Sunday, September 26, 2010

Children in Public

I don't know whether it is because of the growing DINK (double income no kids) phenomenon, or lingering Victorian ideas of kids being seen/not heard, but our society is pretty inhospitable to children in public.

As it relates to children the public sphere is intensely segregated. There are places specially set aside where kids are welcome - matinees of an animated movie, playgrounds, schools, family-friendly restaurants and fast-food joints. But step outside those boundaries and you will hear about it.

I have a pretty rebellious attitude and a thick skin and even I am constantly aware of the rolling-of-eyes, the impatient sighs, and the cruel looks that get shot my way when Curran decides to sing a song in the middle of dinner at a nice restaurant, or Avery turns to ask me a question about the plot during a movie or at a play. To sensitive parents like my wife the scorn is a palpable barrier to participation in adult life. Plenty of parents choose not to go where they know they aren't welcome.

In the short and the long run this attitude is very destructive. Being a parent is hard. No, being a parent is impossibly hard, and we have compounded that difficulty by isolating parents. While we approvingly quote generic proverbs like "it takes a village to raise a child", in fact, we have made children just another individual choice - a commodity. Some people "choose" to have children. Others don't. Since it is an individual choice the individual bears the cost. Why should the single, the childless, and the retired have to endure your parenting trials, the noise, the smells, the inconvenience with you?

I implore everyone to realize that however much the baby on the airplane is making you suffer, the parent is suffering 100x more. If you're conscious of a child making noise in a movie theater, the parent is completely consumed by it. Think it's hard to enjoy your dinner with the rugrats in the next booth bouncing around? Try being the parent.

The solution can't be segregation either. Some people want parents to keep their kids to "family-friendly" environments not just to avoid the awkwardness of having to put up with children, but also to protect the children. The result of this kind of thinking though is to consign parents and kids to ghettos where everything is primary colors and cheesy music all the time. It is bad for the parents, the kids, and society.

First, the parents. Having children doesn't mean we stopped liking music and wanting to go to concerts, or museums, or the theater or whatever activity you think is too adult for us to be bringing our kids to. For sanity's sake we need to continue to engage our interests and passions. Doing so makes us better people and better parents. Leaving the kids at home is not always an option and even if it was, one of the worst things a parent can do is exclude their kids from everything they like to do in life. Not everyone has the same ideas as you about what is "kid-appropriate" (an idea I think is flawed to begin with). Try being less judgmental about what a parent should or shouldn't be exposing their kid to - especially if you're not a parent yourself.

Next, the kids. Segregating kids from adult activities is bad for them. Kids learn to like and understand adult activities by being exposed to them. If you think it is an inappropriate environment for a child, instead of making a snide remark about bad parents, try doing your part to make the environment better. Talk to kids. Explain what is going on. Look out for them and help them, rather than ignoring them. You know what makes an environment unsafe for kids? Adults. But we could just as easily make things better rather than worse.

Finally, society. No matter what you think, raising the next generation is your responsibility as much as anyone else's. We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we continue to cut parents and children off from the elderly, the single, the young, the employed, and so on. We should be doing the opposite. We should have children in the workplace observing and apprenticing. Children should be present at every important meeting of government and business transaction, in every dance club, bar, theater, museum, warehouse, and factory. Far from us teaching them bad habits (which we already do quite well), they might actually teach us a bit of restraint and compassion. There might be less corruption, greed, lust, and hatred if we had to do it in front of innocent eyes.

Jesus said "let the children come to me." We say, "yes, let them go to Sunday School, or Day Care, or the playground or somewhere else away from me." Children are loud, and inconvenient. They don't follow the social rules. They interrupt our lives. They are inconsiderate. They get hurt and they cry. They find something funny and they laugh without regard for who else is listening. They are also people. Not someone else's responsibility. Not someone else's choice. Human beings. Who are especially in need of your care and attention. Quit rolling your eyes and say hello.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Liquid Network

This is what we're talking about. This is why we want to launch TFF as something new and fecund:

We want to be a place where good ideas about theology come together to have sex.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rumblings of Progress

For over two years now Doug Hagler, Nick Larson, and myself have been plotting to take over the internet. Going back even farther than that we have been friends who also happen to use computers. We are none of us cutting edge, though Nick has some actual know-how that is a few years out of date. So our conquest is inching along at a hard-to-see-it's-so-slow rate.

