image by sarah mccoy photo

Friday, September 30, 2011

Orientation of Obligation (Part 2)

Just a few more thoughts to follow up on Tuesday’s diatribe.  You see, the orientation of our sense of obligation has a lot of more mundane implications for our daily behavior, and a Wife of Leisure has time to sit and ruminate on these.

For instance, does an ethic of obligation to others mean a life of overcommitment, an overstretching of energies?  Perhaps.  This is like legalism.  We take a good thing (I care about others) and turn it into an absolute dictum (I should spend all my energy on others) or worse, an idol (I get my highest satisfaction from appearing selfless).

We all know people, or have been people, who stretch ourselves too thin.  Time is like money, to be budgeted.  There is only so much to go around, so when we allocate it, we expose our priorities.  In my case, this explains the number of hours each week spent in making brownies versus practicing the piano.

And now the reverse: what does an extreme of obligation to self look like?  Besides the dramatic examples in part one, here are some thoughts.

What if someone told you something juicy and added, “Please don’t tell anyone”?

If you then told just your mom or your best friend, but added “she said not to tell anyone, so don’t tell anyone else,” would that be ok?

If you start from a premise of obligation to self it might seem fine to tell just one person.  You could even try to sanctify it by passing it along as a prayer request.  A good test: would you want the friend to know you’d told?  One of the most astounding facets of old English novels like those of Austen or Dickens or the Brontes (yes, this is a sad addiction of mine) is the way characters keep painful secrets indefinitely.  They value trust even when it causes long-term discomfort.  It strikes me profoundly precisely because it is a value so absent today.

Or what if you really loved someone who wasn’t your spouse?  You’d again have a choice determined by the primary direction of your sense of duty.  To tell the secret you are bursting to share or not?  To follow the tug of breathless and forbidden romance or not? 

Obligation to self above others is essentially license to do whatever we want, regardless of whom we hurt.  “I only told one person!” will not assuage the anger of your betrayed friend.  “I’m a better mom when I’m happy” may work better for mom than for the kids who forever after straddle worlds.  And where is God in any of these calculations of emotion?  We can’t please everyone, but we can be honest about to whom our greatest obligation is due.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Orientation of Obligation (Part 1)

I stumbled on an Atlantic article written in the early 1990s discussing the various negative effects of family disruption (to include death of a parent and births out of wedlock, but also any combination of co-habitationàmarriageàdivorceàre-co-habitation/remarriage of one or both biological parentsàpossible subsequent divorces of those parents, and so forth) on the well being of children.

Even then, the author acknowledged that the data could rarely be discussed (or the crisis level of the numbers addressed) because of the simultaneous outcry that such data put undue stress on single mothers doing their best, and that all family structures ought to, in an age of Holy Egalitarianism, be considered equally beneficial.  Today, I’m sure the objections on these grounds are more, not less, adamant.

The author, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, posited:

“There are several reasons why this is so, but the fundamental reason is that at some point in the 1970s Americans changed their minds about the meaning of these disruptive behaviors. What had once been regarded as hostile to children's best interests was now considered essential to adults' happiness…At about the same time, the long-standing taboo against out-of-wedlock childbirth also collapsed. By the mid-1970s three fourths of Americans said that it was not morally wrong for a woman to have a child outside marriage.”
This brings me back to the original quote that had me googling Whitehead to begin with.  I failed to note where I’d seen her quoted (probably on one of the sites in my blogroll) but her observation was that our sense of ethical obligation had shifted; obligation to others had ceded primacy to the now sacred obligation to self.

“Once the social metric shifts from child well-being to adult well-being,” Whitehead continues, “it is hard to see divorce and nonmarital birth in anything but a positive light.”

It’s all about priorities, then.  Aren’t decisions always?

And yet it’s not always a decision, is it?  “To be sure,” the article adds, “not everyone exercises choice in divorce or nonmarital birth. Men leave wives for younger women, teenage girls get pregnant accidentally—yet even these unhappy events reflect the expansion of the boundaries of freedom and choice.”

So for me, that’s where it lies.  The worship of Choice.  It’s a natural extension of the obligation to self-fulfillment.  We seek total control over every area of our lives. 

And so we have new ethical dilemmas, like given that it’s now A-ok to selectively kill off embryos from in vitro fertilization, can we also selectively kill a natural twin in utero?  This is discussed here, as a weighing of natural squeamishness against the ultimate need of the parents to control their comfort level in life.  But no matter the ethical issue, if we know the cultural temperature, we can predict the outcomes.  In a few years, I promise no one will squirm about natural twin pregnancy “reduction” because the equation is formulaic.  Obligation to self yields subordination of the interests of others (so, subordination of child’s well-being to parent’s romantic life, or of child’s life to parent’s projected inability to juggle busyness).

Question: is there any data to support the notion that seeking one’s own interest at any cost actually even leads to satisfaction?  Because my observations suggest just the opposite.  A wish-list grows fangs when paid too much attention.

