Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tribute

When I married my husband, I got the better part of the deal....at least that's what I always tell him. He married into my quirky, sometimes crazy, chaotic family and I married into a stable, loving, nuclear family.

That was almost 14 years ago.

Besides my husband, our marriage, and our two children, the next best thing I got from marrying him was my in-laws; generous, kind, loving people who welcomed me into their family. It's been a cherished gift that I have received through no effort of my own. For someone like me, who is always enforcing personal boundaries and consciously evaluating the level of trust that I imbue to people who are close enough to me to hurt me, it was a revelation.

I had nothing to fear from these people. No passive aggressive criticisms. No hidden agendas. No backstabbing gossip about me to others. No sudden changes in mood towards me.

This past weekend I lost half of that gift...which is nothing compared to what my husband, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law lost. My husband and his sister lost a caring father. My mother-in-law lost her best friend and mate of 42 years.

Needless to say, they are all devastated. I'm mainly numb except for the few moments when I think about the conversations that would spontaneously crop up with my father-in-law. Occasionally, when we would visit, I would find myself alone with him and by asking a few questions could get him to open up and talk about his past as a fighter pilot.

He would recount flying over the desert in the Southwest, watching atom bombs being tested, before everyone realized how dangerous that was, flying blind in bad weather, missing the opportunity to be an astronaut by a few years.

There are these little moments embedded in my psyche, some of which I am unsure of why they stuck. I remember one trip to an ice-cream shop with the entire family. We sat at a laminate covered table, with a fan whirring overhead in the thick Florida heat, while he reminisced about his mother's coconut cake, warm out of the oven, covered in melting icing and sprinkled generously with coconut. It was his favorite desert made by his mother.

I remember him handing off magazines like Discover or Neurology Now, telling me I should read a certain article. I remember political conversations, with him consistently representing the Republican side, except for the occasional stray, anomalous political idea. I remember him always asking if we wanted something to eat or drink, or waving a bowl full of candy corn, or nuts, or fruit gems before us as we were seated, looking for co-participants for his snacking habits.

I remember countless dinners at my in-laws' home. I remember countless dinners at restaurants....dinners which we were never allowed to pay for. Trying to get a dinner check and pay for it was an exercise in futility.

I remember a questioning man looking to me for an answer, quite out of the blue, about why his oldest son from his first marriage wouldn't visit him. We sat on the lanai as I struggled to come up with an answer, to reassure him that his oldest son didn't hate him....that whatever reasons he had for not coming, were his own. There was pain and longing in his voice and watering eyes as I fumbled for a way to encourage him, feeling as if I was failing miserably.

This past week that son managed to come visit his father on his death bed. His father recognized him and was happy to see him. It was a good moment. An unspoken reconciliation for both of them.

My father-in-law was a good man. He was never unkind. He was always magnanimous. He was open and friendly. He was a good husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather to us all.

He will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Spiritual Motivation

My son came home today and told me that he had done something wrong. The Rationalist has a very sensitive conscience, so this is nothing new. He frequently thinks he has done something wrong and will self-enforce his own confession and punishment. I actually spend a lot of time moderating his severe expectations of himself, reassuring him that everyone makes mistakes sometimes.

Today, though, he really had done something wrong. He had participated in a game that targeted a particular kid in school. This particular child has been bullied for a while and was the target of a fight I broke up a few months ago on the way home form school.

Kids apparently taunt him and avoid being near him. If someone inadvertently touches him, everyone says,"Oh no he/she's got the E--- touch. Don't let him/her touch you!" and they all scatter. The Rationalist was carried along in this game today.

He felt badly about it. Where I would normally reassure him and tell him he was being too hard on himself, I instead agreed that he was wrong. I pointed out how terrible it would be to go to school every day and not have just one or two kids be bratty to you, but to have whole groups of kids making fun of you over and over again...to be the object of a game....to be ignored and excluded by just about everyone.

"You're better than that," I said to The Rationalist.

The Rationalist declared he was going to apologize to E---. After probing a little more, I discovered that E--- was unaware of what was going on. I told The Rationalist that apologizing would probably cause more harm than good, because the only way to apologize would be to reveal to E--- that he had been targeted again.

