Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Another Google Response

August 9, 2017

In the continuing saga of Google controversy over gender – or more specifically, over hiring and promotion practices aimed at promoting diversity – here is the latest salvo.

It tugs on the heart strings in all the right ways, but it fundamentally misses the point of the original memo.  The original memo was not questioning whether some women were just as capable as men in terms of performance in technology related fields as well as in ascending into the upper echelons of management.  The memo did indicate that overall, men and women seek out these sorts of jobs at different rates, and therefore that trying to force diversity and equal percentages of each gender might be fundamentally flawed.

While many people seem to read it as an attack on women, I didn’t see or hear that at all.  Nor did lots of other people undoubtedly smarter than I am.  However it was a stinging criticism of implicit bias’ towards certain ideological assumptions  and the corresponding discrimination against differing points of view which results in people being afraid to speak if they don’t hold with the dominant ideology.  It was a request for more study and data, and not simply a treatise about how women should stay home and not become programmers or CEOs.

But that’s how many people – including this woman – seem to have interpreted it.

I’ve known oodles of women who are way smarter than I am in math and science.  But that’s not what the original memo was trying to address, and it was not the question that this woman’s daughter asked her.  I don’t know how old her daughter is, but her question is a complex one that, when she’s old enough to understand the complexity, deserves a complex answer.

There are always prejudices and stereotypes that can be dangerous and damaging.  That doesn’t mean all stereotypes are, nor does it mean that some stereotypes may not have actual data behind them.  And it’s very unfortunate that this woman has had her abilities and commitment questioned simply because she’s a woman.  It’s unfortunate if she’s been excluded from industry events because of her gender (though, at the risk of beating a dead horse, y’all remember it’s now socially acceptable to discriminate against guys, right?).  Given her status, it’s obvious that she surmounted these challenges, or is continuing to surmount them.  That’s fantastic and a wonderful model to her daughter and other young women.  And young men, I hope.

I didn’t hear the original e-mail trying to discourage women from pursuing computer programming or upper management positions in technology companies. What it was doing was questioning attempts to force companies to have an even distribution of genders when there was credible research and evidence to show that such a goal might not actually be reasonable or sustainable.  What is the “negative stereotype” that Susan Wojicicki accuses James Damore of perpetuating, and who wins when both claim to have data and statistics to back up their perspectives?

In this case, Google and those who agree with Ms. Wojicicki win.  Which is the very environment Mr. Damore was attempting to describe.

I have a daughter as well.  My hopes for her are not specific to the tech industry or science.  Or music or art or literature.  I want her to figure out what makes her happy, what she enjoys doing and is good at.  I want her imagination to fire in directions of her own choosing (by and large).  My hopes and aspirations for her are that she will be happy and fulfilled in whatever vocation she chooses to pursue.  That she won’t be held back from a chosen career path because of the sexism of men around her if she chooses to  enter the workplace, and that she won’t be the object of sexist scorn by feminists is she chooses to commit her life to raising a family and running a household.

Perhaps if we focused a lot more on helping our kids figure out what they’d like to do and how to do it, we’d all be happier, instead of trying to use our children to vindicate our own experiences as adults.   This may require specialized programs and training in companies to ensure that people have equal opportunities.  But that’s a far cry from demanding absolute numerical parity between men and women across all levels and positions.  Maybe we need to quit quantifying equality in that way, and spend more time making sure that if a woman (or a man) wants to enter a particular vocation, they have the ability to do so and be successful at it.

How would I answer my daughter if she asked me the question Ms. Wojicicki’s daughter posed her?  I’d begin by asking her why she wanted to know.  Is she afraid?  Is she worried maybe she shouldn’t consider a future in technology because she’s not as good at it as a boy?  I’d encourage her to explore that for herself.  Not to worry about broad brush-stroke studies of men and women, but simply to see what she likes to do and what she’s good at.  If she’s good at and interested in science and technology or management, then I will encourage her to pursue those things, and find ways to put her skills to good work.  I’ll be honest that there may be people who try to stop her for any number of reasons.  Those will be her battles to fight – I can’t fight them for her. But I can prepare her to face them bravely and competently.

