Sunday, July 28, 2013

Things both militant religionists and anti-theists could do better

DISCLAIMER: Since my wording caused confusion,  I am not labeling all atheists as anti-theists. I intentionally used that phrase to distinguish open minded atheists from those who *are* anti religious.This difference in terms is much like the difference between "all Christians" and "fundamentalist".

Last Friday, I found myself in two different conversations on two different social media platforms with two different rabid anti-religionists (neither of whom I know personally). I'm pretty sure that I didn't manage to convince these people that I was not, by simply being a religious person, mentally ill, or abusing my children by bringing them up in the faith. (Yes, both claims were made in a general way). Now, I have friends with every type of belief about the metaphysical, and I truly believe we all *can* treat each other with respect and work together for the common good. So why don't we? I've spent some time thinking about what both sides do to increase acrimony, and how they could proceed differently.

If you're North American, think carefully before you cry oppression: Honesty compels me to note that historically, religion has committed more oppression than atheist states (One notable exception being religious suppression in the former Soviet Union ) However, if you live in North America, it's unlikely you're experiencing true oppression. You may be treated to unfair stereotypes, rudeness, and ostracising. You may find it harder to get elected in the area where you live than someone with a different worldview. Oppression? Try being a religious person in North Korea or living in a country modeled on theocracy .

Stop assuming you know exactly what someone believes because of their label:  This was part of the argument with one of the anti-theists I engaged. And frankly, this person was wrong. Just because I embrace the label "Christian" doesn't mean you can assume you know the whole scope of my belief, just like I know that the labels Pagan, Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Agnostic, etc; all carry a broad range on interpretation. Be willing to ask people, "What does being a _________ mean to you?", and listen with an open heart.

Don't confuse the roles of religion and science: If you're religious, be open to the idea that the creation story in your tradition is allegorical and even poetical. If you can't, at least don't try to supersede separation of church and state to try and have creationism taught in the schools. Don't deny climate science. If you're not religious, understand that religious people DON'T need proof that their god or gods exist: that's kind of the opposite of faith. It's OK if you would need proof to believe in the divine, but if someone finds comfort in the idea of a ( completely unprovable) afterlife, who are you to take that comfort from them? A last word to both groups on this: if people who are trying to figure out what they believe hear from both sides that they have to choose between religion and science, they will, and you may be on the side that loses out.

Understand that anger, hate, fear, and insults NEVER truly change some one's mind:  Fundamentalists, you can't convince atheists to believe in your God with the threat of Hell. It doesn't exist to them. And neither side is very convincing when they call people with a different view of the metaphysical immoral, idiotic, or evil. Would you want to throw your lot in with such insulting people?

Find common ground outside of the discussion of religion: Simply spending time with people who hold different beliefs can help you to see how much our similarities outweigh our differences. Find a mixed group of people who share a common interest with you- knitting, philately, weight lifting, and truly get to know them. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Engage in common service: Intentionally seek out opportunities to serve side by side with people from differing world views. It's hard to demonize someone when you've cleaned a highway, fed the hungry, or worked a blood drive with them.

Read the work of at least one person with a different worldview from yours: If you're religious, I suggest reading the blog Non Prophet Status or the book Faitheist by Chris Stedman. If you're not religious, I suggest following Unfundamentalist Christians or reading Evolving In Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans, or The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. (If you have a suggested reading from your tradition, leave me a comment and I'd edit to add it) .

Step it up. Ask someone with a differing worldview what led them to that view, and don't try to argue them out of it. Did your atheist friend come to believe there was no divine power after delving into science? After a prayer went unanswered? Or was it after a traumatic experience in the church? What experiences made your spiritual friend believe in the metaphysical? Scholarly study? Experiences that convinced them they or a loved one was remembering a past life? A feeling of love and comfort during prayer? Or maybe a congregation that carried them through a hard time? Listen, accept, and don't minimize.

Stop insulting each other. Just stop it. Really, our world has bigger problems than whether your neighbour believes in the divine or not. Stop bashing each other over it and start working together to combat environmental degradation, domestic violence, and poverty. Don't make me use my teacher voice.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

If you want something done at all...

