Thursday, December 29, 2011

Merry, happy... whew.

How was your Christmas?

Mine was fantastic!  At 5 and 2, our kinds are at a perfect age for Christmas:  there is no present in the world that disappoints them, they love "dressing up" in special Christmas outfits, they have no reason to question of doubt that the baby Jesus was God.  Every festivity is The. Best. One. Ever. 

On Christmas Eve, I talked in the pulpit about the mystery of the Incarnation and how this year, I'm going to rest in that mystery without trying to deconstruct or unpack or reveal it.  God wanted to be with us.  I can't imagine why, but it is true.

After preaching that, I spent a few days with my crazy little rugrats steeped in the post-Christmas madness.  A new thought has come to me: I wonder if one reason God came down to hang out with us is to see the world through our own wonderment. There's a lot that we've royally screwed up here on earth, but there is a lot still left that is beautiful and magical and mysterious. Maybe God wanted to be a part of the very mystery God created, to experience it afresh.

God is complicated-- if only because God is so much bigger than we are and God's ways are beyond our tiny little powers of comprehension.  But as a parent, watching my kids fall totally and completely in love with the world around them makes me think-- or maybe hope-- that this was one of God's motivations for joining us down here for a little while.  I genuinely hope that God got to experience this dual feeling of parental pride in these little beings and a wonderment that almost matches their own as I watch them grow.  To think that I had a hand (well, okay, not a hand exactly) in creating them is humbling and joyful. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"December" by Gary Johnson

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

Children and Gender

I am swamped.  Really, really swamped right now.  I have more to do than hours in the days before Christmas.  Somehow it will all get done, though I'm not sure how.

So what's a girl to do?  Surf the internet as a practice of avoidance, of course!

I came across this article about gender variance today and had a little mini-cry.  I'm not sure what the tears were about, though.  I think I was moved by the teacher's dedication to making her corner of the world a more accepting, loving place.  I think I am also so sad for any kid that is the target of bullying.  I'm also a little scared for my own kids. 

One of the (very) few things I am confident about as a parent is that I am not raising bullies.  My kids are small, both below Kindergarten, so who knows what the future will bring to their little personalities, but I will say with some manner of self-assuredness, picking on other kids will NOT be part of it so long as I have breath in my body.  I don't need "nice" or "sweet" or "well-behaved" all the time, but I am raising my kids to be aware of those around them and to be on the side of Right and Truth, to stand up for what is good and holy in the world, to protect those that need help.  I'm aware that this alone might bring them a different brand of heartache, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. 

The article brings up another frustrating trap that I haven't had as much success keeping out of: the pink and the blue.  More broadly, it is the gender-based everything that pervades our house.  A friend lamented to me recently that Christmas shopping for her children, a boy and a girl, reminded her that she's left her feminist principles in the dust.  My Christmas shopping was the same: babies and beads for our daughter, Transformers and soccer ball for our son. 

At what point can I as a parent stop trying to fight the princess onslaught or the monster truck parade and just let THAT be who my kids are?  There is a uber-Liberal part of me that wants to tell you how gender-bendy my son is because he sleeps with a pink plastic baby doll and takes ballet.  And that, mixed in with the Transformers, I bought said baby doll a bottle and bib for Christmas.  Because when I tell you that, I feel better about myself, that I have somehow cracked the code on the gender mystery. 

But as a feminist who is a mother of two children, one boy and one girl, I'm struggling with the fact that my kids choices in toys and clothes are exactly that: their choices, not mine (within reason).  That my son really loves to make any pointy object into a sword doesn't necessarily mean that he is not going to be a good person who supports his spouse and is sensitive to his own children.  And that my daughter will take that same pointy object and make it a princess wand does not mean that she will not be an equally good person who will make her own smart choices.

Maybe "choices" is what it is all about, helping our kids understand that there are princesses and trucks and ballet and soccer out there and that those things are open to them as much as we can make them. Our daughter loves to "practice" ballet along with her brother (though she has the grace of a tiny water buffalo) and we got her a soccer ball for Christmas, too-- it is pink, I admit.

I cannot say with pure honesty that I will be proud of my kids no matter what they do.  But I will do my level best to love who they are which, I think, is my job as a feminist/christian/parent-type-person.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Getting better

I'm craaaaazzy blogger this week!  Look out world!


But I came across this YouTube video and, in a blog about being Christian and being a mother with integrity, I felt that I just had to share.  Grab your Kleenex.  Then go forth and be gentle.

The Coventry Carol

A friend just reminded me of The Coventry Carol which has been one of my favorite pieces of Christmas music for as long as I can remember.  There are a million versions of it online, here's a lovely one by Collegium Vocale. It is about the slaughter of the Innocents, when Herod killed all of the young baby boys to try to get to the Messiah, whose existence threatened Herod's power.

 I'm finding that becoming a parent has tainted even my favorite Christmas carols.  I used to listen, have a good shudder about how evil people can be, then enjoy the music, as haunting as it is.  I can't do that anymore.  Just like when I'm watching the news or seeing a gripping episode of CSI, every child could be my child.  That little boy that Herod killed could have been my little boy, I could be that mother mourning "this poor young thing for whom we do sing".

