I am a self-professed ideologue. I like big ideas, theories, systems, and meta-narratives. As it relates to parenting, I like the thought of my kids learning Latin and Greek in elementary school, focusing on the great texts of western civilization, and having a curriculum that tracks with the "classical" Trivium. All good stuff. I like it and we're pursuing it by putting our kids in a local Classical Christian school.
Problem is, raising and educating good kids is not about third declensions and Homer - or even about learning a certain catechism.
In "The Tipping Point," Malcom Gladwell points out several studies on parenting that show "peer groups" turn out to be the most significant contributor to behavior and attitudes in our development - over and against "nature" or "nurture." He doesn't discount the role of genetics or of family environment, but points to studies of twins and non-twins that demonstrate that our peers are the biggest influence on our trajectory into adulthood. I was fascinated to learn that kids in bad / broken homes but good neighborhoods did well into adulthood, and vice versa. If you grow up in a strong family, but you fall into the wrong crowd and are surrounded by bad examples the risk of peril is much higher.
I don't think this is quite as simple as the "socialization" argument that anti-homeschoolers make. The socialization argument seems to be more about protecting kids from geekdom. Gladwell's point is bigger than that. The point is that we are communal beings and we will adopt the standards of the community we find ourselves in - or want to be a part of.
At one level, this is not a big surprise. We all know that "bad company corrupts good character." And yet... for so many ideologues like myself, we need to think very hard about what lengths we go to pursue certain educational goals while potentially isolating our kids from the community they NEED to have with their own peers. This is not easy, as many readers will readily acknowledge. We can't let our kids roam the neighborhood anymore. Public schools are overrun with children raised by the State. Little leagues are used as incubators for professional atheletes. Finding peer groups for our children is not an easy task at all.
As my children grow older, I know that I need to focus more on this "tipping point" in the lives of my boys. I may have to sacrifice some of my educational / catechetical ideals to pursue what they need in a peer group. After all, our kids are not ideas.
As you may have noticed, I've been reading a couple of books by Malcolm Gladwell, specifically, "The Tipping Point" and "Blink." His working thesis in both books is that the major movers in behavior and thought are not grand / macro schemes and theories, but small catalysts and subconscious reactions. Both are fascinating reads that I commend to you all.
I have to confess that I tend to agree with him - and yet I find his project unsettling. I've always been a big-picture / from 50,000 feet kind of guy. I've always leaned towards Gestalt, but Gladwell is shattering that lens. Instead of trying to see the totality of something to assess it, I need to look for smaller clues at a much lower level.
The implications of this are huge in business / marketing, theology, raising my kids, and pretty much every other area I operate. Making the switch from the macro-strategic to the micro-tactical is going to take awhile - and it scares me because I have always found comfort in meta-narratives and integrative frameworks.
Next post will be on how this is impacting my view of parenting. Stay tuned...
Over the past year I have heard more than a few Christians talk about the Song of Solomon as a marriage manual recounting and encouraging the joys of sexual intimacy. I understand how they get there and appreciate why they think it is important, but I believe this is an unfortunate perspective that deserves some reflection.
The book presents us with a back-and-forth love song between King Solomon and his Shulamite bride. Let's go ahead and camp out on this first point for a second. We have a song written by King Solomon, not a didactic piece of literature by Dr. Laura. Should we assume for a second that a love song from the pen of Solomon functions the same way a Billy Joel song functions in the 21st century? Is that really what it means to interpret the Scriptures "literally?" Let's try interpreting Scripture with Scripture.
What made Solomon great? Two things that rise to the surface are his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-31) and his completion of the Temple which ushered in the "glory days" of Israel (1 Kings 8-10). He was NOT known for his marital-sexual fidelity. In fact, it was his intermarriage with foreign women that was his greatest downfall and the downfall of Israel (1 Kings 11).
So let's review what we have established. We have 1) an ancient song, not an instruction manual or 21st century pop lyric. The Song is by 2) Solomon about the joys of marital intimacy and yet he was not known as a man of great marital faithfulness. Solomon's greatness was rooted in his 3) wisdom writings / songs (1 Kings 4:32) and his, 4) finishing of the Temple.