What I don’t want to do is tell her to pursue something in order to make a point, or just because Mom or I have done it (or haven’t done it).  And if necessary, I’ll acknowledge honestly that perhaps her question doesn’t have a simple answer and that it’s misleading to pretend that it does.  That we need to talk about a whole lot of things beyond whether she’s good at math or not.  It’s OK for the situation to be complex.  Maybe if we continued to honestly acknowledge this with one another as adults, we’d move further along in figuring out how to make workplaces safer and opportune places for both men and women.

The Idol of Busy-ness

August 2, 2017

I live in an affluent city on the West Coast.  We home school our children, which puts my wife (mostly) into contact with other families who have made a similar educational choice.  And the reality is that part of the ability to make such a choice depends on a certain level of financial freedom and certain types of financial choices.  Home schooling requires that one of the parents not work (or at least not work full-time), and the only way to do this is a never-ending series of financial choices about what is important.

We’ve met a variety of wonderful people and families in this home-schooling journey.  But the one refrain we’ve heard over and over again, the modern mantra, is the lament of busy-ness.  I’m so tired – we’ve just been running around all over the place!  Taking X to this class and Y to this camp and then music lessons and play dates and camping trips and movies and and and and and

The list never concludes.

A lot of people in this town have money.  Not everyone, but quite a few.  So conspicuous consumption is less about the material, tangible things – those are passé – and more about time.  The status symbol of the day has less to do with the car you drive or the house you live in because everything here is expensive.  So the packed schedule becomes what everyone talks about and strives for.  Multiple classes, camps, lessons, outings.  It’s the current understanding that this is the price we pay for our children’s success.  If we want them to get into Harvard (and everyone is getting into an Ivy League school, right?) then we have to start filling out their future application now, at a younger and younger age.

Everyone is exhausted, so it’s funny that we’re repeatedly asked what camps and outings we’re enrolling our children in this summer.  The pressure is that everyone should be this busy.  Don’t you want to be this busy?  Don’t you want to have to keep your smartphone or Day Planner with you at all times to make sure you’re on top of things?  Don’t you want to join the club and lament about how busy you are, and the financial success that apparently makes such a schedule possible?

Actually, no.

Partly because we can’t afford it.  We live on one income, and while generous, it isn’t enough to fund all the myriad activities that are offered for the comfortable or well-heeled in the area.  We aren’t willing to put ourselves in debt in order to fill our children’s schedule with things to do.  But even if we could afford it, we believe that children shouldn’t have that kind of schedule to begin with.  Not during summer break.  Not during the school year.  They have their activities that we’ve committed ourselves to but those are very limited by both necessity and choice.  We’d rather spend our time making dinner together and playing games together than coming up with another activity to pack the kids off to for an hour a day four times a week.

Our culture is rife with status symbols – fame, fortune, health, eating lifestyles.  Plenty of opportunities to judge and be judged, to conform or to be ruled irrelevant or uneducated or uncultured.  I suspect this is the same for every culture at every time.  There has never been a shortage of edicts or peer pressure trying to get people to bow to the preferred idol of the day.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3) faced coercion to literally bow down.  But earlier in Daniel 1, Daniel and his companions felt compelled to resist a more subtle form of persuasion and coercion, one that promised great rewards for compliance.  What was offered was the best of the best – food and drink from the king’s own table!  But Daniel and his companions realized that in partaking in this food, they would be trading part of who they were – as Hebrews, as children of God even – and decided that the trade wasn’t worth it.  Their steadfastness was rewarded, but oftentimes the rewards of steadfastness aren’t immediately discernible.

We worry like any parent does about the decisions we make for our children.  Are we preparing them well enough for the world they will need to participate in as well as resist?  Are we doing enough to help mold them spiritually and intellectually as well as making sure their bodies are strong and healthy?  The worry is always there – maybe we should be doing more, or doing different.  Everyone else is – how is it that we trust our own judgment over the majority?  Isn’t that foolhardy?  Reckless?

Perhaps.

We don’t think it’s reckless, though.  And we think that what we are doing in and for our and with our children’s lives is already bearing fruit in who they are as people, how they relate to one another and to us and to everyone they come into contact with.  If we refuse to bow to the idol of the overburdened schedule, or the idol of Ivy League education, we substitute it with an emphasis on time together as a family and knowing who we are together and individually in Christ.   It may not get our kids into Harvard, but we pray it will help ground them for the increasingly fragmented and fractured culture and society they’re entering into very soon.

