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No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith

No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith
I’ve recently read Jim Belcher’s In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity (2013). Even though I had several issues with the book, I couldn’t put it down once I started reading and finished it in the space of one day. What’s the book about? After spending a decade planting and leading a church, raising four children, writing his first book, and fixing up an old house, the author found himself totally worn out and in deep need of spiritual rest. So, too, did his wife Michelle who desperately craved “some time away from the bubble that was pastoral ministry, where every decision or action was open to scrutiny, where private life was difficult to maintain.” So the couple took their four school-aged children and embarked on a yearlong sabbatical across Europe. In addition to recharging and recuperating, the plan was for them all to explore the biographies and places of some of the great heroes of Christian faith. Their pilgrimage sites included C.S. Lewis’s Oxford University, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary and place of imprisonment, Vincent Von Gogh’s asylum in Saint-Rémy, the French village of Le Chambon that served as a haven for 5000 or so Jews fleeing the Nazis and their French collaborators, and the key places in the life of Maria von Trapp (of Sound of Music fame), among others. The book was an inspiring read. I found myself entertaining thoughts of how some day in the distant future I, too, might manage to take an extended family trip that would also be rejuvenating, educational, and spiritually uplifting. What I had (and still have) a hard time identifying with, however, is a parental fear explicitly named by the author that served as another part of the rationale for the pilgrimage. In his own words, “we worried about [our children’s] faith—would they grow strong in their trust of God or would they fall away?” Belcher was especially concerned about what would happen when his kids went to college “and faced all the temptations of university life, both morally and intellectually”: would they “abandon the faith because it did not mean much to them…[because it would get] in the way of their happiness and success?” I can’t say that I share this fear, let alone concern. Granted, my kids are only 4 and 6 and so perhaps my time to worry will come later. (At this stage, my husband and I are preoccupied with much more basic concerns than spiritual maters, such as getting our 4 year-old to be less picky of an eater and teaching our 6 year-old how to have better impulse control.) On deeper reflection, however, my inability to relate to this apparently widespread  concern about passing down the faith is probably tied to my own baggage. When I majored in philosophy and religious studies in college, countless individuals from my evangelical Christian community (though fortunately not my parents) expressed worries that I would “lose my faith.” I remember being warned away from taking academic courses on Christianity or the Bible because they weren’t taught by “believers.” These fears of others only grew when I pursued a doctorate in theology and philosophy in graduate school. I resented their paternalistic interventions and wanted to pursue “the truth”—wherever that led me. [It would be appropriate here to note an important contrast: the Belchers tackled their fears for their children by providing them with more knowledge and experiences while members of my home community wanted to prevent me from having either.] Sure enough, one doesn’t emerge from a serious study of philosophy, theology, and religion unscathed and the faith that I had prior to these studies is...
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A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)

A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)
In the space of twelve days I will have taken two inter-continental and two transcontinental flights to attend two conferences. I will have slept in my own bed in sunny Los Angeles for only four of those nights and been away from my family in either Bochum, Germany or Chicago for the remaining eight. Thank God this kind of travel is far from normal for me. The conference in Germany was incredible. It was the second of three symposia organized by Dr. Markus Höfner (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät) and funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung on “Theo-Politics? Conversing with Barth in Western and Asian Contexts.” Some twenty or scholars  from Germany, the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China gave papers on the role of theology and the church in the political sphere. We were all in conservation with the thought of Karl Barth (1886-1968), some more critically than affirmatively or indirectly than centrally than others. What made the conversation so exciting was that the relationship between Christianity and either the state or civil society is so differently conceived in these  contexts: state-supported (Germany), disestablished but still culturally dominant (U.S.), and heavily regulated and/or suppressed in key ways (China); associated with the legacy of colonialism (Hong Kong), but a historic defender of indigenous and even aboriginal identity in another (Taiwan). Aside from contributing to discussions and taking a turn at moderating one long afternoon session (a job that I am oddly very good at), my task in this second symposium was to respond to Dr. Stephen Lakkis, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, who had given a thought-provoking paper about the ideal role of the church in Taiwan. (Next time around, someone will be responding to my extended paper on recent male circumcision controversies in Germany and the U.S.). Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) I am now in the midst of attending that second conference–the annual meeting of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM). Held at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, this year’s theme is the “Politics of Solidarity among Women of Color Scholars and Ministers.” With fond memories of my previous PANAAWTM experience and by judging from the warm interactions and high-quality discussions we had on the first evening, this year’s conference likewise holds great promise. (The responsibilities I must discharge here are two-fold: serve on a panel on “finding my scholarly voice” and lead a workshop on public speaking). As a feminist, I am committed to telling the less glamorous side of these experiences and to highlighting the costs borne by others for my participation. While the arrival of Spring Break cut down on the number of classes I’ve had to miss, I still had to cancel one seminar to make it to Germany. My husband sacrificed 3 vacation days to provide “schlepping” coverage (i.e., transportation of our kids to their two schools and back) and to spend more time with our children in my absence. At ages 4 and 6, they do not take my traveling for work well: my eldest cried when he heard that I was leaving for the first conference and my youngest was significantly more needy and clingy when I returned. Beyond that, my being at the first conference meant that I couldn’t attend something I would have otherwise really have enjoyed: a free surf lesson and beach day event sponsored by my parent’s church. In between those two conferences, my suntanned kids told (true) stories of dolphins they had cited frolicking in the waves, friends that they saw stand up (and also wipe-out) while surfing for the first time, and apparently one small fish they had managed...
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Everywhere I am surrounded by tales of violence

