make everything faster and deadlier—they remove the space for doubt and regret, reaction and rescue. Recognizing this does nothing to exculpate Belcher; ignoring it is beyond obstinate.
Costas and Whitlock were not addressing gun legality, but gun culture. Not hunting rifle culture or antique collector culture—handgun as weapon and “protection” culture.
Anyone read Matthew Sleeth’s book 24/6 yet? I haven’t, though it looks good:
The principle [of Sabbath] is at least as valid today as it was in ancient times when it was incorporated in the Ten Commandments, says Matthew Sleeth of Wilmore, Ky., a former emergency-room doctor who launched a Christian ministry to promote environmental care.
“Now we’re consuming seven days a week,” said Sleeth, author of the new book “24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life.”
“The problem with that is it’s not very fulfilling spiritually, and I don’t actually think it’s sustainable economically,” he said. “… And it’s bad for the planet.”
Many years ago, during a meeting with the ministry preparation committee of my presbytery, I made what I thought was an uncontroversial statement: that while Jesus’ life was a model for Christian living in a general sense, he was not my model for ministry in a specific sense. As a married woman who held down a job and paid rent and expected to live longer than 33 years and needed to plan for it, I didn’t see Jesus’ ministry as a paint-by-numbers enterprise so much as an overarching ethos.
This really bothered one member of the committee, by the way. Everyone else got what I was saying. Anyway, this article reminded me of that encounter. The question isn’t WWJD so much as WWJHUD (What Would Jesus Have Us Do). Christian anarchism isn’t a term I’m familiar with, but we do have our Christian purists out there whom Stackhouse could be addressing as well:
Jesus, I clearly saw [in my youth] (and clear-sightedness is one of the benefits of this point of view), collaborated with no institution and endorsed no regime. His gospel was a message of creative freedom, individual dignity and mutual responsibility and care. He and his disciples enjoyed tramping about the countryside, living on the margins, engaging people as they found them, giving to each according to his or her need. Small was, indeed, beautiful.
So why in the world wouldn’t we do the same?
Two reasons: We aren’t Jesus. And living just like Jesus doesn’t get done what Jesus wants done.
…For Jesus wants what God wants, and God’s first commandment in the Bible is to make shalom – to take the good world that God has made and to cultivate it, to make something of it, to encounter every situation and try to make it better. Note: God’s commandment is not to “stay pure,” a kind of double negative that is typical of a lot of Christian ethics: “Don’t sin!” “Don’t get implicated in anything compromising!” “Don’t commit violence!” God’s commandment, then and now, is a positive one: cultivate. Make things better. It’s not enough to say, “See, Lord? I kept the talent you gave me and didn’t lose a penny of it. My record is unbesmirched by moral compromise. I didn’t get much done, sure, but I didn’t come even close to risking my purity.”
I originally saw this on Upworthy, which provides the description:
You can learn a lot from a kid, especially from a super-insightful kid like Joshua Littman, who happens to have Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that makes social interactions difficult. Don’t miss his question for his mom at 2:43… and his mom’s response at 2:50.
Long but worth-it article in which a photographer tracks down some of the couples whose weddings he photographed. Here’s the money quote for clergy, who have a front-row seat for these sometimes bizarre festivities:
Jesus, as wedding photographers are reminded each week, performed his first miracle at a wedding in Cana. Of course, there’s no photographic evidence. Probably for the best. Had there been a photographer that day in Galilee, the world might today be looking at a picture of a bride and groom posed sexily in some ox cart, lit from behind by a strobe hidden in the hay, holding balloons while drinking wine out of Mason jars and gazing adoringly at each other.
That’s the current state of the art.
It’s no longer enough to take wedding pictures that show a bride and groom in love—dancing, whispering during dinner, playing with a nephew or niece. These days, wedding pictures are elaborate, photographer-contrived setups that show the newlyweds kissing in a wheat field (as if it were a natural act to go wheat-harvesting on one’s wedding day) or aboard an old-time fire engine.
Eighteen years in, we look at our photos so rarely. Of course we got married before the wheat-field trend started. But I doubt we’d look at them any more frequently if it had, except to chuckle at how clueless we were on our wedding day. Everyone is, of course. Maybe wheat-harvesting photos somehow highlight that fact.
My kids don’t watch a ton of commercial television—we’re PBS partisans, for the most part—but stuff leaks through. No big deal, except that they’ve started to needle me for all these amazing products they’re seeing on TV. Like Packit, the freezable lunch bag. The product is so ingenious, you see. And the spokesperson is very chipper. Surely we need one! Or many!
It’s a testament to my kids’ sincerity and powers of persuasion that I want to buy one of these even though
a) I work from home (and thus eat lunch at home) multiple days a week
b) Robert and I both have fridges at our workplaces
c) the girls eat sandwiches for lunch, and a few hours in a backpack isn’t going to ruin honey ham.
They were puzzled by my gentle pushback. But the TV people said it was awesome! And they were so certain about it! It was a good teachable moment. It also broke my heart a little, because they also have to deal with doctored Mars photos and partisan Internet hoaxes. Outrageous marketing claims on the the teevee feel so quaint and old fashioned in comparison.
When the origins of the Mars picture were pointed out to me I lamented, “Good Lord, do I have to factcheck EVERYTHING?!?” It gets tiring to be skeptical all the time, though I’ve resigned myself to it.
But my three amigos haven’t.
At the risk of getting all won’t-someone-please-think-of-the-children here… how do we prepare young minds to live in a world that can so easily deceive them?
You might say that relationships trump everything. You can count on love, because while the Internet can lie, love cannot be faked. But anyone with a broken heart knows better.
Besides, after I took Caroline to see Bolt (about a dog who discovers that his whole life is an adventure show) she had nightmares for weeks, and once tearfully asked me, “How do I even know you’re really my mom?!?”
And there are faith implications to this. If my kids grow into adults with a strong belief in God/the Holy/the Really Real/the Great Whatever/the Life-giving Story/what have you, well, of course that’s fine. Good. Beautiful. Potentially life-giving.
But ignorance of inconvenient scientific facts in supposed service to that belief = not OK with me.