 

Too Much, Too Soon

August 2, 2017

First off, this is a tragic situation – every parents’ nightmare.  A middle-school girl committed suicide because of bullying – digital and otherwise – from some kids at her school.  The parents now intend to sue the school district for failing to put a stop to the bullying.  They are also considering suing the parents of the specific bullying students.

I have written in the past about the dangers of providing children with unfettered access to the Internet and social media.  I disagree strongly with parents who circumvent age-restrictions for their kids to access social media platforms.  While details of the particular social media platforms involved in this particular bullying case are not provided, most major social media platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook – even though kids really aren’t using Facebook these days) require users to be at least 13 years old.

Kids are kids, and are always going to be pressured to conform to peer expectations.  Sometimes that pressure is going to be abusive and intense.  Other times it will be subtle and insidious.  Handing a child a smartphone with access to the Internet and social media without providing training, support, monitoring, and limitations is just plain unhealthy.  Yes, your child might be mature enough to handle it.  But I’d argue the vast majority are not.  Believe it or not, your child (or grand-child, or great-grandchild, or niece or nephew or whatever) will survive not having 24/7 access to social media.  If they are laughed at or in disparaged for this by their peers, it’s stronger proof that they shouldn’t have it.

The Internet and social media are addicting.  Adults deal with this already, and children are even more impressionable as they seek to understand and discover who they are.  Our kids – and particularly our daughter – frequently talk about how different her friends become once they have a smart phone of their own.  How they talk more about pop culture, about being pretty, and just about how they are constantly checking their phone for updates and likes and other indicators of popularity.

This pressure was brutal enough in decades past, but today’s technology permits it to occur 24/7.  No break.  No escape.  Kids need their parents to be parents – to set limits, provide guidelines, to dialogue and to model healthy digital habits and behaviors.  There’s a lot at stake.

Back in the Saddle

May 23, 2017

For the past month I’ve led my family on an international exploration.  Over 30 days we were in ten different countries working with five different languages (six if you include Swiss German) traveling by plane, train, automobile, bus, boat and on foot.  We visited 20 different people and while I haven’t calculated the total distance we covered yet, I’m estimating that including the flights to and from the US West Coast, we’re a bit over 15,000 miles.  We saved four years to make this a reality, planned and executed every step of it on our own, and had an amazing experience that will stay with us the rest of our lives.  It was exhilarating and exhausting, every bit as fantastic as we imagined and better than we could have hoped.  We are grateful to God, friends, family, and all those who prayed for us and helped to make it a reality.

But now we’re home so I’ll start writing again.  Talk more with you soon!

Loose Lips

December 13, 2016

Thank you to Becky for alerting me to a new piece of state legislation introduced a few days ago here in California.

Back in 2009, a resolution was passed by the California State Legislature expressing support for a Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California.  It seemed a fairly innocuous, vague resolution without any real teeth or meat to it.  It was endorsed by Planned Parenthood, among others.  Many such expressions of support are undoubtedly passed in our country every year, most of which coming to very little of substance.  The terms aren’t defined, and no specific actions or funding are allocated.  It’s essentially a warm-fuzzy sort of document.

But warm-fuzzy documents can give rise to more tangible realities later on.

So it is that this week Senator Richard Pan (D) introduced  Senate Bill 18.  Senator Pan represents Senate District 6 which encompasses the greater Sacramento area.  He is a pediatrician as well as a Senator.   SB18 aims to “expand and codify” the Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California, turning it from a warm and fuzzy idea into some form of law.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for improving the lot of children everywhere.  But when the government decides that it’s going to assure that this happens, I begin to ask questions.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a “comprehensive framework that governs the rights of all children and youth in California”.  I would argue that this already exists – it’s called the family.  The family is a comprehensive framework that protects the rights of the children within that family.  Certainly there are situations where the family fails in this duty, and it is necessary for an outside entity to get involved to assure the protection of children.  But to assume that the State needs to create a “comprehensive framework” of its own that extends beyond the many agencies and programs to assist children and families strikes me as a bit odd.

More specifically, the Bill prescribes that within five years – by the end of 2021 – this Bill of Rights is enforced “evenly, equitably, and appropriately to all children and youth across the state.”  Why do I need such a framework applied to my children?  My children have a solid family which is their framework.  Now I begin to worry.  How is my framework going to interact with the state framework?  Under what conditions and situations?  And if there is a conflict between the two frameworks, whose wins?  I’m going to make a wild guess here and say that if push comes to shove, the State is going to insist that their framework trumps mine.

