Thursday, February 24, 2011

Imitation is. . .

I saw it again yesterday: a mom who imitated her child so perfectly that it made me laugh. A child who has a parent who loves them enough to mimic them is a blessed child.  Uninvolved parents can't do this - parents who are totally fascinated with their children and immersed in their role of parent can.  It's really lovely to see.

Children, on the other hand, always imitate their parents. That is grace, pure and simple.  Children adore their parents whether the parents deserve it or not.  Watch any group of children and you will see their parents emerge.  Most preschool teachers will tell you they are rarely surprised when meeting a child's parents - they can already recognize them by their mannerisms.

True love between a parent and a child may be the closest vision of God's love that we will ever see.  Adoring parents watch every move their child makes, and interpret, and re-interpret the meaning behind it. This week a mother pointed to her small child and said "he always rubs his head when he's worried".  The child, barely old enough to comprehend "worried." was indeed, at that moment, worried.  Children can be equally perceptive of their parents.  "My Mommy doesn't feel good.  She's got those lines between her eyes" was an unsolicited observation by a very sharp five-year-old.  And, sure enough, they soon excused themselves, Mommy citing an impending migraine. 

We've all seen a brother torture his sister by aping every move she makes: "Mom, he's copying me" immediately echoed, usually in unflattering squeaky tones by, "Mom, he's copying me."  And whether it's brother/sister, brother/brother, sister/sister imitation - it's a connection born of relationship, a natural expression of sincere affection.  With my girls, I noticed that I could always tell when one of them made a new friend because suddenly, a new catch phrase, attitude or habit would invade our home, with no apparent source.  Some of these imitations were short-lived; others moved in and became part of the family. 

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also one of the truest indicators of love. We can imitate those we love because we watch them with great intensity, and we spend as much time as possible together. We are fully immersed in the relationship.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Familiar words.  If I look to God with the eyes of a child and, in total adoration, imitate what I see, how will I look?  Will I, like the preschool children described above, adopt enough God mannerisms that you will learn to recognize God from watching me? Which God mannerisms will your child pick up from watching you?

Being a parent is a large calling. Don't be afraid; you're never alone in this. The Parent of us all is available as a model. You just have to imitate. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Rituals and traditions are part of the glue that holds families together.  As President's Day approaches, I find myself thinking about my mom's Cherry Pizza.  I don't know what its real name is but basically, it's a pie crust spread on a pizza pan, slivered almonds pushed into the crust, cream cheese spread over that and topped with cherry pie filling.  In my mind it's George Washington Cherry Pie because we always ate it on February 22nd, Washington's Birthday.  There were other pie traditions too: the first rhubarb pie of the summer came on my parents' anniversary in June.  The ONLY Lemon Meringue Pie of the year came on Dad's Birthday in August.  It was our family ritual - created by my mom.

So special pie for special occasions was a ritual  that held us together.  Not being the pastry chef my mom is, I had to look outside the kitchen for some glue for my own family.  And I found it on one of the numerous book cases that fill my dwelling.  We had seasonal book themes.  Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight and other silly tales by James Howe were re-read in October every year.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson filled up our December bedtimes.  Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary was  handy before dance recitals.  As I've probably mentioned, we read aloud together long past the ages most kids quit getting bedtime stories.  So books were a glue that held us together.

Over the years, some traditions grow more treasured, while others are outgrown, only to be revived when the child becomes a parent.  My mom baked pies, but she, and my dad, read to us every night too.  I say bedtime prayers (and mealtime prayers) and so do my kids.  These are traditions, passed down through generations.

The birth of some rituals is carefully planned and executed, sometimes by blending traditions from two families. Other rituals happen completely by accident - like my family's annual ritual of going to the last matinee on the day before school started.  Though it originated as a bribe, it grew to become a ritual everyone looked forward to doing every year.  And when the theater failed to provide an appropriate movie, we rented one. I hope my girls will do this with their own children some day.

There is a lot of literature about the value of ritual and tradition.  I think sometimes we throw things away too soon - before they've had a chance to become meaningful.  And sometimes, we may let traditions from the past get in the way of a more meaningful new ritual.  Whether they are simple (lighting candles before a meal), heirloom (baptizing each child in the same gown) or complex (five course Christmas Eve dinner sandwiched between three separate worship services) your rituals and traditions bind you together.  Discard with care, and don't neglect creating new ones that are special for your own family.

What's your favorite family ritual or tradition?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Whose rules = Who rules?