I am reminded, since I'm a part of a large community of faith, that God loves children, that God heals broken hearts, that God cries with each crying child (and parent).  It is this reminder that makes me able to watch the news (I don't watch fictional TV that makes victims of children) and listen to The Coventry Carol.  I am also very aware of being a part of a community that walks the fine line between not swimming in the sorrows of the past and not letting our loved ones be forgotten.  We celebrate those Innocents on our liturgical calendar and in The Coventry Carol, powerful reminders of the immeasurable cost when power goes unchecked.

Still, as a mother, I wish we didn't have need of those kinds of reminders of God's ultimate goodness because I wish we didn't have to be faced with this kind of violence, or any kind of violence that preys on the minds and bodies of the most vulnerable among us.  I know that God knows what it feels like to lose a child, especially to violence, and a primal, undeveloped part of my personal theology wishes that God would just put an end to it.   

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mama etiquette

Now that my kids are both out of diapers, people ask me if we're thinking of having another. 

To anyone thinking of asking anyone else that question, don't.  Especially in casual conversation.  Especially if you don't know the person all that well.  Just don't do it.  There are all kinds of piles that you might step in by asking that question and besides, it is rude.  And none of your business.

You will know if we are having another kid when I tell you we're having another kid.  Until then, we're enjoying the ones we have.

Let's go ahead and retire that question along with "Are you pregnant?", a question that should NEVER be asked.  If you have to ask, you shouldn't.  

<end rant>

Monday, December 12, 2011

Parenting with religious overtones

I am reading a fantastic book, little by little, called Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. The premise of the book is that many of current trends in child-rearing are bass-ackwards and actually damaging our kids in subtle but measurable ways.  It has been a great read for me.  It is making me think hard about some of the assumptions I'm making and also about some of the things I've learned from other parents.

So far, I'm particularly intrigued by the article about praise.  In short, most modern parents offer profuse praise to our kids-- "You are so smart!" "You're a great baseball player!" "It is okay that you didn't make the team, you're still better than most of the guys that did!"

In a culture that has come to believe that high self-esteem leads to high achievement, this seems like a good idea.  If my kid thinks he's smart, then he will be able to do anything.  We want our kids to feel good about themselves and we want to feel good about the way we interact with our kids, so we've turned into praise junkies.  The authors suggest constantly reminding our kids that they are loved, but helping them grow by challenging them, which is how our brains develop the neurons they need to really actually make us smarter.  Telling a kid he is just generally smart doesn't help.

In fact, it can hurt.  Kids whose self-esteem is built on a general understanding that they are brilliant or great at sports or the prettiest ever have a much harder time coping with reality when it strikes: they do fail a test, they don't make the first-string team, they get acne.  When their self-image is built around a generalization, that generalization can be shattered more easily than if the self-image is built situationally.

They suggest that we should praise or challenge our kids based on their achievements.  If your child does really well on the test, tell him your proud of how hard he studied or concentrated to make that test go well, that you're proud of that skill that he is developing.  If the kid does a terrible job on the soccer field, suggest some special time together to work on it, don't excuse it as a bad day or blame it on another player.

I get this and, it rings really true for me.  In parenting alone, it feels more genuine than the empty praise of "you're great!"


What about God?

That is, in some ways this kind of praise counters what I say in the pulpit so often.  That is: you are created perfect and good just the way you are.  That is: God thinks you're great.

It is perhaps true that I'm overthinking this.  I've been accused of such before.  However, the messages do feel conflicting.  On one hand, there is the message of the loving creator, God, who believes us perfect, good, holy.  On the other hand, there is this new theory of praise that says that I, the mother, should not actually tell my kids that they are generally good lest I set them up for a crashing downfall.  I know the two are not mutually exclusive but I'm having a hard time working out exactly how to reconcile them.

The answer may have to do with the love piece.  God, your creator, loves you.  I, your mother, love you.  Both of these are free of stipulations or qualifiers.  No ifs, ands or buts.  I'm not exactly sure where I go from there when it comes to praising my kids, but I am intrigued by this theory and look forward to continuing to wrestle with it.  My poor little ducklings are going to be so confused.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thrill of Hope

Also, to share some awesomeness:

Right now, the M3 is following an Advent curriculum out of Candler School of Theology, A Thrill of Hope.  It is the story of the Nativity in Luke and Matthew pared with discussions by top theologians and the art of John August Swanson.  It is delicious.

Advent blues

This is perhaps better done on Facebook, but I wanted to share a link.

I've been struggling with what to say about Advent this year.  I want to hold the party line, that Advent is peace and light and rest but I'm surrounded by too much very real pain to really feel that message.  I'd like to think that my offering that message is enough to make it happen, but I just don't feel honest in it.  I believe it, I do, but the offering of that message in light of the sadness and heaviness of the world right now feels lame and weak to those that I love that are struggling to just put one foot in front of the other.

Then I came across this article  and realized two things:
First, I'm not the only one feeling this Adventine disconnect this year.
Second, I CAN preach this and not be pooping on the parade.

