the age

29 May

“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.  What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket when of course it is the cross.”

I came across this brilliant observation by Flannery O’Connor in a piece about how Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown’s decision to have a baby out of wedlock.  The opinion said that the media must not glamorize single parenthood.  That poverty is most easily avoided if people will do just three things: finish high school, work full-time, and wait until they are married before having children.

I have done all those things, and it works.  I do not live in poverty.  But neither am I rich.  In money anyway.  I am very rich in love.  And in experiences.  And opinions.  And memories and ideas.  I am also rich in material goods.  They may not have much value in the marketplace, but I have all I need and then some.

My children are rich in grandparents, travels, summer plans, imagination, parental attention, and education.  We are also rich in pets.  And legos.

Having affirmed all of the ways in which we are rich so that you won’t think me a whiner, I am here to tell you that having children who were born into a family with a mom and a dad and now live in a home with just a mom, visiting dad on weeknights and weekends, is really, really hard.  Not just on me, but on the children.  If I were pecuniarily impoverished, I would be sunk.  And if I sink, we all go down.

That is why I believe firmly that marriage is the correct and God-ordained place for the care of children.  Because I have seen one alternative, and it is not ideal.

There is no substitute structure that combines what is best for the child with what is best for society.  Yes, one parent is capable of doing the job of raising them, just like one pilot is physically capable of flying an airliner.  Yes, it can be done.  But it’s  a transatlantic flight, and if you get a little sleepy or lost or sick or need to leave your post to visit the restroom, what then?  Not to mention that it’s lonely looking into the blackness of the night knowing that you are the only person keeping watch and that if you give up or give in to your fatigue, it’s a steep drop into the ocean for all of you.

So if I were not somewhat mature and holding a job made secure by the certainty of criminality and didn’t have a  larger perspective than just what gets me through today, it would be easy to deviate from the task I am given to place their interests first.  Not their desires or their whims, but their best interests.  If I’m not too tired to determine them.

I wish marriages with children didn’t fail.  If I could fix the world, I would require of every potential bride and groom a course in real Christianity.  I don’t care what world religion they profess.  Or even which denomination.  A little Christian fundamentalism would benefit every marriage.  Which is to say, mandatory self-sacrifice for the good of another.  Not the whims or desires of another, but the good.

And in my school of real Fundamentalist Christian marriage, both parties would have to compete with each other to see who could out-give the other: “You take the bigger piece.  No –  You” and “Let me help you with that“.

Because that is what it is all about.  Marriage, like faith is not the cozy blanket — it’s the willingness and ability to sacrifice oneself that will preserve a marriage and provide a safe home for children.  If you have the right kind of mate, you get the warmth of the security blanket even as you offer it.  But even if your recipient is acting a little prickly today, you still have to offer it.  That’s how you will make an A in my class on Christian fundamentalism.  Extra credits if you wash the wounds of the lepers or the feet of your intended, as the case may be.

Jesus said that the two great commandments are to love God, and love your neighbor.  While inside your house, your first neighbor is that person you chose and who chose you, and to whom you said “All that I have I share with you and all that I am, I give to you.”

It isn’t optional to love.  It isn’t predicated on what you’re feeling or getting.  Now sometimes you can love more safely from a distance, but that’s not a Christian marriage.

The age that is pushing on us says that children can grow up well with any adult who loves them.  That’s true.  They can.  But it’s not ideal, and it’s not what God ordained.  The age tells us that having two parents of the same sex is just as good for kids as having parents of opposite sexes.  That isn’t accurate.  Any adult willing to place the child’s needs first can be a good parent.  But what is best is for children to be raised in a home that features a parent of each sex  and the different kinds of love and play and discipline and wisdom that each brings into a family.

The age says that if a woman wants a baby, and she isn’t married, that she should have one without a husband if she wants to do so.  The age tells us a lot of things that are simply not true.  All of these arrangements have their merits.  One such benefit is not having to edit or change yourself for the benefit of someone else.

Sometimes moms or dads don’t have spouses because of death or divorce.  I’m one of those.  It can be done.  But it’s harder than I have words to describe.  And when it’s hard on me, it’s hard on my children.  That’s why widows and orphans are protected classes in the Bible.  They are needy by definition.

As a Christian, I can’t be afraid to push back on a world that tells me something is just as good when I know from my experience that it’s false.  I must stand firm in my faith that there is a right way to do things.  If God’s word weren’t enough, there’s my own daily struggle to convince me.

The Christian model of marriage is the only one worth aspiring to, in my opinion.  The first requirement is to be the kind of person who can give without needing reciprocation.  The second is to find another who is  inclined to give away what doesn’t benefit the union.

I know some people like that.  Some of them are married to each other.  Those homes are wonderful places to visit.  The very atmosphere is different.  You know upon walking in that there is unity and some certainty of who they are to each other and to their families.

