Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Book Review: The Best We Could Do

July 8, 2019

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir  by Thi Bui

I received my first graphic novel in late high school or early college, a gift from my best friend.  As a literature junky, I found it interesting, but difficult to consider it literature.  The artwork was good, the story was interesting, but it felt too compacted, too  sparse.

My interest in Vietnam and it’s history began years ago when I was tasked with taking over teaching a course on the Vietnam conflict from a fellow faculty  member.  I did a lot of reading and grew fascinated by the curious role of this country in the larger Cold War maneuverings of China, the United States, and the Soviet Union.  During seminary the field work congregation I served was in the process of attempting to merge with a Vietnamese Lutheran congregation, and I was able to spend time with the several Vietnamese families, second generation folks who came over when their parents fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon.  Then in 2016 my wife and I were privileged to visit the country on business and pleasure purposes, and it deepened my appreciation of the beauty of the country and people as well as the complexity of their history, of which the US was only a very small part.

And Vietnamese cuisine is amazing – something that has been on my radar for  the last 20+ years!

So this book was a mixture of interests, memories, and impressions.  While I think it’s a great work, I still don’t know what to make of the graphic novel format.  If I don’t try to think of it as literature, but its own unique  thing, it’s much simpler.  Thi Bui tells a wonderful and at times overwhelming family story, and does so in a way that is compelling both visually and textually.  It is not an easy story, and she doesn’t attempt to reduce it to one, but rather to find a way to live with and in the complexity that is her family and her two countries.

If you’re interested in memoirs, family dynamics, Vietnam or history, this is a very worthwhile read.

 

Pot & Pregnancy

June 25, 2019

Here’s a shocking news flash!  As more and more states decriminalize marijuana and insist that it is a completely safe thing, more and more women are continuing their marijuana use into pregnancy!  Unbelievable!  Despite the fact that insistence on the safety of marijuana doesn’t actually include any research on the effects of marijuana on the unborn baby.  Curious!

Shocking that an addictive substance painted repeatedly as non-threatening and practically healthy would continue to be used by women after they become pregnant.  I’m sure nobody  could have anticipated this dramatic sequence of events.

The Cost of Education

June 4, 2019

The cost of education is something parents need to grapple with.

This is usually used as a means to spur parents to save for their children’s college education.  In which case, it’s not doing a very effective job by all accounts, as the price  tag of higher education continues to skyrocket, necessitating the need for student loans.

When I started my undergraduate degree at a major state school, tuition and fees per semester was $498 for 12 or more credits.  Not including books, room & board, etc.  I could work part time jobs to pay for my college education without taking out student loans.   Not really practical for most students these days (presuming the concept of working to pay for your education is even part of popular parlance these days).

It’s easy to take out student loans, but paying them back is often overwhelming.  So overwhelming that people are actually leaving the country after graduation in order to avoid repaying them.

And whatever they learned at college, they don’t appear to have learned the concept that if you borrow money from someone else, you ought to pay it back.  They’ve learned some brutal practicality – following your bliss can be very expensive, and regardless of what your bliss pays, if you borrow money you’re going to be expected to pay it back at some point.  So if your bliss requires you to skip out on that debt, so be it.

 

Sad But Not Surprised

March 13, 2019

So scandal has broken loose again.  The rich and famous have been found using their status and money to set their children up with admissions to top universities.  People have been paid to take tests.  Lies have been told.  Money has been paid.  And former starlets have been arrested.

Most of the people I’ve heard talking about this are shocked and outraged.  I can understand the outrage, but shock?  Really?  Are we that naive?  Or are we that convinced that our sinful human natures have been sufficiently remedied by our rule of law?  C’mon, people!  You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, and you should assume that somewhere, in some manner, money is talking and people are listening and systems are compromised.

This is how it’s always been.  Money buys influence.  The rich have access to myriad options that the rest of us don’t.  It’s not fair or right, it just is.  It can and should be illegal but people will still find ways around it.

This is not justifying the behavior and saying we shouldn’t care.  Sure, go ahead and care.  Allow justice to do its work when it gets the chance.  But don’t imagine it has solved the problem or eliminated the practice.  Some people got caught.  Others haven’t and won’t.