Everywhere I am surrounded by tales of violence
 As I write this blog, I am nearing the end of my week-long family vacation in Palm Desert. While we’ve had lots of fun splashing around in the pool, everywhere I turn I am bombarded by scenes and memories of violence. Vignette #1: We left on Sunday, July 14–the morning after a jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Regardless of what one thinks about the outcome, including the role(s) that race played in the altercation itself or the jury’s deliberations, the fact remains that 17-year old Trayvon Martin died as a result of gun violence (among other factors). That alone is something we should all grieve. Vignette #2: I like to catch up on news while on vacation but nearly regretted doing so when I came across this horrific story that took place in northeastern Brazil during a recent soccer match. On June 30, a 20-year old referee (Otavio Jordao da Silva) expelled 31-year old player Josenir Santos Abreu from a game, the two got into a fist fight, and then the referee pulled a knife and stabbed the player in the chest, who then died on his way to the hospital. Why the ref was carrying a knife in the first place remains unclear. The story quickly turns more grisly–a mob (comprised of angry players and spectators) stormed the field, stoned the referee to death, quartered his body, decapitated him, and then stuck his severed head on a stake in the middle of the field. I am at a total loss for words about this incident. Vignette #3: This morning, while browsing our hotel’s complimentary coffee table book about what to see, do, and eat in Palm Springs, I was struck by the glamorization of violence I read on one of their glossy pages. I reproduce it below in full: Frank Sinatra used to hoist a Jack Daniels flag to alert his Palm Springs Movie Colony neighbors–including Al Jolson, Jack Benny, and Cary Grant–that it was cocktail time. At this 1947 midcentury modern house designed by E. Stewart Williams, Sinatra reputedly threw then-wife Ava Gardner’s possessions onto the driveway after she tried to catch him with Lana Turner. Visitors to the house always look for the chip in the sink where Sinatra famously threw a bottle in a rage. You can see it, too. You can even rent the four-bedroom, seven bath Twin Palms Estate for a fun getaway for $2600 a night (there’s a three-night minimum and a $350 service fee). Of course, I get that interest in seeing the Twin Palms Estate is tied to celebrity worship and an appreciation for a particular style of architecture more than a love for violence per se, but I am troubled that tales of marital discord and violence presumably “up” the attractiveness quotient of this site. Vignette #4: Now closer to home, I am sad to report the lure of our culture of violence in my boys, ages 3 and 5, as well. As parents, our “no toy weapons” policy has meant that we’ve never bought them what so many of their peers have to keep cool in the summer–water toy guns. But in preparation for this trip, what we did instead was buy each of them a shark-themed water squirter. While they have been gleefully playing with their new toys on this trip, that hasn’t not stopped them from eyeing with envy, and asking to “have a turn” with, the water bazookas and  AK47 water guns that other boys at the pool have been daily playing with. Apparently, military-style weaponry, even of the toy variety, is just too tempting for my boys...
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No-Gift Birthday Parties

