Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Income Disparity!

October 14, 2019

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford to purchase school lunches.  Every day I brought my lunch to school in a pretty cool lunch box.  My preferred sandwich was peanut butter and jelly.  I ate that pretty much every school day for lunch from as far back as I can remember to sometime probably in late high school when I started working and could afford to – from time to time – eat out.

I never really gave this much thought.  Some people could afford to buy school lunches, just like some people – once we hit junior high and high school age – could afford to buy shakes and french fries and other luxuries for lunch.  It was a reality of my life.  Yes, it meant I wasn’t part of the in crowd (although there were plenty of other, non-economic reasons why I would never be invited into that hallowed clique).  I learned to deal with that.  As generations of kids did before me and after me.

Yet politicians today are outraged that not everyone can afford to buy school lunches.  Or some people sign their kids up for them but then fall behind in their payments, racking up debts with the school.  This has apparently been handled up till now by those children getting a “cheaper, alternative” lunch.  And this stigmatizes them.  They stick out from their peers who can afford the pricier lunches, or can afford to have the luxury of choosing what they want to eat for lunch instead of just having something handed to them.

Note that everyone is getting a lunch.  But some get to choose what they have for lunch while others are denied a choice, or their choice is less desirable.

So our state has decided to eliminate the stigma for these children by assuring that all kids – whether their parents can afford to pay their lunch debts off or not – get the same lunch.  No mention is made in the article about how this decision will be paid for.  I presume it will be paid for with yet another sob-story appeal to the voters about how the school systems can’t make ends meet and need more money in taxes and bonds to ensure all children receive a quality education.

Seems as though education is in order, indeed.

Starting with the hard, cold reality – both present and historical – that some people make more than others.  Some people have more than others.  In my studies of history, this has always been the case.  Even including efforts at socialism and communism in the 20th century, a basic fact of life is that some people are always going to be a little better off than others.  Or a lot.  Whether they’re supposed to be or not.  That’s the way life works.

Yet news stories today present this as though it’s some sort of newly discovered corruption in our society.  Did you know that some people can afford to buy portable generators when faced with possible power outages?  Did you know this is evidence of income disparity?!  Wait – you mean some people live paycheck to paycheck?  How is it that reporters and politicians are so surprised by this?  For pretty much all of my life, myself and the vast majority of people I’ve known live more or less paycheck to paycheck.  We don’t have vast sums of money in the bank.  Sometimes we have a little more.  Sometimes a little less.

But we live in a country founded on the principle that if you worked hard, you could improve your situation.  You might start out with not much, but you could try to do better.  It wasn’t handed to you.  It wasn’t paid for by other people.  But you had the chance to try and improve your lot in life.  Generations of people have done just that.  Millions of people from around the world have undertaken great risk and expense to come to our country because of that principle.  And many, many, many of them have found that principle isn’t just a nice marketing gimmick.  It’s true.  They’re witnesses to it, and that reality is what continues to fuel the desire to come to our country.

That’s not good enough for our politicians, apparently.

Maybe more of them needed to bring their lunches to school.  Maybe more of them needed to deal with the fact that some people don’t eat fancy lunches every day at school.  Some people don’t wear the latest designer fashions to school every day.  Some people aren’t invited to the cool parties and hang out with the popular kids every day.  That income disparity is just one of the pervasive realities of life, and despite good (or bad) intentions to the contrary, is amazingly difficult (or impossible) to eliminate.

Now that lunches are free, I guess we can move on to mandating a fashion fund so kids with parents who can’t afford to shop at all the cool stores aren’t stigmatized by having to wear off-brand clothing.  Maybe another fund to help poor families buy nicer cars so they don’t stand out when they’re dropping off and picking up junior from school.  The list could go on and on.

Life is not fair.  Not in income and not in a stunning variety of other ways.  Kids can be very cruel, it’s true.  And if it isn’t school lunches, it will be something else where they demonstrate this truth generation after generation.

Because the real issue isn’t school lunches or portable generators or even income disparity as a whole.  The real problem, the real root of cruelty and social and economic stratification is sin.  Brokenness that can’t be legislated away.  Sin that can’t be taxed out of existence.  We have to be saved from it, but the government isn’t up to that task.  Never has been.  Isn’t now.  Never will be.  We can seek to make improvements, to be sure.  And I know that good intentions are at the basis of writing about income disparity and trying to give free lunches to everyone.  But what we really need is a God willing to enter into our world to save us from the sin we can’t always see and sometimes don’t want to get rid of, as well as the sin we’d be happy to do without.  Jesus has done this.  My state – or Federal – government can’t.  They can’t fix the level of brokenness that leads to hurt feelings and social stigmatization.  At best, they can try to give away more free lunches.

But that’s something I learned in school as well, along with the fact that some people have more money than others.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world.  Somebody, somewhere, always pays.

Jesus the Veggie

September 27, 2019

Our kids grew up with Veggie Tales.  More than anything, they grew up with the music of Veggie Tales.  The Silly Songs with Larry segment of these shows was often the highlight for all of us.  We had CDs of these songs, and on a six-month road trip a decade ago, these were the soundtrack to our drives through the United States.  Even today, now that our kids are teenagers, they will randomly put on some of these silly songs, and we’re all singing along together in no time.

The videos were creative  and good – for what they were.  The first time I heard a criticism of Veggie Tales was in Seminary, where a professor and other students were criticizing them for substituting morality for the Gospel.  Of course, that’s the case.  Children were exhorted to proper behavior (based on Biblical definitions of these things, of course).  Bible stories retold in the world of talking vegetables always had a moral to the story, something that would address in some respect the letter from a child that started the installment off and provided the overarching theme.  No, Veggie Tales was not pushing the Gospel, but I’d argue that pushing a Biblical morality was fine in and of itself.

