Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Saying one thing and doing another

I was raised in the United Methodist church by parents who very much lived their faith and values, and who taught my brother and me to do the same. Questioning and discussion was certainly permitted, even encouraged, and we had many lively conversations over the years about faith and action and beliefs.

As a college student, I took required religion courses at my church-related college, and studied not only the Bible, but many theologians. Again, discussion was encouraged by my professors.

Over the years I've attended and been active in various United Methodist churches and an active participant in many social justice issues and on various boards and committees, many of them ecumenical.  I know a fair amount about many other churches, denominations, and religions.

I'm no longer involved in a church. But I am a spiritual person. I have a strong moral code and beliefs that have evolved from my earliest experiences with the church. I try to live my faith and my values, and I believe in God, in a Higher Power.

But I am just absolutely baffled by those who call themselves conservative Christians but whose actions are anything but reflective of what Jesus taught us about God and about forgiveness and tolerance and love.

I don't understand how a person can pepper a Facebook page with proclamations of God's love and "Praise Jesus" and then on the same page, even the same day, post or re-post vicious condemnations of gays and lesbians, of Jews and blacks and Catholics and Mormons and Muslims. Attack our president for his support of marriage for gay people as well as heterosexuals. Declare that women are not capable of making their own reproductive choices for any reason, but some man knows better than they do and will make it for them!

I don't understand how on the one hand they can pray to Jesus to sell their house or get a new job or a new car or help them through a divorce or a custody battle or other of life's difficult times, and on the other proclaim that everyone who is on disability or who receives welfare benefits is a drug addict or lazy, fat, freeloader.

Or how they can love Jesus soooo much but not forgive someone who hurt them in the past or even to consider that perhaps that person has changed. Or to bear a grudge that is rooted in something that happened decades ago. Shun a person who they believe has wronged them, without explanation, without discussion or even attempts at reconciliation. But Jesus can heal all, Jesus will save us, Jesus forgives our sins? Huh?

Or somehow rationalize that it is all right to kill a doctor who performs abortions, safe and legal abortions, and to condemn those women who might seek one for any reason as 'babykillers.' How does that make sense? How does that demonstrate love and compassion?

This is not the Christianity I was raised with.

Instead, Christianity today seems to be increasingly populated with those claiming to be 'good' Christian people who advocate -- or at the least turn a blind eye to violence, discrimination, anti-Semitism, and prejudice. They are anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-Jew, anti-black, anti-poverty. They consider their brand of Christianity to be the ONLY way, and if you don't believe as they do, you are clearly going to hell, and might even deserve to be punished, if not outright murdered.

Jesus was a Jew. He hung out with former prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, the poor, the mentally ill, the crippled, the unpopular people. He taught tolerance and caring and compassion for everyone. He taught that loving others as much as we love ourselves is the right way to live. 

I'm not seeing it. Not by those who pray the loudest anyway. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Motherhood 101

Today is Mother's Day.

All the ads and commercials and newspaper stories pretty much picture every mother as exemplary: one who loves her children (and grandchildren) unconditionally, bakes homemade cookies regularly, knits, sews, or crafts cute things for said children, always volunteers for school and community organizations, is fashionable and slim with perfect hair and skin, and who always, always is even-tempered, would never dream of smacking their precious child's rearend,  and knows exactly what to do in pretty much any situation.

Well, guess what. I don't know any mothers like that, and if you do, you are indeed blessed, and you need read no further.

I sure am not that mother or step-mother or grandmother. My mother wasn't either, nor my grandmothers. My daughter isn't.

I made mistakes. I still make them, although because my children are grown, it's not multiple times every day any more. There was not a parenting manual given to me with either child -- the one I raised from age 14 days or the rebellious, angry teenager I got when she was 16 years (a bonus that came with her wonderful daddy who made it all worth it). (If you got one, let me borrow it, please. I want to know what comes next.)

Oprah Winfrey said "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother."

What makes you a mother is being there: putting your child's needs ahead of your own, even when there are a thousand things you'd rather do than clean up yet another round of barf; going to all the parent-teacher conferences and the sports games and the music/dance/drama performances; fixing a hot breakfast nearly every single morning because you know that it is important for your kid to get the best possible start to the day; listening to the stories of being teased or rejected or ignored or unfriended and giving hugs and 'there, there's even when you have no clue of how to make things better.