The Bill’s premise is that all children are entitled to certain rights.  I would agree, and I would agree that our Declaration of Independence includes those in broad terms, just as it does for me:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These are not intended as necessarily all-encompassing, but they go a long way towards a baseline we can all agree upon.  But this Bill intends to create a series of rights for children that is far more specific.

  1.  The right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest.  This sounds good, but who gets to decide what is in my child’s best interest?  I’m going to go out on a limb again and say that the State is going to reserve that right to itself.  What if I disagree?  Hmmmm.
  2. The right to form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being.  What does this mean?  Who defines healthy attachment?  Who decides what adults they should be required to form such an attachment to?
  3. The right to live in a safe and healthy environment.  Sounds good, but again, who decides what constitutes safe and healthy?  Don’t we have building codes and other things that already determine this?  What does healthy mean, and how is it distinct from safe?  What does environment mean?  Is that physical?  Emotional?  What?
  4. The right to social and emotional well-being.  Who defines these things?  On what basis?
  5. The right to opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical and social development.  Again, who determines the best means for achieving these things?  It sounds as though there is only one way to reach these goals.  Is that true?  If the State decides that my kids will only reach optimal social development by going to school rather than us schooling them, what recourse do I have?  None, I’m going to guess.
  6. The right to appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood.  This seems like an even more pointed attack at my parental rights to determine how best to educate my children.  The current state-sponsored public education system seems to be producing many children who do not have a quality education, and are unable to cope with the outcome of a presidential election, and who can’t bear to hear anything that contradicts their ideas about the world, and who need safe spaces and other means of insulating them from opposing points of view.  Does this mean that the State is going to find public schools inappropriate?  Somehow, I doubt it.
  7. The right to appropriate, quality health care.  Again, who decides these definitions?  Given last year’s fear-based legislation mandating vaccines for as many children as possible in the state, what else is going to be determined to be appropriate and quality?

The Bill indicates that solutions will be “research-based”.  What level of concurrence in research will be necessary in order to use it as the basis for a specific solution to one of the areas above?  How will the State enforce this “comprehensive framework”, and what recourse will parents have – if any – in disagreement with this framework?  And as is typical, what recourse do parents have if the solutions imposed through this Bill turn out to actually be harmful, rather than helpful?  If you’re going to force me to do things to and with and for my children that I don’t want to do and don’t think are helpful to them at all, what recourse do I have if I turn out to be right?  If your research turns out to be faulty?  If special interests dictate questionable applications?

I don’t doubt that the intent of improving life for children is the actual intent here, but I dislike the idea that somebody outside of my family is going to make those decisions for me, particularly in the current ideological and intellectual climate.  How is the State going to make meaningful legislation that is broad enough to be applied to every family in the State?  I don’t think that’s possible, which means that the alternative is that some families are going to have their rights overridden by the State.

This seems like a really bad idea.  The State unfortunately may need to intervene in situations where children are at risk through neglect or abuse, and I am grateful for such services.  But to expand beyond this to create legislation that applies to all children and families is very overreaching.  I hope that this Bill does not pass!

Truly Safe Spaces

December 12, 2016

Long-time readers know that we home school our children, and that my wife helps lead a home-schooling cooperative.  It’s mostly a means for about 300 home schooling families to communicate, sharing resources, ideas, field trip invitations, and any number of other miscellaneous items with one another via a somewhat moderated (and very unwieldy) e-mail list.

Part of what my wife coordinates is a weekly play date at a local beach or park (depending on the time of year).  It’s a great way for people new to the area or new to home schooling or both can come and meet others and integrate into the community.  Over time, she’s made some really good friends with a handful of other home schooling moms who come regularly for their kids to play together and for them to talk together.  They’re all very different people, to be certain, and were it not for home schooling, they might never have crossed paths, let alone become friends.  There’s a mutual respect and appreciation which has developed despite different home schooling approaches and backgrounds.

So it struck me recently, as she was talking about a conversation that had happened the day before, how destroyed our society is.  The conversation among the mom’s veered over to the issue of vaccinations.  One of the mom’s felt it necessary to remind or warn the group that this is a controversial subject.  How sad.

