October 18, 2004

Flew Weekend

This weekend flew by. And you won’t be hearing much about geocaching, because I only picked up one this weekend. However, I may have scouted the location for my own first geocache.

We spent Saturday at Old Sturbridge Village. This used ot be a yearly trip, but we haven’t gone now in a few years. If you’ve never been, I encourage you to make a visit. It’s a great active museum of New England’s past. It’s always been a good visit, but this time we noticed that they’ve opened up a lot more of the museum to visitors and made other parts more interactive than in past years.

I had a whopping headache upon leaving, and so the rest of Saturday is not worth reporting, as I spent it semi-comatose once we got home.

Sunday, the girls had a piano recital which meant we missed Somerset’s big celebration day the Musictown Parade — the capstone event of the Musictown festival.

The recital was a long affair, and continuing the legacy of equipment failure, my video camera battery died during Mattie’s performance. The girls performed quite well and were real troopers during the 2 1/2 hour event, sitting there patiently. But I don’t think we’ll be sitting through one of those in its entirety again. 2 1/2 hours is altogether too long.

The location was a new one. In previous years, recitals have been at a Unitarian Universalist church in Fall River. This one was at some other sort of church in Tiverton. I’m not certain whether it was a Baptist church, but at any rate the pastor had generously donated the venue and, I believe, refreshments for the intermission. It was a very dramatic room and looked like what you might see on a religious television broadcast. In fact, part of what made it a good venue for a recital was that it was completely wired for sound, and was a complete, working television/recording studio.

I noticed that they also had a projector anchored far up on the ceiling, and the projection screen had been lowered. This stuck me as odd until I realized that it must be obscuring a depiction of the crucifixion behind it. Perhaps the pastor was trying to be accommodating.

In any case, the spot was a place of worship, but it was hard not to notice that it was also a place of politics, which turned me right off. Literature in the back of the hall had a religious right bent to it, including stuff from Rush Limbaugh! The Unitarian Church, which has a considerably more liberal leaning, never appeared to have liberal literature displayed prominently about. Imagine seeing flyers for Air America Radio, or Al Franken’s latest book in church. Nutzoid.

At the end of the event, a really accomplished and talented student performed a challenging piece which we really enjoyed. Directly after that, the pastor gave us his “closing statement” or whatever you might call it. He began to expound upon how we had witnessed the incredible gift that god had given these students. At this point what he was saying became somewhat of a hum and I heard:

Blah blah, blah blah god blah blah. Blah blah god, blah god, blah blah, blah. Blah, blah blah god blah. Blah blah blah god, blah blah, blah.

Basically, for those that can’t understand my filter, it wasn’t good enough that these students had applied themselves, some of whom practice 4 hours a day. Somehow it was important for us to internalize that this we really had god to thank. Then he implied that god had given us such good brains that we could all perform like that fellow who is the star of every one of these recitals.

Sorry, but what? I have a good deal of unused musical talent. More than the average. And I know that I do not have the dexterity to play piano like this fellow. The guy is talented and dedicated, and that is real inspiration. Find what you’re good at and apply yourself as he has applied himself.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that, even as an atheist, I don’t have much of a problem with god. It’s a few of his fan clubs that really tick me off.

Posted by James at October 18, 2004 8:36 AM
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It's funny, because your closing statement was the subject of my breakfast conversation with K. this morning (as M. spent one full hour getting dressed). But I had said *expletive* preacher when we got in the car, and then heard "Mommy, you said a bad word," and I wanted to explain why.

I struggle with respecting other people's beliefs when they don't respect mine back. To be honest, I struggle with respecting people's beliefs when I think they're cloudy foundless nonsense because I think that's a dangerous road to start your trip on. Too many people take the whole ride and they never engage their critical thinking capabilities. I wonder if these guys ever praise critical thinking as a gift from God. It seems to have come from the same place as musical ability.

If God, or whatever that source is, had given me plastic hair and a little more eloquence like this guy, oh, and a little more shamelessness (damn that Eve), I would've jumped up and asked for the mic and spread my opinion on where Joshua's performance came from, as well as the performances of all the other children who worked hard but perhaps are a little less genetically gifted and who maybe don't have the time, incredible dedication, and/or the exploitative parents standing behind them to allow for four hours of practice a day. As my mom said, what about the girl who tried to play her pieces without her books, and then bravely asked if she could get her book when she lost her way? That took guts. Reverend "Welcome to our facility" didn't give her a standing o.