If you know me, you also know that the last thing I am is lazy. Like most of us, however, I find that when somebody, anybody in my house does a regular chore, I balk at being expected to do that. Such is the case with changing the beds. Anywhere from 48 to 50 weeks a year, my dear husband spends his Sunday mornings, while the kids and I are at church, changing the sheets on all the beds and washing them. Then, something like Father's Day or Easter or one of our kids getting baptized or confirmed will come along and that gets thrown off.
Point of note: if my husband's morning is disrupted and he doesn't get the beds changed before lunch, he considers the window closed. For the whole week.
Since I do not like sleeping in my ow filth, I have to make sure bed-changing happens on these days. But I hate it, and  never do it quite as well as the man. The first part of my tactic to to make my kids do their own beds. After all, if they do a slapdash job, *I* won't have to deal with it.
Now, let me digress briefly to explain that one of the best ways to get my husband to do something is to start doing it myself. Sometimes I'm going into the thing committed finishing it; but if you think that on two different occasions I started painting one of the kids' rooms right before I expected him home from work, knowing he'd be horrified at the wrongness of my method and insist on taking over, you wouldn't be wrong.
But today: the husband's work had them in all Sunday morning for a mandatory store cleaning. He actually got home well after we'd eaten lunch. After giving him some time to settle back in and decide playing Halo against the eldest was *not* fun, I asked him about the beds getting changed.
"Sure, you do that", he said.
I dragged myself away from my books, announced to the kids that they'd be making their own beds today, and dragged everything off our bed onto the floor. My husband walks in, horrified that our blankets and pillows are on the dirty floor (This is when I declined to mention that if I'm rotating clothes loads on the line and don't feel like going in for a second basket, I may just dump the wet laundry onto the lawn while I pile dry clothes into the basket). After noticing that our teenagers had not started making their beds, he turned off the wi-fi and came back to start making our bed. I tell him he's not allowed to die or become incapacitated until I can afford to hire someone to do this for me every week.
Did I know my wrong bed making would inspire my husband to take over? Yes. Do I feel guilty?  Not a bit.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hints the parenting books won't tell you

Any new or expectant parent has probably read a plethora of books. Sometimes you feel so saturated with information that making a decision can be paralyzing, especially when you're sleep deprived and covered in spit up. Believe it or not, there will still be things that many books seem to miss. I don't want to give unsolicited advice that raises one parenting style over another, but here are a few things I've learned over the years ( and can be used whatever your parenting style)

The Best Parking Spot is not the one closest to the store, but the one closest to the cart corral. If you don't trust me on this now, you will after the first time you try to wrangle your shopping bags, a toddler, and a baby bucket while not sending the cart careening into someone's Mustang.

Small item lodged in nose  Hold down the unplugged nostril- tightly! Form a seal over the child's mouth with your own, and blow hard. It will pop right out. (Via my friend Tami)

Potty train in summer Naked children potty train faster.

Turn your clock to the wall I'm not going to go looking for studies on this, but I'm convinced that you feel better rested in the morning f you don;t know how little you've slept.

You don't have to keep everything anymore, thanks to digital cameras  Preschool at projects overrunning your house, but afraid your kid will be upset if she finds out you tossed her masterpiece? Gently explain that while you don't have room to keep it all, you value her work and are therefore going to take a picture of it.

The First Birthday Cake I believe there's a law that you can't be a parent in N America without owning a copy of What To Expect The First Year. It's been a long time since that book applied to me, but I seem to remember it- and every other "first year" book I read-telling parents to make their child's first birthday came from whole grains, sweetened with fruit juice, low fat, and of course NO SUGAR. I have three kids and yeah, I did that once. Now, I am about to offend both the truly crunchy moms and the convenience food moms, but I truly believe one of the TRUE things about parenting is that you should make your kid a real birthday cake, every single year. Make it with sugar, butter, flour ( whatever kind you use), eggs and if you want to raise your kids right, chocolate. Don't give in to the urge to go to the grocery store bakery. Really. Even if you don't worry about preservatives, dyes, and HFCS the other days of the year, birthdays, all birthdays, are special and our loved ones deserve both the effort and the deliciousness that a home baked cake provides. And for the love of whatever gods you believe in*, don't make one of those healthy monstrosities.
(*If you're atheist/agnostic, please imagine Julia Child playing the role of God)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Mommy bloggers: is only the ugly funny?

I'm a bit of a voracious reader of parenting memoirs. I love hearing other's experiences, especially those with vastly different one from my own. Many of such books I read  put on the library queue after someone links a mommy blogger post: written by someone who, unlike me, managed to turn her attention mongering and pathological need to share every aspect of her life with the internet into something concrete that makes her money. Which sometimes  I think I should do, but really, who has time for that?

