The Long Con

Like most parents, we struggle with the right level of access to all things digital. At our house, all the computers and cell phones have passwords, but we have to change them fortnightly. Nine-year-old Nathaniel is both observant and stealthy, a deadly combination for household password security.

Mostly he just wants to watch hours and hours of other people playing Minecraft. I’m told this is no different than spending hours watching other people play football or golf, but it feels different to me. First of all, these videos involve both the annoying game soundtrack AND a guy screaming “Whooooaaaa! Siiiick!” over and over again until you want to cry.  Second, at least when watching sports, someone breaks a sweat at some point in the process. Not so with the screen within a screen.

Why we don’t just set reasonable limits–a half hour of access a day, or something like that? We have learned the hard way that Nathaniel is an all or nothing kid. For Christmas 2015, I made the shockingly stupid decision to buy him a Kindle Fire, lulled into complacency by reviews that talked about the fantastic parental controls. It “got lost” after about a month because I could not tolerate the constant bidding and begging about getting more game time.  A half hour is merely a toehold from which he will try to wrest an hour or two or three. A half hour is the launching pad for a million negotiations. Continue reading “The Long Con”

Advertisements

Conscientious Objector

co-postcardThis week, someone was wrong on the Internet.

I know. Shocking. I do this sort of masochistic thing where I periodically go look at the comments on the Facebook page of a woman I know who is about as far from my political point of view as you can get. While everyone on MY Facebook page was talking about the uplifting feeling of exercising their right to protest, of standing up for the underdog, everyone THERE was talking about the stupid, ignorant, baby killing, Madonna-loving marchers. Everyone THERE was talking about how evil and wrong and stupid and unattractive all of my people are.

It’s hard not to react. Oh yeah!?? Well, so’s your mom! Continue reading “Conscientious Objector”

Magical Thinking

When we were getting ready to move, my 10-year-old daughter and I walked through the new house just after closing. That day, as we went from empty room to empty room, we talked about where the furniture would go and which walls we would paint. As she left the bedroom that would be hers, she spoke in a voice both hesitant and hopeful: “I think I could be neater here.”

Amelia is congenital pack rat. The most generous way to describe her natural habitat is as creative chaos. Other terms include health hazard and pigsty. But that day, in her imagination, she would be transformed by this new house, morphing her from Oscar to Felix. (It didn’t work out that way.)

So many ways I’ve had the same fantasy! It’s always an outside stimulus that magically makes me better: a great outfit will make me sophisticated and graceful instead of klutzy! (I still trip over air.) The upgraded kitchen will inspire me to cook better meals! (Only sporadically.) It usually lasts for approximately 20 minutes after the purchase has been made, at which point you look around, and there you are. Continue reading “Magical Thinking”

Morning mystery

Last night before bed, I did the usual check on the kids–all three in their rooms, safe and sound–and shut the door behind me on the way out. As the first one up this morning, I was a little surprised to see Nathaniel’s door open. He’s in there, though, sleeping.img_2653

Before I go to bed at night I like to tidy up the kitchen so I’m not greeted by last night’s horror when I wake up in the morning. This morning, all looked well, except the pantry door stood wide open.

img_2654

Strange, but not unheard of. I sat to eat and turned to see another disturbance in the family room.

img_2652

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a cereal bandit. He sneaks out after bedtime to watch tv and munch on Cheerios. So brazen that he doesn’t even attempt to conceal the evidence! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen his mug shot:

302751_10101953940958504_2104995778_n

Lock up your Cheerios. And probably any candy, just to be safe. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Summer, 1992

In 1992, the summer after 8th grade, I went on a school trip to Germany. We spent three weeks in a small town near Cologne–a place that had developed a relationship with our German department’s lead teacher. Every two years, a group of 8th and 9th graders made the trip with a handful of teachers. Nearly two dozen of us made the trip, all of us having just finished 8th or 9th grade. living with a family, attending school with our exchange partners on some days, touring around to Brussels, Heidelberg, Bonn on other days.

I remember very little about the preparation for the trip. I was thirteen years old–the same age my son Owen is now.

I remember that our German teacher couldn’t or wouldn’t go that year–and so the main chaperone was a math teacher who happened to be from Germany, and her young ad45993ba638cdf9af295c306f00081fc7ult daughter, who had recently dyed her hair black, much to the math teacher’s chagrin.

I remember that nearly every kid on that trip had an LL Bean windbreaker. Every city we visited, we all lined up in front of a landmark for a photograph–two rows of red, green, teal, yellow. A self-imposed uniform. Continue reading “Summer, 1992”

Lamentation

  bertram_mackennal_-_grief  Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
    that was inflicted on me?

