Thursday, September 30, 2010

Have a little faith

I love my confirmation students. They are bright, funny, full of energy and generally love life and each other. Most weeks they share their highs and lows and what I hear makes me worry. These kids have schedules and pressures that would be daunting to most 30-year-olds. Of course, they don't manage this themselves, parents are doing the juggling required to allow these hectic schedules. I honor these parents for their commitment to their kids. I also wonder how it came to this - that neither children, nor parents, have any time to play.

When I listen to the highs and lows of middle schoolers I hear things like: got an A on my math test, my team won their game and, on the flip side: had to miss sleeping over at my friend's house because I had a tournament, got a C on a Spanish quiz. Which of these things do you think will matter to them when they are parents themselves? Mom and Dad, what do you remember from 7th and 8th grade? I remember hanging out at the community pool with my friends, a special family vacation and being allowed to sleep in the family pop-up camper in the back yard with friends. It was all about relationships. Sure, there was school, but what I remember most about school is the people. I remember who my choir teacher was and who got into trouble in Social Studies but I don’t remember what books I read in English (my favorite subject).

We participate in all this activity out of fear. We are afraid our kids won't get into the best colleges. We're afraid that if they have too much time on their hands they'll get pregnant or experiment with drugs. We have, somehow, been convinced that there is more bad than good in the future. Yet we claim to be people of faith. So - have a little faith. Your kids need to know that you believe in them and in their potential and that you believe that God will take care of them. This frantic pace is sending your kids a message: they won't be good enough! Please, tell them they are so worthy that the creator of the universe came to earth and died and rose again out of love for them. How much better do they need to be? They are worthy because they ARE, not because they DO. And so are you dear parents! Your kids and God love you for who you are, not for what you do!

I'm not suggesting that you and your children should be slackers. I just want to encourage you to trust God with your child's future. No matter what you plan, there is only so much you can control. Promising athletes get injured, impressive scholars burn out, geeky high school kids grow up to start giant companies. Have a little faith! Slow down and check out your choices. Are they made from a place of love, or a place of fear? Is your child playing soccer, saxophone, or Cyrano to please you, themselves or some mythical college recruiter in their future? Might that child rather just be playing?

Fear freezes but love flows. Love moves us with it like water in a stream. You will not stay in the same place if you fight against it or go with it. It will carry you along regardless. Where you end up may not match your planned destination but if love takes you there, it will be blessed. Have a little faith.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Don't See It That Way

You, my friend, were created in the image of God. And so was I. It is a mind-boggling measure of God's complexity that both of us, and everyone who reads this, and all our children, siblings, co-workers, friends and enemies were also created in the image of God. It is beyond the scope of our human imaginations to conjure a being of such diverse and transcendent qualities.

Because we cannot imagine a Being so complex, we have a tendency to focus on God in our own image. Those of us who are (or aspire to be) powerful, are drawn to God's power and might. If we are perfectionists, we tend to stand in awe of God's perfection. If we are peaceable people, we usually see God as a gathering, rather than divisive force. Loving people focus on God's compassion. God possesses all these qualities and many more.

I think this ties back to the "interior culture" I was thinking about last week. We each, literally, see the creation, and the Creator, through different eyes; and our worldview is further impacted by the lenses of our experience. Just as most of us cannot see the world from any point of view other than as an American, we also are constrained by our temperaments. This becomes abundantly clear when we wade around in the Psalms. One says "The Lord is my Shepherd", another "The Lord is my light and my salvation", still another "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer." Elsewhere the psalmists describe and ascribe to God titles and traits: "The mighty One, God the Lord", "In you O Lord do I take refuge", "The Lord Reigns, he is robed in majesty", or "O give thanks to the Lord for he is good".

What difference does all this make? I think that, for those of us who are trying to make God known to children, an awareness of "other-ness," both from God and from one another, will bless our teachings. Someone told me yesterday that she had finally determined that the problem with a dog she was trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to love, was that it wasn't HER dog. I think this happens between parents and children as well - too often the God a parent introduces to a child is constructed in the parent's own image. So what the child then sees is God as a BIGGER parent - an extension of the parent, rather than a larger, more complex and separate being. This can be a serious distortion, one that gives a child a false relationship with God - and one that potentially carries with it all the issues of the parent-child relationship.

