The Dance

Janelle and friendsThe call finally came. My daughter Janelle was in labor! Because her mother and sister’s first labors were comparatively short and Janelle’s membranes ruptured, her plan to do as much of her labor as possible at home wouldn’t happen. After a Chickfila breakfast we made our way to the hospital hoping that Silas would be born on his Papa’s birthday.

However, her labor was long.

Watching my daughters experience the pain of childbirth tears at this mom’s heart. Yet there is something so deeply rewarding that melts the sympathy into wonder. I have been blessed beyond words at the invitation to watch each of my twelve grandchildren come into the world — and each time I’m filled with awe at the miracle of watching my legacy put into the eager arms of exhausted mothers.

This went on for six long hours

This went on for six long hours

Janelle’s labor progressed for hours in the form of a gentle “slow dance” (as one friend called it) with her husband Eric. Watching my son-in-law tenderly care for his wife with his reminders to relax and breathe while she rested in his arms warmed my heart.

After hours of exhausting labor Janelle decided on an epidural, which she says is the best thing ever invented. She was able to rest through several hours of labor while family came and went. Little Silas was eagerly anticipated by family from both sides: grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles…and friends who joined the celebration. When it became clear labor would continue through the night several went home to wait for the call while others remained to watch the miracle.

At about 3 AM when everyone was exhausted and several were sleeping, Janelle’s oldest brother Josh returned — in a doctor’s hat and gloves. Laughter was exactly what Janelle needed. He proceeded to check her dilation by sticking his finger up her nose and the room filled with life again.

The comedy relief arrives!

The comedy relief arrives!

Soon it was time for her to push her newborn out. The scene is etched in my mind. Josh took on the role of catching his sister’s late-labor vomit in the provided container while her dad, husband and sister helped position her for pushing.  I assumed the role of pushing coach while my 12-year-old granddaughter and Eric’s mom cheered her on.  The nurse and midwife were kind enough to watch our family support Janelle — and actually seemed pretty fine with their less hands-on roles.

Then it happened: Silas Joshua Garrett was born! I wanted everything to pause and then proceed in slow motion. I wanted to capture Eric’s expression when he saw his son for the first time. To enjoy a lingering gaze at the tears streaming down my daughter’s face when the little man she had been carrying for months was finally safe in her arms. To embrace the moments of watching my son catch his sister’s throw up as she birthed his namesake. To rejoice with another grandmother who was just as caught up in the wonder as me. To cherish watching Janelle’s older sister, herself pregnant, sacrifice a night’s sleep to support the little sister who used to get on her nerves as she welcomed her firstborn. To enjoy the sweet embrace of my Benny after watching him help his little girl birth a baby who will someday father our great-grandchild.

A mother's tears of joy and gratefulness

A mother’s tears of joy and gratefulness

And so the dance continues. Eric and Janelle have begun the exhausting and thrilling and frightening and life changing partnership of parenthood. They have prepared well through discussions with seasoned parents, face to face and through reading good books. (P.S. not all books about parenting are good ones!) They have walked through long months of pregnancy where Janelle left nursing patients to run to the bathroom to deal with nausea and Eric blessed her with take out for dinner. And they worked well together through the difficult hours of labor to finally see their little son’s face and tenderly cuddle his wrinkled body.

A new family begins

A new family begins

They will dance sometimes fitfully threw the terrible two’s, and seasons when their training and encouragement doesn’t seem to be producing fruit. And, yes, they’ll step on each other’s toes when the dance takes them into adolescent years when Silas is convinced he knows far more than they. Just as in their labor dance, they will sometimes be exhausted; they’ll look at each other and brace for the next difficult conversation or decision or “no, Son” that will test their relationship with him.

But then he will come and say he’s in love. By God’s grace, he will choose wisely and before they know it Silas will reach for Mom’s hand to share their special mother-son dance at his wedding reception. Oh, and then there will be the announcement and they will take Benny’s and my place cheering their man child into fatherhood. They now think that’s a lifetime away, but I know better. As the dance continues they will have numerous moments where they look at their little boy and wonder where the time has gone.

