Thursday, May 16, 2013

Who are you? (who who?) Who kids are defined as in American culture.


Who are you?  When the moment comes, will you help or run?  Will you have mercy or no?  Will it depend on the day you have had?  The year?

When I was a teenager, I struggled with trying to figure out who I was.  It is a strange problem, kind of a first world problem maybe, but it was like missing a fundamental link in the ability to make up my mind for anything or make decisions at all, and I had arrived at a time to make decisions for myself.

Was I a stoner?  Was I a straight-A student?  Was I kind?  Was I realistic?  Was I artistic?  Was I a high achiever?  Did I value telling the truth always?  Was that a good plan?  Who was I?  Would I be alone if I did tell the truth?  What do I do about boys?  What is important to me?  Do I matter?

I am so glad that I am done with all that.  It was a weird, hard time.

Now with little ones of my own, I wonder if there is a way I can raise them to have more certainty about themselves.  To like who they are and be determined in who that is.  How does one do that, anyway?  Most of the time I am just plucky and proud if their clothes are clean, so this bigger question is out of the ball park.

So, truthfully, this has been one of the areas that I was really rescued in.  And when I say rescued, that is my language for, why I chose to follow Christ.  Before that, I had no reason to be good, no reason to be honest, no reason to be gentle, no reason to think of anything but myself.  It took a good looooong time for me to ease into not only knowing I could be better, but knowing how to get the strength to be better, and then, actually doing it.

Without having the compass of Christ's teaching, I pretty much had a "if it feels good, do it!" compass.  And then I could never figure out "Why isn't this making me happier?"  Like the party last night, I mean, that was fun, my friend set her hair on fire and we had to go home, but I mean, it was fun while it lasted,"  (yeah, that happened).  Why wasn't dating people more satisfying, in fact, it was more like a roller coaster ride that wouldn't stop?  Isn't having a super good looking fellow who has a fun car, a job and an apartment, what was missing, why am I still not really happy?

That was where I was circa 1991.

Since then I have realized that much of my youth I permitted the culture at large to define to me what the world was all about.  If it was in music, on TV in magazines, then I was there, I knew about it and I was one step ahead of all of it, because it was important.  Why weren't the things in the culture really making me happy?

Our culture does nothing for showing to anyone what real joy or real sorrow looks like.  Much less how to deal with it.  For example, new music that I liked made me as happy as I ever got.  Freedom in my car listening to my music was about as good as it ever got, outside of that was reality which looked confusing and not fun. 

When my first child was born was at the peak of my happinessometer.  It was and still is the defining joy of my life.  But does popular culture talk about that much?  About the satisfaction of that experience, or does it help us to understand how to cope with the death of a close person young or old?  Culture, particularly our American culture, does very little for our young learners who are trying to comprehend who they are and this world they are in.  In fact, it tells quite a lot of lies. 

How do you do one of the most difficult and important things in real life, how do you help someone facing death?  Where does American culture help guide us here?

It tells our young ones that their happiness or success if dependent upon their looks, their fashions, their wealth and their popularity.  It doesn't inform us of relationships, how to cultivate or keep them by honoring people around us, it shows us how to make ourselves happy.  With things.  Like fancy boots or cars or jewels.

Culture focuses on the constant parade of temporary happiness.  How long before a person figures out that these things, feeding the appetites, is just a treadmill? Culture speaks not at all to the spiritual side of a person, unless of course it wants to sell them crystals, TV evangelism or an addiction to feed.

There are so many big topics I am just glancing on here, but the main point is that American culture is pretty unhealthy.  And I know I am stating the obvious here to an adults in the room, but for young folk, they look to the outside world from their homes to tell them what is real outside what mom told them and the messages are pretty shallow.  Big boobs, plastic surgery, making money, self-oriented satiation of appetites.  Sex.

In a deeper look, I believe that our American culture sends some pretty damaging messages to people.  A message that they aren't that important, that they are disposable if they aren't hitting a certain standard of wealth, beauty or popularity.  Our culture doesn't equip us in any meaningful way whatsoever to know how to deal with reality.  The best we have are reality TV shows.

