Thursday, August 29, 2013

More Than Mommies

To all the stay-at-home mommies and daddies who talk about more than your children and diapers and crafts when we full-time or part-time parents get together- I salute you. I love being around you. You are a breath of fresh air in a world of (admittedly darling) childish mundanities. Parenting is an all-consuming job at times, but it is so important to remember that we are more than mothers or fathers. Some of us are doctors, nurses, teachers, musicians, engineers, and a host of other interesting things. Some of us have fascinating skills, some have travelled, some have lived and learned the most interesting things- why should we restrict our conversation to our kids or to boring small talk when we get together? Particularly if we already know one another, and we are past the point of learning about each other's life stories, etc. We are no less capable now of serious intellectual engagement than we were before we had kids. We have not forgotten literature, theology, science, politics, or the other varied things we love. I personally find it excruciating to be with intelligent, interesting men and women who talk of nothing but babies, teething, school schedules, recipes, pregnancy, and backpack sales. Not that we can't share those things, but I think that gatherings of mommies and/or daddies, in playgroups, at those interminable children's birthday parties, or otherwise, can be a valuable resource for our collective sanity and fight against mental stagnation. A half hour spent discussing theology or current events or great books energizes me and gives me strength to deal with the days with little interaction with people over the age of six in ways that a half hour of comparing teething stories never could. I seriously doubt I'm the only one. :) I don't think it makes us bad parents to remember, cherish, and keep alive who we are outside of parenting- it makes us better. And we should remember that these busy years won't last forever- we'll have decades after our littles grow and leave. Parenting may seem like the end-all of our lives now, but it's relatively short-lived and it's only a part of who we are.

This is why I sometimes find mommy playgroups tedious- we end up a group of intelligent women sitting around talking about poop and school and mundanities. Not important things like "how much socialization does a kid need" or "should we vote CSCOPE out of TX curricula" but rather subjects like "what is your kid doing in school? Is your kid teething? I wish kids would pick up their toys." I find myself sitting there, thinking- "seriously, ladies. Why not talk about something besides mothering once in a while? I happen to know you are well read, fascinating, have travelled, know lots of fun theology, philosophy, etc- why can't we talk about some of that? I could learn a lot from some of you, and we could have us some FUN. Forget about kiddie crafts and enriching activities- put the babies in the floor with some toys, crack open the wine and the coffee, and let's get to it!"

It's also why I find some groups, of mommies or otherwise, so delightful. Lively discussion of interesting topics/stories of the experiences of bright, interesting, or unusual people (which I am very lucky to be able to say that most of my friends are!) are to repetitive small talk what great cuisine is to McDonalds, at least in my world.

So, next time you're at playgroup, or at a party, watching the kiddies and gearing up for another polite exchange of your kids' basic developmental info- just stop, and start talking about Syria or Cloning or the Trinity or whatever you're passionate about. If I'm there, I'll join you, and I'll be eternally grateful.

(of course, it could be that I just don't like small talk. I think it's a function of my personality in general, and in no way would I attempt to make everyone else exactly like me. I do wish, though, that mommies always remembered that they are more than that, and that their individual passions still matter, very, very much.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nature and Essence, Applied To Marriage

To build on the last post- what is the nature and essence of marriage? It's a big question, and I'm not promising a complete answer in this little blog post, but I do have some ideas based on the ” universal/unique” qualifiers from the previous post.

First, to define nature- in this context, I'm not defining it as anything that comes naturally, anything that happens organically, intuitively, or with ease, or as a common characteristic. I'm using it synonymously with ”essence”- the defining characteristic of something, unique/universal predispositions- that sort of thing. Also by way of definition- I realize that marriage has not always been a single, uniform institution. When I reference marriage here, I am speaking of what would fall into legal/socially acceptable practice in America in the present day.

A brief re-cap- my perception of nature/essence is that, for an attribute to be a defining characteristic of an entity, that attribute must be both unique to that entity and universal in all like entities.