As I type, my newborn grandson is sleeping contentedly in my lap swaddled in a white blanket that only shows his tiny blonde head. My heart is squeezing with love. Hope. Eagerness for the first time he reaches chubby little arms out to Granma. But mostly heartfelt prayers that he will grow to love, respect and appreciate the sacrifices his amazing parents have made and will continue to make as they dance through the coming years.

Dance on, Janelle and Eric. God will be there for every step.

I love you, Number Twelve!

I love you, Number Twelve!

The Pendulum Justification: Part II

Note from Jake: In the following post, as a way to further discuss the issue of the “Pendulum Justification” that I raised in Part I, I use a case study of issues that are what some might call hot-button topics. I do this intentionally; rarely would anyone apply the Pendulum Justification to non-controversial decisions.There are obviously discussions worth having regarding these issues that go beyond the scope of the point that I’m trying to make. The Bible is very clear about addiction, and specifically forbids drunkeness. I recognize that there are some that don’t care or worry about the use of the Pendulum Justification in this particular context since they would see indulging at all as categorically sinful due to personal conviction or having experienced the suffering and resultant pain that addiction brings to personal lives and families. In this post I am making two assumptions. First, in my opinion these are issues of freedom and are thus not inherently sinful. (I welcome your thoughts to the contrary.) Second, addiction itself is unbiblical, as is lack of self-control and lack of moderation; that type of indulging is off-limits regardless of any excuse our deceitful hearts might try to make. If these assumptions do not fall within your theological framework you can then substitute an issue of freedom that does (enjoying certain movies or music, dancing, Pinterest, fill in the blank) and the article is basically unchanged.

 For a definition of the Pendulum Justification, see my post from yesterday (Part I).  Today, I want to focus on the first of the two reasons I introduced yesterday as to why the Pendulum Justification is wrong: the accuracy of the “Pendulum Justification” analysis tells us nothing about the relative moral worth of the issue.

However, I want to use a new case study today so that John Dewey disciples don’t get too John Dillinger on me.  The issue we’ll use today is the issue of drinking/gambling/smoking.  Yes, I understand these are multiple issues. Some who are fine with drinking have a problem with gambling, for instance.  However, for my purposes I’m combining them into one issue.

The Pendulum Justification on this issue would look something like this: “This is an issue of freedom.  I understand the desire to live a holy life, but conservative Christians have swung the pendulum too far.  They are too obsessed with being different from the world and now it seems like they wear their abstinence in these areas as a badge of honor.  I need to balance them out.  We need to bring that pendulum back to the middle.”

Of course, there’s an aspect to this thought that may have merit.  As Christians, we don’t want to be defined merely by the things from which we abstain.  There’s a lot more to Christianity than that. The problem, though, is that this is not a biblical way of thinking or analyzing a given choice.  After all, as I said, the accuracy of the “Pendulum Justification” analysis has no bearing on the relative moral worth of the decision.  It could be 100% accurate or 100% inaccurate to say that conservative Christians have done all the things that the hypothetical person said in the previous paragraph.  But whether it’s accurate or inaccurate says absolutely nothing about whether that person should then drink/gamble/smoke. The question isn’t whether other people do or don’t do things. The question is what principles has the Bible set forth for us to follow and how do they influence our personal decisions?

So what makes us use the Pendulum Justification in the first place?

Yesterday I hypothesized that perhaps it has a lot more to do with other people than it does with the issue itself. On this issue, that would indicate that someone not thinking drinking/gambling/smoking is ever acceptable to Christians has a lot more to do with our perceptions of non-drinkers/gamblers/smokers (people who generally abstain when it comes to issues of freedom) than it does with those who engage in these things. As an example, I have some issues with gun rights supporters.  It annoys me when I hear middle-class suburbanites talk about the four guns they keep in their homes when the only crimes committed in their gated community in the past 5 years were trespassing and a couple of damaged mailboxes.  My problem isn’t with gun rights (which I support); my problem is with people who really, really, really love gun rights.

