Friday, December 28, 2012

Here's one of the women, Tony Jones

A few weeks ago, a guy in my dungeons and dragons group (who also happens to be a tenured religion professor at a university you might actually have heard of) encouraged me to read a recent post from Tony Jones, who is a fairly visible thinker in the emergent Christianity movement that I am a part of.

It seems that Tony had recently realized that most of his commenters are men and the statistics from Facebook were telling him that a significant majority of the people who "liked" his page were men. So, he asked, "Where are all the women?"

There were over three hundred comments and I read them all. An interesting narrative developed, with several sub-plots. What stands out to me most interestingly is that Tony seemed honestly surprised that people think the cause for women's absence is Tony. There is a fair amount of defensiveness on his part that reads very much like he is caught off-guard. I would think that if he started with the assumption that it was something about him, his writing style or the community that he fostered in the comments, he would have been able to respond a little more objectively. You know, the difference between calling responses "attacks" and thanking people for their perspective, even if one respectfully disagrees. He also used the classic defense of hyperbolizing his opponent when paraphrasing her, claiming that the commenter was requiring him "to change everything" about himself, even though she was just answering his question as to why she was uninterested in commenting, which did not instruct him to change anything and even if instruction was implied, it certainly wouldn't be everything that needed changing.

This makes me wonder what his original hypothesis was for where all the women were. Unless someone else can think of something and mention in these comments, I can only imagine that Tony believed that the problem was the women.

And certainly, some of the reasons were endemic to common female experiences. Many women cited busy-ness, which is backed up by all sorts of research that shows that on average, men have more leisure time for things like Internet commenting than women do. Relatedly, someone pointed out that men are the majority of pastors and seminary students, who have the time built into their workday for engaging in theology. Other women said that they are exhausted from "speaking up" to make their voice heard in the Church that still preferences men as spiritual leaders in their daily non-Internet lives that they were simply uninterested in doing so in the comments section of a blog.

(As a side note, since I was raised mainline Protestant with lots of female pastors at my church, I have never personally resonated with the struggles of evangelical women who were always told that their calling to teach and lead was not real. However, a commenter brought up the perspective that the Emergent dynamic often treats women thinkers, leaders and speakers as spectacle as response to the evangelical dynamic of women as invisible, and that is almost as off-putting. I HAVE experienced that over beers at theology pubs and I'm glad someone brought it up.)

The only other cause that could be argued was the responsibility of women was that the type of things he posts are just uninteresting to women. And, I don't know, ugh. That's like saying that women just aren't interested in sports and beer and stuff. It's just not the whole story. However, one commenter noted that Tony's lack of feminist awareness makes his perspective uninteresting. That, I could see as being a valid point for why women aren't attracted to his writing. Female theology nerds (theology nerds in general being a huge part of Tony's audience) do have a wide range of white dudes, dead and alive, from whom to choose for study. Without a new branch from which to speak regarding social politics, why choose him over voices with insight from female, queer, non-Western or racial minority communities?

But aside from those reasons, which fit the generic answer to anyone asking why women don't participate in something male-dominated, there were quite a few specific suggestions for how Tony himself is the reason why women don't comment. Lots of women said that the types of things Tony posts are declarative (Tony concurred) and therefore did not seem need response. Many people spoke of his patronizing tone, which my friend explains away as a symptom of their shared Princeton educations but others chalked it up to male privilege. As one commenter wrote, "I have not gone to seminary and I am a woman. Do my uneducated thoughts on theology really matter to you? I assume not because of the culture I grew up in…the culture I’m still a part of. You have not put that culture in place, but it’s still there. It will take A LOT of effort on your part to fight this and make us feel welcome to speak. That makes sense, right?" That lack of effort is definitely something Tony could take responsibility for.

In addition to a patronizing tone, many described a tone that was combative, rather than inclusive. I never got the sense that Tony ever really understood this point. He didn't really address it in his comments, nor did it come up in his response post the next day. A long comment by a man named John that is worth re-printing is representative of several people who tried to give specific examples of how his syntax could be slightly altered to change this tone.

"If one is truly interested in dialogue then challenges and
interrogations are not the means by which to promote it.

I’ve heard the tone accusation leveled against me by every woman who
has ever had a significant relationship with me, beginning with my
mother and continuing all the way through to my wife. I’ve also heard
it from a number of men I’ve known. Fortunately, about 10 years ago I
decided to listen instead of ask questions and discovered that if I
simply stopped for a moment and thought back to what I had been saying
up to that point rather than automatically demanding an example as
evidence that what they were telling me was factual the answer was
pretty obvious (and had been all along). The truth is that in many ways
it is about how you put things both verbally and non-verbally, and if
you have a diverse group of people telling you the same thing about how
you communicate in virtually the same language it’s probably time to
stop wondering why others don’t get you or your intent or your style or
your personality and listen for a bit, beginning with what’s issuing
from your mouth or fingertips, as the case may be. Confining things to
online interactions, allow me to offer an example of the difference
between dialogue and challenge/interrogation.

Blogger: This is something I’ve noticed, and I don’t understand why
it’s happening. Thoughts?

Commenter: When I read your posts, I notice that you tend to respond in
X fashion to certain issues/topics. It gives me the impression that you
believe Y.

Dialogue Response from Blogger: Hmm. I honestly hadn’t thought of that
before you brought it up. Can you maybe give me a few more details so I
can build a context for what you’re telling me? What you said kind of
caught me flat-footed so I’m going to need your help processing it.

Challenge/Interrogatory Response from Blogger: That’s not really how I
see what I do here. What makes you think I’m like that?

See the difference in the two? Both responses say substantially the
same thing–i.e., “That’s a new perspective for me. I need more
information.”–but each presents a different tone (as much as such
things can exist online) to the commenter as well as other readers. The
former invites the commenter into further dialogue with some degree of
assurance that her perspective is welcome and the blogger is genuinely
interested in learning from her. The latter asks for an explanation,
and it’s very much on a defensive footing.

If you’re looking to debate someone the latter is a somewhat
appropriate (albeit not necessarily productive) response. If you’re
looking to have a conversation with someone the former is really your
only choice. My impression is that most people are happy to have an
interesting conversation on a substantive issue, but they’re not
particularly interested in getting into a public urination competition
to determine the “right” answer. Simply put, if your goal is to be
right you’re not conversing, you’re arguing, and how many
well-adjusted, gainfully employed adults do you know who are willing to
out of their way for yet another argument in their lives?"

Two commenters made good points in Tony's "defense," pointing out that some folks who have been wounded by the Church need people like Tony to speak boldly to make space for their own healing and that he is an Enneagram 8 so his tone is just the way he communicates.

To the former point, I say "Hell yeah!" And if that's what Tony sees as his calling, it may not be necessary to pay attention to his audience. He is making that impact for folks and he should go on doing so.

However, the latter defense is a little bit of a cop out. We were all born with certain strengths and limitations and as we grew, those strengths and limitations cemented themselves into personalities that can be plotted in charts like the Enneagram. However, this does not mean that we're stuck with those strengths and limitations forever. We can deliberately develop new skills in order to achieve goals that were previously out of reach.

So, if attracting a balanced audience is a goal of Tony's and not just a thought experiment to discuss, he will be fully capable of changing his syntax like the commenters have been suggesting. It will take some time listening and reflecting how what he hears can be applied to his actions. This would be a break from asking questions in the conversation with his audience and would require a certain amount of vulnerability, both privately and publicly. But it is totally possible without necessarily changing "everything."

One of the other major sub-plots was an extended exchange spurred because one woman said that Tony's style and tone reminded her of Christian men who had abused her in the past. Other men vociferously came to his defense against that comment and over the course of the thread, it was interesting to see both sides both educate and relent, just like IRL reconciliation. The original commenter realized that the word, "abuser" is often a trigger word, like telling a women she is like a whore, and Tony and some of the men acknowledged the commenter's original point about tone.

But the boys club that emerged in that exchange was a very clear demonstration of the community of commenters that so many women found objectionable, describing them as argumentative and hostile in their "spirited" debates.

