Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Wind and the Sun

Do you remember Aesop's fable of the sun and the wind? The sun and the wind wanted a traveler to take off his cloak. The wind blew with all his might, but the traveler only wrapped the cloak tighter around himself. Then the sun came out and shone until the traveler removed his cloak and sat down to rest in the shade.
Kindness affects more persuasion than bluster. Even when we shine and the traveler keeps his cloak on, we must continue our kind ways and not be triggered into frustrated responses. It takes time for a person to warm up enough to take off their coat and stay awhile.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Five Thankful Things


1) The way the earth tilts, and us knowing about it. We can look at the autumn sky and think, "The sun is so different now than in summer, and that is because our part of the world is tilted away from it." I love thinking about stuff like that.
2) How we can see inside our own bodies with x-rays and ultrasounds and MRIs. A few years back one of my kids broke her elbow. Looking at the x-ray, I felt overwhelmed at the beautiful perfection of her bones (except in that one place, of course). Isn't it amazing that we are put together so exquisitely? Just think if we were put together in random ways. Now, that would be weird.
3) Number patterns. For instance, the way that 9x2=18 and 1+8=9 and 1 is one less than 2... 9x3=27 and 2+7=9 and 2 is one less than 3... that pattern keeps going through the 9 times table all the way to 9 (9x9= 81, 8+1=9, and 8 is one less than 9). Or the Fibonacci sequence, found throughout nature, in which the next number is found by adding together the previous two numbers in the sequence-- nature as a gorgeous afghan of numbers knotted together, woven through, and laced with color. Isn't the world wonderful?
4) How much there is to know. No matter how deep we go, there is something else to learn. Knowledge (like Shrek) is an onion. ;) In ancient times someone thought there must be molecules. Eventually, we discovered them. But that wasn't the end of the subject, because atoms. And after we found atoms, we learned to split them. What next? We are making strides in neuroscience, correcting errors in understanding the human brain, but also discovering the vast unknown that is the world of thought. And what about nutrition? Twenty years ago, although we understood that veggies are good for you, we knew nothing of micronutrients. More and more, I agree with Charles Kingsley-- man is simply playing with colored shells on the edge of a vast sea of knowledge. We will never know it all.
5) The Creator. I am amazed at the one who formed this world. He put it together and knows all about how it works. He knows the hidden health of breastmilk. He knows beyond a doubt what causes cancer. He knows of the worlds hidden in and out of our universe, what lies beyond life here on earth. And He is good. What if He had not been good? Whether our lives are good or bad, we do not understand Him. But He understands us, and he has created things for us we know nothing of. When the kids were smaller, we read a story about a little dragonfly grub that lived in a pond. His friends and relatives thought the pond was all there was to life. But the little dragonfly baby longed for more, to see the world that shone through the murky water above. He drove his friends distracted with his questions, research and speculations. Then one day he swam to the surface and opened himself to the upper world. They never saw him again in the water. He unfurled his wings and flew into the sky. Lovely. I say with Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Spring Awakening

Warning. Two things. First, I do not recommend Spring Awakening as a healthy entertainment option. Secondly, this is a rated R post. I don't normally post stuff like this, but as my kids get older, we deal with rated R subjects, and it just seems important that I put this here. Maybe I am being foolish. I may attract unsavory attention. But if kids are talking about this stuff, we should talk about it, too, lend some maturity to the conversation. End warning.

I watched Spring Awakening yesterday. It is an adaptation of a play that was written and performed in Germany in 1890 about repression and hiding and adolescent kids confused about their budding sexuality. I'm dismayed at the amount of vulgarity in it. Obviously, a play about sexuality is going to have some things deemed vulgar, but there is a tasteful way to do it, and I didn't feel like this musical got there. It reminded me of skits we would do in high school and college, but with a lot more cussing and innuendo and outright pantomime of things I'd rather not see another person do.