For example- a furry mane is part of the essence and nature of adult male lions, because a mane is both unique to adult male lions and universal among all adult male lions. In the same way, abstract thought is part of the essence of humanity, as it is unique, so far as  I know, to our species, and is universal among healthy, mature humans.

So- what things fall into to the "nature/essence of marriage" category?
1. Sex
I'd give this one a no, because sex is neither unique to marriage nor is it universal or requisite for marriage. Sex is a usual, common characteristic, but it does not meet my standards for essence. One could make the argument that sex would be a part of any healthy marriage of normal, healthy people, but even then, since sex is by no means limited to marriage, it fails the test.

2. Procreation/Co-parenting
No. Procreation, too, fails on both counts- it is not unique to marriage nor is it universal in all marriages.

3. Romantic Love
While it should be a characteristic of marriage, and I would hope would be universal within healthy marriages, it is not unique to marriage. It, too, fails.

4. Mutual Commitment based on an Ideal of Affection
While personal commitment can exist outside of marriage, long term legally and socially ratified commitment is both universal to marriages and unique to marriage. So, I would say that long term legal and social commitment is part of the essence of marriage.

5. Legal benefits/Tax status/next of kin rights/etc
Unique/universal? Yes. No other relationship or institution offers the same legal benefits in this country as does marriage.

6. Religious/Social benefits
Many religions offer benefits/considerations to married couples that they do not offer to the unmarried. Those benefits are universal to all married couples (such as allowing more public affection, endorsing sex and cohabitation, etc) and are uniquely offered to married couples. Here, again, I'd say yes, depending on the religious tradition. (Some treat married and unmarried people alike, but I think that that is not the norm) Likewise with various social groups.

7. Financial benefits (excluding taxes, which fall into number 5)
This would be a no, because cohabitation offers all of the same benefits as does marriage, outside of tax/legal benefits, for a reduction of expenses and the convenience of shared finances. (Unmarried people can share a home, bank accounts, etc)

8. Support of an equal partner/Independence mingled with deep community
While this should certainly be a part of any marriage, it is not unique to marriage

9. Friendship/Companionship
Universal, yes, unique, no.

10. Limited in number- only two people
Universal, yes, unique, no.

So..... it seems, outside of matrimony based on biblical dictates, that the defining characteristics of marriage are legal, socially recognized commitment, presumably springing from affection for the other party, various legal benefits, and various social/religious benefits. Additional characteristics which should be part of marriage but are not central to its definition include sex, financial benefits, friendship/companionship, romantic love, and the option of procreation/co-parenting. Thus, in our society, marriage is a legal, social, and if applicable religious contract/commitment, based on assumed romantic affection between two parties. This is what sets marriage apart from cohabitation or platonic friendship, and this is what we should focus on when we talk about what is or is not ok in the context of legalizing same-sex marriage, for example. With the definition above, gender and sexual orientation does not even play a role, outside of the religious aspect of the contract.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Resources on Homosexuality

For all those considering the issues of homosexuality and christianity, here are some great resources. The video is a lecture by Dr. John Corvino- I just discovered it today, and it's the reason for this post. He makes some excellent points.

You can find his website here......

The next set of links leads to essays written by two gay men, Justin and Ron, on the Gay Christian Network.

One of the men believes that homosexual sex can never be endorsed by God, and thus that all people of a homosexual orientation should remain celibate, and the other man believes that monogamous, married homosexual sex is just as God-honoring as heterosexual sex in the same context. You can find their essays here.

Lastly, here is a link to a recent post on combatting homophobia in the church, and I think the post is helpful whether you support same sex marriage or not, and whether you believe homosexuality is sinful or not.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nature and Essence

I've been reflecting recently on created natures, essences, and definitions of things. I often hear people speak of the ” essence” or ” nature” of a gender, or a species, or a subculture, and when I do, there are many different opinions about what constitutes nature and essence. What does this mean? How am I going to define the nature and essence of anything, gender-related or otherwise?
After some thought, I have decided upon two litmus tests which must in my opinion be present if an attribute is to be considered the essence or nature of a thing, though their presence does not necessarily dictate said attribute as essence or nature.