Also, I think exchanges like the "abuser" one illustrate Tony's blindness to his own position of privilege. In that particular relational discomfort, the fancy-educated white guy with the platform wins unless he deliberately humbles himself. And i never interpreted Tony's responses as humble. At one point Tony referenced Hitler as a snarky response to this thread and then he erased his knee-jerk comment rather than owning it. That is not a humble posture of someone who wants to be pastoral toward a commenter who was clearly hurting. It is definitely not a humble posture of someone who is interested in doing whatever it takes to get equality in the community he hosts.

And it may be that Tony decides that courting women to participate is not all that important. I hope, though, that he realizes how much he will be able to accomplish of behalf of marginalized folks if he begins down this path with his blog. (I have no idea how far down along that path he is in his face-to-face life). His understanding of the multiple aspects of God will increase as his discourse community's diversity increases. Changing his syntax and tone to be more collaborative and inclusive will allow other folks to share in the privilege that has been his birthright but that was never God's intent for Her children.

Tony responded throughout the comments and posted a follow-up post. I did not read the comments on that one. I thought the follow-up post didn't say much but interestingly, he put the onus on the commenters for creating unsafe space rather than taking it on himself to moderate comments and deliberately build a community, even though several commenters suggested that he had that responsibility as the host who sets the table for the banquet.

I only track Tony in my peripheral vision but I'll be interested to check in on him periodically to see if this experience has changed him at all. Despite his protestations, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. It is a baby boomer/gen x myth that I'm ok and you're ok and that it's the worst thing possible to suggest that someone needs to change in order to stop causing hurt, however unintentionally. We are not yet who God intends us to be and we should all be so lucky as to get the opportunity to have hundreds of people help us get there through their feedback.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Where's the window?

Last winter my brother called me after watching this video to say:

"F**k you, Rebecca."

He went on to remind me that when I was in my second trimester, he and I got into a huge fight because he suggested that I might want to stop working in order to be with Esther more and I was enraged that he would think I was that kind of woman.  He pointed out that if I were still working, I probably wouldn't have been able to capture that kind of footage of Esther dancing in her high chair.

I deserved every word of it.

I have mostly gotten comfortable with being a stay-at-home mom.    It was hard in the first few months to let go of my self-image as a professional person.  However, I really love the rhythms of my life and I love the benefits for my daughter and our marriage that come with having one person with the time to coordinate domestic stuff.  I am fascinated by Esther's development and so rarely miss the intellectual challenges of the work place.  It's like being in school all over again.

That being said, a couple of months ago, I really struggled with my decision to focus on the domestic part of my life.

I was struggling because - like during my second trimester with Esther - I'm clinging to an idea that is a product of my insecurity, rather than a product of how things really work.

The context was a wedding that I wasn't going to be able to attend because of a combination of terrible morning sickness and a sinus infection.  (I know, I know, this is no way to announce a pregnancy.  So, we'll pause for a moment to say, "Yay!  Baby!")

I have gotten to a point in my life where I'm mostly neutral about weddings.  When I'm there, I love them.  However, I know that my value to the marrying couple as a guest is actually quite low most of the time.  My presence contributes to volume, which helps a party and spiritual vibe and the event becomes a shared experience in a continuing relationship, but, really, if you miss it, one's relationship isn't going to be significantly altered in the long run.

However, I was looking forward to this wedding for more than just my relationship with the bride and groom. 

First and foremost, we were planning on leaving Esther with a babysitter and I wanted so much to dance with my husband, which I had not gotten to do at my best friend's wedding a month earlier.

Secondly, the invitation to this wedding had made me feel special.  Of the 5 weddings that the people in my study group from graduate school had hosted, this was only the second that I had been invited to.  I was gratified that my relationship with the groom had been built back up since graduation when we drifted apart, to be invited.  He's one of my favorite people on the planet and I'm glad that he wanted me as part of his spiritual and party vibe.

Finally, I really wanted to attend because it was a chance to see and be seen by other people from school who were also attending.

Maybe that seems a little shallow but here's where the part about regretting my choice to stay home comes in.  None of the other folks in my study group have children, except for one guy whose children are grown, and I feel like we're all in totally different worlds now.

Who knows if this is true, but I picture them all meeting for happy hours after work and bumping into each other at networking events.  Even if that's not happening, if they do see each other, they have work stuff to talk about.  Even if I went to the alumni events, who wants to hear about how Esther is an ace at stacking the rings on the spindle now?  Who would want to hire me in 5 years if that was the last conversation that we had?  I know that I could make more of an effort to keep up with current events and to organize happy hours (actually, 5:00 is a terrible time to try to get a babysitter) but I find that the rhythm of my days just doesn't allow for that easily.  The perceived value of being proactive like that doesn't usually seem worth the opportunity cost to the other things that I do with that energy.

So, we drift further apart.

And this makes me worry that I'm letting my most valuable professional asset atrophy.  I have a lot of professional skills that I can peddle to potential employers when I'm ready to go back to work.  But it certainly seems that in this economy, you need an edge to get a job that you want to do instead of just a job where someone will pay you to do something.  For most of my schoolmates, they have the quantitative analysis edge.  They can run regressions and process the data to make persuasive power points.

I cannot do these things.

I passed all the statistics and economics courses (which is pretty badass) but it would be lying to say I could run a regression to anyone's satisfaction.  And it seems like even in policy jobs where you don't have to do that, they want you to have put in the time having done that kind of data work as a prerequisite.

I have always comforted myself that what I do have to offer is established leadership skills in my work history and a robust network of people who will return my emails and possibly even have lunch with me.

But since a lot of my network is made up of the folks I went to school with and a lot of those folks are drifting away (and pulling ahead), I am growing much less confident in the robustness of my network.

Having to miss the wedding where I would be able to reconnect with many folks in my network because of my fertility and non-professional status (certainly I became pregnant again much more quickly than someone who was trying to be sensitive about the spacing of her maternity leaves) created a lot of despair in my feverish brain. 

Like every other anxiety and disappointment in life, I'm coming to terms with it.  We close doors when we make choices.  I do not regret for an instant my family planning choices and so I just have to get used to the little uff of frustration when I run into that door that I forgot that I closed or that I thought I had left half-open.

I also know that the exciting opportunities in my life have rarely come about because of my planning and preparation.  Most are dropped into my lap.When I'm ready to be professional again (or possibly even before I think I'm ready), there's a good chance that my career goals and policy passions will take a sharp turn from the direction I expected to go.

Still, I wanted to go to that wedding.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Interfaith Advent

I have had a brilliant parenting idea and I have never seen it anywhere else and it might be the only one I ever have that's worth sharing so here I go.

Amanda Soule has a box of holiday and winter books that she pulls out every December and puts away after the New Year to preserve the sense of special-ness and anticipation for these books.  (Actually, now that I went back and read the post, she speaks less deliberately about this so my idea must have been percolating even then based on how I altered the memory.)

My mother did something similar, except more intuitively and with fewer gorgeous pictures.  We had our favorite Christmas books that we looked forward to and she had a reason to collect beautiful books for the stack that sat by the fireplace.

I have been figuring out how to celebrate Advent in my little family and Advent calendars are part of my tradition.  But they make Christmas so long!  I know, I know, so do Christmas trees and music and special cookies and all the other things I do.  But calendars seem to completely obliterate Hanukkah altogether, since they take every single day of December as anticipation for Christmas. 

We believe in keeping our Christian and Jewish holidays separate and that works most of the time.  This is the only real situation I can think of where one spiritual practice excludes another spiritual practice, other than when Passover dietary restrictions preclude celebrating Easter through traditional foods.

I began thinking about holiday books and decided to take Soulemama's and my mother's tradition one step further.  I am going to wrap books like presents and number them 1-25 like an Advent calendar.  This way, 9 days of the season, the books can be Hanukkah books and 16 days they can be Christmas or winter-themed.  Now that I think of it, next year I'll make sure I have non-holiday specific paper for the winter books.

My hope is that in future years, the kids will anticipate their favorite books, guessing based on size and shape.  Reading the books together can spur conversations about both holidays and the thoughts they have about their inter-faithness.  If advent means "coming," like the candle-lighting ceremonies taught me, the Advent season can prepare us for both holidays.