It means loving your child, warts and all, when they choose paths you fervently wish they wouldn't go down, and setting boundaries when their own dramas and poor choices lead them into areas you taught them never to go and into which you won't follow them, but you love them even when you hate their choices.

 And yes, even when you are tired of being the responsible adult and want to just get away from everyone and everything: you stay put and you suck it up and you get over those feelings, and you love, love, love your child even more. Parenthood is a choice. Always. 

There are bad parents out there: ones who hurt their children either deliberately or by neglect. There are mothers who should never have been parents: emotionally incapable of loving anyone, including themselves, or caught in the dark alleys of mental illness or substance abuse, or who have been so poorly parented themselves that they continue that cycle without understanding or seeking to learn that there is another way.

Yet children are resilient. They can overcome horrible childhoods to achieve great things and become loving, giving individuals. They survive the mistakes made by even conscientious, caring parents. Some don't, however: they are stuck in the cycle of blame and rejection and anger, and take it out on others, including their own children, with those resulting miserable emotions and actions spinning out in yet another generation.

I did the best I could where I was with what I had, and I knew enough to seek help when I needed answers. And I knew that loving and being there for my children was the best thing I could do, even at the cost of many tears and heartaches on both sides.

Sometimes it isn't enough, and you just have to live with that when it's all you can give and you've done all you can. And once your child is grown, you must let them go and find their own paths, even when it is difficult to watch and you are oh-so-sure that if they'd just follow your advice, they'd be fine. Uh huh. That's when you must shut up and wave lovingly as they travel along roads that scare you: it's not your journey any longer.

My greatest joys have involved my girls, but so have my greatest sorrows. I think that's true of any mother who understands that parenting is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, if you do it with all your heart and mind and spirit. And if you can't enter into motherhood accepting that you must do exactly that, that your child's life depends on your doing just that, you shouldn't be one.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Another family, a shorter trip, part 2

We attended another wedding in Chico a week after the LA one. Tony was a colleague of the groom and we were pleased to be included in such a major life event.

It too was held outdoors, albeit with a view of well-trimmed golf fairways and greens, on a beautiful day with a bit of wind. It too was smallish and simple, although there were more attendants. The dinner was delicious and healthy, even, and the reception also included a photo booth, but this one provided the ubiquitous strip of four pictures in duplicate: one to immediately include in the couple's guest book along with a personalized message, the other to take home. The wedding cake was cut and served; garters and bouquets tossed and trophied; family dances, and even a married couples dance where participants were slowly eliminated based on the number of years they'd been wed. We weren't off in the first couple of rounds, but we're nowhere near the couple who'd been married 41 years.

Family was at the core of this wedding too: lots of cousins and uncles and aunts and siblings toasted and talked and celebrated the very obviously happy couple, both of whom have maybe 10 years on the couple from the previous week's celebration.

It was a joy to watch them glow. Their happiness and utter delight in the occasion began even as they were processing to the ceremony site with the bride raising her bouquet high in a triumphant pump, to much laughter from the guests. (The flower girl had to go potty RIGHT before she was to come down the aisle, and unapologetically scurried off with one of the bridesmaids, and the matron of honor lost her balance and fell (unhurt, thank goodness) as the ceremony was about to begin. The couple had set kissing bells at each place setting, and took full advantage as guests continually rang the little tinklers, laughing through their oft-pursed lips throughout the entire reception.

At the heart, though, was family. I admit to puddling a bit as I watched the bride dance with her father and wished fervently, not for the first time, that my own daddy had been at my wedding to Tony, although my fragile mother was not there either, although we called her as soon as it was over and over-nighted a videotape of the event to her the following day.

Whatever the usual dynamics are in the families involved in both weddings, they both were fully engaged  and present for the respective couples during these huge rites of passage. Nothing but hope and love surrounded them. For the brief hours each ceremony took place, family and friends had one unified focus, and that was to love the brides and grooms and send them into their married future with joy and the love and support of all the family members and friends. That singular focus was almost palpable, really, during both events. If there were past issues, they were not evident. Nobody expressed doubt about the abilities of brides or grooms to love and cherish their new spouses. It was simply pure joy for them, for their finding their mate, and for their happiness.

In our day-to-day life, we would do better if we remembered the joy in familial bonds, even little joys.

"Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from.'
A.M. HOMES, O Magazine, Apr. 2007

"In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit."
MARGE KENNEDY, The Single Parent Family

 To be continued...