No-Gift Birthday Parties
We will be celebrating our oldest child’s fifth birthday in about a month. We will also be continuing a tradition we began two years ago—politely requesting “no gifts” at his party. Our parenting choices are apparently part of a growing trend. In a New York Times article entitled “Cake, but No Presents, Please,” author Tina Kelley states the following: In part to teach philanthropy and altruism, and in part as a defense against swarms of random plastic objects destined to clutter every square foot of their living space, a number of families are experimenting with gift-free birthday parties, suggesting that guests donate money or specified items to the charity of the child’s choice instead.  To be sure, “no-gift” children’s birthday parties are still more counter-cultural than commonplace. A blogger on workitmom.com who had just RSVPed to two such parties in one month was still struggling with the idea, noting that “it fe[lt] strange going to a kid’s birthday party without a gift. It’s just something that seems absolutely core to the experience, rightly or wrongly. Adult birthdays? That’s another story.” Recently, my brother and some close friends of ours with young children have asked us why we do what we do. I’ve told them some version of the following: Critique of greed and materialism: We don’t want our children to grow up thinking of gifts as the highlight of their birthdays or as the reason why we host parties for them. We want them to enjoy playing with their friends without asking or secretly wondering, “So, what did you get for me?” Hospitality: We don’t want to overload our guests with obligations. We are always happy when our children get invited to parties, but it’s not always easy for us to juggle nap schedules with schlepping them to the parties with figuring out childcare (e.g., if only one child has been invited) on top of buying or making a present for the birthday child beforehand. So, in service to our guests, we try to remove as many of those potential complications as possible (e.g., by inviting the guest’s entire family to attend). By stipulating “no gifts, please,” we also eliminate the perception that a present is their de facto admission ticket to our child’s party. Better stewardship of time and resources: for the past two years, we have invited guests at our son’s birthday party to channel their gift-giving kindness to people with greater need instead, such as our son’s school, UNICEF, Habitat for Humanity, or their charity of choice. Approximately 13 families ended up coming to our son’s fourth birthday party. I’m not sure how much they ordinarily would have spent on a gift for him, but we if assume $10 per family, then last year $130 was either donated to charity or otherwise saved (by not being spent). That is a sizeable amount of money, particularly in today’s hard economic times. We believe that the common good was served better this way than if those 13 families had spent time and money buying gifts for our child that he really didn’t need. These are values, in short, that emerge from my feminist and Christian commitments. (In case you are wondering, our “no gift” birthday party policy was a natural extension of our more than decades long practice of donating to various charities in lieu of buying or exchanging gifts for (adult) family members on Christmas. Because holiday gift-giving is such a large part of mainstream White American culture, it took several years for my husband’s family to come around. They have since come to see our practice as “win-win” for everyone, particularly since they no longer have to add our names to...
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Halloween Matters, Part II: Perspectives on Parenting

Halloween Matters, Part II: Perspectives on Parenting
“[W]e have not gone the store-bought, costume-in-a-bag route, even though we recognize that the proliferation of ready-made options is a godsend to time-strapped dual-career parents.” This is a continuation of a previous post about the shifting personal importance of Halloween. Now that I’m a mother of two young boys, I find that my husband and I are constantly looking for teachable opportunities. The holidays have accordingly become excellent ways for us not only to spend quality time together, but also to impart our values. We manifest our commitments even in something as simple as costume choices, as I explain below. (1)   We do not indulge the Manichean-like stage that our four-year old child is in. As befitting a boy his age, our primo is fascinated by superheroes and has asked on a number of occasions if he could be one for Halloween. Our answer thus far has been no. To be clear, we see nothing in principle problematic about young children aspiring to be bigger, stronger, or justice-seeking. Our problem with the cartoon or comic-book world of superheroes is that it often reduces all people into “good guys” and “bad guys” and thus provides a distorted picture of where evil is to be found. So we find ourselves constantly reminding primo that there are no good and bad people, there are people who make good or bad (or better or worse) choices. Until he is old enough to really understand that, we don’t think allowing him to dress-up like Superman or Batman would be best for his moral development. Our parenting strategy re: superheroes is continuous with the way we handle the issue of weapons−another one of primo’s current obsessions. (He loves to ask the police officers he bumps into on the street if he can see their gun and regularly asks us if he could have or even touch one of the (toy) weapons he always manages to spot whenever we go shopping). On this score, we also sound like a broken record. We regularly tell him some version of the following: “Guns are not toys; they are weapons that could seriously hurt or even kill people. When you are old enough and if you are still interested, we’ll take you to a shooting range where you can hold and shoot a real gun. But for now, you must not think of guns as toys.” (2)    We are intentional about scrutinizing our consumer choices. We resent the mindset that any holiday (Christmas included) should center on buying new stuff. For the sake of the environment, good stewardship of our resources, personal cost-savings, and to indulge our (infrequently employed) creative sides, we follow the reduce-reuse-recycle (or even upcycle) mantra where we can. With respect to Halloween costumes, this has meant that we have not gone the store-bought, costume-in-a-bag route, even though we recognize that the proliferation of ready-made options is a godsend to time-strapped, dual-career parents. Fortunately, primo’s first Halloween costumes involved no additional expense on our part. His uncle who had been living and working in Japan for some time and then-girlfriend (now wife), had given him a yukata or casual Japanese kimono made of cotton. We felt that it was cute, sufficiently costumey, and not politically incorrect (since one of the givers was herself a Japanese national), which is why primo wore it two years in a row. We scavenged what we already hade in our household for primo’s third and segundo’s first Halloween costumes and then supplemented what we found with a few items from the craft store.  Our 9-month old segundo last year went as ebi sushi. He already had dozens of white onesies from which to choose, and the shrimp,...
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