On a related not, a few weeks ago, I bought Esther a Hanukkah book by Lemony Snicket called The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming, which is maybe the best Hanukkah book I've ever read.  Many pages required me to mock-scream as I read the titular latke's lines.  We read it once and then I put it away.  I got it out again now to wrap it and Esther pulled it out of the pile and went to read it to herself.  Apparently, my dramatic rendition made an impression because she began mock-screaming exactly as I had done.  Three weeks later.  This kid.  Seriously.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ginger jelly and ginger pear preserves

So, the suburbs may not be all that bad.  By my parents' house, there is a gigantic super-store of produce and international foods. In addition to other awesome things, they have this whole shelf of still-good produce being sold in packages that must be at least 5 pounds for $1.49 each.  I bought one of fresh ginger roots just for the sheer novelty of it.

One of our closest friends is a little nuts for ginger and we're seeing him on Friday so if I couldn't figure out what to do with it, we could just take it to him and he would.

But Tuesday morning, I woke up raring to go and wanting to make applesauce for Esther, the applesauce monster.  We had about 8 pounds of apples that turned out to be not-so-good and another 6 pounds that I bought and the super-store for about $3.50.

Since I had all of the canning equipment out anyway and the Pandora outlaw country station was helping with the all-around patriotic feeling in the house, I set out to do something with the ginger.  I didn't like any of the recipes I found, so I made up my own.  My neighbor actually knocked on the door to ask what smelled so good, then asked me for the recipe so she could make the jelly for gifts, once she had tasted it.

So, I figured I'd share it with the internets, since they have given me so many recipes over the years.  This is written for intelligent beginners.  I'll include links and encourage you to bone up on food safety when canning shelf-stable foods.  My recipe is a derivative of several out of the Ball canning book, so I'm fairly certain the ratio of sugar, acid and fruit are OK, but it certainly hasn't been approved by anyone but me.

Ginger pear preserves

4-6 big fresh ginger roots
6 cups water
1.5-2 cups peeled, diced pears marinating in 0.5 cups lemon or lime juice (to deter discoloration)
5 cups sugar
1 package powdered pectin

1.  Rough chop the ginger root into fairly small pieces.  There is no need to peel it first.
2.  Bring water and ginger to boil in large stock pot. 
3.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and let it go for awhile.  At least 20 minutes?  When you take a spoonfull, blow on it and taste it, it should be HOT (spicy hot, not temperature hot).
4.  Pour ginger tisane into a receptacle, using a sieve to strain out the solid ginger.
5. Let cool for a few minutes while you measure the sugar and cut up the pear.  This is a good time to set up your canning materials, as well.  (Sterilize jars and lids, begin heating water in a bigger stock pot, find way to keep jars and lids warm until needed, set up stations, etc.)
6.  Measure 3 cups of the ginger tisane back into cool stock pot and whisk in pectin.  Do not turn on stove until after this step.
7.  Bring liquid to a boil, then add the sugar all at once.  Return to a boil, then turn off heat after 1 minute.  Skim the foam from the top.
8.  Stir in the fruit and juice.
9. Ladle into jars, leaving about 0.5 inches empty at the top.  Attach lid and band and deposit in canning pot.
10.  When pot is full, bring water to a rolling boil when covered and process for 10 minutes.  Turn off heat and let sit for 5 more minutes.  Remove from water to sit undisturbed on a kitchen towel until cool.  You will know you have been successful at creating a vacuum when you hear all the little buttons on the lids pop as the jars cool.

Once the preserves are cool, don't worry if they seem a little runny.  Refrigerate before serving to harden the set.

An alternative is to leave out the fruit for a purer Ginger Jelly.  If you do this, stir in the lime or lemon juice when you stir in the pectin instead of after boiling.

Ginger Jelly

4.5 cups ginger tisane
0.5 cups lime or lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 package powdered pectin

Both recipes should make approximately 8 half-pint jars and excellent presents.  The finished product can be served with a cheese spread or over cream cheese.  I love savory jelly PBJs on rye and when warmed, it can also be served over ice cream.  Do not hesitate to eat straight out of the jar instead of mediocre store-bought hard candy.

Friday, September 28, 2012

What do I do? I'm a writer.

I just sold my first piece of writing.  Folks here will find it very familiar but after this one, I'm writing original essays (probably on themes you have heard about) for the same editor.

The website recommends choosing one religion or another for interfaith families but I appreciated that they didn't cut out the bits of our story that communicated that we were raising Esther in both faiths.

I keep going back to the website because they offer really good resources about how Jews actually go about the business of being Jews, in all the different traditions and this is unique on the internet, as far as I have found.

You should go.  Make a comment.  Or come back here and make one.  Or better yet, tell me what you'd like me to write about next in 800-1100 words.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A good eater

My daughter's appetite is legen . . . wait for it . . . dary.

She eats everything you put in front of her.

Especially fruit. Oh my gosh, the fruit she consumes.

Her appetite is so epic that my brother likes to hold her and feed her things, just for the pleasure of watching a child eat what he has offered her since his own daughter is a very picky eater.

Normally, I take very little credit for how good-natured my daughter is.  Seriously, I'm not going to take the blame if she goes bad, so I just tell people that she came out of the box that way.  I think she's just like Rory Gilmore and basically she'll raise herself right as long as I don't get in the way too much.

So, although I'll point out that I use the baby-led weaning method in introducing solid foods, I have no idea if that had any actual impact on the type of eater she turned out to be.

However, because she was never spoon-fed baby food, she has some very well-developed manual dexterity when it comes to handling her food.  She has almost complete control over the food on her tray and is actually getting pretty good with a fork.

She does deliberately throw her food from the tray to indicate that she has completed her meal and we're working on that ("Can you hand it to Mama when you're all done?") but since she's only 15 months old, my expectations for this sort of behavior moderation are low.  When reminded, she'll often hand it over.  Unless she is smiling mischievously and racing me to throw it as I'm racing to clear it from the tray.  15 months.  Totally normal.

So, last night, neither Jacob nor I were feeling very well so we decided to be bad parents and sit on the couch watching Battlestar Galactica while Esther was still awake.  She played by herself over in the corner very nicely for about half of the episode and then began to want our attention.

We decided to just lean into the bad parent thing and stick her in her high chair with a larabar, followed up with some honey cake that Jacob's mom sent us for Rosh Hashana.  Seriously?  We didn't even put the effort into cutting up some fruit for her.  An energy bar and cake while strapped into a chair facing the TV where sci-fi violence was being portrayed.  Totally normal. Actually, she was perpendicular to the TV so that if she looked left, she could watch Cylons seduce humans and if she looked right, she could see us.  We're not monsters, even if when she looked right, all she would observe were slack-jaws and dilated pupils instead of her normally scheduled attentive parents.

At some point, she uncharacteristically fumbled some of her cake and dropped in on the floor.  We know this -not because we were monitoring her- but because she began to pointedly make eye contact with us while pointing at the floor.  I've never seen her do this before.  The kid was in a panic.  She was pointing with her hand through the leg opening to better illuminate for us when the cake must have gone, rather than a more generic over-the-tray point.  She was articulating her gibberish with an intensity that I have never heard before.

We laughed and ignored her.

Seriously, she had a full half of the cake still in her other hand.  She was going to live.  Plus, it was pretty tense waiting to see if the Cylons had followed the colonial fleet through this faster-than-light jump, too.

She began to insist.

Her gibberish was distinctly cadenced to communicate, "I don't think you understood me.  I DROPPED my CAKE."

She was pointing with her arm fully extended.

I swear to you, people, we ignored her pleas for another five minutes.

That's an ETERNITY to toddler.  Unless the forget about what they wanted and move on to other interests, which is what we were hoping she would do.

But she was persistent.  She was not only upset that she was missing out on cake, she was also clearly upset with herself for fumbling it.  What kind of terrible parents would not hit pause to soothe their child's wounded pride?


Finally, I got up to find the dropped cake since she was so focused that she would not even eat the cake that was in her hand any more.  She was not crying her proto-tantrum cry of frustration.  She was not whining her usual bid for attention.  If Esther can advocate for herself with this much dignity and tenacity as she grows into an adult, she will do very, very well for herself.

And when I found it?  It was the size of a pea.

