A friend of mine confessed recently that she's a bit of a Luddite, and therefore hadn't paid much attention to the blogosphere. I replied that I'm a bit surprised myself to be blogging. After all, we are a household that has one car, a very small TV with no cable and no permanent home, a 3-year-old who saw no videos before the year 2005 (although I think a couple babysitters may have broken that ban), and a general bias against most pop culture. But Will telecommutes for his work, so our current life would be impossible without the 'net. And as an introvert, I have found that email and blogging do have their advantages --especially if you can manage them instead of letting them manage you. That's probably true of most technology.
Nevertheless, we do enjoy being unplugged from time to time, as we will be in the coming days. I won't be posting for a while. In fact, I won't be emailing, calling by phone, driving a car, or doing anything vaguely 20th century for a while. I can't wait. Signing off.
I finished Harry Potter #6 in a feverish read last night, and found myself thinking about it all night. Apparently I'm not the only one dissatisfied with the ending and speculating about what book 7 will bring. Will pointed me to this link, which YOU SHOULD NOT LOOK AT UNTIL YOU HAVE FINISHED THE BOOK! I don't want to give anything away here.
They say that 3 out of 4 11-13 year-old Americans have read Harry Potter, and the phenomenon is global as well. The website above is a work of textual analysis that you don't see much of anywhere in our culture. If only we could get middle schoolers half that interested in the characters and story of the Scriptures! If only we cared that much what the parables mean.
We are story people, that is clear. Thank goodness (so far) Rowling has not abused her power to draw her readers in.
I just completed an extremely busy weekend: welcoming a group of visitors from our companion synod in Leipzig, attending the wedding of a friend, and presiding at morning and evening worship services at our church. It’s good work. . but oh, so tiring.
The reality is, though, that being home all weekend wouldn’t necessarily have been less tiring. The reality that motherhood is work too is one that seems to escape a lot of conversations about Sabbath I’ve read recently.
Christian Century has had two pieces on the subject of sabbath in the last month. The odd thing is that neither piece – even the one by Barbara Brown Taylor, who has been a parish pastor – addresses the obvious questions for clergy – that is, on which day should a pastor practice Sabbath?
There are those who would argue that the very question of “which day” belies a sort of floppy honor for tradition. Christian Sabbath, they would say, is Sunday, the day of resurrection and our primary day of assembly for worship. Period. Pastors serve a special role in the community, but they should in no way construe worship as work. Preparation for worship is most certainly work, but worship itself, the argument goes, is the Christian’s true rest, whether they sit in the pew or spend the entire service on their feet.
It is an argument that sounds lovely in theory, but has never been quite adequate in experience. I love leading worship and find in many ways that it gives my week the energy it needs. But there is no question that shaking 300 hands on a Sunday takes a toll on my body and mind. The adrenaline that pumps when I preach leaves an imprint on my body the rest of the day. The conversations I’ve had and the dozen passing remarks I’ve heard that I must remember for the next day clutter my mind. No day makes me more aware than Sunday that I need a Sabbath – but at least for this introvert, Sunday is no day of rest.
For those of us for whom Sunday is inevitably a work day, a day for which we gear up and from which we must wind down, when can we practice Sabbath? And for those of us for whom Sabbath is ideally observed not alone but as a family, how can we do so together? For my family – two working parents and two small children --it is no small task to figure out whose needs and whose schedule will regulate how we will observe the seventh day. If we choose Sunday, Mom spends the first half working and the second half some combination of wired and exhausted, but the family at least makes the connection between Sabbath and worship for our kids, and we can refrain from commercial activity without making the rest of our lives any more hectic.
If we choose Saturday, I may not necessarily be working and can probably be with the family all day, but I will probably still be thinking about my sermon the next day, and several times a year weddings or other obligatory events will make these days work days as well. Moreover, refraining from commercial activities on a Saturday can put a serious cramp on home improvement and social life, because life with small children does not allow for a lot to get done on weeknights after work.
If I, as the working pastor, choose a more typical day off, such as the Monday days with nature and the psalms that Eugene Peterson describes in his The Contemplative Pastor, I will not be spending Sabbath with my spouse. (I would, however, be spending it with both small children, which despiteits joys can feel very much like work when done alone.)