Perhaps we could simply reframe this whole thing as cultural acceptance of the ancient wish to be God.  Now.  Does anyone know how to RE-stigmatize something?

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Leisurely Welcome...

On a personal note, it's been a week of momentous happenings.  A judge signed into permanence what we've all known since Tet and Bubs brought her home seven months ago: that Dumpling is part of the family!

Not to be outdone, this little Rose Petal (our brother's newest addition) made her appearance two days later.  Two more neices; there'll be no shortage of playmates for Gale Force in years to come!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thoughts for September (Part 3)

Says Dorothy Sayers,

"Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read? We find a well-known biologist writing in a weekly paper to the effect that: "It is an argument against the existence of a Creator" (I think he put it more strongly; but since I have, most unfortunately, mislaid the reference, I will put his claim at its lowest)--"an argument against the existence of a Creator that the same kind of variations which are produced by natural selection can be produced at will by stock breeders." One might feel tempted to say that it is rather an argument for the existence of a Creator. Actually, of course, it is neither; all it proves is that the same material causes (recombination of the chromosomes, by crossbreeding, and so forth) are sufficient to account for all observed variations--just as the various combinations of the same dozen tones are materially sufficient to account for Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and the noise the cat makes by walking on the keys. But the cat's performance neither proves nor disproves the existence of Beethoven; and all that is proved by the biologist's argument is that he was unable to distinguish between a material and a final cause."

If this makes you giggle, or you want to hear Dorothy criticize more people and ideas, or you want to know how all this relates to Classical Education, here's the whole essayThe Lost Tools of Learning is the most concise, convincing, and sometimes hilariously scathing assessment of educational methods you can find.  Observations like those in the sampling below are probably more distressingly reflective of today's world than the one in which it was written. 

"...The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects--but does that always mean that they actually know more?

...Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?

...Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side?

...Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

...Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly, and properly documented, and one that is, to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?"

Why yes, Dorothy.  Yes I am.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Different Defense of Marriage

Russell Moore packing a punch...

"Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Few Christians take Robertson all that seriously anymore. Most roll their eyes, and shake their heads when he makes another outlandish comment (for instance, defending China’s brutal one-child abortion policy to identifying God’s judgment on specific actions in the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or the Haiti earthquake). This is serious, though, because it points to an issue that is much bigger than Robertson.

Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her."  Read more.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thoughts for September (Part 2)

Today brought an end to this:

And a beginning to this:

Truthfully, part of the motivation to homeschool in California is the theoretical possibility of more beach time even during the school year.  But here are some more cerebral inducements, particularly of the Classical method.  The best part is, if you like some of them, you can work them in even if your child goes to a traditional school.

First, if Classical education is as foreign to you as it was to me last year, here’s a really rough overview.  You cram lots of information into the little brains while they are in that sponge-for-memorization phase.  Latin conjugations, historical facts, mathematical laws, more historical facts, Bible verses.  They can cite the primary inventions that catalyzed the industrial revolution, explain the use of a guillotine and list the seven types of biomes, whether or not they know what that even means. 

Understanding comes in phase two, when they begin to integrate subjects and put the knowledge to use through writing, debate and discourse.  In the final phase, they demonstrate mastery through teaching back the information.  The idea is that through this process a kid learns how to learn.  He acquires the tools to master any subject he chooses.

Here are some of the ideas (none of them mine) that I’m excited about:

1.  Memorizing a Timeline.  We do this at home, but my friend whose daughter goes to a private kindergarten also uses history flashcards on the side to cement in a broad overview of world history.  This way, anything our daughters one day read, even novels, will have a ready context to fall into in their minds.  If it has a place to file mentally, whatever they read will stick.

2.  Mapping.  We trace maps daily: American states and capitals, geographical features, the continents, the countries of Africa or Asia or what have you, over and over in colorful dry erase marker.  Kids like it, especially if you put on music for them, and over time, they develop an internal picture of the whole world.  Can you conjure an accurate map of Europe and commit it to paper?  I don’t have that power, but I love that Songbird will.

3.  Reading Biographies.  Kids love to read and be read to.  A mom in our group recently suggested that biographies, unlike dry treatments in academic texts, make historical figures as large and colorful as Captain Jack Sparrow.  History that engages the imagination makes a lasting impact.  So between Charlotte’s Web and Harry Potter, squeeze in a little Teddy Roosevelt and Clara Barton.  How simple!

In the spirit of  educational fun, here and here are some most ridiculous biographies available in board books!  I don’t think the humor is intentional, but we have been laughing (and giving them as shower gifts) for years.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts for September (Part 1)

Will every blog on the Internet choose to center its theme on educational topics this month?  I can’t account for them all, but this one will because I like having a subject provided, and also I’m just really, really excited about school this year.

Songbird starts her K4 year tomorrow in a classical home school program, and both kids start Italian classes in a few weeks.  Add soccer and Sunday School and the Zoo and you’ve got the kind of do-it-yourself hodge-podgey lifestyle that inspires me.  Also, it lets us sleep in.