Which brings me back to a familiar theme: people were made for community. In the community there are people who can enlarge both your own, and your children's perceptions of God. People who can describe their experience of God from a worldview that may be far from your own but closely attuned to your child's point of view. The community provides yet another reflected image of God to contribute to our understanding. So jump in - there are lots of different people in the swimming hole of the community
and God will be reflected in many different places. And you know, we all look different when we're wet.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Being Temperamental

I had a long conversation with a friend last week where I insisted that happiness is an unworthy goal.  You know how people say "I just want my kids to be happy"?  Well, I get a little offended by that because in my mind they are saying that all they want is for their kids to avoid anything that makes the kids unhappy (and as we all know, when our kids aren't happy, we aren't either so whose happiness are we really wishing for?)  I argued that happiness is a passive state and that I wanted more for my kids than simply the absence of anything that diminishes their passive state of happiness. 

For the record, Websters says happiness is a state of well-being and contentment.  Alternate: a pleasureable or satisfying experience. Happy is defined as favored by luck or fortune.  This pretty much matches my definition, and probably most people's.  The difference, I realize, is that for me, happiness is pretty much a perpetual state of being.  Under my circumstances, setting a goal to be happy is both self-serving and an avoidance issue.  Once again I have made the mistake of seeing my worldview as universal.

It's so easy to understand that we have a different world view from people of other cultures.  It's harder to understand that each of us, regardless of our external culture, has an internal culture that influences every decision, interaction and our very state of well-being.  I know this about my children.  I have compared and contrasted their inner cultures since the day the second child was born.  It's very easy to see a baby's inner culture (Do they sleep well?  Like people?  Smile a lot?  Cry a lot?  Like to be held?  Startle easily?) but much more difficult once we have donned the uniform of adulthood. 

I call it a uniform because it's a covering designed to make us all the same.  Stripped of it, we're still pretty much the same person we were as an infant.  Judging from the photos and my mother's reports, I was a happy baby.  So no surprise that I am pretty much a happy adult, except when things interfere with my happiness.  Back then it was a wet diaper, today it's more likely a wet blanket.

The ancients called my personality "sanguine".  Hippocrates theorized that everyone's personality was ruled by one of four body fluids, or "humors": blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm.  (Gross, I know.)  Later these were characterized as Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric, and Phlegmatic.  Eventually these became known as the Temperaments.

Now I can guess that some of you are dying to know more, some of you are indignant at such over-simplification, some of you don't believe this theory applies to you, and some of you have quit reading by now.  And you are all right, because each of you has a different inner culture.  So for me, and all my sanguine compatriots, happiness just happens and isn't in the least bit worthy as a goal (kind of like learning to speak English in an English-speaking country) but I revoke my initial criticism, because happiness is a worthy goal for those of you who live in a different inner culture.  And if you have a child who is not sanguine - it's a loving wish to hope for their happiness.

I'm going to quit now and start a new entry because it has just occurred to me that this probably also impacts the way we see God!  In the meantime, wade in those baptismal waters and know that regardless of your temperament, when we wade, we all get wet.  We just don't all share the same feelings about it!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Big Rain

Over the last 36 hours it has rained about 8-1/2 inches here. The variety of responses to this most unusual event really interested me. Here are a few samples of what I heard:

• I just wanted to stay home and read a book today.
• I went out between showers and pulled a few weeds – it’s so easy when the ground is wet.
• My shoes are ruined!
• I can sit on my porch and listen to the rain for hours.
• 200 pounds of mulch washed down the hill!
• My dogs refused to go outside until it had passed.
• You can thank me for all this rain – I bought a convertible yesterday!

Aren’t we amazing? In the midst of this collectively experienced event, we all respond differently. It’s remarkable that shared experience does not give us shared viewpoints. Some of the people I quoted above acknowledged the rain as blessing, some saw it as an inconvenience and yet others were frightened by it. Even within those broader responses there were many subtle shadings.  Our collective experience only gives us a common memory; the experience shapes each of us differently.