Nor is this another argument for redistributing the wealth.  Fiery politicians seem to think they can just take money away from rich people and end all of our problems that way.  This won’t work either.  Corruption conducts business in all sorts of currency, whether monetary or  related to prestige, influence, beauty, etc.  Once again the sinful human temptation won’t be erased, you just change what it looks like and how it plays itself. out.

It’s a shame.  It’s unfair.  But, despite the insistence of some folks, life isn’t fair.  Hasn’t been since Adam and Eve got booted from the garden for pilfering fruit.  It won’t be fair again until God restores it to that status.   In the meantime, be outraged, but don’t be surprised.

Book Review: V for Vendetta

February 11, 2019

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd

Back a few decades, my best friend started to get into graphic novels.  The genre was really beginning to explode, but it never interested me.  I felt then – and still do – that you either have to focus on the art or the story but it’s difficult to do both.  Inevitably, the visual tends to overshadow the literary, and while some might argue that this is why it is a separate or unique genre, it just doesn’t work for me.

Part of the fun of your children getting older is that as they enter their teens there’s an opportunity for them to begin sharing with you some of the things they’re discovering.  Musically, this can be a challenge as my oldest son really likes rap!  Fortunately though, I grounded him in the classics of rock and roll as well, and so we can talk about what he’s listening to.  Similarly with books.  And while the kids really enjoyed various comic-style books over the years (Asterix & Obelix, Bone, etc.), for the first time I’ve read something more substantive that my son picked up at the library the other day – V is for Vendetta.

I watched a good chunk of the movie without sound on some plane flight at some point, but didn’t realize it came from a graphic novel.  I can’t say that I was overly impressed, and therefore my opinion of graphic novels as a whole remains the same. The story line is interesting, but predictably (to me) the story and character development is rather shallow.

The setting is in the 1990’s in a post-apocalyptic Britain that has become a totalitarian state in the aftermath of atomic warfare that  wiped out most of Europe and Africa.  The titular character – V – is never unmasked in the novel, but wears several different masks, the most common of which is a lightly colored Guy Fawkes mask.  He saves a young woman from police brutality and disciples her in the ways of anarchy.

However it’s a very idealistic anarchy, to say the least.  V is strong, resolute, moral in a brutal sort of way.  He’s literate and enlightened thanks to forced drug therapies at a concentration camp years earlier that probably also contributed to his physical prowess.  He wages a one-man war against the totalitarian government, leading towards a breakdown in control and the beginnings of a popular uprising against the State.  V’s murderous violence is clothed in the righteousness of a holy warrior against a completely evil and unjust State.  He opines that anarchy has two elements, one destructive and one creative, and that the destructive element should be renounced and abandoned as soon as the status quo is overthrown.  But we don’t see that in the book – much as we don’t see it historically or in real life, either.  The truth is it’s hard to put away the bombs and the bombers, as they often find themselves as the new government.  While V does not find himself in this predicament, it’s a historical reality.

There are bad systems that should be raged against, undoubtedly, but the book doesn’t dwell on the reality of the human condition – that I identify as sin – which ensures that no matter how virtuous or benign the ruling system may be, it will inevitably become corrupted and co-opted by people driven to utilize the system to achieve personal ends and needs.

The novel glorifies the fight, and pictures it as inevitably victorious.  But it doesn’t deal with the aftermath and the struggle to replace a corrupt system with something better.  Nor does it deal with the individualistic nature of anarchy, which means that just because one system is overthrown doesn’t mean there will be a mutually agreeable replacement.

I’ve enjoyed talking through the book some with my son and hope to do more of it.  I look forward to his continued explorations in literature and the world around him.

Missed It by *that* Much

January 18, 2019

I was interested in an article reporting how the Pope was asserting that families – parents – have primary responsibility for the faith development of their children.  Pleased at this, I was also perplexed at the reported recommendations related to this admonition.  First of all, don’t fight in front of the kids, and secondly go ahead and breastfeed your children in church if they’re hungry.  It seemed like two odd pieces of advice, so I sought out a transcript of his sermon given on the observance of Jesus’ Baptism, and was able to find this.

First off, I agree wholeheartedly with the Pope’s basic assertion.  God created families in order to raise children in faith.  Long before the Church existed, or the priesthood, the family existed.  From the beginning, in fact.  The Church exists as a resource for parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles.  It exists in part to help the family communicate and explain the faith to children as they grow, but it cannot replace the family.