It may not be the most modern of arrangements.  But I have seen little in modern marriage to convince me that it’s a model worth preserving.  It’s an instance where the old way works the best.

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white

29 Feb

I yearn for the simple life that I do not have. 

I have recurring fantasies about white-painted rooms with white curtains and white bedding and maybe just one book.  A white ceiling fan blowing the curtains.  There is no telephone in my imaginary room.  There is an electric outlet for the lamp so I can read the book even after dark.  Maybe there are three books.  Or five.  A few, so that I have something to choose from.  But no computer, no television, no children and no big fluffy dogs.  Or little fluffy dogs either. 

It’s not that the living, chattering, running, jumping members of my family don’t exist in this fantasy life.  They do.  They are still very important to me.  But they are just somewhere else.  Being taken care of and they don’t miss me.  Maybe they’re all in Europe like they will be this summer.  Maybe I could actually re-enact this white scene.  I could move everything out of my house that isn’t white and clean and I could take the dogs to the kennel.  I would pretend that I was going on a trip, because what kind of person boards their dogs while they stay home – just to have a break from all the needs?

I think I would be happy for about 48 hours like that.  And then I would start reading cookbooks and planning dinner parties because I would be lonely and my house would be so clean and just calling out for guests.  And who really wants to live alone for the long term?  I think I would cease to appreciate it after a while.

When we were at Marfa over Christmas and I was going to bed no later than 9 p.m., my dad said “believe it or not, one day they will grow up and you will have a chance to do what you want to do.”  and I said “Right.  In 14 years.”  FOURTEEN.  I have fourteen years ahead of driving children around, administering medications, filling out health forms, trying to track them down in the neighborhood because he rode to a friend’s house on his bike, but now it turns out that he is at the coliseum at the fairgrounds.  FOURTEEN more years of nonstop activity.

Fourteen years of wild and busy and dirty and muddy and plays and awards ceremonies and Shakespeare festivals.  Exams and appointments and summer camp and sleepovers.  Of “what’s for supper” and “I don’t want to wear that.”  Of traveling that doesn’t involve the great cathedrals.  Maybe the national parks, although I don’t know how to camp except as a dependent.  We might have to stay in the lodge. 

Yes, I’m sure it is just going to fly by.

 

 

 

for those we love

17 Feb

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come; knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

oedipal

24 Jan

Last night as I was getting him to bed, Henry said “Mom, who’s your husband?”

“I don’t have one,” I said.

“Well, maybe I could be.”

MacDonald

8 Jan

The speaker at my New Year’s Eve retreat was Jerry Root, a member of the faculty at Wheaton College, Illinois.  He is married to the lovely Claudia, and they are the parents of four adult children.  There are five grandchildren two and under right now and a sixth is expected.  They are so busy.  Claudia teaches ESL and holds one master’s degree in something related to education and is working on another, and my mouth was just agape at the idea of being able to take all the classes you want any time.  Think about all that learning.  I am highly jealous.  I might even covet her opportunities, and as we all know that is a commandment.  A real live sin.  It’s okay, though, wishing I had access to the classes available to her as a faculty wife is far from the greatest of my sins.  It might even be my best one.

Jerry told us that one of CS Lewis’s best books is one he didn’t even really write.  It’s called George MacDonald, and it’s a compilation of short snippets of MacDonald’s writings.  MacDonald and GK Chesterton were of significant influence on Lewis.  Now that I am reading MacDonald and have read a small amount of Chesterton, I can see them in Lewis’s ideas.  MacDonald to Lewis to Jerry Root to me.  I feel very fortunate. 

By the time I could slip out of the Great Hall and get to the bookstore to snag a copy of George MacDonald, the Book, there was only one copy left.  I picked it up, saw that it was filled with quotations ranging from one line to one-half page, and I thought that I could skim that text in an afternoon in a hammock, and that I wouldn’t have to purchase it.  Wrong again.  As a child I learned from my father that you must never leave a bookstore without an armload of books because who knows when you’ll get back to a place like this?  It’s a weakness.  Books and shoes.  (Word to the wise: books are less expensive and have the ability to keep you at home, out of trouble.  Not so shoes.  Except maybe houseslippers, and that’s not the kind of shoes I like.)

Once I started to read George MacDonald, the Book, I realized that this one was a keeper.  I think we are going to have a btc book study, an online salon.  The first book we will read together will be none other than CS Lewis’s George MacDonald.  Because of insights and ideas like this one:

[106] Why We Must Wait

Perhaps, indeed, the better gift we pray for, the more time is necessary for its arrival.  To give us the spiritual gift we desire, God may have to begin far back in our spirit, in regions unknown to us, and do much work that we can be aware of only in the results; for our consciousness is to the extent of our being but as the flame of the volcano to our world-gulf whence it issues; in the gulf of our unknown being God works behind our consciousness.  With His holy influence, with His own presence (the one thing for which most earnestly we cry) He may be approaching our consciousness from behind, coming forward through regions of our darkness into our light, long before we begin to be aware that He is answering our request — has answered it, and is visiting His child.

