Saturday, April 23, 2011

How you party says a lot about you.

One of Natalie's Kindergarten friends has been inviting her to his birthday party since the year started. Finally his birthday came and she, with great excitement, attended the party.
In my opinion, the party was a monumental failure.
It was at a local pizza place/arcade establishment. (I won't say the name, but you can probably guess. If they really wanted to make it fun, they would make you buy pizza with the tickets you win at the games..."Sorry, 200 tickets only gets cheese and sauce, no crust for you!")

Now, I have to say that, as a believer, having parties at places like this is giving the opposite message than the one we are trying to pass on to our children. (I don't know if Natalie's friend's parents are believers or not, so they're off the hook :) ) P.S. The following may sound like a rant, but it is more like the detached amazement you feel right after doing something clumsy like falling down a staircase.

First, when we got in there, it took us several minutes to even find the correct party--which leads me to the first issue: it was impersonal. Soren Kierkegaard, everyone's favorite Danish philosopher, once wrote: "What is official is impersonal, and being impersonal is the greatest insult that can be paid a person." Like usual, I think he's right. The party wasn't about the KIDS, it was about the NOVELTY. It was about the games and the coins and the noise. When this boy opened presents, there were so many and it was so loud he actually missed Natalie's present. When I went to pick her up I got there early only to find her standing by the door waiting. She said she had been there for a while because someone told her the party was over. It wasn't--they hadn't even had the cake yet!! So at least we were able to go back and get a cupcake...

Second, places like this are really encouraging unhealthy consumption. All the kids received tokens they could use to play games (including the American classic: Deal or No Deal...I wonder what someone from a poor country would think watching that show...) to win tickets to get prizes. This in turn encourages selfishness and, once again, no recognition of the 'other'. I was playing ski-ball with Natalie at one point and I turned to look at the tickets. By the time I had turned back another kid had actually jumped in front of me on the game I was playing. I said: "I was using that, can you say 'excuse me' please?" He looked at me like I was from another planet. (Maybe I am). On the way home Natalie was looking at one of her prizes (an aptly named: 'Airhead') and she said: "This was free!" Actually, I cringed to think of how much was spent on that party! It did take me a while to explain how that airhead was not, in fact, free.

Anyway, the point is: what do our celebrations say about us? As Christians can we come up with birthday celebrations that not only honor the birthday kid but also those coming to the party? Can we have celebrations that reflect our belief in a God who gives us all we need and loves us where we are? Or do our celebrations always have to involve greasy food, loud noises and overzealous child gambling? I'm not saying arcades are evil--but I think we can do better with a little imagination.

For example, Natalie's last birthday was held at the outdoor campus. It was free and (mostly) outdoors. Each kid was greeted by name at the door made his/her own trail mix using various ingredients we brought. We did an outdoor peanut hunt (after asking about allergies, of course) on some trails, and then came inside where a naturalist was ready to teach us about some animals and even let the kids touch a few of them-the turtle, with its *frightening* speed, was  admittedly a little scary for some of the young ones. The party ended with a gift exchange: each kid brought one gift and exchanged it with another so everyone went home with one gift. This way Natalie didn't get a bunch of stuff she didn't need and all the kids felt important and loved.

How well do your parties reflect your God?

Peace, hope and love,


Thursday, April 7, 2011

What kind of story have we got ourselves into?

I apologize in advance. I think blogging is generally selfish...but in this instance I hope that we can have some dialogue about parenting. So it's not for me.(Please write some, community, community)

If we are going to talk about parenting then we have to talk about kids. And if we're going to talk about kids then we have to talk about the reasons why we have kids. An author I was just reading said that we have lost sufficient reasons in our society for having kids. And we have lost reasons for not having kids as well--which puts us in a pretty precarious place if he's right.

 Please allow a brief digression into philosophy. (I know, I just about ensured no one will read the whole post...I dare you to...) There are at least 2 kinds of reasons for doing something: explanations and justifications. A quick example illustrates: Lancelot organizes a movement to save the Rainforest because he thinks Guinevere loves the rainforest and he will earn her love by doing so. So the explanation for what he does is that he wants to win her love. But as it turns out, she couldn't care less about the rainforest. So he is wrong, and thus has no justification. Now of course we know saving the rainforest is a good thing (for the sake of argument) and so he is justified anyway even though that reason (saving the rainforest is the right thing to do) doesn't explain why he did it.

Now to parents: do we have good justification, as Christians, for having kids? Things like: "I've always wanted to", "I don't want to be lonely", "I just love kids," are explanations but not justifications. Christianly speaking, even reasons like: "I want to keep my family legacy going" are a bit of a stretch since they're a bit self-centered, aren't they? How about: "The birth control didn't work". Ha, we've been there. (Clearly and explanation, not a justification.) Luckily, God has bigger plans for our kids than we do.

What if our justification for having kids lies more in our desire to tell them the Christian story? What if we see our children as receivers of a great tradition that witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ and God's loving, creative action in the world? Of course that challenges how we see ourselves, but if you have kids and they haven't made you question yourself then you're way further along the journey than I am!

So if our kids are to be receivers of this beautiful gift, how are they going to get it? How does that impact our parenting decisions? If I had all the answers I'd write a book, not a blog, but I can reflect on my own situation...

It is important for us that Natalie and Jonah begin to see the bigger picture early. They, as we, are part of the larger story of creation, sin and redemption that began in Genesis. The Scriptures are not just to be read, they are to be acted out, generation after generation. We want our kids to see us doing that, and join us in it.

That's why Allison stays home right now. As a sole income-getter, I only make enough to get us on the 'free & reduced lunch' list at the public school. But our ability to spend time teaching and modeling Scripture for the kids is more important than our financial comfort. And spending time in community with others is an important witness to teach them that we depend on each other in the church--individualism is a huge scam (it is learned in community, I mean come on). So we try to practice hospitality to everyone. We learn more by sacrifice than we do in our illusions of safety.

There truly is nothing new under the sun. But we don't need new things--we have a long tradition to continue acting out in our lives. And that's way more exciting and fun than the modern idea, which is: "To each his own".It's why we answer questions with: "That might be good enough for other kids, but not for you. We're Christians. That's why Christmas is about giving. That's why it doesn't matter if you have new fashions or cool shoes and it's ok for people to think it's weird that you pray during share time and don't know what Nickelodeon is and you've never seen Hannah Montana except on backpacks at school. That's why we forgive each other and try to love the mean kids at school even if it's hard. It's who we are."

Why do Christians have kids? How does that impact how we raise them? How do we combat the individualism that has been a staple of our societies for 300 years? How hard is it to juggle the Christian way amid all the competing truth claims we hear?
Keep seeking in peace, hope and love,