As a mom, I have wished often that what kids saw outside of what mom and dad said was something more healthy, something more whole, more real, more relevant, more true than the barge of trash that parades across the TV screen.  But I suspect that it is the price that is paid with a capitalist culture that what sells is what will fly, and what sells is usually the stuff that appeals to the most people.  And what appeals to the most people I suppose also depends on the age and education level of those people, perhaps.  With a popular culture that largely purveys junk, I hope for a time when collectively as a nation we will detox.

And in all truth, it makes me hope that the steady flow of junk will help people to acknowledge that none of this really brings any joy, and that they will go looking, and in looking, they will find enduring joy.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I have restarted the main blog that I typically write at. 

It is a place where I store those pesky strong opinions, stuff I am researching, excited about and of course, pictures of my kids. has been around since 2005 when it was really just a whimsy, but has grown into a bit of a friend.  There are whispers that it might transmogrify into mainly a place for photography I do while Elisha's Bones keeps being the place where I put the words that I write.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Dogma of "God's Plan"

The other day I saw a young man that I knew in passing, said "Hi" and briefly caught up on his life.  He had just graduated college and was in that time where he was looking for the right job for his skills.  From experience, I know that dealing with that is stressful.  He offhandedly said "God has a plan," and I knew what he meant.

The right thing is out there.  He didn't have to worry.  After all the hard work of college, it is hard not to feel a little anxious about knowing the next step.  Knowing that the right thing was out there and that he would come to it no doubt allayed those anxieties.  I get that, and I agree with deriving peace from God's ultimate control and his love for us.

But the contemporary dogma of "God's plan" to allay our concerns  is something people created, and it works sometimes to make us feel better, but not always.

Extending that, I respect those who can speak gently, respectfully without fear.  Those who can initiate conversation without dividing.  Those who can approach a fire without burning up or making it bigger. I hope I can do that here.  I have tried many ways of turning this over in order to find the right words.  It is hard, if not impossible, to know how to say it.  So I will simply say.

When someone dies, especially a young person, and someone tries to console them by telling them that "it is part of God's plan,", it is not consoling.   It can be reviling and angering and makes people angry and hateful toward a God that would have a "plan" that included the death a child.  Particularly their own child.

I speak to this from experience, as we (our family) has passed through a trauma.  A trauma that made newspapers, sent all of us reeling, still in some ways.  It isn't in the newspapers anymore, but death doesn't leave when the newspapers stop reporting.

An aside here to give light on other dogma within those that would follow Christ, particularly in America where we have lots of Evangelical bent.

When I began following Christ, people in the church talked about different gifts.  I couldn't figure out what my "gifts" were, and so I handled that the same way I handle many other things, by making jokes about it (because if I didn't, I started feeling insufficient, or ungifted, but something else knew this was just ridiculous).  I said my gift was getting drowsy in church (which I actually don't usually, but I was poking fun).  Or my gift was meal planning during sermons (which I am guilty of).  Just jokes that made me smile.  But after following Christ for awhile, I was still uncertain of my "gift", and growing in uncertainty if I put any stock in that dogma at all.  I have suspected though that my gift might be related to faith, because my faith is deep roots to me.  My faith is okay with doubt, mystery, not understanding everything, still questioning relentlessly.  My faith is like an earthquake-proof building, it is not rigid.  I am okay with not knowing everything right now.  I am okay with discovery and growth.  I am okay with controversial things, they don't threaten me, which I didn't see when I asked big questions of people around me (asking "Why did God create evil?" --which is a legitimate question when considering he created everything--made some around me a little surprised).

However, if my beautiful son committed suicide by accidentally taking the life of 4 other innocent people and someone approached me and consolingly told me that it was part of "God's plan,"  I can't be sure of how I might respond.  Peaceful?  Comforted?  Relieved?  Probably not.