Recently though we have been gathering steam to attempt something pretty ambitious, which will be the next evolution of Two Friars and a Fool. The website, already in development, will be a virtual pub - a space for convivial debate and argument about things that matter. We hope to stimulate good conversation by hosting and creating high quality content. Articles, videos, and interviews by and with some great thinkers will be posted at regular intervals along with video responses from we three fools. We want you to get into the argument too by delving into the forums and engaging in direct debate with theologians, authors, speakers, and trolls from every corner of the internet.

We are still a few months away from this being a reality, but already we're laying the ground work. Building a Facebook Page to spread the word and provide updates. Starting a twitter feed for the "TwoFriars", which will give you the no-nonsense notifications of new content. A separate twitter feed "AndaFool" will let you in on our twisted sense of humor. News is slow coming at the moment, but you can be an early adopter and use the power of social media to feed us ideas about how we should assemble a casual, lively home for drunken theological debate online.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Christ the Non-Example

From John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" (p. 95) on imitating Jesus:
... let us first note the absence of the concept of imitation as a general pastoral or moral guideline. There is in the New Testament no Franciscan glorification of barefoot itinerancy. Even when Paul argues the case for celibacy, it does not occur to him to appeal to the example of Jesus. Even when Paul explains his own predilection for self-support there is no appeal to Jesus' years as a village artisan. Even when the apostle argues strongly the case for his teaching authority, there is no appeal to the rabbinic ministry of Jesus. Jesus' trade as a carpenter, his association with fishermen, and his choice of illustrations from the life of the sower and the shepherd have throughout Christian history given momentum to the romantic glorification of the handcrafts and the rural life; but there is none of this in the New Testament. It testifies throughout to the life and mission of a church going intentionally into the cities in full knowledge of the conflicts which awaited believers there. That the concept of imitation is not applied by the New Testament at some of those points where Franciscan and romantic devotion has tried most piously to apply it, is all the more powerfully a demonstration of how fundamental the thought of participation in the suffering of Christ is when the New Testament church sees it as guiding and explaining her attitude to the powers of the world. Only at one point, only on one subject - but then consistently, universally - is Jesus our example: in his cross.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Confirmation Class 2010 Notes

These are my notes for the Confirmation class I'm teaching this year. I've never done it before. After a lot of thinking, I decided to make it about a dozen weeks (actually worked out to lucky 13). I was told anything from 12 weeks to an entire year for the length by the Church, and quickly realized it was just up to me. I also took a look at the official PCUSA Confirmation curriculum, and I took some ideas from it but went my own way. If nothing else, it's more interesting for me to do it myself.

The notes may not necessarily make sense to anyone but me - they're my guidelines, and while I'm going to give a copy of this to the kids in the class, I don't expect it to immediately make sense to them.

Though the class will obviously be my view, and my understanding of what "the basics" are, I've also gotten 6 different mentor-volunteers to work with the kids and help with the class however they see fit. My goal is for the mentors to disagree with me periodically, or have their own spin or viewpoint or priorities, and for the kids to see that it is ok for a church to be composed of people who disagree sometimes.

Yes - I am encouraging them to be little liberals.

6 sessions on the Bible, 2 sessions on history, and then 3 sessions on faith and practice, followed by a wrap-up where the kids also decide if they're ready to go before the Session and then be Confirmed.
After which we're certainly far from done, but we have a place to start. At least, that's the plan.

2010 Confirmation Class

Every Session
Candle Prayer
Lord’s Prayer

Session 1 (9/19/10)
Intro and getting started; how we’ll do it; question-writing; quiz

Session 2 (9/26/10)
Bible: the First Five

Session 3 (10/3/10)
Bible: Wisdom and Writings

Session 4 (10/10/10)
Bible: Prophets
Ten Commandments Day

Sunday Off! (Pastor Doug is out of town)

Session 5 (10/24/10)
Bible: the Gospels

Session 6 (10/31/10)
Bible: Letters and the Early Church

Session 7 (11/7/10)
BIble: Revelation and what came after

Session 8 (11/14/10)
History: Jewish history
“Hebiru” --> Holy Land --> David --> Exile --> Second Temple --> Diaspora

Session 9 (11/21/10)
History: Christian history
Jesus --> Disciples --> Apostles --> Early Church --> Rome --> World --> Reformation --> Us
Happy birthday

Session 10 (11/28/10)
Faith and Practice: Sacraments, Spiritual Gifts, Spiritual Practices

Session 11 (12/5/10)
Faith and Practice: the Christian Year and the Great Story Cycle

Session 12 (12/12/10)
Faith and Practice: Confessions, Theology

Session 13 (12/19/10)
Choice: Ready to go before the Session?  Talk through what you’ll have to affirm
Youth Sunday!