It's good to know we've all got our priorities straight.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Chick-Fil-A and me

Someone very close to me, whom I love and who has my express permission to hold me accountable recently write me this email:
your words of facebook come across to me as very harsh, very condemning, very exclusionary, very barrier building, and - most of all - very unlike you and how you live your life - in my opinion. 

"One of the better articles on why it's not Dan Cathy's personal feelings about gay marriage that is offensive: people are allowed to have those and pursue them; it is the money his tax-exempted foundation gives to political groups trying to deny people equal rights that is offensive."

"Shut up already about how liberals are tolerant of everyone but intolerant people. Seriously. Like everything else, some liberals are like that, but a whole lot of us are trying to be better. Like Glennon. Go ahead, my conservative friends. Read it."
You have modeled for me these last few years your personal life of loving, of tolerance, of inclusion, of forgiveness, and - to me - the written words are none of that.  I've learned much from you - because of what you do and how you live your life - about following Jesus who was loving and tolerating and forgiving and including.
And this person is right.  Something about this Chick-Fil-A thing has me angry.  It has me not quite being myself.  So, this post is more about figuring out what's going on in my head and my heart than a defense.  Because, as I have said, my friend is absolutely right.

I wonder if some of the harshness of my posts is a response to the more conservative things I see being said on Facebook.  (And remember, a lot of my professional life is spent in the evangelical Christian world so there's a pretty good balance of left and right showing up in my Facebook feed.)

I suppose there are two aspects about these posts that strike me: the first is the general gleeful tone of catching up liberals in their own hypocrisy and the second is their assertion that their rights are being infringed upon.

So, this gleeful tone.  This image is a good example.
Honestly, I don't know what to say.  I have a million and one arguments but don't want to go down the rhetorical rabbit-hole.  I suppose folks could even argue with me that this picture is neither gleeful nor pointing out hypocrisy and those folks would be right, as well.  I just know that so many people in my news feed have said they are buying multiple meals today.  Maybe the better word is enthusiasm.

Why does my sense that this is the way folks on the right feel about this make me upset?

Because at the core of this, we're talking about people.  We're talking about people that God loves as much as he loves you or me.

Every time someone posts in support of Chick-Fil-A, they are communicating, intentionally or not that gay people do not deserve the same rights that straight people have.

And why would that be true unless they thought that gay people weren't as good as straight people?

So, that makes me mad.

The second thing is this statement that freedom of speech is at stake here.  This is patently ridiculous.  I asked my friend why he would post about eating multiple meals and he talked about how wrong is was that politicians were saying that stores would not be allowed to open in their districts.

He makes a good point here.  That does seem a little distasteful, IF that actually happened and IF it  wasn't just election year posturing (yes, posturing invites response) and IF the laws of a particular district actually allowed that type of discrimination to happen.

But the majority of people who are upset with Chick-Fil-A are not politicians.  They are individuals who support equal rights for gay people.  And our Constitutional right to freedom of speech only gives you the right to say what you want.  It does not give you the right to say what you want without consequences.

And the consequence for Chick-Fil-A is that people who support equal rights for gay people do not like Chick-Fil-A and do not want to eat there.  Boycotts are not a new thing for the right wing.  They are just usually on the other side of it.

So, again, talking about the rights of Dan Cathy to people who legitimately are not allowed to do things that other people are allowed to do, simply because of who they sleep with, is a little angry making. (What things?  Hospital visitation, social security benefits, tax breaks, adoption, etc.)

I don't the answer to the question as to why this has me acting outside of my usual patterns.  I know that there are times when conversation has to stop and people who are being hurt have to be protected, if those two things are at odds.  I don't know if this is one of those times.  I did not deliberately set out to draw a line in the sand.

The compromise I made with myself today after my friend sent me his email was to give the cost of lunch to The Marin Foundation and to post about on Facebook:
"I just donated the cost of a chicken dinner (with Coke because let's get real) to The Marin Foundation, a nonprofit that works with Christians -regardless of their beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexuality and without judgement of them- to treat members of the LGBT community as beloved children of God through reconciliation and relationship-building."
I do love the people in my life who are conservative and I respect that many of them have come to their beliefs about homosexuality through prayer and study.  I do not think that many of them actually live out their maxim that they love the sinner and not the sin.  Posting enthusiastic support for Chick-Fil-A doesn't communicate love for gay people.  Posting harsh comments of my own probably doesn't communicate love for conservative people, either.  I don't know what to do with that.  Do you?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

But you weren't born Jewish, were you?

Some conversations on Facebook inspires me to write just a little bit more about our intents for Esther's religious upbringing.

Mostly, it was mentioned that because of the heavy emphasis on Jewish practice, it seems to readers like we're raising a Jewish daughter who has some exposure to Christian practices.

In fact, when we were discussing Jewish conversion, Jacob's main concern was that people would come to that conclusion.

Let me start by saying that the premise of our choices is that all kids find their own language in which to communicate with God.  A Modern Orthodox family that I grew up with has two children who practice Judaism to varying degrees and one child who is raising his own child completely devoid of Jewish upbringing.  For awhile, the reigning ladies' semi-professional wrestling tag-team champions were named Lane and Nevaeh.  Nevaeh was a name popular with conservative, evangelical Christians because it it Heaven spelled backwards.  I'd bet money, that's now how those religious folks thought their daughter would turn out.

Kids are given a religious line by their parents and they spend their early adult lives jumping back and forth across that line, bouncing off of it first one direction and then the next until they find a line of their own.  Sometimes it's close to their parents' line and sometimes it is very far away.  However, their explorations all start in that specific place.

The line my parents' laid down was basically mainline Protestant, with some evangelicalism thrown in because the church we attended was geographically close to Wheaton college.  They modeled a certain social liberalness that was grounded in a sense of love and respect for the situations of people down on their luck that was born of their understanding of who God is.  They also modeled certain practices, such as a love for traditional hymns, how we celebrate Christmas and what kind of  relationship to have with the pastor.  This was explicitly grounded in the orthodox beliefs that Jesus was God's son, who saved us from our sin by dying, rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven.

All four of us have ended up parallel to that line in some way or another, with varying degrees of formal participation in institutional religion, behavior towards others and belief in that theology. 

My parents did not push their line on us but did insist that if we didn't want to go to church with them, we had to find a place where we did want to go.  When I look at families that take active steps to make sure that their kids choose an exact copy of their own spiritual lives, yes, sometimes they are successful, but often those kids bounce even harder off of that hard line, with sometimes tragic and/or ironic results.

Understanding that children find their own paths regardless of parental desires, Jacob and I would like to do something a little radical and give Esther tools that will increase her chances of success in finding her path.  We are not going to tell her that she's Jewish or that she's Christian.  We are going to give her Jewish experiences and Christian experiences.  We are going to support her when she wants to experiment with wearing a cross necklace to the high holiday services or when she insists on keeping kosher as a teenager and acts disgusted in the presence of the ham on the table.  We will insist that she be respectful and engaged but we will not expect her to assume any identity other than the one that feels most authentic to her and this includes experiementation with her aunt's Catholicism, her other aunt's Hinduism or some other religion altogether.

Like all other things in parenting, we will just try to do our best.

So, with that philosophy lined out, let me talk a little more directly about our choices for Esther's Jewish practice.

As far as I can tell (and I've studied a lot), Jewish identity is a three-wheeled bicycle.  If there all three aspects are there: fabulous.  But you are included by the community is only two are present, as well.

You can be considered Jewish by your birth or your conversion, by your religious practice and by your cultural trappings.

Thus, totally secular people are still Jewish if their parents were Jewish and if exhibit certain characteristics which are hard to pin down but most people know them when they see them.  A fondness for lox, a certain sense of humor, particular cadences of speech, a story about making out with a girl for the first time at Jewish camp are all popular examples.  Remember the classic Seinfeld episode where they were horrified that the dentist had converted possibly just so he could make better jokes.

Or, if you convert to Judaism and practice religiously, you are part of the in-crowd even if you never speak a word of yiddish.

It's tougher for  culturally Jewish people who are pursuing an active spiritual practice but who don't meet parentage standards and who don't want to convert.  My friend's husband is an atheist but shares her Jewish practices with her and has promised to raise their children Jewish but their wedding was not celebrated by their synagogue as joyfully as the two kids who were both born Jews with culturally Jewish identities but who never went to shabbat services and holidays. 