But in terms of practical advice he could have given in relation to this assertion, I can’t help but lament.  Certainly, children should not have to watch their parents fight incessantly or vehemently.  If fights are particularly heated, or if they become abusive in any way, this is something that children should not have to see and parents should receive professional help to improve upon.  Immediately.

But if parents disagree on occasion, it’s important for children to be able to observe how parents resolve conflict.  So long as it isn’t in any way abusive or excessive, parents pass on valuable skills to their children by allowing them – as they grow older and are better able to process what’s happening – to watch the parents express their disagreements and then work together towards a solution.

As for breastfeeding, this seems to have simply been a contextual comment, perhaps off-script and prompted by the noise of children around the Pope at the moment.

But to help instruct children in the faith, they have to see their parents acting in faith.  Praying as a family.  Reading Scripture together and discussing it.  Bringing the Word of God into other discussions and decision-making settings.  Faith needs to be seen not just as a theoretical thing, but as something breathed and applied.  Not just a Sunday morning thing but part of everything that the family is and does.  If kids think that you get along well and never fight, but also never see you pray, never see you reading the Bible or otherwise engaging in the life of faith at home, they’re still likely to struggle with continuing in the faith as they get older.

Parents need to live out the life of faith so that their children can see it.  Hopefully the Pope will have more to say on this topic in the future!

 

You’re Not that Great

January 15, 2019

Thanks to my wife for sharing this short essay with me.

Amazing how blasphemous this sounds, that we would caution our children that they aren’t the greatest?  The brightest?  The hope of all humanity and creation?  How dare we limit them in this way?

How  dare we not?

A sense of centeredness is crucial.  It doesn’t demean gifts and abilities or potentials, but it does temper expectations.  It does prepare our children for a reality that is unpredictable to say the least, and certainly unfair at times.  It teaches them to do the best with what they are given, but to recognize that their best may not ever be valued by the world for what it is.

And what it is, is themselves.  The uniqueness of each individual not based on what they accomplish or do, but simply the reality that they are.  They are created by a God of infinite imagination – unique in all of history.  Bearers of the imago dei.  Beautiful and to be cherished simply for the fact God the Father (not just Mom and Dad!) saw fit to call them into existence, that God the Son saw fit to die for them that their existence might have a future, that God the Holy Spirit would desire to dwell within them eternally.

I pray my children know that they are loved and valued regardless of whether they ever become movie stars or Wall Street brokers.  Whether they develop the cure to cancer or die from it at any early age.  Whether they  amass a fortune to be used for the benefit of others or make a simple living by living simply.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have hopes that the world will see how extraordinary they are, but it does mean that as they see themselves as extraordinary, they should understand that this doesn’t necessarily make them exceptional.  It doesn’t necessarily entitle them to certain things in life.  But it does entitle them to a great deal both now and eternally.

Not because they’re that great, but because God is.  Because this is his story, ultimately, not theirs.  And only when we keep that in mind, only when we remind ourselves that as creative as we might be, we remain creatures eternally distinct and different from the Creator, only then are we able to navigate the twists and turns of our lives with a sense of peace, of purpose, of joy, and hope.

 

Parental Pressure to Pick Progeny

November 16, 2018

In our continuing insistence on perfecting ourselves vicariously through our children, parents in the United States may have a new set of decisions to weigh, once they’ve made the difficult initial decision to utilize in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive.

Tests are now available that can alert parents to potential future health risks in their children such as breast cancer and diabetes.  The tests also promise – based on genetic markers – to alert parents if it looks as though one of their fertilized embryos may be at risk for abnormally low intelligence levels.

Just so we’re clear here, these tests can be carried out on fertilized eggs, also known as embryos, also known as teeny tiny little human beings.  It has to be an embryo so that the complete, unique genetic/DNA material is available for analysis, something that is available once an egg is fertilized with a sperm.  It has to wait for fertilization because all the data isn’t there yet otherwise.  It only becomes a unique human being when an egg is fertilized by a sperm.

Which is  why I oppose abortion.  We’re killing human beings.  Distinct from the mother and the father.  Not fingernails or hair clippings or any of the other completely inane nonsense that is sometimes pushed to defend or justify murder.