How sad that a group of adult women who are highly capable and educated, who have known each other for some time and have grown to truly appreciate one another, feel like they have to warn each other before talking about a controversial subject.  As though because it’s a controversial subject, they’re suddenly going to turn on each other and become nasty and rude and dismissive?  As though it isn’t possible for intelligent people to reach different conclusions on a topic, be able to discuss the topic respectfully, and remain committed to one another even if nobody changes their mind as a result of the discussion.  As though there are things that we shouldn’t talk about because it’s just too risky.  As though issues and our stances on them are what defines and determines our relationships, rather than mutual respect and appreciation.

Home schoolers, of all people, ought to recognize not just the benefit but the need to model healthy dialogue and intellectual discourse to their children.  To demonstrate that it is possible to disagree without disparaging.  That someone who reaches a different conclusion than you is not necessarily an idiot or deranged or less of a human being than you are.  If public schools are more and more prone to ideological indoctrination that makes people intolerant of others – all in the name of tolerance – then truly those educated outside of that box are going to need to know how to communicate with one another, how to engage in true intellectual discourse rather than just name calling and ad hominem attacks.

The great fallacy of our age is that there is only one right solution to any given situation, and that anyone who holds a position different from our own must be wrong and bad and stupid.  The problems that face our society are nothing new.  They have been around as long as people have, despite the shiny gadgets we have that are new.  If solutions have eluded us for thousands of years, the odds of one group having the silver bullet solution and everyone else being raving morons are pretty low, it seems.  And perhaps focusing on issues and challenges, rather than on political associations and ideologies, might be a better way of moving forward together.

If our education system is a mess, I don’t really care if a Democrat or a Republican is the one who comes up with a better solution.  If we really want to slash our national debt, it’s going to require a new alternative to what has traditionally been championed by one party or another, if only because party-politics prevents any plan from being implemented very well.

There shouldn’t be any issue that can’t be discussed, particularly among people who respect and care about each other and yet may have different attitudes on the topic.  Sharing different perspectives, learning about how and why people think differently is hugely important.  It’s important for us as adults but also important for our kids as well, and I’m grateful that my wife has a place where this can occur, and where our kids can watch and hear it happening.

The alternative is that we aren’t allowed to discuss anything, and that’s truly deadly for all of us.

Looking Forward

July 30, 2016

As a Dad, I of course love my kids.  I anticipate with joy each day of their lives ahead of them.  I’ve marveled as they’ve grown from ideas to bumps in a belly to wriggling, pooping aliens to wobbling toddlers and laughing balls of wonder and enthusiasm and into kids on the edge of adolescence and adulthood.  I look forward to watching them grow and launch into the world.  I pray and hope the best for them, and want to do a good job of preparing them to be the best people they can be.

So says any decent father, ever.  No big deal.

But all that being said, I think I’m probably a bit overly realistic, too.  I love my kids and think they’re amazing, but I don’t necessarily think they’re going to be President of the United States (remember when that was an honorable thing to aspire to, the pinnacle of possible achievement as a citizen?).  I don’t think they’re going to be elite movie or TV stars, or top athletes raking in scholarships and then endorsements.  I don’t presume that they’ll have their names engraved in history.  I could be wrong, and I certainly will be happy to admit that if I am.  But my assumption is that my  kids are going to grow up to be ordinary people.  Regular folk.

I wonder if that’s a common parental assumption.  I was flipping through the latest Costco magazine and the opening advertisement was for some sort of children’s nutritional supplement or vitamin or something.  A young child with Einstein-like hair was smiling, gazing presumably into his bright and amazing future.  The tag line was something to the effect of how this product is preparing all the little Einsteins of the future.

But all of their customers’ kids are not going to be Einstein.  It reminds me of my favorite quote from The Incredibles – an exchange between a super-hero mom and her super-hero son about not using his super powers.  She  tells him that everyone is special, to which he sulkily replies “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Every child is a future Einstein.  Every pee-wee football player is destined for the NFL.  Every clever kid is the next Robin Williams.  Every kid that can sing is the next Taylor Swift or whoever.  Nothing but the stars, baby!  Nothing but the top!  Every single one of you all crowded there at the top.  Sound great, doesn’t it?