The two litmus tests are:

1. Is this attribute unique to this entity, and

2. Is this attribute universal for all entities of this type.

If it does not meet these two tests, then I would classify it as a characteristic, not an essence/definition or nature. (an attribute could be natural to an entity, and generally present, without being unique to that entity, but if that is the case then I would hesitate to use that attribute to define the essence of what makes that entity itself)

For example, monkeys generally like bananas. all monkeys like bananas? Maybe. I honestly have no idea. Is banana liking unique to monkeys? Absolutely not! Therefore, while monkeys may love bananas, I could not say that the essence of a monkey, as opposed to a bird or a fly or a human, say, is liking bananas.

I should add that I'm assuming health and normally in entities- there are some humans who, due to mental and physical illness/abnormality, do not demonstrate some of the essential qualities of humanity, but this makes them no less human. For example, I would list a basic capacity for abstract thought as an essential quality of humans, because it is both unique and universal to healthy, mature humans. Some people are born with severe mental deformities which prevent them from having this ability, but they are still human and because they do not fall into the healthy/mature category they need not negate the quantifying of humanity in general.

As to gender roles- if something is the essence of masculinity or femininity, it should be both unique to and universal within that gender. None of the social traits like aggressive, nurturing, emotional, logical, stoic, or attributes/behaviors like providing, protecting, submitting, and supporting can be essential to a gender based on the above two tests, because none of them are both unique to only one gender and universal within it.

Thus, I would say that there is no masculine or feminine ” nature” apart from the biological/reproductive/chromosomal. We can make generalizations, but even if every stereotype/generalization was 90 prevent accurate, and none of them are, they will never apply universally and should never, ever be seen as prescriptive.  Social science supports some social/behavioral statistical differentiation between genders, but it supports such diversity within genders as well, to an even greater degree.

Universal. Unique. So long as I retain those two tests, I can never be a gender essentialist.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to Keep From Embarrassing Yourself On Facebook, or The Proper Use Of Snopes And Image Searches

I know some really great people on facebook- generally, these people are smart, well-informed, and fun to be around. However, it sometimes seems as though they turn off certain portions of their brains when it comes time to decide what to post/share/like/endorse and what to leave alone. It boggles my mind when I see an otherwise sane and pleasant human reposting conspiracy theories about "Russian infiltration" or "Obama buying guillotines to kill Christians." For all of us- for all our sakes, and the reputations of any groups we are and ever will be associated with, can we just take a big collective breath and trade paranoia and flippant acceptance for a bit o' good, old-fashioned research and consideration? All the silly memes and conspiracy theories and offensive jokes really don't contribute to our credibility or that of any groups with which we are associated.  Here, I am offering a few simple guidelines for saving ourselves the embarrassment of erroneous or inappropriate postings:

For everything:

1. Don't mindlessly repost ANYTHING. It doesn't matter how much you like or trust the person who shared it, or how plausible it sounds at first.
2. Read it. Read it all. Don't post, link, or like things you haven't actually read. It can end badly.
3. Is it extremely personal or sensitive? Privacy settings are not infallible, and people can circumvent them to pass intriguing info around. If your world would end if it were public knowledge, it's better not to post it, no matter the privacy settings.
4. Is it about someone else? If you are posting either 1. A photo or 2. Information about another person, you should get their permission first. Always. This is not optional.
5. Does it have to do with bodily fluids, your own or your children's? If so, then please limit the audience to those who you are sure would love to hear about that.
6. Is it someone else's intellectual property? If so, just put down the mouse or texting finger and walk away.
For news/science/fact posts:
1. Look at the source. Is it a major news network, respected national or global company, or directly from the subject of the news? If not, more research is needed.
2. Go to Search related keywords. Snopes is not infallible, and sometimes they have inconclusive results, but they easily debunk the most egregious conspiracy theories so you don't have to.
3. Do a basic image search. If you are considering posting a blurb about killer coconuts from Antarctica, for example, google "coconuts" and click on "images." If you find the same image that is portrayed in your proposed article as a killer coconut from Antarctica, sitting blithely in an ordinary article about coconuts on the beaches of Indonesia, you might want to rethink posting about the Killer Coconuts. It's true that some posts use stock photos, but those will usually be non-specific and un-contextualized.
4. Google the basic premise of the article. Worried about an international crime ring posing as vacuum cleaner salesmen in order to scope out your house for carpet thievery? Google Vacuum Cleaner Salesmen. Look at the results. Do you see an alert from BBC or CNN, or do you see paranoid conspiracy sites which cite in the same breath the horrible dangers of Communist Vacuum Cleaners which take photos of your carpets and send them to Moscow (or whatever is the communist outpost du jour in all the conspiracy rags at the moment) and Space Bats that eat your pets and defecate poisonous radiation pellets into your ventilation system? If the latter sort of site is the only one reporting the news in question, you might want to rethink that post.
5. Does the post list any direct sources from which you can substantiate its conclusions? If not, it should be treated as an opinion piece, not a factual piece.