For further clarity, IVF is expensive and difficult.  For this reason, multiple eggs are culled from the mother and fertilized externally.  Because the process is inherently unstable and risky to the teeny tiny human being, it is standard procedure to create multiple teeny tiny human beings, and then to select the one that seems most  likely to survive implantation back in the mother.

The others can be frozen, but many do not survive this process or face extermination either before  freezing or after thawing.

So we’re dealing with mass murder, but since it’s in order to gain a life in the process, it’s justified by the scientific/medical community.  (If you utilized IVF and these words are painful and convicting, I’m sorry, and I can offer you the assurance that in repentance this sin – as all others – is forgiven by the death of the Son of God, Jesus the  Christ.  I’m happy to talk further with you privately if this would be helpful, just leave me a note here.)

But now, in addition to all of these inherent risks and the lives routinely lost  in the process of conceiving via IVF, parents now are faced with determining which child to choose based on potential  health risks down the line or even based on the fact that their child may not be destined for a PhD at Harvard.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a family.  It’s a lot of pressure for doctors to face as well.  It would be an easy thing to simply cull those less-desirable teeny tiny human beings without even mentioning it to the parents, or simply saying that they were damaged or non-viable.  There’s a lot of pressure to make some very serious decisions about who lives and dies.

Every parent wants a happy and healthy child.  They want a child full of potential who can enjoy life.  But how we define things like full, potential, enjoy, life can get really tricky.

Ultimately, I argue, this is not something designed to empower parents, but designed to empower folks who believe very firmly that the weak shouldn’t survive, that the future of our species – our next evolutionary step if you will – is only possible by eliminating less desirable people.  We can do this through myraid means already, such as voluntary or involuntary sterilization  and abortion.  Tests that have been around for years can alert parents to the risk of mental retardation or physical abnormalities in their unborn child, information that might prompt a frightened couple to opt for an abortion.  But the simpler step to bypass all that queasy moral and ethical stuff about human life is to have it all done behind the scenes.  To simply implement clinical  policies that certain genetic markers should be grounds for automatic destruction of the embryo.  Murder based on possible outcomes that I would argue are still far too fuzzy to be very confident of.

All done in neat, sterile, clinical environments with virtually no evidence or trace of the lives wiped out.

Dangerous stuff, folks.  Well-intentioned at some level, I trust.   But very, very dangerous.

Cute Confusion

November 15, 2018

In the rush to normalize transgenderism, this book has come to the surface for assisting very young children (kindergarten) know how to deal with a classmate who is dealing with what traditionally was known as gender identity disorder but has been reclassified as gender dysphoria.

I appreciate the desire to help children understand how to deal with a classmate who is very different from them.  But I’ve been troubled by the approach of trying to make it seem as though it’s really not a big deal.  Troubled that kindergarten is now a time to talk about sex education and gender identity.  Gender dysphoria is a big deal.  A big deal that requires a lot of love and care, to be sure, but also a big deal that can’t be broken down into cute, easy to present sound bites without doing a lot of potential damage along the way, both to those who think they might suffer from it as well as their peers who don’t.

Here is a helpful review of the book from a medical doctor versed in this topic.  He makes a compelling case that what we don’t say can be as important (and damaging) as what we do say.  In fairness to everyone, we need a way to make sure that everything is communicated rather than dangerously oversimplifying things.

Slavery Is Bad – Unless It’s Good

October 8, 2018

The basic idea of feminism as I understand it:

Is that women and men are equal, but women haven’t been treated as equal.  They won’t be fully equal until they are emancipated from the economic and social constraints that have bound them through the years.  One of these constraints is the fact that, unfortunately, they are the bearers of children and, unfortunately, children need their mothers.  We don’t have a solution for that yet, but  we’re working on it.  In the meantime, women should be encouraged to work just like men work, and should be freed from the penalties of being out of the workplace to take care of their children until the children are old enough to be shipped off to early childhood care or preschool.  Motherhood and the constraints of child-bearing are part of the slavery imposed on women (by men, no doubt), but should be fought against and equalized in every way possible until  we figure out how to make men have babies.

So to free women from the slavery we allege child-bearing and child-rearing to be, our solution is to impose that exact slavery, the very slavery we are trying to free women from, on men.  We will force men to do what women have traditionally done but don’t want to do any more.   