I've seen a pattern emerge, and I wanted to explore it. Many of these books sport early reviews that speak of the "honesty" and "authenticity" of the author. The books therein almost universally speak of a house that's a war zone, a husband that's lazy and clueless, and kids that never clean up the messes they make and are mini-despots.

I figure that one (or parts or more) of three things must be true about these mommy-bloggers-turned-authors:

1) They're exaggerating in the interest of making the book more interesting

2) They simply are not past the often zombifying baby/toddler years

3) All they say is true and they desperately need to implement some time management and delegation of chores.

I'm not trying to say I have it all figured out, my house is always immaculate, or that there are never daysI 'd trade my husband in for a fictional man. In the interest of honesty; I yell at my kids too often, I am too often impatient with EVERYONE in my family, and I frequently send some kid to get started on dinner prep because I don't want to step away from the internet. I HATE playing games with my kids (OK, with anyone)  and even one game of Magic often requires them to bribe me with chores; I  make my eldest pay me for driving him to the comic book store, and I have told my kids that if they ever want to play an outdoor sport, that's fine, but I'd be dropping them off and heading to the nearest Starbucks. (luckily, our people don't really do outdoor activities so it's all good). But  have to wonder, do people really live this way? Do other husbands really come home from work, flop down on the couch, and not do their share of the baby care? Maybe I did luck out by having a husband who took seriously that nature had equipped me to be the food source and that I was home all day, and he changed diapers and walked babies for years on end. The "war zone house" years were short because I started expecting my kids to clean up after themselves as soon as they could walk, and by the age of 6 they were doing dishes (by hand!) and folding their own laundry. You can guess how much sympathy I have for someone with ablebodied tweens and teens who complains about the sink full of dishes, the messy house, or their kids' laundry.
And sleeping through the night? I don't buy the idea I've seen floated about, that you'll never sleep through the night again even after your kids do. I've been mostly doing it for years, and when  don't, my enemy  is usually a fascinating book, my desire to watch just "one more episode" of whatever my series of the month is, or my seeming inability to learn that I can't drink coffee late in the evening and still sleep later. Not my kids, not even when they get sick .(The last few times one of my kids got sick in the night, I only found out when they told me in the morning. Even the sound of someone vomiting in the next room didn't disturb my slumber/ Mother of the year!). In fact, my eldest just spent two weeks away, including a week in less than first world conditions, and I didn't even leave my phone on at night.
Parenting is not the rosy, sunshine soaked experience that the past has portrayed it as . But I don't think it's usually as dire and crazy making as the popular bloggers make it out to be. I'd try to convince people otherwise, but  think my story's too boring to sell.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Keeping oneself

I can't count how many recent conversations I've had have led around to this subject, prompting me to write this post.

Marriage. There are so many things that can make it succeed or fail, and sometimes they are just out of our control. Sometimes things are not meant to be.

But this issue, the issue of oneself, is one I see causing so much pain, yet is one of the more controllable. It gets harder if we add children and/or a high pressure career into the mix, but it becomes even more important then.

We must keep ourselves.

It starts with the realization that you and your partner do not have to do everything together. You do not have to enjoy all of the same things. You do not have to go all of the same places. It's not your partner's job to entertain you.

My husband and I have very different personalities. Especially compared to each other, he's an extreme introvert and I'm an extreme extrovert. This used to cause me a lot of stress, and because I was like an angry child over the fact that he never went anywhere with me,  caused him stress. Lots of stress.

But at some point, when I had a preschooler, a toddler, and one in the oven, I realized I had to release him from that burden of expectation. I stopped bugging him to go places with me and instead enjoyed things like live music with my best friend, secure in the fact that we were both where we wanted to be, and that I didn't have to find a sitter. I learned how to crochet and knit, and became active in a variety of activities at church, even though he doesn't go with me. Very importantly, I stopped asking him before I made plans. I do tell him and I very clearly label plans on the family calendar. Chances are, he's not going anywhere,so it's rare for us to conflict. I am happier; happier to see my husband, happier to pour myself into parenting, when I've done the things that feed and define ME.
In closing, there are so many things that can stress a relationship, it seems silly to add any stressors. I'm glad I didn't become a woman who lost herself in being a wife and mother, even though those are the most important things in my life. They are not all of me. And I'm glad I didn't stay wallowing in resentment. It's much easier to be happy with someone who is allowed to be who they are.