"Sometimes, when you make a bad choice, there is no solution. There's no way to take back what you've done. Sometimes an apology can't make things right. The only way to make things right is not to do what you did again."

The Rationalist was not happy with this speech. He had hoped that he would be able to assuage his guilt with an apology and receive forgiveness.....because that's how we do things at home.

When one of us loses it and yells, or acts particularly obnoxious, or is simply grumpy and short-tempered(adults included) an apology and forgiveness is soon to follow....if not soon, then eventually. ;-)

In the rest of the world, without loving, established relationships motivating reconciliation, apologies can be weak medicines indeed, especially if they are not turning points towards new, better behaviors. Everyone knows what it's like to receive an apology as an insincere appeasement......as a placeholder stopping up the gap before the next offense.

Should I have told my son that he disappointed God, or that he made the baby Jesus cry? That he was in danger of hellfire?

No. It would have done no good.

He didn't need more motivation to know how wrong what he had done was. He already knew that. What he needed was a way forward, an acknowledgment that he was off the mark, but that it didn't mean that he had to stay there.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Is Sin What We Want?

James McGrath linked to a post by Richard Beck on his blog, Experimental Theology. I wanted to quote a large portion of his post addressing universalism and the motivation for evangelism if there is no hell:
And this vision of things also helps address another common question asked of universalists: "If everyone is getting to heaven why not just live it up in this life?" Again, seriously? If you have to ask this question I have to wonder if you're even a Christian. Because you are basically claiming that the life of sin is "better" than the abundant life found in Jesus, that people would prefer sin, today, over the Kingdom of God. You are insinuating that the Christian proclamation isn't good news.

And I think that's really the heart of the issue. If you ever hear a person raise these questions about mission, evangelism or calling people out of a life of sin you are dealing with a person who doesn't really believe in the good news. Because hellfire appears to be the only motive for evangelism these people can imagine. They can't compute a proclamation of joy. Hellfire also appears to be the only motive for calling people out of a life of sin. No hell, no reason to give up sin. Sin, in this view, is the best! Sin is the party, not the Kingdom.

Maybe this is why people who believe in eternal torment are so grumpy, mean-spirited, and miserable. If hell is the only motive for coming to God, if sinners are the one's having the most fun, well, of course these "turn or burn" Christians are unhappy. They've been called out of a fun and joyous life into the Kingdom of God where all is proper, boring, structured, grey and lame. But hey, at least they aren't going to hell! So there they sit in their churches, jealous and grumpy that the world is throwing a party that they can't attend because they had to dress up and go to church on Sunday. No wonder these sorts of Christians want the world to go to hell. They are jealous.

I can't say that I agree with all of the imputed judgements made about people who believe in eternal torment. I think the reasons people cling to certain beliefs can have many roots and those roots can be very complex systems that reach deep beneath the surface of individuals.

On the other hand, I wholeheartedly concur with his criticism of common attitudes about sin. I have often heard Christians declaring that if they found out that the Resurrection never happened that they would lose all faith and live like heathens. They would see themselves as desperately flocking to sinful, hateful behaviors without the check of their Christian faith holding them back.

I don't know what to think when I read people make comments like that on blogs, as if living life in a sexual, drug and alcohol fueled fury would be some kind of awesome life.

To all of those who think that way, I have only two words....Charlie Sheen. Does he seem happy? Wait, you say. Charlie's not a good example.....after all he's probably mentally imbalanced, right?

Maybe. But think of all of the people in your life who are truly miserable. They are probably people who live selfishly, impulsively, and without regard for the consequences of their own actions.

"Sin" is not a party. Or, maybe it is. It's the party that the cops show up at, kicking drunk, vomiting teens out of a trashed house filled with beer cans, drug paraphernalia, and unconscious others who over-imbibed.

I don't think people ever stop "sinning" because they are afraid of eternal damnation. They stop because they realize that sin never gives anything....it only ever takes. It makes you into a person that you don't want to be. It doesn't give peace, it only disrupts your serenity.

If there is any good news it is in the fact that there is another way to live; there is hope; there are second chances; there is the possibility and realization of redemption.

There is no need to sustain the idea of eternal torment as a way to make living the Christian life more appealing.