So, if Esther decides that she wants to be accepted by the Jewish community, we want to make sure she has her bona fides.  The more orthodox communities will require her to jump through even more hoops, but raising her eating kosher, converting her and surrounding her with other Jewish people who consider her part of their tribe so that she develops some of the cultural markers will go a long way to making that choice easy for her, if she wants to make it.

If she decides that she wants to identify as Christian, the infrastructure is totally different.  Still, for the vast majority of churches, all she needs to do is state that she believes certain things and they have a long history of accepting her regardless of her upbringing.  My church and other churches in the emergent movement are working to make more safe spaces for people who believe lots of different things but want to follow Jesus's teachings and to draw upon the Christian tradition of spiritual practice.  At one of those churches, bona fides are considered anathema anyway.  So, we have been less concerned with making sure the groundwork for being accepted by others as a self-proclaimed Christian.  It's the dominant religion of our country and she will learn the appropriate shibboleths without much effort on our part.

Judaism, as a minority and historically persecuted community, is a little harder to feel like one belongs.  I was finally won over to the idea of converting Esther to Judaism mostly because the rabbi wanted us to. But I agreed with the choice in the end because I believe the frequenly-asked question, "But you weren't born Jewish, were you?" belies an insecurity in those who ask it. I think they are really asking, "Are you safe because you've had the same experiences as a Jew that I have?" When Esther can reply, "No, but my parents converted me when I was a baby," she opens a door to these folks to be in relationship with them because she's really saying, "From my infancy, I have been raised as a Jew and probably have some common ground with you." Since we want her to feel at home in the synagogue and the synagogue is full of people who ask that question, it was the best thing we could do for her.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Welcoming an interfaith baby

On Saturday night, the family we spent the week with in Kansas City treated us to an amazing French dinner at Cafe Des Amis, which I cannot recommend enough if you are ever visiting the area. Because our hosts are friends with the owners, they made several special dishes for my husband's family, including a kosher bouillabaisse that Esther LOVED.

 I, however, had the scallops.

When I put the first forkful into my mouth, I moaned a little and my sister-in-law laughed, remarking that every dish so far seemed to be a religious experience for me. She was not wrong and I turned to Esther and joked about how sad I was that I would never be able to share the experience of scallops with her.

But that sacrifice is such a small one to make. There is so much good food that IS kosher plus it is about the only sacrifice like that I will make in raising our interfaith daughter.

 Now that her first birthday has passed, I want to document the choices that Jacob and I made for how to welcome Esther into this world in the traditions of our families.

We began with a Jewish naming ceremony when she was about 2 months old. This Simchat Bat ceremony has been gaining popularity in the last decades as an equivalent to a bris, which happens for a boy on the 8th day after his birth. Thus, there are very few guidelines for how they are structured. Some communities do them during regular Shabbat services but both the bris and the naming that I have attended were intimate ceremonies held in the home of the grandparent, which is slightly more traditional for brises. Since my parents had been willing to host the bris if Esther turned out to be a boy, we followed the same plan for her naming.

Our rabbi sat down with us before Esther was born and then again after her birth to talk about our intentions for spiritual life and the origins of Esther's name. He leads a congregation of non-denominational folks in an inclusive congregation focused on Jewish spirituality. We gather with them for the holidays and occasionally for Shabbat services in his living room, which lots of folks to whom I describe this to assure me is how every synagogue started. Our rabbi would have co-officiated our wedding but he was busy creating a Jewish community at the Burning Man festival. If this does not give you enough insight into his persona, I will share that he asked during preparation, "Do I need to wear pants?" which was a humorous question I understood to mean, could he wear his kilt?  He wears one daily and actually, he has a glorious three-piece kilt but he didn't want to offend anyone in Jacob's family.  I was so glad he wore it.

Our rabbi is actually a little bit more inclusive than we are when it comes to ceremonies.  He has the luxury to do this because he is all-Jewish and a rabbi.  Since we want to keep our spiritual practices separate and distinct, our conversation with Menachem are often about finding a balance between making an event feel authentically Jewish and making an event reflect our spiritual advisor's desire to explore a new Judaism.  I love this tension.

The service itself involved a procession of the grandparents and each held Esther for some part of the ceremony.

We said many blessings and our rabbi gave a sermon on the origins of Esther's name, the Torah portion for the week and the Torah portion from the week of her birth.  These sources led him to talk about tithing (which is a value Jacob and I share) and the word, "nistar," which is the root of her first name and means hidden and her middle name, which means tree in Hebrew.

I had asked Menachem if we could give thanks for a healthy delivery and I had meant that he would give thanks and he thought I mean that I would give thanks so I was put a little on the spot with nothing planned and blubbered my way through it.  I was still healing on both the physical and emotional level from Esther's birth so I'm OK with being that much of a mess in front of the people I love.

We also totally forgot to bring the cash for Esther's first tithe of her gift money to the Ounce of Prevention Fund so had to wing that part of the ceremony, as well.  This is the story of our lives, isn't it?

Also, we had the timing a little off for Esther's sleep cycles and so she screamed through the entire thing.

But people were so loving and the food was amazing.  It was exactly what I wanted to say to the world -and to her when she got older- that this child was welcome in the Jewish community, which is theology that I have come to believe is true through a lot of studying.  Actually, we liked her name because it would help her fit in at a synagogue, as well as a church.  I try to explain this with many more words all the time and Jacob cuts in and says, "We named her after a strong woman in the Bible."  That's true to and so much more succinct, don't you think?

When we discussed a possible bris if the baby had been a boy, our rabbi expressed that he would be happy to do it and his conversations with his favorite mohel indicated that it would be fine to perform a conversion when the child was a little bit older and able to handle full immersion in water.  Earlier in my marriage, I would have bristled at this implied statement that the baby would not already be considered Jewish.  Didn't this non-denominational guy know that the Reform movement has recognized patrilineal descent for 25 years?  But maybe pregnancy mellowed me or maybe marriage had, but in that moment sitting at an outside table at Cafe Sel Marie, the condition of conversion didn't raise a single hackle.  I trusted our spiritual advisor and was willing to follow his understanding of what was necessary.

So, when Esther was 11 months old, we had her formally converted by meeting with a beit din, a jury of three Jews, who asked us questions about our intent and then went through the immersion in the mikvah, which is a ritual bath that is maintained to strict kosher standards.  The make-up of the beit din was a compromise with the rabbi.  He believes that Jews should go back to the scriptural requirement that only specifies that the jury be made up of Jewish people.  We wanted to observe the current custom of having Jewish clergy, again so that Esther would later know that we had observed all of the customs on her behalf if she chose to identify as Jewish.  However, as the rabbi said, "Since I'm not Orthodox, Israel won't recognize this conversion and if she want to marry a hasidic man someday, God forbid, she'll need to be re-converted anyway."  So, our beit din was made of our rabbi, a mohel (who is also a cantor) and one of Jacob's friends.  It was just coincidence that they were all dudes. The mikvah lady explained that immersion marks a time in one's life between who you were before something important happens and who you are after.  People visit the mikvah before their marriages, before trips to Israel and Orthodox women go after their periods are over every month.  What Christians call Jesus's baptism was actually a mikvah and it was only after Christianity was established as a separate religion that it was seen as what we now call baptism.

Jacob acted as a divine surrogate for Esther and showered, brushed his teeth, cleaned under his nails and took out his contacts to be sure that nothing would come between him and the spirit of God, represented by the water.  He put on paper slippers so that he wouldn't pick up any dirt between the shower and the pool.

While that was happening, I undressed Esther and handed her to him when he came out.  They stepped down into the pool and the doors above it were opened to the beit din and Jacob's mother so that they could witness.

Esther screamed the whole time.  I have no explanation for why since we took swim lessons and she loves the water.  (By the way, the swim lessons were totally for my comfort level in watching someone dunk my baby.)

Jacob whispered a blessing in her ear from both of us, read a special blessing for the immersion from a card on the wall and we all said a shehecheyanu, which thanks God that we have lived long enough to see a special event.