Now what do you have to say about that?

faces

19 Dec

I think I just read the best book ever besides About Alice.  I finished Til We Have Faces yesterday, last night actually.  Too late.  After a party, and a wedding, and Nutcracker pick-ups at 10 p.m.

I first read Til We Have Faces by Mr. C.S. Lewis when I was a freshman in college.  We had a required religion class, which I think is wonderful.  If I were starting college now, I might have majored in religion.  It would have been like studying English but with more worldview.  I remembered very little from my first reading.  Only that it was based on a myth – that of Cupid and Psyche.  Psyche was a beautiful mortal and the goddess Aphrodite became jealous of her.  So she called for the sacrifice of the mortal girl.   Aphrodite’s son Eros (Cupid) fell in love with the lovely maiden and brought her to his castle, where he kept her and visited her by night.  Psyche’s sisters were jealous of Psyche’s happiness and set out to destroy it.  And so they did.

Lewis sets his fairy tale in the mythical kingdom of Glome, which is ruled by a King and heavily governed by the Goddess Ungit.  Ungit is the Glomian version of Aphrodite.  The king has three daughters, and the youngest is the beautiful Psyche.  The narrator of the tale is Orual, the oldest daughter of the king.  Orual’s face is as ugly as Psyche’s is appealing, but Orual feels no jealousy toward her beautiful sister – she only loves and dotes on her.

Eventually, as in the myth, Ungit/Aphrodite calls for the sacrifice of the perfect and blameless daughter.  In the myth, Aphrodite (the prevailing deity) wants to be rid of her rival.  In the novel, it is the people who clamor for Psyche’s sacrifice on Ungit’s behalf.  That brought to mind the crowds calling for Jesus’s crucifixion.  The blameless, the perfect, she without sin, giving herself up to die for the ugly disease of the people.  A human sacrifice to appease angry gods.

The story is not about Psyche and her fate as much as it is about the fate of Orual, the oldest sister.  She covers her face to hide her ugliness, and in so doing, she begins to live as someone other than herself.  She eventually succeeds her father as Queen Orual, there being no male heirs in the lineage.  Under her reign, the land is restored to peace and prosperity.  She is a skilled soldier, riding into battle with her generals.  She makes a good and honorable life out of a sad and lonely existence.  She is reared in the Greek tradition of philosophy and reasonableness and disbelief in the supernatural.  Of course while she denies the divinity of the gods, in part because of the pain they have caused her, she is also superstitious and angry with them for the constant challenges and difficulties she faces – being ugly, losing her mother to death, being mistreated by her father, losing her beloved sister in sacrifice.  Orual simultaneously denies and despises the existence of the gods whatsoever.

At the end of a life that is successful by all outer measures, she is confronted with an alternative vision of her life.  One where she was jealous.  Where she was angry and manipulative.  Where she caused as much anguish as she suffered.  Where her motives, although she thought them pure, were actually used in judgment against her.  Her entire life turned out to be other than what she had both intended and accomplished.

“Our moral efforts are too feeble and falsely motivated to ever merit salvation.” Tim Keller in The Reason for God.  I struggle to remain convinced of God’s grace, which is given freely.  I always try so hard to do right and behave well and be motivated correctly.  It’s a topic that is fresh in my mind after a discussion about submission and placing others’ interests first.  So ironic that it appears to be the dominant theme in a book I haven’t read in 20 years but felt called to give some attention to. 

The book is lovely.  It is brilliant.  It explains concepts in literature that defy the common wisdom of our time.  Mr. Lewis published the book in 1956.  Fifty years ago he knew more about self-determination and self-interest than many of us do today.  Orual lived as a brave, redeemed heroine.  But when you change your point of view just the tiniest bit and look at her life through a lens she never intended, the whole story is about the selfish manipulations of a jealous woman and the ways in which we use love to our benefit rather than giving it freely without thought of ourselves.The brilliance of the book is the braiding of myth, Christian doctrine, and pure fairy story, without denying any part its full development.

I said it was like swimming in cheesecake.  The text, the symbolism, and the imagery is so robust and rich that I could not take it all in adequately.  I commend it to you and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.  It is relevant on many different levels, even if he doesn’t gush like Calvin does in About Alice.

hedonic

21 Sep

Like one of my musical soulmates sings: I’ve been thinking a lot today.

