Children’s Story

No, I’m not referring to fairy tales, though that’s a whole topic by itself.  In the course of my life as a PK (pastor’s kid) and musician, I’ve spent a lot of time in church.  Many of the non-liturgical churches I’ve visited have a designated time in the service for children.  Often the children collect an offering (who can resist handing an extra bill or two to a cute child?) and then gather at the front of the church to hear a story.  The story can be told by anyone, though it’s usually NOT the pastor, but some other adult or teenager (male or female), and the content can be taken from the Bible, personal experience, or nearly anything, really.  Most of the time, the storyteller will finish with some sort of moral (“Jesus loves you,” “obey your parents,” “don’t lie,” etc.) and it has recently occurred to me that the truth of what a congregation believes often lies in the children’s story.

For example, I recently took some piano students to perform the service music at a church, and while the main service featured a lot of talk about faith and grace, when it came time for the children’s story, the moral was pretty close to this, “Jesus is in heaven.  Satan gets you down.  Jesus gives you the tools so you can pick yourself back up and do all the things you need to do to get to heaven.”  I found this amusing, because for all of the anti-legalistic talk and focus on emotional connection, when it gets down to what they want their kids to know, it’s all about behaving the “right” way so God will like them enough to save them.  This might actually be a good thing in some ways, since the church endorsed separation of word and deed (say the right words and you will be forgiven, regardless of what your actions are) just makes for lots of self-congratulatory hypocrites.  What I mainly take away from this is how thin the veneer of religion on society can be at times–here are a group of people saturated in religious life, but they still know that the important thing to tell their kids is that behavior matters.  

(I probably should think about this some more so I have a better summary of what I really think about it, but if I waited for clarity and perfection, I’d never write anything.)

On the topic of “Jewish Minxes”

minx 

n.
1. A girl or young woman who is considered pert, flirtatious, or impudent.
2. A promiscuous woman.

Yesterday I happened to watch a short YouTube tribute to Christopher Hitchens.  Among the many clips from his presentations and debates was one in which he quotes David Hume,

“Which is more likely: That the whole natural order is suspended or that a Jewish minx should tell a lie?”

I’ve encountered this quote before, but this time it stuck in my head and made me sad, not because I harbor any particular illusions about virgin birth, but because Hitchens, in using this (albeit clever) quote, subtly condones the morals and judgment of patriarchal society past and present, who immediately assume that there are merely two choices: magic miracle or pregnant girl with a despicable, low character who schemed and lied because, well, she was a minx, a “wanton woman” as Merriam-Webster puts it.  Like C.S. Lewis’ “Liar, lunatic lord” trilemma (for more on this, visit Dustin’s website) in which he limits the options without thinking through the historical context, there are other options besides simply believing or condemning Mary.  

I’ve got several thirteen- to fifteen-year-old students right now.  Most of them belong to a conservative, tightly knit families and churches.  Even in our relatively modern and humane era, one of them getting pregnant would be required to carry the pregnancy to term, and would be kicked out of church school, ostracized by friends and possibly family until she turned eighteen or nineteen, possibly going on forever.  In their church community, the girls that have been known to have slept with their boyfriends, let alone gotten pregnant, must get married to remove the stigma and participate in community life without scarlet letters hovering overhead.   In light of my experience in this community, I can only imagine what fear and shame a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl in a rural community two thousand years ago must have felt at finding herself pregnant.  Divine origins aside, we can’t possibly know the circumstances for sure.  Maybe she was a flirt, maybe she was pious and retiring.  Perhaps she was seduced by some trusted or feared authority figure, perhaps Joseph couldn’t wait, or perhaps she was simply raped.  When she found she was pregnant maybe she was in denial.  After all, there are many young girls who think they won’t get pregnant if they only have sex once, or other similar (false) ideas.  In a less rational time, she could easily have dreamed that in fact her child was a miracle child from God, and taken the dream as a sign from heaven.  Quite possibly, she came up with the story and clung to it with the tenacity and desperation of a frightened teenage fresh out of options.  She probably wasn’t the only one to use this story as a cover, but her luck held and Joseph was either kindly or gullible and saved her from community ostracism by marrying her anyway.  

Regardless of the fine print in the story, I think we can do better than Hume or Hitchens, and speak gently about those whose religious or cultural circumstances force them into desperate straits.

Why Bother?