Afterwards, the was much joyful kibbitzing while Jacob dressed and our beit din signed Esther's certificate of conversion and naming.  I created my own certificate since all of the ones I could buy were aimed at female adult converts.  (Boo to that truth revealed through capitalism.) I hope to frame it with pictures of the event for Esther's wall.  For reference, if you are considering a similar ceremony, here is the text of her certificate.  The rabbi also wrote in her Hebrew name to reflect her earlier Simchat Bat.
This is to certify that Esther Alanna has been dedicated to live by the principals, values and practices of Judaism. She has fulfilled the Mitzvah of Tevilah and we, the undersigned, have found her family to be of sincere intention. We do hereby accept and welcome her into the Covenant of the Jewish people on May 23, 2012 and the corresponding Hebrew date, the 2nd of Sivan, 5772, in the community of Wilmette, IL.
A week later, we had Esther blessed during the regular Sunday service of our church.  We considered baptism and attended a joint naming and blessing for our friend's baby facilitated by the Interfaith Union but found that individual ceremonies reflected our spiritual life better, in addition to being more comfortable for many members of our families, who are still getting used to our inter-faithness.  I made Esther a bonnet out of the same fabric from my wedding dress to mark the occasion.

Our Christian congregation is founded on inclusion of people with any beliefs to participate with us as we explore Christianity and how to live out the teachings of Jesus.  Our pastor and I worked together to create a liturgy that would make everyone present feel like an insider, even if they weren't Christian. 

The portion of the service with the blessing took my denomination's traditional elements and tweaked them a little.  Esther was introduced by a member of the Leadership Co-op, questions of commitment were asked of us as her parents and as a congregation, she was prayed over by the pastor and her hands were anointed with oil.

We asked people to write blessings on fabric and I was so pleased that every single person in attendance did so, many of them stepping outside of their comfort zones to do so.  We displayed the wedding quilt that I made from squares contributed by guests and this might have helped people participate since they could see an end result.

We applauded for her and she tucked her head in pleasure at the sound.

Then, anyone was invited forward to have their own baptism remembered by having their foreheads anointed or to have their hands anointed like Esther's if they had never been baptized.

We sang many songs, including my request of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."

I have the bulletin in PDF form if anyone is interested, but this text represents the flavor of the liturgy:
Jacob and Rebecca plan to continue practicing both of their religions as a family, encouraging Esther to participate as she is able so that as she grows and discovers her own with relationship to God, she will have the spiritual resources of both communities available to her to determine her own identity and the practice that brings her closest to God. Although infant baptism is part of Rebecca's religious heritage, out of respect for Jewish customs and laws that Esther may one day value, her parents have decided to let Esther choose that step for herself in the future, if it seems right to her.
Today, we welcome Esther into a gathered community of Christians to ceremonially declare that she -like all of us- is loved by God simply because she exists.  Recognizing this helps us to remember that God also loves us simply because we exist and not for anything we do or do not do, can or cannot accomplish.  God's love is unconditional.
We also gather today to promise that we will teach Esther about our own experiences with God, however God has manifested Godself to us. This storytelling and sharing of our own lives and experiences will give Esther not just words, but inspiration and guidance that will shape her life.
I had to negotiate a little bit with my pastor for this, as well.  She has been part of a national committee of the denomination that is learning from rabbis about how to live together in the world and they said that one of the ways to be respectful was to stop baptizing their babies.

And apparently, I'd been having these very sophisticated discussions with all sorts of people about how our family is an interfaith family but I had failed to explain it sufficiently to my pastor.  She had been thinking that we were raising her as a Jewish kid in a house that celebrates Christianity, as well.

So, when we were still considering baptizing her as part of my tradition's way of welcoming her into the community (rather than for conversion or as a ticket to heaven, which are problematic rationale in the history of Jewish-Christian relationships), she was very uncomfortable with the idea.  Symbolic acts are powerful for a reason, after all.

So, over the course of those conversations, I convinced her that Esther is like a bi-racial kid and when she asks, "No wait, what am I: Jewish or Christian?" we will answer with a third option.  Hopefully, we will have done the hard work to make sure she feels at home in each community, rather than an outsider in both.  It's the best we can do.

And over the course of those conversations, she convinced us that blessing Esther would accomplish better things spiritually for our family than a baptism would.

So, it was a lot like the scallops.  In a perfect world, it would be nice if I could share that experience with her.  But she probably won't miss it much since there are so many other good experiences that we will share.

After the ceremony, we shared a potluck meal, like my community always does.  My mom brought a ham because -much like we want our Jewish experiences to be authentically Jewish- we wanted this Christian ceremony to be comfortable being totally Christian.

As I ate my ham sandwich, I reflected on how powerful it had been for me to be asked, "Rebecca, do you promise to live following the example of Jesus, to renounce the powers of evil in the world and to teach Esther the life and Way of Jesus?"  This is a standard question for rituals in my denomination and I have answered it before.  This time, I was surprised at how important this ritual had been to my personal practice: to my own relationship with God.
Esther contributes to the communion liturgy. This is my favorite picture of my fierce daughter.

It was a powerful thing to dedicate my own daughter to the rhythms of my own spiritual life.  It is what Christians do and what I have watched Christian parents do my whole life.  My own parents had done it for me.  I was brought closer to God by doing it.

I had been so focused on what was best for Esther and my marriage that I hadn't even thought about what was best for me.  What a surprise to find that what's good for those two turned out to be the best thing for me, as well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Work! Turn to the left. Work! Turn to the right.

I have a confession to make.

I have been holding out on you.

I have been having adventures that I haven't shared with you.

For instance, I have become a Stage Mom.

I'll give you a minute to let that sink in.

Ok, I'm back.

You see, enough people told me that Esther was just like the Gerber baby that I began to think that they might have a point.  The tipping point was when the dermatologist that my family has been seeing for 35 years insisted that she could make money as a model.

So, money AND an adventure into a culture that I have not experienced before?

Yes please.

So, I began somewhat half-heartedly doing some internet research and sending her pictures to the agencies that seemed to have fancier websites.

We got an immediate response from a company that turned out to be a scam.  Of course, I didn't look it up on Yelp before we drove 45 minutes both ways on a Saturday morning and save myself the trouble.  However, I am pretty proud of myself for going with my gut that although I expected talents agents to be a little skeezy, these guys were too skeezy.  On the way home, I also puzzled out that I didn't really respect a business model that couldn't make enough money off the percentage they would make.  I used my University of Chicago-honed economic analysis skills to realize that they had to incentive to actually find us work if they made a big chunk from me up-front.

Apparently, my research had not turned up the old chestnut that you should NEVER pay up front for any kind of representation.

Yup, that's me there: with the fancy degrees?

It was another 2 months before I heard back from anyone else.  Then, it was the last agency that I expected would go for us.  Seriously, this is a direct quote from their website:  "Quickly the news spread amongst the soccer moms of Chicago's suburbia. . ."

You might need another minute to compose yourself.

(At this point I need to clarify in case our agency is reading this, the joke is that I am the last person my readers would expect to be chosen by an agency who normally appeals to soccer moms.  And that is not disrespect to suburbanites.  I totally tried to be that and failed abysmally.  So, I am - without sarcasm - excited to be part of your group.)

So, of course, I let the call go to voice mail since it was an unknown caller and then promptly forgot it was there and didn't listen to it until 3 days later.  What I DID pick up from my internet research is that you have to be super-available to talent agencies.  So, I had already failed my daughter by not returning their call immediately.  I was amazed at how anxious this made me.  I called the next morning 4 times before their office actually opened.  When I spoke to the nice woman on the phone, she gave me a date and time in six weeks.  I was sure the lag was punishment for my slow response.

The morning of our audition, I tried to keep Esther's schedule totally normal, which would result in her napping and waking up just in time to leave.  Of course, she had other plans.  So, we hauled ourselves into the soft industry warehouse loft offices groggy with no nap.

It turned out that it was a group audition and we were directed into a well-lit waiting room with white and chrome eames-style chairs around the perimeter of the room.  On the way up, the elevator had so much cuteness in it that I definitely feared it would exceed capacity and we would all plunge to our fiery deaths.  A man was waiting to take the elevator back down with an empty stroller and warned us that strollers weren't allowed in the office.