I'll post the sermon later if I like the results.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bacon Jesus?

I've seen this link about nativity scenes in poor taste floating around Facebook for a few days now. 

I collect nativity scenes when I travel.  I have about half a dozen of them from various parts of the world.  I try to get ones that reflect the culture I'm visiting.  None of them are very fancy since I don't have the disposable income to get fine art when I'm out in the world.  But I love getting them out each year and setting them up on our mantel.  Each one is different and reminds me of the places I've been.  My kids like them, too, these very physical, tactile representations of this story they keep hearing.  These scenes capture their imaginations just as they capture mine and help me to reflect on not just the story and its theology, but the hands that carved this Mary or painted this baby Jesus.

Which brings me to the website above.  I fully respect what this guy is saying: that representations should have respectful boundaries, even if they are wide and that perhaps the Holy Family should not be made of bacon.  To some degree, I get that.  And I am kind of appalled at some of the photographs on his list (zombie nativity?  guh!).


Who am I to judge?  If a penguin nativity makes you reflect deeply on the sacrifice of Mary upon her acceptance of this holy burden, so be it.  If the Veggie Tales help your kids connect with this complex and sometimes mystifying story, carrot Christ it is.  These are not my choices and will not make my own mantel, but I wonder: if the motivation is pure, does it really matter how we envision the scene?

Christ has been represented in thousands of ways across cultures and times.  These many visions and faces are ways that God helps us connect with these ancient stories and, like with my collection, with other cultures and their own ways of envisioning that holy face.  God inspires creativity and we, made in God's image, can act on it to inspire others.  We don't all agree on what is beautiful or motivating, thank God.

There is a boundary, I think.  And I think that boundary has to do with respect for what is being represented and the artist's or owner's relationship to the media.  I don't like the idea of a nativity-- or any biblical scene-- that is made as a joke, for shock value or to be gawked at.  Chances are pretty good that many of these presented are done with such intentions (again, I give you the Meat Nativity) and I do not think that is an appropriate or helpful or Christian way of understanding the story or our own parts in it.

I guess for myself, the only ones I really have a problem with are the edible nativities (really, Butter Nativity? will you spread Jesus on your toast?) and the zombie nativity.  But that's just personal.  Otherwise, these are strange and disconcerting to me but not horrible or offensive or hilarious, as they seem to be for others.       

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This is the sound of one voice

There is a really beautiful song sung by the Wailin Jennys called "One Voice".  In it, one voice begins with "This is the sound of one voice, the sound of one who makes a choice."  Over the next couple of verses, voices pile on one by one until the final verse comes together in a rich and lovely chorus of tight harmonies.

I'm going to use that as an overly-dramatic representation of what's about to happen here.  For some reason, a bunch of happy but over-committed mothers said "yes" to the idea of starting a blog.  The week before Thanksgiving.  The month before Christmas.

Um.  What?

So I, the fearless (ha!) convener of the group, am going to keep up this blog for the next couple of months until the extra chaos dies down and most of the gang is back to the regular level of chaos.  I like to write so I'm happy to take this on.  Hey, who knows?  Maybe I'll bust out a post about the insanity of trying to start a blog during the countdown to bananas.

First, an introduction:  I'm a mother of two sub-Kindergarteners, wife of a college professor and I'm an Episcopal priest at a large urban parish.  I'm also an avid runner and have recently discovered that long distances are good for my heart and soul.  That's my brand of crazy.

More posting to come.  I'm looking forward to telling you more about the amazing worship we had this weekend.

Something old, something new...

Women gathering is nothing new.  We've been doing it since the dawn of humanity.  We gather together to compare notes, to watch each other's kids, to complain, to cry, to laugh, to support, to learn... So gathering together is nothing new for women in general.

But this is a new group, a new gathering of women coming together to do these things.  We do not claim at all to be doing something out of the ordinary, but it is new for us, these are new relationships and new bonds we are forging.  We're doing what women have been doing for millenia, but we're doing it with new eyes.  A little old, a little new.

We're affectionately (and perhaps boringly) known as the Monday Morning Moms, or M3, a changing, welcoming, permeable group of about a dozen women with kids who meet at our church for coffee and a couple of hours with no small needy people clinging to our bodies.  We've got a lot in common, as you'll see, and a lot of differences.  We've got a lot of baggage (not including the diaper bags!).  We've been meeting together for a couple of years and have celebrated three new births together and at mourned least three deaths of family members in our group.  When we allow it to, our check-in time runs the whole two hours.  But when we control it, we also have some great moderated discussions on a whole gamut of subjects, nearly always circling back to God and/or our children, both of which we hold close to our hearts.  We thought it might be a worthy cause to capture some of this good stuff, write it down and keep it, at least for posterity if not for use by anyone out in the interwebs that might be so inclined to read it.

It should be noted that we do not share a common parenting philosophy or all hold common theology.  We disagree, politely.  It is part of what makes us rich.  We're a little thrilled and a little frightened about what keeping a blog might look like.  Feel free to comment and let us know if you like where we're going and what else you'd like to see us talk about.