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking lately about various types of schooling and the merits of each.  Having attended both a terrific public school and a great private prep school myself, and having chosen yet a third option for our kids, I’m not one of those who is passionately devoted to one educational style as likely to make or break a child. 

Cookie and I obviously believe there is merit in both homeschooling and in classical methodology, else we wouldn’t have decided on it for our family.  But, at the risk of alienating some of my more dogmatic homeschooling peers, I’ll agree with William P. Farley when he suggests that the success of our parenting (read: teaching) won’t hinge on any classroom experience.

What is the goal of Christian parenting?  And what is the goal of education?  For us, those goals are one and the same: that our kids would become effective ambassadors of Christ in the world.  Of course, we have also done enough research to be confident that our kids’ education will put them in good standing for college and career paths, but I know in my heart that money and prestige are at best incidental to contentment, at worst an impediment.  So while we’ve chosen classical homeschooling, the best part about its academic rigorousness is that it prepares our kids to be leaders and communicators—for Christ.

But here’s why in another sense, it doesn’t even matter too much.  Most of my schoolteacher friends will tell you that it’s not the curriculum or the Smart classrooms or the removal of sugary sodas from school lunches that make education stick.  Success or failure nearly always comes down to the parents.  The ones who rely on the schools to impart knowledge and wisdom, to teach ABCs and values all together, are the ones whose kids struggle.  The ones who read books at home and puzzle out homework together are the ones who succeed even in lower rated districts.  The parent is the primary teacher, every time.

And what if your hopes for your child’s spiritual development trump even your goals for his SAT score?  The same holds true, it seems.  Farley, a pastor whose kids have experienced the gamut of educational options, writes of other Christian families he’s known,

“Some children thrived. Their youthful faith blossomed in adulthood…Others did not fare so well. Many have completely abandoned their parents’ faith. Why? …The results appear to have nothing to do with where the child was educated…The common denominator between success and failure seems to be the spiritual depth and sincerity of the parents, especially the spiritual depth and sincerity of the father. There seems to be a strong correlation between the faith, commitment, and sincerity of the family’s head and the spiritual vitality of his adult children” (Gospel Powered Parenting).

When the gospel invades family life, spilling into conversation and informing decisions, children see that it is genuine and powerful.  The evidence of the parents’ lives bolsters the words spoken.  What is genuine is respectable, and a parent who is respected gains his child’s ear.  He gets to convey his values, his insights.

Ecclesiastes 7:12 predicts, “…the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.”

Knowledge can be found in a public school or private, Christian or charter.  But the wisdom to wield knowledge, that is the duty of a parent to impart. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Excuses and the Art of Base Jumping

“Submission does not limit a woman's gifts, but provides a safety zone in which they can flourish...In some cases, submission means that at we heed our husband's encouragement to step out and use our gifts, even if we are hesitant or afraid.”

Yes, ladies of girltalk, from whose current series I drew this quote, YES.  Submission is such a many-faceted subject that any five women might find five separate aspects to hate and squirm under.  This quote is, I think, intended to encourage those who balk at being led.  To me, it is a challenge.

You might say I am great at submitting.  I relish the chance not to decide.  This is not to say that I lack opinions or any force of conviction to back them up.  But I like to have the burden of expression, of execution, of responsibility for the results, removed when possible.  I like to think quietly to myself, “I think we should play a C# minor there,” while saying aloud, “What chord were you thinking of playing?” so that if the choice is C# minor, I can say, “That’s what I thought!” while avoiding the blame if another choice should end discordantly.  I am a coward.

For a coward, the part of submission that pinches is the part that edges her out of the safe enclosures of indecision and inaction.  I think the trick is for the godly husband to throw the unwilling wife out there while also tossing the safety net beneath her.  Cookie may say, “Your songs are better than so-and-so-on-the-radio’s.”  He might also say, on first hearing my new song, “I just don’t really like it.”  Shrug.  Or, “If you’re not going to go out and play, stop whining about how other people are out there playing.”  Or just, “Go practice.”

So tonight, I came into my bedroom with my hair in a towel, novel in one hand, wine glass in the other.  “I think I won’t write tonight after all,” I said, flopping on the bed.

“Have you written in a while?” he asked, eyes on his laptop screen.

“Well, not in a few weeks.  My brain is fried.  I should probably read more, don’t you think? Get my thoughts coherent or something?  Get some sleep?  Can I legitimately call myself a Wife of Leisure if I choose to write when I want to read?”


He never did look up, and may not have yet, but as you can see, I did decide my wine might be better sipped at my writing desk.

The thing about leadership and cowards is that sometimes when you’re being a coward, what you really need is to be told that you’re being a coward, or a sluggard, or whatever you might be, and that somebody else knows it.  Then the whether or nots of having slept or read or gotten a babysitter or myriad other obstacles to action fall away.  The choice becomes, to cower or not?