Sunday, December 14, 2008

NYC, Chicago, and LA

Did you know that sticks of butter are long and skinny east of the Rockies, and short and fat west of the Rockies?! I knew the Hellman's/Best Foods and Edy's/Dreyer's brand thing, but I just realized the butter difference this afternoon while visiting my family in California.

OK, I know, it's kind of weird to obsess over butter anatomy. But comparing regional oddities is just about holiday tradition with my family. Big city heritage is something that I love about my family.

My dad and I are Orange County natives, or "LA suburbs" as I explain east of the Rockies. My husband John is a Chicago native, and my mom Leslie hails from NYC. We love to sit around and compare our big city experiences almost every time we are together. We laugh at the stereotypes, make fun of each others' city quirks, envy each others' best city qualities. We learn a lot about our country's big metro areas without having to spend a penny, which is good, since we already had to fly half of us to Cali!

LA - Leslie observes that it's not all fruits and nuts, as you might be led to believe. There are an awful lot of grandma-types who eat pot roast and where regular clothes. Whodathunk.

Chicago - It's midwestern compared to the coasts, but not really that much downtown, observe John and Leslie. People still don't make eye contact a whole lot. Probably because they are overwhelmed with masses of people, like in any big city, notes Dad.

NYC - I think this city has a ton of unique culture. Leslie (the native), says that especially in Manhattan, there isn't actually much homogeniety at all. A bunch of people from who knows where do a huge variety of who knows what.

Stereotypes at work again. They help get us going on communication. I don't know which is more fascinating to me - figuring out the stereotypes, or uncovering the flaws in them.

What is your city like? Are the stereotypes true, or not?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A family AND a village

"It takes a village to raise a child." African proverb, title of Hillary Clinton's book, 1996

I was in Abby's classroom (kindergarten) again yesterday - I continue to be amazed at the community that exists at the school, at all the caring people that make the place "go", at all the children whose lives are touched there for at least six hours every day. During my last twenty minutes there, one little boy sat next to me, leaning, sprawling, and wiggling as close as he could get. He was in "time out", a place where he had landed because he was clamoring for attention. That I could provide him with just a bit of that one-on-one attention for a few minutes made my day - and got me thinking again.

I'm going to start with stereotypes - which are not usually perfect but at least provide a point of reference and some truth. When raising children, it seems to me that many Christians believe that their family (or at most, church family) is the only safe place for their young kids (0-10+ yrs?) to be. To that end, they may choose Christian schools, church sports leagues, after-school church clubs, Christian books, Christian cartoons, home school, church-based service, only Christian friends. I think of ripples of uproar among Christian adults that I knew when Hillary Clinton wrote "It takes a village" in 1996. The thinking went, "Our children are up to us, God forbid that the government should start raising them." But I think that they missed the point completely.

I do believe that our families (Christian or not) lay the foundation for our kids' lives. But what I glimpse in the actions above is that some Christians don't really want to be a part of the "village" (or you could say, the neighborhood). They don't really want to be served by secular schools or sports or clubs. Let me try hard to distill my thoughts here. I acknowledge that they are kind of one-sided, but that's what I've got for now.
  • If I expect the village to raise my children, I may neglect to work hard at teaching values and character at home.
  • If I expect the village to raise my children, I may blame others when my children don't turn out as planned.
  • But, if I overvalue the family (and church), I am essentially devaluing the community I live in. The teachers, coaches, club leaders, mentors - they are not good enough for me and my kids. Invite them to Jesus, when my kids are too Christian for their group?
  • When I choose to keep my kids out of general public activities, I withdraw myself too. I give less to the elementary school down the street, the park district sports league, the Girl Scouts. I'm less likely to go volunteer with any of them, because my daughter isn't involved.
  • My kids are going to grow up and eventually live in this "village". Will they avoid it just like me? Will their neighbors, coworkers, janitors, etc. be the kids who we didn't get involved with so many years before?
  • Finally, I think back to the little boy cuddling up next to me at school. Some kids, even many kids, don't have a family that is as strong as they need. They need others in the village to love them, teach them, befriend them. If I live like family is the only place to raise a child right, I am ignoring the needs of millions of kids who have only a village to depend on.
And that is all that I have time to write today. What do you think? What is the balance between family and community? Why do you think that? I want to know.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A matter of perspective

Last post, I wrote about the movie "Religulous" - and how many aspects of the concepts of religion and faith can indeed seem ridiculous. Sometimes dramatic or tragic experiences change that idea. But maybe a chance for a different perspective is closer than I realize.