Duh.  That was clearly stated in the confirmation email.  Did they really not read it or did they just think it didn't apply to them?

I'm a fanatical rule-follower.  (Did I ever tell you about the time when I was waiting for a ferry and watched tourists decide that the "Wait here to embark" sign didn't apply to them?  I watched the other tourists fight conflicting herd instincts: do I obey the sign or follow the others?  Since I was a native, I knew to obey the sign and got to feel smug when the crew ordered the folks back up the hill.  Rule-following always pays off.  Except when it doesn't. But don't ask me how to tell the difference.)

I assume that the guy had been early enough to be warned.  I have no idea if it was a coincidence that the other two families that brought strollers were both sent home without contracts.  However,you weren't supposed to bring more than one child per adult or be late and all of the families that broke those rules passed the audition.  So confusing when rule-following isn't consistently rewarded.  And when things like merit actually could for something.

So, everything about the audition experience, from the email full of rules to the waiting room that we were asked not to wander out of when comforting crying infants to the attitudes of the employees seemed to be designed to communicate that they had all the power and, as the "talent," we were in a position of supplication.  They did not need us; we needed them.

This totally makes sense and I was prepared for it.  No one was mean and if it makes their life easier, then I can play by their rules.  I don't need their affirmation to feel good about myself.

But that is certainly interesting when thinking about most stage parents, isn't it?  I spent a year teaching kids in three different theatrical productions and I have to say that their parents totally fit the stereotype.  The only one who handled it well was a child of a successful 60s musician and had been on tour herself as a teenager.  Again, she had enough self-confidence that she didn't need her daughter to get it for her.

But as they took the kids one by one into another room to see how they would respond to strangers, I admit that I felt nervous and actually asked one of the other parents if it had taken this long with the other kids that had gone before.  Here's hoping that little bit of visceral sympathy with those parents of my students keeps me centered and hospitable to the parents of Esther's peers.

There were 10-12 families there at the same time we were and the agency had scheduled several other appointments like this throughout the day.  From their identity signals (clothes, haircuts, etc.), most were upper middle class status-y types with one pageant mom and one young working class family.  Only one other family seemed like me by being dressed in casual clothes that were practical rather than expensive.

In the past, I would have archly described these characters, hoping to sound a little like David Sedaris, and many of you would have laughed along with me, loving that God made a world where people have idiosyncrasies.  This is not that post, somewhat because I don't have time to do it right and partly because I'm feeling a little tender toward those folks.

I have only told a few people about this adventure and when I do, it's with a little bit of embarrassment and a lot of self-mockery.  I mean, many of the posts on this blog are as good a testament as any to my desire to live a life of meaning and passion for the things that God loves.  And here I am feeding the capitalist, materialist monster because my daughter gets a better billable rate than I do? 

But I have never been led astray by the heuristic of asking the question, "Will this make a good story?"  God is in every workplace and I will not belittle folks who are called to fields other than fields of service by saying that I am supposed to be taking a nobler path.  Making my life into a good story has always moved me toward God, even if sometimes I feel more like Jonah or Hosea than like Sarah or Rachel.

Back to the story at hand, each family was either asked to wait until after the audition to fill out necessary paperwork or to resubmit new photos in 3-6 months because their child wasn't ready yet.  I thought this was supremely well-done diplomacy and made me comfortable with the prospect of working for them.  Five families, including us, were asked to stay.  No one had a meltdown when their kid wasn't chosen and no one was weirdly triumphant.

We were offered the chance to pay for a special workshop, pay for an upgraded online account and pay for a portfolio but no one implied that we would get less work without paying for those things.  In fact, children under 3 years old don't even need professional head shots since they change so quickly.  (Esther's comp card is the image above.)  So, all I needed to do was create a couple of online profiles, print out comp cards and get a work permit, which required a trip to the Board of Education, finally getting a copy of her birth certificate and a note from her doctor.  The work permit experience heightened my sense of ridiculousness to new levels.

And then we waited.  A month after officially becoming clients of our talent agency, I got a call.  I had even made the effort to run across the house to get it before it went to voice mail without knowing who was calling, which is unheard of for me.  So, today, we will drive out to Roselle, with an armful of Christmas-style clothing, and have our photo shoot with a slew of other children whose names are all prominently monogrammed on personalized items in the Land of Nod catalog.  Like the audition, though, one family might be similar to us because their daughter has Esther's middle name, with the same spelling.  Since we got that name from the character in a young adult fantasy novel, there is hope we won't be the odd ones out.  Still, hospitality is my main spiritual practice so I will try to move myself out of my comfort zone with the other parents to befriend them.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A few people have now asked me what I think of the Time magazine cover. That's how they say it: "the Time magazine cover." They know that I know what they are talking about. Apparently folks think that I will have an opinion.

Let's start with the facts. The kid is 3 but his 4th birthday is in June. The mom is 26 and she was breastfeed until she was 6. (Let me know if I have any of that wrong; I didn't read the article but no one is talking about the article, only the cover.)

Now, what do I think? I think it is totally fine if Mom wants to breastfeed her kids for as long as they are interested. Yes, even if they are in 2nd grade.  Because, you see, they are not my kids. So unless she is undeniably hurting them, I don't get to have a say in the matter.

Some folks have argued with me that she is hurting them, usually claiming that the other kids will make fun of the boy once he is older.

1. Kids will always find something to pick on another kid for. Letting 8-year-old assholes influence your parenting choices is a terrible idea.
2. This mom in particular was breastfed in a similar way so she knows a little bit more than most people what it's like to have grown up with that experience.
3. They are not the only family to be doing this; this kid will have plenty of peers.

 I have yet to hear an argument that there are psychological or physical harms being caused that is anything other than: "It just seems unnatural." So glad we're using scientific standards for health and not letting our socially imposed sense of what's "icky" guide how we treat people.  Also, let's think about the childhood experience and think about how many other unnatural things are acceptable.  Sour Patch Kids, anyone? 

We also cannot know what good this might do for their family. The world is a scary place to raise kids in. Predators, the attractiveness of violent video games and Internet porn, bullies both IRL and online, hard drugs available in the suburbs, sexting, "juicy" clothes for 2-year-olds and abusive teachers, coaches and caregivers are just a handful of influences that parents feel helpless to 100% protect their children from. It can make us edgy and fearful, which leads to parenting choices that are actually bad. If extending the intimacy of nursing into toddlerhood helps a parent to feel more secure that she has done everything in her power to protect his innocence, who am I to tell her she's wrong?

Finally, let's please notice that Time is doing what the media does: it tries to sell audiences to advertisers by generating controversy, even if that controversy is bad for society as a whole. The headline, "Are you mom enough?" is insulting. Parenting should not be a competition. Who benefits from that? Trying to keep pace or pass up other parents takes our eyes off the real goal, which is healthy, happy children. As with any attempt to measure the ineffable, we start doing things that increase our scores without actually increasing our success.

Unless she is extremely damaged, every mom is mom enough. I have not met a parent yet who has said to herself, "You know what, I'm only going to do a half-assed job raising my kids." We are all doing the best we can and all of us come up short.

And I have to say, it's become pretty clear to me that there is very little correlation between parents I would judge to be good parents and how well their kids turn out and parents I judge to be bad parents and how well their kids turned out. Don't you know amazing adults who had shitty parents? Don't you know assholes that are breaking their parents' hearts with the choices they make?

All we can do in the face of that is the best we can. And when we know better, we do better, to paraphrase Maya Angelou.

So, acting like people who are doing their best  have earned our scorn because we wouldn't make the same choices their making? Not cool. And let me be clear, I am going away for 4 days in two weeks and Esther will be weaned by the time I get back so I definitely would not make the choice the cover mom is making right now in my life. But it would be astounding hubris for me to declare there would never be a circumstance in which I would not make that choice. Remember that if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans, right?

Giving people the benefit of the doubt? That's the same grace that God extends to us. That's the mercy that helps us move us all forward even we should be paralyzed by past mistakes. That's what will bring about peace for our children.