But what makes Einstein remarkable and an inspiration is that not everyone can be him.  Not everyone was as brilliant as he was.  Most people weren’t.  Most people still aren’t, which is why he’s still a big deal.  Not everyone is as talented as Leonardo da Vinci.  Not everyone is as talented as a top musician, or as skilled and inventive as Thomas Edison.  That’s not the way the world works, by and large.  Most of us are going to fade into obscurity beyond the small circle of friends and family who know and love us.

Which understandably is not a cheery thought.  It can easily lead one into a bit of a funk.  I realize that as a Christian, it’s easy for me to interpret the world and life this way through my faith.  Of course we all die.  Of course the world is going to hell-in-a-handbasket.  Of course Christians are being persecuted.  Of course the election is depressing.  What else should we expect?  We have an enemy and he’s dedicated to our destruction.

Which is why I was reminded of this essay recently, a reminder that my faith is not one that justifies pessimism or fatalism in a passive way.  Yes, we have an enemy that hates us.  Yes the world and the people in it suffer because of this enemy.  But we have a hope in Christ that sustains us and strengthens us, the glass of the hurricane lamp that allows the light within us to continue to shine regardless of how the tempter blows around us.

My hope for my children is not an opportunity for exploitation by the business interests of this world, however.  I have a hope for myself  and  my children, but it isn’t a hope that is going to be increased by buying every product and service that promises to craft them into the champions of tomorrow.  I’m pretty sure Einstein wasn’t taking multi-vitamins or nutritional supplements.  Edison didn’t graduate from Harvard.  It is not the world that makes me or my children exceptional, but rather the God who created us unique in all of time and space, and has promised to gather us to himself through the gift of his Son, Jesus.

So pessimism, no.  Realism, yes.  It’s difficult to balance and I undoubtedly do a lousy job of it.  But Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians as to the nature and source of our present reality and our future hope.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

I need to remember this as a Christian as well as teach it to my children, and I never noticed how beautifully super-hero mom’s discussion with her super-hero child also speaks to this:

Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.

Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.

The world wants us to fit in.  This means we are to go to work and spend our money.  It means we are to believe the advertisements and the slogans, the party platforms and the campaign promises, the hype and the glamour and the Photoshopping and the digital effects, as though the world is the fullness of all that we could want or hope for.  But we in Christ have been given something better.  Our dad has given us amazing power that makes us special – but the kind of special that anyone can receive and stand on level footing with us.  Our exceptionalism in Christ is not exclusionary, as opposed to the world’s exceptionalism that sooner or later requires the culling of the weak so that the strong might thrive.

That’s the exceptionalism I want and hope and pray for my children.  Not necessarily that their names will be written in the history books of the world, or that they’ll be viral YouTube stars or enjoy the praise and recognition of the world on the world’s terms.  Although if that happens, I pray my kids remember me and buy me nice things in my old age!  Rather, I want and hope and pray that their names will be found in the Book of Life, that their exceptionalism as unique creations of a loving God will be celebrated in his Glory forever, regardless of whether the world considered them much of anything at all.

And you won’t find that at Costco.

 

Jesus Loves the Little Children

July 9, 2016

…so why don’t we?

That’s the basic thrust of this video.  Warning – if you’re prone to epilepsy or have other issues with choppy graphics, close your eyes and just listen.

This guy is part of my denomination.  We actually overlapped at Seminary, but I don’t think I ever met him.  He was producing videos back then that were even more frenetic.  He has an in-your-face sort of fervency that is refreshing but also can be difficult to watch – though certainly no more difficult than the in-your-face fervency so prevalent elsewhere in our culture in directions I disagree with.  This guy serves in a relatively small congregation in North Dakota, but he produces these videos that reach lots and lots of people.  At least I hope they do.

I don’t always agree with everything he says or how he says it, but this video is helpful in two ways.  First, it addresses a critical issue in American Christianity – namely the decline of American Christianity – from a perspective that you don’t see in many books or other debates (namely because you don’t make a lot of money by telling churches that the key to increasing their membership is to have more children).  Secondly, this is an example of what you can do with technology, something our own congregation is discussing as a future focus of our ministry.

I can’t (and won’t) do what this guy does, but it’s a good demonstration of what can be done, in some manner, through a well-edited online video.  Concise teaching in an accessible format.  He makes a point, makes it strong, and then it’s done.  Hey, wait…maybe I should do more sermons like that.  Hmmm.  Nah.