TBA: Go before the Session

Confirmation Service

Continuing the Journey: Farther On and Deeper In
Confirmation isn’t where we end, it’s where we start

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Eleven

This is a blog written by Americans, and it is the 11th of September, and so I felt like there had to be a post.

One recollection of September 11, 2001:

My heart broke that morning, once the shock of waking up to "we're under attack" wore off.  It broke for the buildings destroyed, the innocent lives snuffed out in fire and collapse, the untold damage, the fear and panic in the country.

But what stuck with me, what took the pieces of my heart and pounded them to dust, was the absolute certainty that we, as a nation, would swiftly move to take revenge, that we would take the violence and the fear visited upon us, and we would visit them upon other people a hundredfold.  It was dread; it was certainty.

At the time I didn't know we would declare not one but two preemptive wars, one of which was planned in the 90s and was simply waiting for an excuse. I didn't know that we would also sacrifice any moral high ground we once had, that we would sacrifice our own civil liberties, our own self-respect and integrity as a nation on the altar of the almighty trinity of nationalism: Fear, Violence and the Illusion of Safety.  I didn't know we would torture people, or hold people in prison with no intention of ever giving them a trial of any kind.  I didn't know we would extradite people for the express purpose of being tortured, or that we would hire mercenaries and turn a blind eye to war crimes they commit. I didn't know any of these things.

But I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the fear and violence which had been visited upon us, we would visit upon others a hundredfold.  (Not because of any extraordinary viciousness, but because we had the power, paired with the disease of empire; because no one could stop us, least of all ourselves.)

And we have done, are doing, exactly that.


So I grieve the many losses of that day - including the 2,996 people we counted because they died on our soil, the 2,000+ who died in Afghanistan whom we counted, the 4,700+ who died in Iraq whom we counted, the tens of thousands of American and allied injuries that we are not supposed to count or talk about, and the hundreds of thousands we have not been counted, whom we are not allowed to attempt to count.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What's Not Funny

Humor. We underestimate the importance of comedy at great peril. It's not just that we all need a therapeutic laugh from time to time (we do) it's that humor is a critical agent of social development. Humor helps us relieve the pressure of social conformity by taking taboo subjects and making us laugh about them. Humor is about the only power in the 'verse capable of making us look directly into our shadow side and not have a break down.

Humor can tear down a tyrant. Humor can destroy a deadly cultural meme. Humor prevents warfare, probably daily. Humor helps us see clearly, to know what is true, and to overcome stubborn internal prejudices.

Of course, that is to spin it positively. Humor can also hurt. In fact, most humor involves pain for someone. As the classic saying goes tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you cut yours. This safety relief valve of laughing at our pain and the pain of others is necessary and valuable, but is it always justifiable? Is there some humor which just goes too far?

Subjectively, each of us will have our own lines. Something I find offensive may still be funny to you, and vice versa, but are there certain lines which no one should cross? Are there certain jokes which should be unacceptable for anyone to tell or laugh at?

From an ideological standpoint I want to say no. Part of the point of comedy is that it is anarchic. It fundamentally refuses to recognize any boundary or authority as legitimate. Nothing is sacred. That is important to how comedy works and why it can fulfill the role it does in society. Because we are always going to want to censor something and usually not for legitimate reasons. By being ungovernable comedy saves us from our own impulse to control and dictate what is appropriate. That very impulse usually comes around to bite you in the back.

However, I know there are jokes I personally will never find appropriate and jokes I've told which I regret. Coming into contact with close friends and family members who have experienced rape, it is hard for me to find any humor in rape-jokes and I recognize strong arguments for why such jokes should be unacceptable. If the power of humor is to take taboo things and make them acceptable for public conversation are there not things which should always remain taboo? Do we ever want to be a society where the violent sexual assault of other human beings is treated lightly? It's tragic that we are in fact such a society right now.

I don't think there is a clear bright line. Even if we could find one and draw it I hope we would never be able to enforce it. Comedy is too essential to what it means to be human and too powerful a force for good to be allowed to be muzzled. Still, take care with what jokes you tell and what you choose to laugh at. Someone next to you may be silently reliving a personal nightmare. To them it may not be funny at all.