It would be misguided to take this very clear context and conclude that the Song of Solomon is really about the joys of marital sex. Marital sex is very joyous, but the Song of Solomon is making a much more important point about the King and His bride. The love that the King has for His bride and vice versa is a theme that cuts through all of Scripture (Exodus 34:15-16, Isaiah 54:5, Hosea, Eph 5:23ff, Rev 21:2). Israel was God's bride and the King was God's man for the people. Solomon is not talking about the joys of sex, but about the joys of the KINGDOM. Solomon is in effect saying that when God and His people are loving each other it is as good as marital sex.
The Song of Solomon is therefore an encouragement towards Christian community in the church. When the bride of Christ is loving the King it is very, very good. It is something Solomon was committed to before his folly and it is something we should be committed to as well.
Don't tell me that you "identify" with Jim, Pam, Dwight, Stanley, Ryan, Jan, Toby, Kevin, Angela, or for goodness sake, Creed. The reason we love "The Office" is because we painfully resonate to the inner-turmoil, relational struggles, and outward impetuousness of Michael Scott. I've heard people say, "Oh, Michael Scott is MY BOSS." But let's be honest here, I am Michael Scott and so are you.
The reason Michael Scott works so well as a character is that we have all tasted his relational / vocational failures and his mind's attempt to rationalize them. Dunder Mifflin is not unique to Michael Scott, it is symbolic our unglamorous lives. The need to call a meeting in the conference room for a semi-incoherent and self-aggrandizing rant is not far from our hearts. Completely inappropriate and non-politically correct thoughts are close to the tip our tongues. We cringe and laugh because Michael Scott reveals US. Don't tell me you can't relate to these words from the mouth of Michael Scott:
Guess what, I have flaws. What are they? Oh, I don't know. I sing in the shower. Sometimes I spend too much time volunteering. Occasionally I'll hit somebody with my car. So sue me... No, don't sue me. That is the opposite of the point that I'm trying to make.
Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it's not like a compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.
People are always coming to me. "Michael, I have a secret. Your the only one I trust." No thanks, because keeping a secret can only lead to trouble. Like I was watching Cinemax last weekend. This movie, Portrait of a... Prostitute something. Secrets of a Call... More Secrets of a Call Girl. And the lead character, Shila, is framed for murder. She goes on the run and winds up working at a bordello in Malibu. I don't, I don't want to live like that. I like it here. I don't want to be Shila, I like being Michael Scott.
I participated in a new small group this morning at church and we started by going around the table sharing testimonies. We came to one of the elder statesman of the church and he started by saying, "I became a Christian during my mother's second trimester." I don't believe he was kidding.
Beautiful. I love that statement. My pastor in Austin, TX, would say during baptisms that his hope and prayer was that the children of the church would never know a day they didn't know Jesus. Amen!
When the going gets tough and life gets a little hairy, here are the things I grasp onto:
1. The Fatherhood of God. I often find myself praying, "Our Father in heaven...," and just stopping there. Coming back to His unfailing love and my sonship is a bedrock of peace. I know how much I love my own kids - how much more does God love us? Infinitely more.
2. The birds. When I wake up in the morning because my mind is already racing ahead to the day's concerns, I hear birds chirping outside and I remember, "Look at the birds of the air. For they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matt 6:26) Birds are such an encouragement to me now. 3. The Holy Spirit. The benediction that my pastor uses is one I find myself saying over and over again to myself. He says, "Whatever circumstance you find yourself in this week, remember that you are right in the middle of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded by the love of God who sent Him, and filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit as together we love and serve the Lord..." It is good to know that I am never alone or left powerless. Thank God for sending another Helper!
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.
With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.
Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.
The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.
"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.
Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.
Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.
The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.
The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.
At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.
Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.
Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.
Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.
The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.
A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.
Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.
Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.
"Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it," said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti's health ministry.
Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.
"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."
"...although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful..." (Romans 1:21)
Why are men and women sinners? What is the root of our sinful nature? Was it Adam's pride or a Satanic power grab? Is it our tendency towards selfishness?
In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul teaches that our sin is fundamentally rooted in our failure to give thanks. Giving thanks to God and giving Him glory is what we were created for. When we fail to give thanks, sin will surely follow.
Things to meditate on...
1. How does this impact our understanding of the pre-fall covenant of "works" with Adam? 2. How can thanksgiving help us turn from sin? 3. How does this enhance our understanding of the Eucharist? (Gk = Thanksgiving)