So perhaps we use the Pendulum Justification for a very simple reason: we like people who drink/gamble/smoke — and people who don’t are boring. We send our kids to public school because people who homeschool are weird, wear matching clothes too often and are entrenched in a specific culture we just don’t like.  We switch churches because our old church didn’t speak out enough against the devilish tendencies of Hollywood, or spoke out too much against abortion and homosexuality.

This, though, begs the question, “what are we afraid of?”  See, that type of thinking sounds like an issue of identity. Are we finding identity in the things we do? Our status as “homeschoolers” or as “non-homeschoolers”?  Our ability to indulge in the freedoms that Christ has given us or in our self-control? Do we really want to avoid being identified as part of some “group” of a specific type of Christian? Because, if so, don’t we need to readjust our thinking? 

Our identity is in Christ. Our identity is in being chosen and set apart by the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and in being sons and daughters of God. Our identity is not in being a weird homeschooler or a cool smoker. And my opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the use of the Pendulum Justification is merely a cover for the fact that we are finding our identity in the things that we do…or don’t do.

The Pendulum Justification is a poor substitute for decision-making that is grounded in Biblical convictions and principles, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Obviously, I can’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t drink/gamble/smoke. But if you do, drink because God gave us alcohol for the “gladdening of [our] hearts.” Drink because Jesus built community and relationships by drinking with sinners. Play poker because it’s fun, enjoyable and stimulates good fellowship (and, after all, people cast lots in the Bible!)  Smoke because it’s relaxing and is a great way to enjoy conversation.  But don’t drink/gamble/smoke because you think conservative Christians/parents/members of a particular church or social setting have swung a pendulum too far in the direction of abstaining and it’s time we considered whether they’ve gotten it wrong this whole time.  Don’t drink/gamble/smoke simply because you have a problem with those holier-than-thou legalists who you think cornered the market on being obnoxious, and you don’t want to be associated with them. That kind of self-righteousness isn’t any less dangerous than the legalism you’re trying to avoid.

Let’s find our identity in Christ.  Let’s find our identity in being called children of God.  There are people in the church and in conservative Christian circles, and probably in our specific circles, that probably are wrong on certain issues; they may be legalistic or are at least obsessed with their own countercultural lifestyle. It’s temping to make decisions on the basis of wanting to avoid swinging out on that pendulum with them.  Unfortunately, that sounds a lot like trying to avoid an association with them.  And if ignoring the lessons of history is the province of public school elementary teachers, avoiding association with those they perceived to be different from them was the province of the Pharisees. Sometimes “there, but for the grace of God, go I” sounds a lot like “Thank you Lord that I am not like that sinner.”  


The Pendulum Justification: Part 1

976717_458665630884154_1497325775_oNote from Sheree:  Today and tomorrow my youngest son, Jake, will be guest posting. He is currently in Law School at the University of Florida and loves a good argument. I’m assuming this post may start one and we welcome your comments. Jake and Sarah will be getting married in December; Benny and I are excited about welcoming another New Girl into our family!

There are plenty of good reasons to send your kids to public school.  Offhand, I thought of several:

  • Personal finances require that both parents work full-time, and thus neither homeschooling (time) nor an actually good private school (money) are feasible
  • Your district’s public school is fantastic and welcomes parental involvement
  • Your child is the George Whitefield of elementary school.  Conversions are breaking out in school and your child’s explosive evangelistic talents would be wasted on his or her (already saved) siblings.  With a little more grooming and a dash more Jonathan Edwards reading, your child’s public high school will turn into half school/half revival meeting.

However, there is a growing trend of justifying the decision to send kids to public school by what I think is a very poor reason.  It’s the age-old Pendulum Justification (okay, I admit I made that phrase up) and it’s as expansive as it is overused.  That is, the Pendulum Justification is used in many categories (not just educational choices) but its growing use in conservative Christian circles is somewhat troubling, in my (humble) opinion.