I used to think that as a mother I could shape my child’s world view. I thought that if I consistently described the world in glass-half-full language that would be the way she saw it. It seemed logical that if the unknown was consistently presented as exciting, and the child was made to feel competent, that she would skip off into the future with great expectations and reasonable caution. Looking back, I have to shake my head at my own arrogance. Why would I think I could form a better perspective than the one supplied by the Creator? God knows (and I mean that literally) what we are going to need for our individual life journeys. I’m sure I was equipped from birth with optimism because God knew I was going to need it. I think my acquaintance whose mulch washed down the hill was given a crazy sense of humor because his life was going to require him to find humor in difficult situations.  God, who can control ALL the variables, still made each of us unique.

Another remarkable layer to this rain event: Only last summer Austin had the worst drought conditions in 50 years. Our big lake was so low that there were almost no boats on it and businesses all around it were going broke. It seemed it would take many years of generous rains to even make a dent in the dryness of our region. Today, we sit under flood warnings because of the exceptional amounts of rain we have received and the lake levels are the highest in decades.

The power of the Creator is beyond belief – whether you look at rain that can fill immense canyons to overflowing in a few hours or at human beings, each uniquely endowed with the gifts needed to navigate the future – it defies description. In the face of all these thoughts, I can only exclaim in wonder with the writer of Psalm 104:

24 Lord, you have made so many things! How wisely you made them all! The earth is filled with your creatures. 25 There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live, large and small alike. 26 The ships sail on it, and in it plays Leviathan, that sea monster which you made. (TEV)

Thanks be to God for gifts of water, and perspective!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where Do You Go All Day?

As we float through this week toward Labor Day, I am thinking about how kids think about work. Those of you who work away from home do work that children don’t actually see. Consequently, they develop a fantasy of going-to-work based on what they hear us say. One of my daughters, when she was very young, believed that her Daddy “went to work and made money on his ‘puter.” In the dark ages of the late 1980’s she hadn’t ever played a computer game, or been behind the locked doors of her father’s workplace. It was entirely logical for her to believe that a computer was a machine that spit out money like an ATM.

Some of us work at things familiar to children; the work done by teachers, tellers, garbage collectors, police officers and doctors is comprehensible to them, but many of us, engineers, programmers, and accountants have a much harder time describing what we do to our children. In the absence of observed data, children will construct an idea of “working” from what they hear you say. My daughter’s conclusion that her daddy was printing money at the office no doubt arose from his customary parting statement “Bye-bye Sugar, Daddy’s got to go work on his computer and make some money for us.” What are your kids hearing about work from you? Are they hearing that your work is hateful, hard, or stressful, or are they hearing that going to work is exciting, challenging, or fun? If you are one of those who are fortunate enough to be doing what you are “called” to do, then your children are probably constructing an image of work that makes them look forward to growing up and having a job.

According to Wikipedia, the word vocation, while once almost exclusively used to refer to priests and other religious workers, “has evolved to include the notion of using our talents and capabilities to good-effect in choosing and enjoying a career.” Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian, says “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” Some of us are called to heal, teach or feed, others to invent, create, or design; still others are called to help the world operate in an orderly fashion. Some of us are called to care for families, create art or write books, often for little or no pay and what we get paid to do is a means to our vocation. Some of us are fortunate enough to get paid for answering our calls. We’ve all met people who exhibit deep gladness in their work – sometimes in jobs we couldn’t bear to do. Wouldn’t it be great if we could help our children find their calling, their deep gladness? Can we give them an attitude toward work that makes it something to look forward to with anticipation?

I have been blessed to have felt a calling where ever I have worked – though sometimes the job arrived before the call. The call was not always explicitly to the actual job, but always seemed tied to a particular need. In the current economy people are thinking about their work from a different point of view. Perhaps some consideration of vocation would be valuable in times such as these. I hope that today, or soon, you have work that brings you joy. And hey – it’s Labor Day weekend. I hope you get to go swimming or run through the sprinkler to celebrate your long weekend!