Today, I don’t have any words of my own. I have Felicia Sanders’ words; her heartrending account of witnessing the murder of her son, the murder of her aunt, and the murder of seven other friends at Mother Emanuel in Charleston

“I watched my son come into this world, and I watched my son leave this world.”

The hearts of the people
    cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
    let your tears flow like a river
    day and night;
give yourself no relief,
    your eyes no rest.

Weak Thought and the Mystery

Earlier this week, Rachel Held Evans commented on the response writer and activist Glennon Doyle Melton got when she revealed that she is now dating a woman:

This is what a sexist double standard looks like…Christians all scandalized over ‘s girlfriend while shrugging off Trump’s unrepentant adultery, sexual assault, misogyny….Former is described as threat to virtuous womanhood; latter is “just how guys talk.”

There’s a ton to unpack here: The hypocrisy of the religious right getting behind Trump. The sexism that often goes hand in hand with elevating sexual morality above all other kinds of morality. Evans has talked a lot about those things on her Twitter feed and in her work. But what’s been on my mind this week is not about any of those, it’s about the tenor of the “scandal” that people like Melton and Evans–among many, many others–get from rank and file evangelicals when they say things unpopular with the religious right.

I’m not even talking about the critique from those who have some sort of official voice–other bloggers, writers, etc. The interesting stuff is from a subset of their fans–people who follow them on Facebook or Twitter. In many of those responses, you see an undercurrent of bewildered betrayal. They seem to say, I thought you were one of us! Play by the rules! How can you say you are a person of faith and not believe exactly the same things in exactly the way I’ve been led to believe you must? You’re breaking the rules! For many, when someone is breaking the rules–particularly someone influential–the whole game is threatened. (Never mind that Melton says she “didn’t even ask to play.”)

This insistence on “the rules” made me think about the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo. Well, first I thought about the 90s self-help book on snagging a husband, THEN I thought of Vattimo. I first read Vattimo when working on my dissertation, and his ideas have been coming back to me this year. As I understand it, Vattimo is known for regarding the history of Being as a history of weakening.

13606783_1099123000155360_2958006802321059215_nWeakening sounds bad. “Ma’am, I’m afraid your house’s foundation has cracked and is weakening.” Or, “His muscles have weakened from confinement–it’ll take lots of therapy for him to walk again.” But Vattimo’s weakening isn’t necessarily bad; he sees weakening as moving away from what has typically been considered “strong”–namely structures associated with violence. Put another way: we started with really tough, hard, punishing concepts of authority–The Rules, if you will–and throughout history, we have become less attached to those concepts; their hold on us has been weakening.

This applies to religious thought, too. Vattimo wrote a whole book about it (Belief, 1999) where he more or less argues that everybody should stop freaking out about secularization. Understood through the lens of weakening, the secular is not necessarily a movement away from religious thought, but a continuation of religious thought.

He maps the weakening trend over the history of Christianity and argues that “secularization—the progressive dissolution of the natural sacred—is the very essence of Christianity.

Say what? Vattimo sees the New Testament as a surprising countermeasure against the violent and authoritarian history of the sacred.

I love this.  It’s confusing, but it also somehow comes close to describing the central mystery of faith to me.

You’ve got this strong, almighty, powerful God who smites and floods and destroys and has six-hundred-odd laws you’re supposed to be working on. The Rules are strong with this one. This strong God of The Rules sees humans forever breaking The Rules and does not kick them out of the game. Instead, this God appears in human form, weakening itself in service to God’s self and to humanity. That’s the beauty of incarnation. That’s the good news of the gospel. Weakening.

If the incarnation alone weren’t enough, on top of that, Jesus spends most of his time on Earth verbally dismantling authoritarian strength, “winners,” and the very religious people most obsessed with The Rules. Jesus must have seemed awfully secular. Jesus must have seemed weak. He definitely seemed like a rule breaker. 

If we follow Vattimo’s line a little further, we can perhaps imagine a different response to a whole bunch of stuff that often causes various religious folks to freak out today: Declining church membership and the rise of the “nones.” Glennon Doyle Melton’s girlfriend. If you’re at my sort of traditional mainline church, the very notion of a screen with hymn lyrics projected on it.

All this rule breaking, all this weakening is not to be seen as the absence of God or faith, but rather the continued, corrective weakening of The Rules into simple truth: Love God and love each other. To put it more complexly, as we can count on philosophers to do, Vattimo says:

…the dissolution of the sacral structures of Christian society, the transition to an ethics of autonomy, to a lay state, to a more flexible literalism in the interpretation of dogmas and precepts, should be understood not as the failure of or departure from Christianity, but as a fuller realization of its truth.

Translation: Chill out. Weaken. Love.

So why do we have The Rules in the first place? Why are some people loath to weaken or to allow others to do so? Well, one reason is obviously because this makes no sense! It’s crazy talk! And yet, I think it’s true. More soon.