***update***

I swung by D'MA's blog at Gullible Travels and thought her post was relevant and an example of how some Christians think of sin.

A quote from one of D'ma's fellow Sunday School attendees:
The teacher starts out, "For the believer God's commands are a protection from self-destruction. How do non-believers view God's commands?"

Other attendee: "Unbelievers reject God's commands because they don't want to be accountable. Men want to go out and party and have adulterous affairs and not feel they have to answer for it. Women want to drink and have one-night stands and not feel guilty."
Sin = having a great time.....Faith = missing out on all the good stuff! ;-)

Everyday Gender

I recently revealed that I was coaching my sons' soccer team this season and discussed all of the trepidation that I feel about that, largely because I have so little experience with soccer. Still, I forged on ahead figuring that I would fake it until I make it. So far so good, but my internal dialogue has been going strong as I have introduced myself to parents and to the Director/Head Coach of the league.

It hadn't occurred to me that the Head Coach might not have known that I was a woman. All of our interaction had taken place through e-mail. When I showed up on Thursday night to pick up the uniforms for our team, he had this strange, bemused expression on his face. It took me all of three seconds to realize that he probably didn't know the rule that Terri-with-an-i = female version of a unisex name, and that Terry-with-a-y = male version of a unisex name. I pretended as if I didn't realize that he was surprised and picked up the uniforms, trading a little banter back and forth about hoping this wouldn't be a total disaster, and left.

Because my life is so isolated in many ways, I hardly ever think about the interplay of gender on a daily basis. My family life and work life keep me busy, and I don't really perceive any huge gender discrepancies. I work and live within a very comfortable, defined bubble that suits me well. I blog and comment with men and women all the time and don't ever feel ignored because of my gender....though that may be because I don't frequent blogs with audiences that would automatically disregard me because of my gender.

Picking up the uniforms in a crowd of uber-masculine, jock-type men and being the only woman there instantly brings gender self-consciousness to the forefront of my mind. It isn't because anything overt occurs. No one ever says or does anything to make it happen; it's simply thrown in stark relief....one of these things is not like the others. It's jarring to be the not like the others person in the room.

My general attitude about women stepping into roles that are traditionally masculine, or trying to make headway in groups that naturally exclude women from leadership in usually unspoken ways, is to simply move forward. Pretend as if you are unaware of the underlying mindset and just do what you came to do.

A sort of "it's easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission" motto.....though am I really ever going to beg forgiveness for being female? Uh...that's a big NO....not ever.

Saturday was game day. My team slowly straggled in while the opposing team was fully present and practicing 30 minutes before the game. I had wanted the same thing to happen for us...but we apparently have punctuality-challenged parents on our team.

The other team's coach introduced himself, wished us luck and the game started. They scored 4 times in the first ten minutes as I evaluated my players and figured out who was good at what, having kids switch positions, subbing them in and out, trying to find the right combination of players to fight the team who was killing us.

By the second quarter we figured it out. We managed to score a point, causing me to jump and shout "WooHoo!" in a very obnoxious way. We never scored again but we also completely shut down the other team. They never made another point against us and we were all over them as I shouted and gave instructions from the sidelines.

It was probably hilarious entertainment for anyone who knew that I was relatively clueless about what I was doing.

The Head Coach came up to me afterwards laughing and telling me that I cracked him up but that we did well. The other team had been together for the last 2 seasons and they were tough competition. I wondered if he would have told a male newbie that he "cracked him up". Still, I'll take my slightly condescending praise where I can get it.

The only problem with becoming self-conscious about gender, or any difference, is that it hovers in your mind, always present as you make decisions. Now, I am wanting to do well because I don't want our team to perform awfully and have it blamed on my gender. I don't want the parents to lose confidence in me and automatically assume that I won't do as well as a male coach. I'm investing too much psycho-drama into a kids soccer league.

I wonder if men ever think about gender differences in this kind of way. Do they walk into a room of women at work and wonder how they are being perceived? Do they feel as if they have to prove something to the other gender about unspoken assumptions?

I don't know. Do they?

I know there are a lot of male readers/commenters out there occasionally. Let's hear what you have to say. Do you ever have these inner gender dialogues going on in your head?