Posted by: Maggie at October 18, 2004 10:56 AM

It reminds me of "Shut up and let your work speak for itself."

The performance needed no commentary. Congratulations, perhaps. Thanks, sure. The performances, however, spoke for themselves.

And if the world is, indeed, God's work, then sureley it speaks for itself. Shut up, you're only obscuring it.

I feel a little bad for the guy, though, because if he had been more wise/eloquent he might have said something to think about rather than an awkward and fuzzy Sunday School lesson. But either no such thing occured to him or he was not able to communicate it. So we got an example of someone who has less effectively put his gift to work.

For this guy, god is his life and he can't compartmentalize. So, it may be asking too much of him.

Posted by: James at October 18, 2004 11:42 AM

Sounds like you guys had a weekend with ups and downs. Glad for the ups, sorry for the downs!

Love the wooden doors picture. That would make a nice desktop pattern.

re: preacher... I hear ya. The God message is everywhere. Tough to present a logical worldview to one's kids with so much counterinput.

Posted by: Chuck S. at October 18, 2004 11:58 AM

I don't think it's tough, Chuck. It gives us a lot of fodder for discourse. It's the wingnuts who're afraid to send their kids to school because they don't understand their own viewpoint well enough to defend it in the face of another. But I like it when a concrete example shoots off his pepsodent mouth and I get to discuss it with my children. I wouldn't take them to church (and I have considered it), because I don't think it's kind or genuine to walk into a service just so I can debunk it for my children. But if somebody wants to intrude into my world with his blather, I welcome the opportunity to discuss it rationally (really, without the words I'm using here :-) with my kids. I think small doses are important, though. That's why mine don't watch television. Advertisers use weapons that my children, at least, have not yet become immune to. We're working on it, though. :-)

Just to include something of value besides < sarc > my learned opinion < /sarc > -- here's a link to Don't Buy It! on pbskids.org. It's hard to find, but this is a very cute site which interactively shows your children the sorts of tricks that advertisers use:

http://pbskids.org/dontbuyit/

Posted by: Maggie at October 18, 2004 1:17 PM

Chuck:

That barn door is cool, isn't it?

Maggie's Dad said to me "If you're looking for somehtign with good detail, check out those doors."

So I was borrowing his eye when I took that picture. :)

Posted by: James at October 18, 2004 1:36 PM

Well, one thing that has been a problem for us is that my daughter has figured out that if you don't believe in God, you're in the minority. I think generally speaking, people (and particularly young people), want to fit in, to belong, rather than be in the minority.

For example, Lynnea's teacher complained to us that Lynnea wouldn't say the pledge of allegiance. A few minutes talking to our kid made clear that she was iffy on the pledge because it had "a part about God in it". She was afraid if she said that part, she would upset her parents, but if she didn't say that part she would "look weird" to her friends. I'm not sure how avoiding the pledge altogether is less embarrassing, but that was the choice she made.

All her friends believe in God, and sometimes I get the sense that she wants to believe too, so she won't feel like an outsider.

The advice I gave her was that the words "under God" were just words, and that if it made her feel more comfortable with her classmates she could say them and I wouldn't be upset.

I find talking to kids about belief challenging. Neya asks about God or whatever and I say "Some people believe that, and others don't." To which she responds "What do *we* believe?" I'm usually taken aback by this question since I'm not sure it's my place to tell her what she believes. So I tell her what I believe, and that she has her whole lifetime to decide what she believes, and not to let anyone try to push her into one belief or another. She seems to find this answer unsatisfying though. I think she just wants me to tell her what to believe.

Posted by: Chuck S. at October 18, 2004 1:43 PM

re: don't buy it-- Thanks Maggie, that's great. I can't wait to show that to Neya.

Posted by: Chuck S. at October 18, 2004 1:47 PM

Chuck --

That is a difficult situation. I have told my children that all the cultures that I know of have created at some time a system of supernatural beliefs, and that these supernatural beliefs explained the things in the world that they didn't understand and also the things that they are afraid of. These beliefs give the people comfort in their difficult times. In this country, when children believe in God, quite often they are talking about the Judeo-Christian God. When my children talk about God, I ask them "which God?" to remind them that there are many cultures with many different beliefs. None of them are "right."