With my thesis out of the way, let me ruin what could have been a well-constructed essay (that was a joke) by building some bridges.  My point here is to critique the Pendulum Justification as a reason for doing anything, not to criticize public schooling per se.  If I wanted to critique the decision to use public education in and of itself, this would be a lot more about how increasingly inferior public education is in the United States today, even in the opinion of many educators in the system.  If you’re in one of those amazing neighborhoods with a great school where your kids are thriving socially and academically, I’m sincerely glad for you. But as Joey said yesterday, exceptions are just that.  Exceptions. Obviously public school is a perfectly viable and even preferable option for plenty of people.  Please don’t read this post as me (or my parents) communicating a categorical denial of the worth of public school education. We know people whose kids have been or are in public school due to parents believing this is the best choice for their family, and we support them. The Pendulum Justification, however, is a terrible reason (by itself) to do anything; I’m using public schooling as a case study.

The Pendulum Justification goes something like this: “you know <spouse/friend/self>, maybe we need to rethink some things.  Maybe the previous generation and those in the current generation who behave a lot like the previous generation got it wrong.  I mean, sure, they have some good ideas and they were probably trying to please God, but maybe they took some good ideas to the extreme.  <Sips alcohol because, you know, freedom> Maybe the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, so we should decide to do X because we can think for ourselves and need to help bring that pendulum to the moderate middle.”  Don’t we hear and use this all the time? The pendulum swings back and forth at various times, culturally and personally.  But we, at least this time, are going to be reasonable.  We aren’t going to get caught up in the momentum of everyone around us.  We aren’t going to let taking a certain position define us as Christians.

I would argue that there are two reasons, one general and one specific to homeschooling, why the Pendulum Justification is wrong.

Generally, the Pendulum Justification is wrong because whether its analysis of a specific issue is true doesn’t tell us anything about the relative moral worth of the decision.  For instance, the previous generation made a lot of strides in areas of race relations; are we going to all go join the KKK or the Black Panthers to try to balance the pendulum of racial reconciliation? On the other hand, there might be some areas where the previous generation really has gone too far and the Bible would mandate pulling back from the position as a church, family or society.  But the mere fact that those older than us have a position different from most of the world today – or  different from those before them — is not necessarily a bad or good thing.  The fact that the pendulum has swung in one direction does not mean we should try to swing it back.

The problem is that not too many people love a fanatic.  There’s a reason why Ron Paul never had a chance to be president.  However, the Bible has some pretty fantastic things to say and requires a pretty fanatical way of life.  And it seems that when we use the Pendulum Justification, we aren’t making an argument that a certain position is wrong so much as we are saying that we don’t like the people that hold that particular position.  Maybe we don’t have a hard-set conviction against drinking and gambling so much as we just don’t like drinkers and gamblers.  Perhaps we don’t really have a problem with homeschooling as much as we don’t much like some of those who homeschool.  We end up sounding like whoever made up the quote “I loved Christianity until I met Christians” and then attributed it to Gandhi.

We should do things or not do things because they are or are not biblical.  We should do things because God is calling us to do them, or vice versa.  And so on and so forth.  But we shouldn’t do things or not do things to balance any swinging pendulum.  Sometimes God has called us to do things that are crazy, weird and that don’t make sense to us or to the world.  The mere fact that previous generations have swung the pendulum in a certain direction doesn’t tell us anything about whether that is the direction we should be going.

Specifically, the Pendulum Justification is a poor reason to send your kids to public school because, well, it’s not true.  The idea that our parents (or the parents of our friends who were mostly homeschooled) got the whole “homeschooling thing” wrong — or went a little too far in their distrust of the world/government and became psycho Little House on the Prairie wannabe’s — is just an historically false (and kind of silly) way to think.

There’s still more of world history in which homeschooling was the only option than not.  Public education wasn’t even a thing in the U.S. until the 19th century, and even then it’s hard to call it public education because it had no federal or even state involvement.  It was more of what we would call a co-op.  Public education didn’t exist as we know it today until the middle of the 20th century.  If anything, it was people who lived in the post-World War II era up until the late 70’s that were the radicals.  Our homeschooling parents were the moderates, swinging the pendulum closer to where it had existed for all of history.  It is simply false to think that homeschooling was something that people in the generation right before us came up with.