The things we watch and read (but especially the things we watch) have a big influence on our thinking. Even if we are intelligent enough to recognize themes and detach from the emotion of the story, we are still changed by what we see. I feel a shift in myself after watching that show, and I don't like it. The shift is more anger at tradition and time-honored norms. The norms that were challenged in that show were bad norms. I challenge those norms myself. But the cussing really bothered me. Cussing is violent.

Cussing isn't just words. Cuss words are words that contain violence in them. They are ugly names for things that can be used for violence.

Violence is not okay with me.

I suppose anger and aggression aren't objectively bad. I've been told that, and I can see how it needs to be true. But they feel objectively bad to me. 

That's not completely accurate. Not all anger/aggression is objectively bad. It has to be done a certain way. It has to be done with an eye toward improving the situation, and with respect to all involved. And it is better if the person is angry about something that displeases God, rather than just having their feelings hurt because they were slighted.

Does Spring Awakening meet all those criteria? Were these kids wanting to improve the situation? Yes, they were. They were immature and didn't know how, but over and over in the show, they express how they want to make a better world.  

Did they respect everyone involved? No, they did not. They held authority in contempt. I think that is where they got it wrong, but they were very young and didn't know what they were doing.  In Downton Abbey, there is a good contrast of this. A young socialist chauffeur marries into a wealthy family, and the family, although they have some oppressive/repressive values, receives him after some struggle. He is strident, angry, full of ugly words for the establishment, like the kids in Spring Awakening, and the Granthams roll their eyes and hate having to deal with him, but eventually love prevails and he sees that they are not bad, and that they are willing to change, although not to the extent he wishes.  He develops respect for them where he had none before.

This is important. Respect is earned. The only adult in Spring Awakening worthy of respect in my opinion is Melchior's mother.

But does that mean we cuss and froth and fight if the people we disagree with are not worthy of respect? I say no, and I believe Maria from West Side Story and the families in Romeo and Juliet agree with me.

In a situation where children are struggling, and every adult is disrespecting them and refusing to listen or be honest about what is happening (even Melchior's mother did this because of her misplaced confidence that other adults would see reason), kids will develop inappropriate and immature coping strategies. What else are they to do? The people who are supposed to teach them are violently opposing them. They must do the best they can with what they have, and it often comes out as wild defense.

When we know better, we do better, but these kids never had a chance to learn.

In West Side Story, it is two gangs of kids fighting, but Sondheim makes it clear they are fighting because of prejudice from their respective cultures.  In Romeo and Juliet, it is the same. Then you have the two beautiful children who are too good for this world and fall in love and want to find a new place, a new world where there is no hatred.

They are right. They are truly the pure ones. For all the talk of purity in our culture, purity of heart is rare.  But here you go. Here are two pure souls.

We all dream of a place like that, and often the world destroys our dreams before we get there.  We want to fight. But there is a better way. Hate increases hate. Hate can only be stopped by love. Over and over we see this in the best stories. Think of the love in Harry Potter. He struggles so hard to learn this, and eventually, when he is ready to give up everything, he is given it all. This is the paradox of love. It is taught in the Bible.  It is taught on the cross. It is taught in the Chronicles of Narnia. In Lord of the Rings. These are the best stories, because they go beyond hatred to the transforming power of love.

Shakespeare's plays are earthy, and Sondheim was known for pushing the envelope. I *really* don't like Spring Awakening because of the violent words, but I wonder. It seems accurate to me that children repressed and pushed beyond the limit would erupt into violence, violent words against the authorities, violent words and actions toward themeselves each other. The beating, the rape, the killing.

But oh me, please let's not go down that path.  Please let's not. There really is a better way, a better place. We are not in that situation. We have enough love and knowledge and liberty to build a better place. Let's not pretend we are trapped.  We aren't in bondage, even with all the crap we must deal with nowadays, we still have liberty to build an oasis of love and respect. We can make better choices and sidestep the hateful repressive people who tempt us to violence.