Time magazine can suck it for trying to stick a wedge between me and another parent. Between your child and that mom's child. These are the kinds of differences that we are striving to overcome when we sing camp songs and celebrate multi-cultural week by eating tacos and naan.  Because different cultures are not solely created by geography and politics.

Time can also suck it for their predictable gendering of the situation and for their predictable choice of a pretty, young, thin, blonde woman as cover model. Expounding on those opinions here will probably wear us all out, though. But let me say that men make parenting choices, too; and people of color, older moms and moms who do not fit the unrealistic standard of beauty our society insists upon can also be paragons of parenting. I know that sounds a little bit like the old joke about the wedding where the food was terrible and the portions were too small but I think that shit needs to be called out whenever possible.

Parents are amazing. It's a waste of time to nitpick about how we disagree about parenting. Outside of a close relationship with the parent, judgement will only gunk up the gears of our society because it's not going to change how the choices that parent makes and might prevent other parents and future parents from trusting their own instincts. Is there any benefit to a parent who parents hesitantly?

 In conclusion, support each other. Support each other. Support each other. And, Time can suck it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Since this blog was named 8 years ago as an allusion to Maurice Sendak's most famous book, I want to take a moment and honor his passing.  I heard this anecdote on NPR awhile ago and I repeat it all the time.  God is great to create artists like Mr. Sendak and to create cranky old men, as well.  If you haven't watched the Colbert Report interview or listened to the Fresh Air interview, I suggest you take some time this week to do so.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

But my best friend is Jewish so it's OK that I said that.

Jacob and I have fought manymany times about some joke I made that I thought was pretty funny that turned out to be more than a little bit offensive according to most Jewish people.

Now, let's be clear, sometimes when we fight, it turns out that Jacob was being over-sensitive and my joke would be fine in all but the most conservative of gatherings.  However, often, like say 90% of the time, it turns out that I shouldn't have made the joke.  Like, really. I have made some huge mistakes.

So, I'm admitting up front that my learning curve has been and continues to be steep.  STEEP. And, like Louis C.K. says below, it can be tricky knowing what is and isn't OK.
DVD Exclusive - Louis C.K. - "Jew" Is a Funny Word
Louis C.K.ComediansStand-Up

But I have been thinking about allies lately.  Allies work to re-establish God's shalom in the world by speaking on behalf of marginalized folks because they will take relatively less social, financial and physical damage for saying the unpopular thing than the person at the receiving end of the injustice would.

I have a friend who was in a situation where no ally stood up for her.  She is amazing because she's trying to figure out how to become the ally she wished for on behalf of other young people like herself who haven't achieved her level of confidence yet.  She's letting me help her brainstorm how to do this.

While I have been thinking about allies, this article from came across my screen about Purim, which is the story of Esther, who was in a position to help the Jewish people because she was married to a non-Jew.  The rabbi writes about other ways that intermarriage might be good for the Jewish community as a people, saying, "Perhaps in all the intermarriages that are happening today, we are acquiring allies for the Jewish people. Perhaps we now have hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who are also committed to the survival of the Jewish people, its customs and teachings, and to raising Jewish children. "

Interestingly, I had just acted as an ally in a way that I would not have before Jacob started teaching me about anti-semitism and before Esther's birth caused me to start seeing the world through her eyes. I clicked through a Facebook post to an interview in the Huffington Post that was about a guy who kept his homosexuality in the closet while he worked as a high-level producer in Christian TV, which is for the most-part anti-gay.  The tone of the piece was edgy, funny and just a little bit fabulous.  Then, the interview subject signed off saying, "Transformation of any kind will only come from being in a relationship with [Jesus] - and if there is anything he wants you to change, HE will let you know. I mean, he is Jewish, remember!"

Four years ago, I would have thought nothing of that.  Today, it struck me as weird that a Jewish joke would conclude an article about homosexuality and Christianity.  It's mostly just out of place.  It also made me uncomfortable because the humor in the rest of the piece was mostly self-deprecatory jokes about gay people or conservative Christians, both of which came across fine since either the interviewer or the subject belonged to those communities in some way or another.  Since neither claimed Judaism, I realized that the joke was offensive.


The premise of the joke says that BECAUSE Jesus is Jewish THEN something is true.  If the joke said that BECAUSE someone was black, THEN something is true, we would see the racism immediately.  The only way for that logic to scan properly is if that thing is true for every person of that community to possess the characteristic and that's always a stereotype.

Whether they are negative or positive, putting stereotypes into print adds to the weight of that stereotype, which hurts members of the stereotyped group, since they don't get known as individuals, as well as keeping the stereotyper bound by his or her own ignorance.

Without debating it too much in my own head, I called out the anti-semitism in a comment on the Facebook post and a little later, I sent a message to the interviewer to open a dialogue.  He was really gracious and very willing to listen to my perspective and acknowledge my points.  As a Christian, I spoke from my safe position as family to another Christian about how he was inadvertently hurting the Jewish people.  I acted as an ally, just like the rabbi on wrote about.

As I was explaining my perspective to the author, I realized that this is a joke I have seen before.  Mainstream Christians have a funny relationship with Judaism.  Almost all of us are well past blaming the Jews for Jesus' death (because it's not true) and more and more, people are studying the historical context of our scriptures, which necessarily means studying Judaism, at least of the ancient sort.

And that's where the problem comes in.  Starting with the bumper stickers declaring that our boss is a  Jewish carpenter, Christians claim intimacy and familiarity with Judaism because our roots are there.  Unfortunately, too often we conveniently forget that in 2,000 years, Judaism has changed quite a bit from what we read about in Acts, much of it as a result of persecution by Christians.  Our knowledge of ancient Judaism does not translate automatically to knowledge of modern-day Jews.  This means that our knowledge of modern-day Jews is most often supplied by pop culture, which is still largely informed by deliberately intentional negative propaganda against Jews.  Even the humorous self-loathing of people like Woody Allen is SELF-loathing and not to be appropriated by folks outside of the tribe.  I know it sometimes doesn't seem fair that Black people get to use the n-word and white folks don't but really, do you want to use it that much?  Isn't our sense of unfairness just based in a desire not to be bound in any way?

Also, as strange as this sounds, we often forget that Jewish people don't read Old Testament scripture (also, think about the solipsism involved in that nomenclature) believing that the prophecies are referring to Jesus.  Remember the movie Clue?  When it first came out in theaters, different theaters ran different solutions to the mystery and it wasn't until it came out on VHS that people could see all three endings.

The end of the story for Jews is different than the end of the story for Christians and that changes how we interpret the beginning and middle of the story.

So, we don't realize that it is insulting to host a Passover seder and talk about how Jesus was foreshadowed as the paschal lamb, whose blood was painted over the doorframe.  It's like adding salt to the wound of 2000 years of persecution to then take one of their most  sacred celebrations and twist it to reflect our own beliefs.  Yes, the past 30 years have been a relatively safe time for Jews all over the world but 30 years isn't very long in the memory of people that are over 3,500 years old.  Judaism teaches continuity and a sense of belonging to the tribe that is not necessarily a part of Christian culture.  Our emphasis on a personal revelation of our individual relationship with God de-emphasizes our sense of belonging to community.  It's not gone - many of us are certainly aware of the Church or of being brothers and sisters in Christ - but trust me that it is not nearly as intense a sense of global belonging as being Jewish feels for even the most secular members of the diaspora.  These are, of course, sweeping generalizations and I recognize the irony of making them in a post that began with condemning humor based on stereotypes.  Still, the naivete I encounter of so many Christians seems to necessitate that I start with the basics.

There are very few Christians who are anti-semitic as an identity.  Please don't think that. However, even non-bigoted people make both unintentional or deliberate decisions that are reflective of larger forces that hurt folks in minority populations. (Actually, there is a whole sub-set of evangelical Christians who are dispensationalists and support Israel somewhat blindly based on their belief that Jesus won't come again to take them to Heaven while leaving the rest of us behind until the Jews are all back in Israel.  Seriously.   That's a whole different kind of objectification that's too gross to talk about in this one post.)

So, I am excited by my new-found role as a non-Jewish ally.  I don't want a world where my interfaith daughter feels like half of her people are willing to throw the other half of her people under the bus for the sake of a good joke.  I'll try to share some of these adventures as we go along.