For opinion/theology/religious pieces/memes:

1. Look at the source. Is this a source you want to be affiliated with? Sometimes bad people write good things, but if you are conditionally endorsing only a part of the piece or if you generally disagree with the author but this post is the exception, you should specify that.
2. Are you posting this piece as irony/satire? If so, be kind and specify. Not everyone picks up on that sort of thing.
3. If you are posting from a trusted source, ask yourself- would I post this if it were from a very different source? Do I genuinely affirm this message or am I just parroting the work of a popular figure?
4. Is it rife with any of the following logical fallacies? (see link here) If so, beware- your credibility with your logical friends may plummet if you post it.
5. Is it a "if you love Jesus or hate cancer or love you mom please repost" sort of thing? As a matter of fact, is it any kind of plea to repost? If it is.... just don't. Refusing to embarrass yourself with a stilted meme will not endear you to terrorists or separate you from Jesus or people you love or earn you bad karma with the Cancer Fairy. I promise.
6. Is it sexist, racist, or homophobic? It can still be incredibly funny, but if it is any of those things, you'd do better to take a pass.

For Religious Folks Who Love their Scriptures (and on a slightly more serious note)

I'm a Christian. That fact is not exactly a secret. I believe that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, and should be my rule of faith and practice. Sometimes, when I'm talking with people, whether on facebook, via email, in person, etc, I reference scripture as a catalyst or justification for something. However, I am not telepathic. I wish that I were, because that would be simply awesome, but I am not. Therefore, I cannot throw out a great scripture passage without any explanation and expect people to understand why I used it and the point I was trying to make with it. Which brings me to:

1. Don't quote a scripture without telling your audience why you quoted it, what you think it says, and how it relates to the subject at hand, unless the literal text speaks directly to your subject so clearly that.... actually, not even then. Never. A few words of explanation will cost you little and foster exponentially better communication. For example: If I'm talking about.....and this is just a hypothetical..... why I left a previous church and someone comes back with "and every man did what was right in his own eyes," I would have no idea whether they were indulging in satire, disapproving of me, or disapproving of someone else. That could mean almost anything, depending on context. Which brings me to

2. Use something that's actually relevant when quoting scripture. Resist the temptation to use Ecc. 11:4  "He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap" as a justification for your not wanting your child to be a meteorologist, for example. It's also probably not a good idea to use the verse about God's spirit hovering over the waters when you're talking about helicopters. You get the idea.

3. Don't assume that everyone interprets scripture as you do. (one reason why elaboration is so, so necessary) Believe it or not, even within mainstream evangelical/protestant Christianity, there has never been a single, universal interpretation of every verse of the Bible. There are traditional ways to interpret things, but those have never really been entirely unchallenged. Try to remember that your interpretation is just that, and that people can be just as committed to the authority of scripture and to responsible hermeneutics as you are and still come up with a different interpretation. If you disagree with someone's interpretation, by all means tell them, giving sound historical and logical reasons for your take on things. You may still end up in sincere disagreement, but it's no reason why you can't be friends.