That’s not, of course, a defense for why homeschooling is better than public school.  After all, the 20th century led to plenty of things that were both new and better.  And maybe the modern public school system was one of those things.  But let’s just remember that the idea of government-mandated and government-run education was considered the radical idea not too long ago.  If your reason for not homeschooling is because “maybe our Christian circle has been getting it wrong” well, maybe the ones getting caught up in the momentum of those around them aren’t the ones who are homeschooling.

As I said before, there are plenty of good reasons to send your kids to public school.  But don’t send your kids to public school because you’re pretending that homeschooling was cooked up in our parents basements using the embers of their burnt Rolling Stones albums as part of a hippie, Jesus Movement overreach as they sang Keith Green and avoided watching Charlie’s Angels.  Doing so merely means that you are avoiding the lessons of history…and avoiding history is the exclusive domain of public school elementary students.

Why Pick on Video Games?

Yesterday my son Joey did part one of his guest post on video gaming. Here is part two. Some have strongly questioned his perspective while others are supportive. We welcome your comments and request that they be posted here (along with other places in social media if you also prefer).  Thanks for visiting!

My post yesterday was already too long for a blog post (which Mom’s regular readers immediately noticed) so I was unable to properly address a couple of natural questions that my comments would arouse. I want to take a look at three reasonable responses/objections to what I said yesterday, which will hopefully help clarify my perspective.

First of all, the idea of “video games” is too broad an issue to tackle in one or two posts. I tried to nuance between educational verses entertainment as one way of distinguishing the type of gaming I was referencing. But even that isn’t fully satisfactory.  Hopefully my response to the three hypothetical questions below will address the main limitations of my post yesterday.

Weren’t you oversimplifying gaming by addressing only the ‘bad’ games?

The answer is…no. The only part of the post that might indicate this was my last point, which was about limiting the influence of the video game industry on my children. A game doesn’t have to be ‘bad’ to have a negative impact. I’m pretty sure there isn’t much ‘bad’ about Star Wars video games, for example. But if I spend five hours a day playing it to the detriment of other things…that is bad. The reasoning behind my parent’s video game rule was much less about content than it was about priorities, responsibility and moderation. That is not to say content is irrelevant. We’ll get into issues related to content shortly, but over all I wouldn’t simply be concerned about the ‘bad’ games. I understand that this issue involves games all over the spectrum when it comes to content.

Why pick on gaming as opposed to any other form of entertainment?

Because I felt like it was a good example of one way Mom and Dad exercised discernment in parenting. If you knew Mom you would understand that she was thinking through the potential effects of video game playing on kids when we were toddlers and Atari was the only thing available.  (Yeah, and she also got mocked for warning us years ago that cell phones could someday be linked to brain cancer.) Their ‘rule’ was an example of how to practically teach several good lessons to their children, and it was effective to the extent that I can’t think of any reason not to apply it in my own parenting. Clearly I could have written about TV, movies, music, or any form of entertainment. But I can’t write about everything at once. Also, I think there are issues unique to these mediums that mean they don’t need to be treated interchangeably. Gaming has unique positives and unique negatives that are not always the same as other forms of entertainment. The positives of gaming are in its infinite flexibility. My daughter plays games that help her learn to spell and count. Games can teach pretty much anything. Games can be interactive (most of them are now, via this internet dealio). They can promote teambuilding, problem solving, problem solving in a team context and critical thinking. They can provide an avenue for folks to get together and hang out and fellowship, etc. (Depending on your definition of those things.) They are generally more interactive than watching a movie. I could on citing positives. Folks who know more than me could think of plenty more things that I am not thinking of or don’t know about.