In the name of equality.

There are undoubtedly spectrums and nuances to this and varying degrees of agreement and support.  But this is what gets published.

Literally.

The Wall Street Journal ran an essay a couple of weeks ago advocating for mandatory maternity leave for men, and arguing that this would ultimately be a good thing for the family.  They literally quote an executive:  “Bias plays such a clear role, we decided we are going to say, ‘It’s not an option.  You [men] have to take time off.'”

So in the interest of freeing women from a perceived form of slavery, the answer is to impose that same slavery on men and call it a good thing rather than a bad thing.  I understand the goal – the goal is that men and women are equally employed across all sectors earning equal amounts of money.  That all sounds rather fascinating and good – in and of itself.

What this article does not address at all – similar to a recent Time article on this topic in Sweden, is what’s best for the baby/child, and even what may be most desirable by the woman/mother.   The baby/child/family is treated ultimately as a secondary concern to personal vocational advancement.  The assumption is made that neither mother or father are really all that crucial to raising a healthy child – physically or emotionally (and of course we won’t even acknowledge the spiritual component).  Family is a distant second (or maybe even third) consideration.  What matters most of all is work.  Earning money.  Nothing is said about why or towards what end.  Earning money is the Holy Grail of feminism.  If you earn the same amount as a man, you’re finally equal.  No other metric will do.

I don’t consider it accidental that since the institutionalization of dual-income families the mental and emotional health of children seems to have declined precipitously.  Depression rates are apparently skyrocketing, and while some might chalk that up to better diagnoses, perhaps we also  should think about other more fundamental reasons why kids might be more depressed these days.  Factor in bullying by peers that no longer is restricted to school hours but can go on non-stop, 24/7 through the use of technology, and children seem to face a far more  hostile landscape than in previous generations.

Of course we can make all of this sound selfless.  After all, mom and dad are spending all their time and effort at work to make life better for you, Junior.  To ensure that you get the toys you want, live in the right school district, can attend the best universities, and in turn get the best jobs that will continue this cycle.

But what if kids really don’t need all of that?  What if kids really need their moms and dads?  What if emotional security and health begins with this rather than with school counselors and therapists and psychiatrists?   What if we’re killing ourselves for the wrong things, and equality is found in something other than a paycheck?  What if we  prioritized the family as the most important thing, and acknowledged men and women’s equally important and necessary and even unique roles in the family instead of treating them as interchangeable parts on an assembly line?

Radical thinking by today’s standards.  Just the sort of backwards, chauvinistic and misogynistic thinking to be expected of a man, I’m sure some might say.  But I’m willing to stand with what the Bible says – which is that our equality and value doesn’t come from what we do, but simply from the fact that we are.  That an employer or a paycheck doesn’t determine our worth, but rather the fact that God created us in the first place.

Of course this has a lot of implications on topics like abortion, euthanasia, family life, gender roles, and all manner of different things that certain groups in our society have decided they can arbitrarily change.  Even by natural selection and evolutionary standards though, the idea that we can arbitrarily redefine all of these evolved traits and characteristics is illogical.  Some might even call it arrogant.  But I guess if you decide you’re smarter than hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, you can make that argument.  I’m just not so sure you should trust that conclusion.

What makes you valuable?  Who makes you equal?  Nobody in this world – including yourself.  We dicker and fight about external means of  making people equal but I don’t know anyone who feels internally like they measure up, like they’re as good as everyone else or sometimes anyone else.  Those doubts and fears won’t be addressed by laws and business practices or more money in a paycheck.  Those issues can only be solved by God.  The God who created us equal in the first place, and who is re-establishing that equality through the voluntary death and resurrection of his Son.  Who insists that switching one form of slavery for another is no solution, and that nothing less than truly being free in Him will substitute.

I pray to be man enough to value and esteem a woman not because of her job or whether she earns more or less or the same as I do.  Just as I shouldn’t value or esteem her based on her looks.  But rather only on the fact that she is.  That God the Father created her, God the Son died for her, and God the Holy Spirit seeks to lead her back into a proper relationship with him that will reorder every other relationship in her life, including the one with herself.

Of course, I pray to be man enough to value and esteem a man for just the very same reason.  That sounds a lot more like equality than mandatory paternity leave does.