Enraged? Revulsion? Strong unpleasant emotion? A desire to distance myself from a God whose "plan" included killing my child? Yes.  Because that is barbaric.  It is sack cloth and ashes level of loss.  It is "now I have decided to become a hermit," loss.

I don't know a gentle or sensitive way to put this, but the dogma of "God's plan" is not something that people grieving death are comforted by in the rawness of the event, unlike my friend who graduated college and was waiting to see what was out there.

And that makes me question where this whole idea of "God's plan" came from.  I think God had a plan for the Israelites, and he probably has hopes for our choices, as "Gentiles".  I don't know if I would feel good about the idea that his "plan" included a bunch of beautiful babies getting killed at Sandy Hook.

Why would he destroy so that he could redeem?  Can you imagine breaking the most precious thing of your child just so that you could either replace it with something else or have some other plan to bring glory to yourself?

I do know that stuff happens in this world because God's kingdom is in heaven, not on earth. Those who follow Christ, it is our job to live out his kingdom here, isn't it?  Making it so in living differently.  Living differently because he gives us the ability to do so.

In conclusion, "God's plan" dogma  might be another human effort trying to make sense of things we don't get to know about.  Like why young innocents die.  Cosmological things.  Big questions.  It is an often frustrating pat answer much like "I guess we will have to ask God when we get to Heaven!" that is just lumped on to faith to "make sense" of things we cannot explain, rather than accepting ambiguity as part of servant-hood.

But specifically, "God's plan" dogma is not a very good or all encompassing way of understanding things, and in the face of grief, loss and death, it is the kind of response that makes people reject God.  Truthfully, I know that God can make sense and beauty out of the brokenness of this world, but I am not sure if I believe that he breaks things so that he can put them back together for his own glory.  That makes no sense to me, if I believe in a loving God.

But there is plenty I don't get to understand. We don't get to be experts with all the answers.  There is living and dying and the mess of life.  Why do people try to fit things into nice tidy little packages with tidy little answers worded in perfect Christian vocabulary? Sanitized.

Jeremiah 29:11 says this:  For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

This verse gets used to substantiate the "God's plan" dogma.  But I wonder always why we claim for our very own personal meaning things that are spoken to a specific group, in this case Jeremiah 29:4 says

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon

And I am not a bible scholar so I will stop here, but where are all the references to God's plan otherwise?  I suspect the dogma is another example of where culture (western evangelical culture) hasn't seeped in and tweaked the message just a bit, sort of like the "name it and claim it" dogma, or the "Prayer of Jabez" things that seem to get lumped on, for comfort's sake.

The need to bring comfort to those in precarious situations is heartfelt, sincere.  Faith can bring great comfort in times of testing.  Unfortunately, suggestions that great tragedy in a person's life explained away with non-biblical dogmas about "God's plan," which resulted in the death of one's child don't allay pain or grief or bring comfort, in fact at times can inadvertently and well-intentionedly do the opposite.  People reminding us about "God's plan"  doesn't even really help make sense of anything in death.  These dogmas are, in deep tragedy, simply more reminders of how insufficient humanity is to give us what only God can give (and how frail and thin our attempts are).

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

You gots to find the good stuff

While 2012 won't go down in the annals as "my favorite year", to not look and see the good stuff would be a huge mistake.

While this year challenged me personally and professionally on an almost daily basis, there were amazing moments of respite and rare joy that I might never get to really experience much in my life.

And its best to be careful in daily life, I guess, because it is really easy to miss them, and not know when these little moments will pop up.

Like when you are on a family vacation when everyone is grouchy, but there is this awesome little 3 year old who decides she is going to pretend that she is a Solid Gold Dancer.

At the beach in August.  I am sure none of you ever have family vacations that get to be challenging.  And I am really certain that you don't have a child that chooses to do impromptu dance routines involving pink homemade play doh.

But if you do, isn't it awesome?

And isn't it a game changer to have this persistent joy in your presence?

It's like having a puppy, only better.

And this is what cameras are for.

And this.  Because blue bubble gum ice cream in August and being 3 are things that only happen once.