But there are unique dangers as well. I discussed the main ones yesterday. The dangers I discussed yesterday weren’t made up out of thin air. Plenty of people with PhD’s argue that more and more gamers have a clinical addiction to gaming. I know people who would say that they are or were addicted to gaming. I’ve seen many kids who admittedly play video games daily for hours on end. My own two-year-old daughter would play the iPad five hours a day if we let her. The constant, quick rewards and re-enforcement found in addictive behaviors are a huge aspect of most electronic games. If nothing else, the sheer amount of time spent playing video games by a large portion of today’s young men is evidence that there is a problem. Any time you have someone doing something five or six or seven hours a day – other than feeding yourself spiritually, working or sleeping – I think there is probably a problem. Do I know gamers who are good employers or great husband and fathers? Yes, a few. These posts are not a slam on them. But exceptions to rules are just that…exceptions.

Regarding the issue of content in gaming, it has long been a question of whether violence in games contributes to desensitizing young people, leading to real violence. The thought is that, unlike with movies, in gaming you are actually pulling the (fake) trigger and killing. That, combined with the dissociative effects of lengthy withdrawals into a fantasy world, lead to some horrific results.

To be honest, that’s a side issue to what we are talking about. It is a good topic for experts to explore, but only relevant as a worst case scenario when all sorts of other problems are in play. The more relevant issue related to content for most our kids will be whether or not a steady diet of pretend killing is good for them spiritually. (I know there are plenty of games that don’t involve killing, or other sorts of chicanery, but I’m referring specifically to those games right now and let’s be honest, they make the most money because they are the most popular). Obviously I think the answer to ‘is a steady diet of pretend killing spiritually healthy’ is…I wouldn’t think so. Whatever is lovely, whatever is pure, etc, think about those things. Thinking for 5 hours a day about killing…not lovely.

Do you think activities that require physical exertion are more valuable than those that don’t? (The all-important sports vs gaming argument.) 

The short answer is no. I don’t think there is anything morally superior about playing a sports for real and playing one on a console. I don’t believe that being a professional athlete is superior to being a video game designer or a player who makes money by beating everyone else at online Magic, the Gathering.

Please be patient with one last comment for those who still think I am picking on gaming. I could have easily written a post called “My Deprived Childhood” and spoke about Mom and Dad’s arbitrary rule that their kids were only going to play one organized sport growing up. For those who have the idea that the Phillips’ are obsessed with sports, it may interest you to know that my parents decided against year round sports. We could each pick one sport to play for one season per year. We all chose basketball growing up except Julia, who chose soccer. So for 1/4th of the year we played organized sports, but piano lessons were always year-round. Doesn’t that rule sound suspiciously similar to the video game rule?  I think their reasoning was pretty similar. They didn’t want us thinking sports were be all and end all of leisurely activity. They wanted to teach us that while sports were fun, there was a lot to be learned from them and they were beneficial in all sorts of ways, they were not to be something we couldn’t walk away from at any time. My parents didn’t pick on video games. They didn’t want to allow anything to take the place of highest priority away from serving the local church. They taught us that, not just through words, but by moderating our involvement in all things except serving.

As the years have gone by, it seems to me that there aren’t very many kids playing sports for hours a day. If there are, I would love to know who they are and I would imagine they are phenomenal little ballers. I think the more pertinent issue for most parents is the fact that electronic games are ubiquitous and children get hooked on them easily.

Having made all these clarifying statements I want to ask a question of my own.

Sports have been around forever. Gaming, as we know it today, is new. The fact that young men are increasingly taking longer and longer to grow up (as measured by delays in finishing college, moving out of their parents’ house, getting married, or becoming providers for themselves or a family) seems to be correlated to the rise of gaming. I wouldn’t suggest it is solely responsible, of course. I would suggest it is having a negative impact that, say…ah, sports…never had. So now that I think about it…sports are superior.

P.S. For those who don’t know Mom, she didn’t ask me to use my guest posts to pat her and Dad on their parenting backs. She didn’t know what I would be blogging about and was probably tempted to edit out the kudos. But there’s no mistake that kids spend their time doing what Mom and Dad allow in the early years.