Friday, March 30, 2007

The Penguin Shuffle

Yesterday when I was talking to Teresa on "Catholic Connection" about Canticle, she observed how easy it sometimes was to get isolated in today's world. There are so many things to avoid, so many bad influences and negative factors that we must be constantly fighting against. It gets so that we just want to quit sometimes ... just turn in our armor and retreat to some little island somewhere with a tidy little cabana and a little square of sandy beach. With the family, of course.

As Teresa was talking, an image from one of my favorite movies immediately came to mind: a documentary that almost immediately caught the imagination of the American public, thanks largely to the inspired casting of the narrator, Morgan Freeman. I refer, of course, to March of the Penguins. Remember those brave Daddy penguins, huddled together against that savage Arctic winter? The only thing that kept them from turning them into POP-sicles was the fact that each of them took a turn at the edges, where the wind blew harshest and coldest, giving those who had taken their turns a chance to thaw their delicates farther in the huddle before venturing back outside.

This lesson is of particular interest to me right now. I recently signed on to help run the summer VBS program at my parish, and have been impressed with the ingenuity and speed with which some individuals ... have avoided making a commitment to help. One woman actually knocked over her husband and vaulted over a baptismal font on her way out of the church to avoid talking to me! (It kind of hurt my feelings ... Especially since it was likely we'd run into each other again!)

The thing is, there are lots of little ways to help, and some of them don't require a lot of time. If people would just say, "Well, I want my kids to enjoy the program ... Let's see if I can find one area to contribute. Maybe I can color in a poster or something." See?

Be a penguin for Jesus. Penguins don't have to sprint ... They have eggs on their feet, after all. They just have to shuffle and huddle, shuffle and huddle. We can do that, can't we?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Caution: Children Cross

When it comes to my children, there are two things I can always count on. First, the moment I sit in front of my computer, squabbling escalates until one or both draws blood. Second, Sarah never voluntarily wears anything that covers an inch of skin between her knees and her hips ... and, once I dress her appropriately, she will strip it off as soon as my back is turned.
She will wear three layers on her arms, but her thighs have got to be free.
It's terrifying, really. I want to do everything in my power to make sure she has the tools she needs to avoid some of the mistakes her birthmother made. (And some of those her forever mother made as well.)
I've come to terms with the idea that I may need to make concessions, for Sarah's and Christopher's sake, while there is still time to empower them to make good choices. And one of those areas (besides modesty) is the ability to choose kindness. Kindness with each other. Kindness with their parents. Kindness with themselves.
Yesterday I was reading from Gordon Neufeld’s Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, about the motivating force behind bullying.
The problem, it turns out, is not a sense of superiority so much as a sense of fear -- in particular, the fear of not getting his emotional needs met by his parents. Once those needs for closeness are satisfied, the aggressive tendencies go away of their own accord.
In parenting, bullying can be the same way ... at least, I've experienced it this way. I've found myself being harsh with Christopher especially when he seems to be taking the easy way out, or the sloppy way. Afraid that he will fall behind the rest of his peers, I sometimes forget that a moment of bullying can undo months of patient, kind instruction. And in the end, which is more important -- a perfectly finished homework paper, or a sense that his mother believes in him?
Yes, ideally he can do both ... but when we must choose, I need to choose kindness.
Lord, let me choose kindness today.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Marriage by Design

Casually seven-year-old Christopher bit into a french fry and announced that today in school "Jill" told him that not only women can marry men; men can marry men, too. And women can marry women. "It's the law," his classmate, also seven, informed my son.
"It is not!" Christopher argued, confident that she had her facts garbled.
"Is, too!" she countered with irrefutible seven-year-old logic.
I had counted on a few more years before needing to have this particular conversation. But if they're big enough to ask the question, they're big enough to have the facts. "Christopher, there are people who want to change God's law about marriage. God created men and women to fit together in a special way, to love each other and love their children for the rest of their lives. God gives special blessings to people who commit to each other in this way, and society gives special privileges to married couples as well. Some people think they should get these blessings and privileges even if they don't follow God's plan. But God's plan is best, and that is the law we follow."
I had a conversation with Jill's mom later that day ... a delightful Catholic woman whom I've met on several occasions. Apparently Jill overheard a conversation at the last family reunion, and her mother didn't realize the little girl had been processing it all. At least, not until my phone call. "I'm kind of a free thinker," she said to me. "My family is pretty politically diverse... But I guess I need to clarify things a little more for her."
Good idea.
Today on Relevant Radio, Stephanie and Steve Wood talked about the Relativism that has crept in to the minds and hearts of teenagers -- even those serious enough about their faith to attend youth group. If parents are unwilling to instill in their children early on that there ARE absolute truths, that some things are ALWAYS right and wrong, these kids become hardened to any kind of ethical boundaries later on, be they sexual, financial, or political.
Kids today absorb information at a dizzying rate ... It is not enough to control their access to the media, though we should make every effort to set reasonable limits. Beyond that, we need to be teaching our kids the rationale behind the choices we set for them, so they understand not only the "what" but the "why." We need to teach them not only what to think ... more importantly, we need to teach them how.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Was Jonah Catholic?

It all started with Jonah, A Veggie Tales’ Movie. Four-year-old Sarah was watching it in the living room as I made dinner. Suddenly she piped up, “Mommy, is Jonah Catholic?”
“No, Jonah was Jewish.”
“Are we Jewish?”
“We’re Catholic. We believe Jesus, who was born to a Jewish family, makes us part of God’s ‘forever family.’” ("Forever family" is a familiar concept to Sarah, who has heard it since she first came to us at six months of age.)
Silence reigned in the living room as the television continued to blare. Then a little voice piped up again. “So, is GOD Catholic?”
Good question. “No, dear. Jesus made the Catholic Church – like a big boat to take us all safely to heaven. God doesn’t need the boat to get to heaven, He was there from the beginning. He wants us all in the Church boat, so we can all get to heaven safely.”
“Jonah, too?”
“Yes, dear. He was God’s friend. I hope we’ll see him, too.” By this time I had moved into the living room so I could have this conversation with my daughter face to face. She was a study in concentrated thought.
“So, Jonah is Catholic?”
Now it was my turn to pause. “Well, dear ... I suppose he is now!”
The Church has always taught that there is "no salvation outside the Church." All the means of grace that God has given the human race, is there for the taking because of the atoning work of Christ. The Catholic Church safeguards this deposit of grace, and many have dipped into it over the centuries. All that is true about every other Christian tradition, came to them through the Church that was founded by Christ.
This does not mean that only Catholics will be in heaven -- entrance into His heaven is up to God alone to determine. Nor does it mean that simply calling yourself "Catholic" will guarantee anyone a front-row seat at the Pearly Gates. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," St. Paul tells us. But anyone who IS there will be there because of the "Amazing Grace" that has been protected and safeguarded by those to whom Christ first entrusted His Gospel ... the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Father God, give me the wisdom of a child to stay safely in Your boat.