Thursday, January 26, 2012

Everyday Miracles

Over the past couple of weeks several young people in my circle have reached milestones, making me wonder where the time has gone, and look with wonder on the way that we are created and grow. My younger daughter is engaged to be married and overnight her daily vocabulary has expanded to include words like tulle and fondant and cummerbund. Oh lovely language, bringing order out of chaos!

Language is an important indicator of developmental progress. Children can learn to communicate with a single word as early as their first birthday. By the time they start kindergarten they may know as many as 5,000 words. That works out to 3 or 4 words a day after their first birthday. It is amazing to watch this evolution in a child. As communication grows the distress of the infant makes way for the malapropisms of the preschooler. This is something to celebrate! Young mothers recently shared these word stories with me:
  • A trip to the dentist with 4-year-old twins yielded this distortion of mom's regular warning that this is going to be a new experience: "C'mon Sissy, there's more experience here!"
  • Another young one, upon learning the word and concept "edible", spent an entire afternoon pointing to things and saying "well THAT's not edible!"
In the midst of this extraordinary growth we are often too tired or too distracted to enjoy it. We catch only the funniest word-meaning twists and those that are glaringly out of context. We don't realize that last week our little one didn't know the name for watermelon and this week she knows its name and that it's a fruit. We labor over spelling lists without realizing that there will probably be only 100 of them before they are gone forever.

Last night, in confirmation, we spent a great deal of time discussing what "holy" means. We hit  on holy baptism, holy communion, and hallowed be your name . . . they all left that discussion capable of using holy correctly in a sentence, surrounded by good theology, and hopefully an internalized understanding - ready to pull out when something holy next crosses their paths. 

The time you spend with your children is holy time. It is a time when miracles rain down almost daily. As I look back I wish I had kept a journal and recorded each day's miracle of growth: slept through the night, recognized Daddy from behind, buckled her own seat belt, discovered that chopsticks are different in different cultures, developed her first crush, jumped off the high dive. Two children, hundreds of days, thousands of miracles - it's no wonder that God feels closer than ever. Imagine if I had been paying attention!

May you wallow in your particular pond of miracles today. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just Right

In the well-known story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks tries out the chairs, foods and beds of the bears who live in the cottage she finds in the woods. Suspending for a minute the various causes for parental concern that the story raises (unattended child wandering in the woods, home invasion, anthropomorphism, eating other people's food uninvited, crawling into a stranger's bed, etc.), the story repeats one theme three times: the theme of JUST RIGHT. Not too big or small, not too hot or cold, not too hard or soft - it was just right.

How much time do we spend trying to get things just right? Most of us are working hard at making things better than just right; it's part of our culture. This drive for better probably fuels many of the problems we have recently experienced: people bought houses they couldn't afford, companies promised pensions they didn't fund, CEOs collected paychecks that exceeded any rational standard of fair compensation, and people who could least afford it paid too much for their not quite enough.

My congregation is spending a lot of time learning about Care of Creation these days. We are being encouraged to start choosing the just right amounts instead of the excesses we have indulged in over the past decades. It's interesting to recognize how easily we know what the right amount is for someone else, and how hard it is for us to see our own patterns of consumption.  It's easy to point out that our teenager is staying in the shower too long, or washing a less than full load of clothes. We're not so judgmental about our own indulgent consumption, whether that is drinking bottled water, driving a gas guzzler or heating/air conditioning more space than we really need.

I'm going to try and think about how much is JUST RIGHT, and aim at that. Like Goldilocks I will probably have to try out several different versions of things before I find the just right pattern, but it's worth the effort. Most of us know the ecosystems of our own bodies. We know how much food or exercise or sleep is just right; how much caffeine or salt or company we can tolerate. Can we apply that knowledge to our living, breathing planet?

As I write this I am looking at a calendar that has too many commitments on it. Today is not going to be a great day but if I aim for just right I just might hit it, especially if I invite God who is the author of JUST RIGHT to help me find that target. And may it be just right with you today as well.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Belief Bullies

A 9-year-old girl in Austin is being bullied by two girls at school. They are telling her that her religion is wrong. She's a Christian, a Lutheran Christian. She's not sure how to respond, nor is her mother, because the tormentors are Muslims. The mom said to me, "We didn't have to deal with this when I was a kid."  It's a new world. . . but not really.

In 1967, a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota got a phone call from an irate parent telling him that his 9-year-old daughter was picking on her daughter for being  Catholic. The incident stemmed from a conversation on the school bus in which the little Catholic girl (who was quite possibly the only Catholic child on the bus) explained to her Lutheran friends that she went to the One True Church because Jesus said to Peter that he was a rock and on this rock he would build his church. And so Peter became the first pope. This was met with a snort of derision by the preacher’s kid who told her, with the authority of a preacher, that she was wrong. 

A gaggle of little girls, separated by 40-plus years, all religiously well-trained and attuned, encountered the differences in their beliefs before they developed the social skills to tread on such delicate ground.  The situations aren't that different except for that fact that one is about denominational differences and the other is around religious differences. And then there is that terrorist thing. . . of course none of the children in the current incident had even been born when the events of 9-11 occurred.

How does a 9-year-old reconcile these kinds of issues? What should a parent do? I've been rolling this over in my mind since I heard about the incident. I think, if it were my child (after asking for details so that I'm sure she didn't provoke the incident, and mentally separating the words Muslim and terrorist) that I would respond with the one-size-fits-all answer: LOVE.

In matters of faith it is not possible to win an argument. People will judge your beliefs by how you act. So, if you are going to be a Christian, a Christ-follower, then you are required to love your neighbor. Not just your Christian neighbor, or American neighbor, but all your neighbors. Not merely tolerate them - LOVE THEM.
You have to respond in love even when you are bullied, reviled, mocked or persecuted. When they say you are wrong you have to say that you believe that God loves everyone and you want to love them and be their friends too. You might have to say it and live it for a long time.

These are the kinds of situations we dread as parents, but the times where we are most necessary to our children. This is why we have to continue to grow in faith and wisdom throughout our lives as well - because times change and what I learned in Sunday school as a child does not hold all the answers to all the questions I will encounter throughout life. This is why I float in my baptismal identity: because when times are hard, confusing, frustrating or frightening what I do is determined by who I am. This is how I am called to parent my child.

And yes, the obnoxious preacher's kid described above was me. Kathy B - if you ever stumble across this blog - please accept my deepest apologies. I know I apologized at the time, but I really didn't understand what I had done . . .