All of this calls to mind some much knottier theological issues raised by practicing Sabbath in an individualistic society. If my Sabbath is different from everyone else’s, what incentive is there to refrain from commercial activity? Is this not in its essence a communal practice?Does not the kind of adherence Michael Lerner recommends – 24 hours once a week for at least a couple years – require more than an individual commitment? And in a service economy, how do we practice Sabbath together when so often the work of one person allows for the rest of another?I pray that my leadership of worship allows for a kind of spiritual rest for much of my congregation, but for me, and most especially for my spouse, who is then “on duty” with the kids all morning, it is work.
So much of the writing on Sabbath strikes me as so much nostalgia for a world that no longer exists. I’d love to see someone wrestle theologically with these issues in a more realistic way.
I'll hand it to the House of Mercy, they know how to get out of their sanctuary walls once in a while. I was looking for a new installation on the Walker Art Center's website and found this. The House of Mercy band does great music, and the amazing thing is they can sing words of fire and brimstone and (even non-churchgoing) people smile rather than wince. There's something about roots music that makes that possible in a way that doesn't happen with contemporary Christian praise music. I could say some uncharitable things about CCM to explain why this is the case, but I won't. Just go hear HOM and hear for yourself.
OK, I'm only about 2/3 of the way through the latest Harry Potter, but I'm going on record now. I predict that by the end of book 7 the cat Crookshanks will play some very crucial role in this whole thing. I'm not a huge cat person. It's just a hunch.
It's a week of catching up and getting ready around here. Catching up with my colleague, who was out of town for much of July on vacation, and getting ready to leave town myself, when we head to Holden Village next week. My colleague, for his part, will be keeping vigil and advocating for change at the ELCA National Assembly in Orlando next week.
We're also preparing to welcome 15 visitors from our companion synod in Leipzig, Germany. I was privileged to go with a group of young people from our synod last year, travelling for two weeks in Saxony. Now it's our turn to host, and it's been an interesting journey planning an event designed to build relationships and provide some cross-cultural exchange with youth from that part of the world. Unfortunately I won't be able to be with the group except for the first couple days, but I'm looking forward to seeing folks from last year and showing them a bit of Uptown, where my first call was.
The most interesting part of the exchange, for me, is how the structure of our cities makes life for youth so different. We found last year that youth in Germany are much more self-sufficient simply because they can take public transit everywhere. We rarely were in private cars for the whole two weeks there, and so there was lots of connecting time on foot and trains. While our guests are here, however, we have to rely on parents to do a lot of driving to various meeting points, and the group will often be split up into vans as we travel about. It makes acutal youth-to-youth exchange more difficult. I agree with the Minnesota Taxpayers League that public transit is "social engineering." But so are highways, and our insistence on building our communities around the needs of cars. I just think we ought to be more intentional about what kind of social engineering we want for our lives.
I’ve been reading a bit of Unconditional Parenting, which was handed to us by our nanny last week. She comes from a bit of an abusive background, so I can see the appeal for her, but I’m not entirely sold. The premise is that the world provides plenty of opportunity for children to learn the “conditions” of the world: if you do this, you will earn that, and so on. The job of a parent is to provide unconditional love. Probably the strongest part of the book is his argument against constant “positive reinforcement,” because a system of rewards can be every bit as manipulative as punishments, and when children rely on praise from their parents, they lose interest in the rewards of the behavior or the accomplishment itself. So instead of constant “Good jobs!,” he recommends reflection and conversation and interest in what a child does, rather than judgments of any kind.
What’s frustrating for me about parenting books is that, outside of the James Dobson set, few are willing to admit that how you parent reflects some very deep beliefs about human beings and the culture. Kohn gets at some of this when he attacks the behavioral psychology premise of “time-outs” and positive reinforcement. Children are not pets, so we shouldn’t train them in the same way.What he doesn’t offer is a decent alternative anthropology – at least not one that satisfies me. The popular notion that people are good at heart and will be naturally altruistic if they are secure and well-attached just doesn’t strike me as true. And even if it were, I don’tknow how anyone ever enters that best of all possible worlds where they have been perfectly parented.
Kohn also has some uncanny resemblances to those on the opposite side of the spectrum, the all-control, all-the-time crowd who think you should wall your children off from the too-permissive culture. Kohn, of course, thinks the culture is too controlling, but he also puts all the onus on parents to create an appropriate environment for their child. But what if parents simply aren’t that powerful? At what point do we stop trying to control our child’s environment and start inoculating them (with love, or self-discipline, or generosity, or whatever you see as the antidote) so that they can enter the big-bad world and still know who they are?
Maybe I’m being overly harsh. But this book makes me weary in the exact same way the Dobson crowd does. Ideology of any kind doesn’t necessarily make for good parenting.