Trying to solve the dilemma of shrinking churches without acknowledging in some ways the shrinking demographics of our population as a whole seems unwise at the very least.  God does like babies.  We have been taught many erroneous ideas about them – that they’re a drain on resources, that the world is in danger of overcrowding/overpopulation, that there isn’t enough to go around, that education and the debt it now requires is more important than starting a family.  We need to question our presumptions and assumptions about how we decide how many kids to have.  I don’t think this is the only solution, but it certainly is part of the mix.

Choosing a Future

June 28, 2016

As a parent, I spend a fair amount of time wondering what my kids are going to be like as they grow older.  Who will they marry?  What sort of vocations will they be drawn towards?  How will their personalities and abilities manifest themselves over the course of their lifetimes?  How can we as parents best encourage and equip them best for that future?

And how can we guide them to take into account the changing cultural landscape of our country?  How can we guide them so that they can live their lives consistent to their religious beliefs even in their vocations?  Increasingly, this is a question that every parent ought to be asking themselves and talking about with their kids.

Take for example, the job of pharmacist.  Seems like a straightforward enough job.  Fill prescriptions.  But what if you believe that abortion is wrong?  Should you be made to fill an abortifacient prescription?  Doctors traditionally have not been required to carry out certain procedures that contradicted their moral code – such as assisting a patient to commit suicide.  Likewise, pharmacists have long been protected from fulfilling prescriptions that violate their conscience.  The entire industry, in fact, revolves around the reality that not every pharmacy can stock or dispense every conceivable drug, and therefore they refer customers back and forth to each other for a variety of reasons.

But now, in the state of Washington, a pharmacist is no longer allowed to refer a customer to another pharmacy for religious or moral reasons.  If a customer walks into a pharmacy and asks to fill a prescription for the morning after pill, that pharmacist must fill the prescription.  At least, they must fill it unless there are other, non-religious, non-moral reasons for referring the customer to any number of other nearby pharmacies.  They can refer customers elsewhere for other reasons, just not for religious or moral ones.

Seems like a rather calculated directive aimed at quashing religious/moral objections.  Seems like something the US Supreme Court would be interested in hearing, since it directly affects First Amendment rights.  Except the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the appeal on this issue.  Much to the disappointment of some of the members of the court, such as Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts.   Their dissent is very informative and worth 15 minutes of your time to read.

Increasingly, the question next generations of Christians will need to ask themselves is what sort of vocation can I fulfill that allows me to follow my religious convictions, that won’t require me to violate my conscience just to earn a living?  Traditional exemptions and exceptions are under attack and are likely to continue to be eliminated, and that needs to be taken into account in considering education decisions as well as job-hunting and career decisions.  Congregations might want to consider special workshops for parents and teens to discuss these sorts of things.  I would think it would be an appropriate topic for youth groups as well.

Is your congregation or ministry staff addressing these issues with your youth and parents?

You Don’t Say?

June 21, 2016

The link to the actual report is broken, but this summary is hilarious – particularly in the conclusions he draws.

The study apparently studies the transmission link of certain ideologies between father and son (yet finds no such link between fathers and daughters).  The person summarizing the report dutifully notes that the results of the study should clearly cause people who hold these certain ideologies to question their reliability, since the reliability of their parents is hardly certain.

He conveniently ignores the reality that the same rates of transmission are likely there for people of opposite ideological positions.  He also ignores the fact that the reliability of a particular parent is not indicative of the relative helpfulness or propriety of a certain ideology.  You can have a parent who is terrible at math who still manages to convey a sound mathematical principle.

The author then helpfully extrapolates further to apply the study’s rationale to religious beliefs.  Again, if your religious beliefs are influenced strongly by your parents, you can’t trust those beliefs and certainly can’t argue for their validity against a belief system promulgated by someone else’s parents.  Once again, the reliability of the parents does not in and of itself invalidate the truthfulness of their religious beliefs.  One evaluates religious beliefs not on the caliber of the parent who instructed us in them, but in the actual content of the belief.  How does it match reality?  Do I have any means of validating the truth-claims set forth by that belief system?

Furthermore, the logic of the author of the summary could be extended further to teachers, professors, and other influential persons in a child’s life.  How is it that what is transmitted through these sources is necessarily more reliable or accurate than what is learned from parents?  Some interesting presumed bias!  The assumption seems to be that there would be alternate, better sources of influence on children besides the parents, sources that would not be prone to bias of any sort.