So long as that’s not the only exposure to the Bible and the Christian faith and church that kids ever received!  It would be silly to criticize an appetizer for not being a full-course dinner.  It isn’t intended to be.

Nearly a decade ago, Veggie Tales‘ creator, Phil Vischer, rocked many people’s world when he criticized his own creation for teaching moralism rather than the Gospel, the center of the Christian faith.  He acknowledged that inadvertently, Veggie Tales taught kids how to behave but without any context in a larger Biblical framework of sin and salvation and most importantly, Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God.  While each episode would end with the familiar line God made you special, and He loves you very much! it wouldn’t provide any further depth in understanding what all of that meant, not just here and now but for eternity.  If Bible stories are nothing but ancient morality plays, you can’t blame kids (or parents) for not seeing a necessity or a connection to repentance and atonement and salvation.  I’m sure many parents were just glad to have their kids occupied with something wholesome for 30 minutes!

The inimitable Gene Veith has blogged on an update to this long saga, as Vischer plans to return to Veggie Tales with a vow to make them more Gospel centered.  That’s fantastic, especially if he can keep the same wit and humor and warmth that made those whacky vegetables lovable.  The full article Veith refers to can be read here.

Towards the end of his post, Veith offers some concerns and caveats about how the new effort might or might not be able to accomplish its goal.  He worries about how the Gospel can be conveyed with vegetables.  I imagine that missionaries could provide some amazing stories of how they have related the Gospel to people using an  astounding variety of metaphors and other tools to bridge from the world of their hearers to the Biblical world.

Vischer and Veith agree that Jesus should not be portrayed as a vegetable in the new series.  I disagree.  Is it weird?  Well, of course!  But is it weird within the context of Veggie Tales?  I don’t think so.  Veggie Tales creates an alternate world where vegetables can talk and hop around.  It’s a world that intersects our own (the old episodes started out on a kitchen counter, which seems a bit macabre if you think about it!), but also reflects our own but with vegetables instead of human beings.  In such an alternate world, to portray Jesus as anything other than a vegetable would be even more weird!  After all, if Jesus came to be one of us, actually incarnate as a human being, then in an alternate vegetable world, Jesus would have to become a vegetable to keep the depth and meaning the same.

And ultimately, I think Veith’s concerns are more valid if the assumption is Veggie Tales will be the only exposure to Jesus and  the Bible a child ever gets.  While this might be the case, that someone just picks up the CDs or streams the shows because they think it’s harmless, I would imagine that an explicitly Gospel-centered reincarnation will appeal mostly to Christian families.  And if so, they ought to know – or be explicitly reminded – that these shows can’t and shouldn’t substitute for weekly worship, or praying as a family, or talking out loud as a family about how faith in Jesus as the resurrected Son of God affects who we are and what we do and the decisions we make in our own world, rather than just a make-believe  vegetable world.  Parents (or grandparents) should never expect Veggie Tales to be a full course meal when it’s really only an appetizer.  A wonderful and delicious and appealing appetizer, to be sure.

Even if it is made out of vegetables.

 

 

 

 

What’s Good For You

September 17, 2019

A lovely article about politics in the great state of California.

Reasons cited for parental reticence on vaccinations include complacency, the inconvenience of accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence in vaccines’ effectiveness.

I would be interested in knowing how the World Health Organization gets the statistic of 2-3 million lives saved via vaccines.  I’ll also point out how it’s a bit misleading to quote a global vaccination statistic rather than a national one, or even a state one.  I wonder if those are accessible, and if so, why they weren’t cited instead?  I’m assuming the numbers are lower (logically) and not as compelling.

I’m not anti-vaccinations per se, but I am deeply suspicious of global and national documentation regarding them.  I’m suspicious of a field that seems intent on criminalizing or delegitimizing any opposition or concern over vaccinations.  And I’m very opposed to the idea of the government forcing me or my children to have things injected into our bodies without being given the right of refusal or even the right to say which vaccinations we do or don’t want.  The State of California passed vaccination legislation a few years ago to make vaccinations mandatory, but provided  no opportunity or mechanism for public awareness or education about what vaccinations were being mandated.  A list was published at the time of the currently mandated vaccines, but it was  also clear that  list could  be amended by a committee at their discretion, and no mention was made about consulting constituents for their agreement.

That’s a recipe for potential disaster on a scale far exceeding a measles outbreak – which was the non-lethal illness that prompted the forcing through of  mandatory vaccination laws and now laws excluding religious  and philosophical objections and actively trying to cull or investigate doctors that might have some good reasons for providing medical exemptions.

I’m grateful for the benefits of health science, but vary wary of the government insisting I partake of the alleged benefits.  I’d prefer that to be listed as a reason as well, rather than lumping people with vaccination concerns together with the  woman throwing used feminine hygiene products at our lawmakers.  Questioning authority is not necessarily crazy.

Good Time Outs?

September 14, 2019

For those of you out there agonizing over whether or not you are – or have, or did – traumatize your child irreconcilably through the use of the dreaded time out method of punishment, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  Maybe.  The University of Michigan has released the results of a study that says, done properly, the time out method of discipline should not cause any lasting harm to children.  Maybe.

While this article doesn’t address or acknowledge whether long-term studies were done on the effects of spanking as a disciplinary methods, I find it curious that the list of criteria for making time out an effective form of discipline pretty much match corporal punishment’s ideal criteria as well:

  • calmness
  • consistency
  • positive environment
  • planning the process beforehand
  • making both parents and child understand it
  • avoid shouting

 

 

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!