The last post about too many activities that limit my time with my children, instructing, advising and conversing with them, brought to mind some traits that I want to ward off.  As against the evil spirits, I will hold my hands out in front of me and cross my index fingers against these cultural trends and tell them to back away from my children. Find somebody else’s life to ruin.   And that should reduce by a full .01% the chance that my children will contract the dreaded disease of worldly selfishness and consumerism.

I’m not naive.  Well, maybe just on a few fronts.   I know that I can’t protect them from everything that wants to hurt them, but I can try to explain a few things, and I can definitely try to model the kind of values I want them to absorb.  And make no mistake: they take it all in.  From me, from school, from church, from whomever and to whatever they are most exposed.

The specific disease against which I wish to innoculate them has been referred to as “the hedonic treadmill,”  the endless attempts to do more, get more, and have more.  This dreaded condition is an epidemic in 21st century American culture, and I suffer from it as much as anyone I know.  I have had it as long as I can remember, even though it was not encouraged in my family of origin.  It is best characterized as the relentless pursuit of something other than what we have.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  It’s a sickness as old as leprosy, but instead of curing this disease, we have allowed it to spread virally though our society.  We aren’t washing our hands or practicing the equivalent of good moral hygience.

We invite it to infect our families by opening the door of our last bastion of privacy, our homes, and we say “please, come in.  I will go and get the children so that I can give them to you to you to be infected.”

Every computer, television set and smartphone is a hotbed of contagion.  Every magazine and catalog that the mailman delivers breeds the idea that what we have, thanks to God’s generosity, is not enough.  I am not enough.  I don’t have enough.  My children don’t have enough.  I should want more for them.  They certainly want more for themselves – a tiny oven for baking cupcakes looks like fun!  (We already have an oven, a toaster oven and a microwave.  I have 4 crockpots.  4!  I am not immune.  I admit that I am an active carrier of the consumerist bug.)

Every commercial, every ad on the internet, every pretty photo in a home or fashion magazine drives us to want more.  A prettier house.  One whose yard hasn’t given up in despair and just admitted defeat to a Texas drought and a distracted homeowner.  A home in which all the furniture matches.  Or at least complements.  A new car every few years.  With features.  A lake house, beach house, mountain house.  The endless drive for acquisition stifles me.  I have enough dishes to feed 30 people.  Only 4 live here.  I have glasses that I purchased simply because they look pretty in my cabinets.  They do.  But is that what I want my children to learn?  That we should purchase more and more?

That the best use of time, toil and talent is to buy more stuff?  My ten year-old has owned an ipod touch for a year or two.  I was opposed, but I didn’t win that battle.  I arranged for him to have a small telephone so that he can call me when he is away from home.  Well, simply having his own telephone is not enough.  He wants an iphone.  He also wants an ipad.  I want an ipad.  My daughter wants her ears pierced and a telephone.  My four year-old wants to “just look at the toys.”  I understand that.  I love to “just look” at pretty things.  But when I do, I always end up dissatisfied with what I already have.

I know it’s human nature.  I know that to desire what we don’t have is a normal condition, but I would suggest that there was a time when ten year-olds didn’t think it was their place to have the very latest in expensive technology.  I think the problem is the advertising, the constant barrage of messages that you don’t have enough.  And it is destroying our chance at happiness.

I want to cultivate in them the art of conversation, of exploring high topics with close friends and unlucky acquaintances.  I want them to be as happy with a picnic in the park as they are at the resort-hotel-with-waterpark.  That may be highly unrealistic and out of touch, but at a minimum, I want the resort/amusement park to be a big deal, not something they get to do all the time or take for granted.  I want the big things to still be able to thrill.  Someone critical to my formation, but who has requested she not be written about, once told me “If you start wearing makeup in seventh grade, what’s left?  If you do everything NOW, what will you have to look forward to?”  She is very smart about a lot of things and I only wish I could give her proper credit.

I want us to make purchases because we have a need, not just a hole in our lives that wants to be filled.  I want to teach them to avoid credit cards not simply because they are insidious, but mostly I want them to know that the things that make one truly happy and bring value to a life can never be bought.  In my experience, the endless pursuit of the next big thing will only lead to easy boredom and the need for bigger thrills.

I can’t begin to describe for you how a forced period of slowing down, evaluating, and thinking about the Big Mysteries and Revelations have changed my interests and activities.  Yes, as Sonya (another wise one) said recently, my house needs a man.  Because while I have been slowing down and doing some heavy thinking, the yard has given up completely, the paint is chipping, the curtain rod in the front fell down and I am at a complete loss as to how to fix any of that.  But while signs of external neglect may have set in, my interior life has blossomed.  My friendships are more real, my faith is more than restored, my work is better, and my children are healthier.

I am not swearing off all shopping and home maintenance forever.  I am simply striving to put my efforts and energy where I want to see the payoff.  And for right now now, that is in the renewing of my mind and the guarding of my children’s hearts.