4. Don't use scripture to beat your friends over the head with wrongdoing unless you are really close, have a relationship that lends itself to mutual accountability, and are in private.

5. You can be a Christian without using scripture to back up everything you say on the internet. It is ok to argue a rational point. Since your faith should color everything you do, you are not doing it a disservice by occasionally leaving it out of unrelated arguments. Scripture is wonderful, but do you need to cite specific verses in a conversation about teething or immunizations or healthcare? Probably not.

I can't promise that following all of these guidelines will save you from any future internet embarrassment, but I can say that I've never seen a horrible post that couldn't have been avoided by following one or more of them.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Not Another Feel-Good Mommy Post

Something's been annoying me lately- namely, all the "mommy blog" posts which are flitting around the internet, patting moms on the back for whatever they do, however they do it. Don't get me wrong- I think that being a stay at home mom is a hard job, an incredibly important one, and deserves oodles of encouragement; however, if a pat on the back is going to actually mean something to me then I'd prefer it be more than a celebration of the barest adequacy.

An example of some things I would find helpful would be, instead of "you're awesome, forget the laundry, go hug your kids:" "Getting All The Stuff done is really hard. Here are some ways you can do it more efficiently" or "how to evaluate whether being a stay-at-home parent is right for your family" or "how to prioritize and balance work and home more effectively" or "In praise of mom X, who rocked it like a boss and did X."

Encouragement is great, but it should be about praising great actions, carefully cultivated traits, and focused effort- the bare minimum of adequacy shouldn't elicit an ode, and when it does, the veracity of the source comes into question for me. How much is approbation really worth when I did nothing to earn it, and how cherished can a medal for participation really be? When praise is a given despite results, I think that it's meaningless.

One of the hardest things, for me, about not working full time/not writing/composing/performing much, is that there is very little measurable sense of accomplishment on a day-to-day basis. Yes, I know that raising smart, kind, humble, successful, Jesus-loving, Church-loving, feminist sons is the most important job in the world at the moment and that it has monumentally far-reaching effects on my kids, their kids, and their world. I understand the concept, but it's still difficult to stay focused and keep a vision for what I'm doing when so much of it is boring minutiae. This makes the things that I can turn into measurable achievements all the more important to my general sanity. I don't want to hear that getting the laundry done doesn't matter- I want to be pleased that I got it done faster today than I did yesterday. I want to know that my work is important, and that doing a good job with it is important. I want to up my productivity and streamline my routine and spend time with my kids, homeschool, keep a fairly tidy home, eat healthily, and pursue my career. This, this "work and mother" path, is a difficult path, and "moms who limit their facebooking and discipline their internet time so that they can clean the house and work on a freelance project and take dinner to their pregnant friend and make it to choir practice on time are The Greatest" just sounds better than "Don't worry about the house or the other stuff- cuddle with the kids and relax." Relaxing is great, but uncompleted work makes me stressed and less productive. (That, and cutting everything from my life but my house and my kids would make me go stark, raving mad. :) ) I'm not saying that stressing out about perfection is healthy, but that setting priorities and goals and striving for competence and self-improvement is far superior to accepting the status quo as my only option and accepting my current level of performance. I know my worth to God and to my family isn't based on my performance, but I'll be darned if I wouldn't go a bit bonkers without a bit of friendly competition with myself from time to time!

Also, I sometimes think that people are making the avoiding of evaluative judgements into an art form. While diversity is great, and the same parenting/housekeeping/professional strategies won't work for all of us, there is such a thing as doing a bad job, an ok job, and a great job. (And yes, while there is a scale, it is somewhat subjective, depending on our specific goals and priorities) We shouldn't be harsh or unkind to those who are lower on that scale than we are, but we should be ready to help if we're asked and to give genuine, constructive encouragement. In the same way, we shouldn't make fun of moms who have laser-like focus and who are extremely disciplined and efficient- we should ask them for some helpful tips. Genuine, well-earned encouragement makes my day and gives me strength, but a pat on the back for something that should be a given, or a celebratory endorsement of mediocrity, is just depressing.

Monday, August 5, 2013