Parents - you should be proud!  Last night at confirmation I asked the students to break up into pairs and write rules associated with a photo they received in an envelope.  Knowing these students, and the nature of middle school students in general, I expected to have lots of silliness with it.  To my surprise, they took the exercise quite seriously and wrote some very good lists.  Most groups came up with 8-10 rules in three minutes.  One group had a picture of a car.  Rules included "wear a seatbelt", "no drinking and driving" and "no one under 16 drives a car."   Another group had a picture of a trophy.  Their rules included "No cheating" and "good sportsmanship" and "be a team player."  The most amazing thing about this exercise was how well they all understood rules as something good.  At their age I think I found most rules to be quite confining, but, for this group of kids, teaching the commandments as GIFT was an easy task.  They have clearly been taught that rules are for their own good.

The only downside to this was that last night's lesson was about Jesus the rule-breaker.  And I never really got the point across.  In the lesson, Jesus heals a bent-over woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13).  The leaders of the synagogue were indignant that Jesus should do this "work" on the Sabbath. Jesus says the rules should free us, not bind us, so he freed the woman from her condition.  And this is where the wheels fell off: the kids didn't think the Sabbath rules should apply to anything. They don't believe in Sabbath.  They don't believe in rest.  They are 14 year old workaholics.  When I asked them how they spend their free time the most relaxing response I got was reading.

This is particularly striking because last Sunday I subbed in an adult class where I ran into a similar lack of concern for Sabbath.  Most people, in both groups, think that Sabbath is no longer applicable to their lives. Yet, it is one of the ten (only TEN) Commandments God gives us for living together peaceably or, as Jerome Berryman puts it, "the ten best ways to live."  My kiddos last night collectively came up with 62 rules around 8 photos.  A couple of them were thrown out (no kicking sand on your sister was deemed too specific) but by and large they could all agree to probably 55 rules without hesitation.  Yet they couldn't agree with God's ten rules.  I suspect the adults would have gone exactly the same way.

I have to confess that I'm really uncomfortable with this. I embrace Jesus and grace ahead of mindless following of rules. I recognize that rules from Leviticus about hand washing don't apply to me. I can vigorously defend the idea that Sabbath looks different today than in the time of Moses or Jesus.  Still, when I can get 100% agreement that good sportsmanship or wearing a seatbelt is more important than Sabbath rest, I am left to wonder what God we are serving.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Warning: Label

I read labels.  This is a habit learned through bitter disappointment: the sweater that should have been dry-cleaned but instead was shrunk to 25% of its original size in the laundry; the suit that looked so great in the store but wrinkled beyond belief when worn; the calcium pills containing oyster shell that caused my neck to break out in itchy and uncomfortable (not to mention unattractive) hives; the soup that turned out to have 500 calories per serving.  Labels can save us a lot of grief.

Labels, when applied to children, can have a variety of outcomes.  Some are helpful; some are detrimental.  We need to be extremely careful with the labels we throw around in our families because we run the risk of creating destinies that might not be God-intended.  Most of us have had obviously negative labeling knocked out of us by the self-esteem studies of the 1980s and 90s.  We don't say, in reference to one of our children, he's the fat one or she's the dumb one.  We all know better than that.  What we can easily do though, is label by omission: applying positive labels to one child but not another.  "We call him our little genius" tells all the other kids in the family "we call them our little dummies."  We can also send our child an unintended message because of a neutral or even positive label: "She's the serious one" or "he's our artist" might be construed in a number of ways, depending on the context and the people involved.  The medical community has fought against labels, e.g. "the gall bladder" in room 502, for years because they found that labeling a patient by disease instead of by name changed the quality of care.  Labels must be used with extreme caution.

Jesus mastered the art of the label.  This week I have gathered with groups of people to examine the meaning of "You are the salt of the earth."  What is Jesus saying?  Are we seasoning?  Healing agents? Preservatives? This is an ambiguous yet inspiring label.  I don't know for sure what it means, but I can't find a negative connotation.  Ordinary? Sure, salt is the cheapest and most universal seasoning, but to be a seasoning, to improve the soup of the world is a wonderful label!  We turned this over, and over, adults and children, and just kept finding new and enriching qualities to this declaration. Salt water freezes slower and boils faster. Salt melts ice but can allow water to reach a higher temperature.  Salt preserves fish and destroys roads.  Things float better in salt water.  Salt can serve as money in some parts of the world.  We are salt!  If you've ever tasted sweat, blood, or tears you know that you are, indeed, salt.

The you, in "you are salt," is plural.  That means that here, in Texas, all y'all are salt. Embrace this label and go out with your little "saltines" to heal, flavor, and keep the world.  Whatever that may mean for you.