My dad commented - "I think a lack of faith is also a result of having too much of a city life. If all you ever see is what man has done, you can miss out on what God has done." I connected with that. I'd never really thought of it that way. It's places like home and sometimes even church, stuck inside of four beige walls, that I lose perspective.

So here's when the perspective changes - on a family camping trip, Nov. 4 this year. Our celebration of Election Day was to run for the woods!

Perspective on a grand scale. Since I was a kid, I have loved the outdoors - many childhood hikes with my own family have now turned into taking my own kids to parks and on hikes in literally every place that we visit. I never realized it, but I never wonder if God exists on those hikes. It just seems obvious that Someone infinitely bigger than me has created the mountains, rivers, creatures, etc. around me. In those moments, it is OK to not understand that Someone. I usually just hike and enjoy the scenery!

Perspective on a tiny scale. Also since I was a kid, I have been also been fascinated by small things in science. This fascination has been reawakened this year as I have been teaching a few chapters of biochemistry to my pre-nursing students. When I read and teach about the intricacies of how changing just a few atoms can alter a drug or the expression of a gene, I am in awe of the details, inspired to learn more. (I just ordered a college Biochemistry book, actually, being a happy nerd.) Just like in the great outdoors, I don't wonder if God exists when I study the tiniest details. I'm just amazed at how brilliantly each atom works together, at the wisdom of Someone who got it all just right.

God, open my eyes to glimpse your bigness and your wisdom. Not even to understand them, but just to glimpse a world and plan and meaning that is broader, more ordered, more amazing than I can even imagine.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Religion. Ridiculous. It's actually the title of a real movie (that I haven't seen - yet) out in some theaters. I saw an interview with Bill Maher, the comedian star, on the Daily Show (DS) a few weeks ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. The movie is more or less a religious satire, probing peoples' certainty about their own religions.

I was a little put off when the DS interview began, thinking, "How can you just go turn religion into a word and movie called ridiculous?!" Followed shortly by - "Hmm, but to be honest, I do agree that religion/faith can seem fairly absurd, if you step back and look from outside ."

Just as I was writing off Maher as a cocky and wealthy not-quite-athiest, he won me over with what I thought was a pretty profound statement. Halfway through, he said "I understand that not having faith is a luxury of a good life. If you're in prison and a guy says "all I have is Jesus," I get that." I realized that as I find myself sorting through aspects of my own faith this fall, it is only because my life is luxurious and good.

Fast forward. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a one-year-old friend of ours had a severe seizure out of nowhere, and he spent the most of the weekend in ICU. At the end of the holiday weekend, I watched a TV movie (24) about young boys being conscripted into rebel militias in Africa. On a personal scale, and on a big-picture global scale, both of those situations gave me an in-your-face reminder of how life is not always so good.

Religion (or better put, faith?) may be ridiculous. Until we realize that we need it. When I need someone bigger than the world to fix the injustices of nations. When I needed peace and comfort as I watched my mother come to the end of her earthly life. When I cry out for healing for a friend or their child.

I don't have a catchy closing thought, because there are plenty of things on this topic that are still very fuzzy to me. I'll just observe that for today, life is not quite luxurious enough for me to throw in the towel and say it's all "religulous".

Daily Show interview re: Religulous
Other movies that have provoked these thoughts over the past year - Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heigh ho, heigh ho...

'Tis the season when I pay for the 4 weeks of vacation that I am about to take from teaching college. The days leading up to vacation are a ridiculous flurry of writing exams, grading exams, papers, labs, and on and on.

I have a growing appreciation for work - it gives me reason to focus, deadlines that make me feel productive (no matter how out of control the rest of my life is!), people that I must interact with. I think that work has the potential to bring out the best in us, but at least gives us a reason to get up in the morning. Sometimes, it literally drags us out of bed in the morning, if your work is your kids!

Anyhow, work necessarily gets in the way of hobbies like baking cookies, blogging, even necessities like picking up my house. All the thoughts I'm wanting to write about will have to wait until I get at least a little more work done. Happy working to you too - stop reading and get back to work!