Tonight my father and I were reading over a series of posts on Facebook debating the evils of–wait for it–contemplative prayer (my father is a minister).  In the course of the discussion, my father was asked if he believed homosexuality is a sin.   He said no, further explaining that any sexual identity/drive/desire can fuel appropriate or inappropriate behavior.  He was of course rebutted by the man who baited him, who left logic aside, calling my dad a  “deceiver” and then explaining that while (apparently in every other case) temptation isn’t the same as sin, that homosexuals are because… Well, about this time my mother says something to the effect of “I don’t know why you participate in these debates?  They make me tired, and they don’t accomplish anything!”  Why bother?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the bothering is worth it.  Taking time to state your position, especially in the face of differing viewpoints, is valuable for a couple of reasons.  First, while the active participants have generally made up their minds, those listening or following the discussion may not have, particularly if the issue or angle is something they haven’t spent time considering before.  This happened to me regarding the concept of modesty.  Not something I’d ever really thought about at all;  it was never an issue growing up, and I’d never really listened or read anything on the topic.  When a friend of mine laid out his strongly held views on the topic, my mind reeled a bit, I was sure that I didn’t agree, but I wasn’t really sure why.  It was several months of thinking and reading and stewing on the topic (I must confess, the more I though about what he said, the madder I got) before I really knew what my position on modesty was.  You can be sure I know now, about as much as I know anything (I tend to see a lot of gray in life, as opposed to black-and-white).   I guess I should be thankful to my (misguided) friend for developing my world-view.

The second reason I think it’s worthwhile to participate in discussions might be more specifically related to my dad’s work.  Imagine a child of church members is homosexual, and the only voice of authority they hear condemns their very existence.  Regardless of any church’s official party line, that kid needs to hear that somone sees them as a valuable, normal human being, not as someone whose very essence requires extermination, and if they aren’t “cured”, it reflects further on their depravity and failure.

It seems to me that in a broader sense (outside of religion and churches), open diversity of viewpoints promotes tolerance and community in the long run.  We learn that not everyone thinks or lives just like we do, but that they are still intelligent human beings worth treating with respect.  And for all the people who feel isolated or without a sense of community, being able to read a blog or discussion (or listen to the radio, watch online etc.) and discovering “I’m not alone” can be a powerful experience.

For the record, I do not believe homosexuality is a sin, but that teaching a girl that her body is a source of shame, that she’s responsible for a man’s self-control and must dress to consider his thoughts and actions, rather than function, comfort, and aesthetics, and that she must always dress in a way that reminds her that she is a walking vagina first and human being with a brain second, that’s evil.

(An aside:  I find it funny that it’s no longer enough to go after Satan worshippers, churches must now attack anyone who prays to the right deity, but happens to focus on listening to that deity, rather than simply asking for special treatment and lots of money.  Kind of like it’s no longer enough to condemn abortion, now true believers must condemn contraception as well.)

Oh, and in writing today’s entry I think I’ve figured out why I’m attempting to blog.

My high school biology teacher was a tiny, bird-like woman, with a beak for a nose, and bright eyes that lit up every time she announced an upcoming test.  She was the best teacher I could have asked for, and I loved taking chemistry from her the next year even more.  Most of my classmates didn’t share my enthusiasm.  Apparently she’d been enormously popular with all her students in the 70’s, but by the time I showed up in her class, she’d grown brittle and had no time or patience for those who didn’t “get it” quickly, even if they tried hard.  She’d never married, and in the school’s religious subculture this meant no lovers, no boyfriends, no-one to take the edge off her loneliness or to come home to at night.  Even at the time, it was easy to see the damage done by years of perpetual isolation.

I find my self thinking of her sometimes.  When I find myself losing patience with a student, and know that it’s not the student at all but just my own “soul” if you will, freezing over.  Or when someone just makes me angry, and yes, it probably was their fault, but my visceral reaction has more to do with feeling empty and drained than anything they actually did or said.

My high school …

I’m not entirely sure why I’m starting this blog.  As much as I love reading anything and everything,  I’ve always hated writing.  I think I still do, mostly because I’m lazy about getting the whirling thought-fragments calmly organized in linear text.  Still, here I sit, putting down words.  I think it has something to do with sharing, and the human desire for community.  Perhaps those of us who are most inside our heads need to get some of the ego aired out?

I’m not yet sure what kind of blog this will be.  I debated doing some sort of food blog, paying tribute to such wonderful recipes as The Smitten Kitchen’s fabulous leek-and-kale potato knish or some sourdough pancakes.  Perhaps a studio blog, with tips and tricks for student motivation, complete with links to inspiring performances, the kind of impersonally personal blog I could share with a general sort of pride.

Unfortunately, the nagging voice in the back of my head reminds me that maintaining a closet full of neatly organized, compartmentalized boxes of self is driving me crazy.  So, as the purpose of my blog would be to reveal, rather than to conceal, I’m going to at least make an effort to integrate the bits and pieces of me.  As for the few friends and one random creep who actually read this, you may get treated to the occasional recipe or fabulous music video, since this will be a (likely short-lived) chronicle of, well, everything.

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