On the humorous side, we have a family member who is very Catholic and is trying to introduce the children to her religion sort of behind our backs, but she's not very clever at it. So we have funny conversations in which K. says "I believe in God, " and M. says "he's dead, right Mommy?" Or M. believes that people will celebrate her birthday after she's dead just like we celebrate Christ's birthday. (That's why she thought God was dead, b/c our family member uses "Our Lord" interchangeably for God and Christ, understandably, but this confused M.)

I think you should ask 'Neya what she believes. And if she doesn't know, buy her a book for children about world religions. Buy her a book about ethics. Or tell her something like "we believe that there is something very special in all people that is to be respected and honored."

It is very difficult for many adults to understand that there is no "right" answer to almost every question, so I think it would be asking a lot to expect a child to understand it and feel comfortable with it. Maybe you just need to find that concrete answer that will satisfy her and make her feel secure. (Thank whoever, we believe *something*!!)

My oldest is two years older than 'Neya and most of my conversations are with her. Plus, she's very intellectual and prefers information to other kinds of input. So with K., you just have to win the argument to convince her. M., who is 'Neya's age, is more emotional, but she's not feeling what 'Neya's feeling. Our town is predominantly Catholic, and from what I've noted, Catholics don't actually do a lot of God talkin'. So it's not as much of an issue for my children, I guess. K. has one close friend who believes in God, and that's why she decided she believes in God (two years ago), but I think once I presented some other viewpoints she started asking herself questions and realized that there was more to it than her friend's opinions.

Posted by: Maggie at October 18, 2004 2:03 PM

'Neya is at a point in her spiritual evolution that many adults never reach. You probably have to be able to come up with "tell me what I believe" on your own before you can see the irony in such a question.

Posted by: Julie at October 18, 2004 2:35 PM

I expect that there will be a discussion about Santa Claus sometime in our near future. This may provide a unique opportunity.

Because truly I do believe it is up to every individual to decide for him or herself whether Santa Claus exists, and exactly what he means to oneself. There is some analogy there.

Posted by: James at October 18, 2004 2:44 PM

They are in *a river in Egypt.*

*** The following section rated pg-13. ***

They know there's no Tooth Fairy. They know there's no Easter Bunny. Yet they cling to Santa Claus as a woman of fading complexion clings to mirrors in rooms with poor lighting. Yes, that's why there's always one bulb out in our bathrooms. ;-)

Posted by: Maggie at October 18, 2004 3:18 PM

My sister could not be convinced that Santa Claus was other than she had originally been told. That river in Egypt is now continued in her religious beliefs.

I will say one thing in Santa's defense. Make that two. First, he's pretty nice for a guy whose name is an anagram of Satan. Second, the worst that can happen to you if you displease Santa is that he doesn't give you any nice things for Christmas. Just try displeasing God and see what happens. Not what you would expect from a guy whose name is an anagram of "dog."

Only slight flippancy intended. I lost my faith in justice and fairness a long time ago. That was a hell of a lot harder than letting go of God and Santa. And the fun never stops. There's more to lose faith in every day.

Posted by: Julie at October 18, 2004 3:29 PM

There's a natural order to society. 228 years ago some smart people decided that they wanted to be in charge instead of the king. They created this myth of democracy, this thing that would break the natural order, and put themselves on the throne.

I'm just trying that on.

When I saw the movie "Monster," one thing that amazed me about the character of Lee (the serial murderer) was that she believed the trite little phrases that she heard. She internalized them. She let them give her hope. I thought, "how naive."

And I never thought I knew everything. But I did think we had a sort of democracy here. At the very least, I thought everyone could get their vote counted! I know for a fact mine hasn't been counted in at least one election. Far, far worse has happened. I think mine wasn't counted because of ignorance and plain ol' stupidity. I can accept that far more easily than the corruption. But when hasn't there been corruption? When won't there be corruption? Do we have less now than in the past? It seems we're moving backwards, but maybe that's just my perception because I was naive.

Posted by: Maggie at October 18, 2004 4:16 PM

Santa Claus is an excellent example for a number of reasons.

Some kids come to a conclusion about Santa and they start telling all the other kids because they are so excited that they know something that the others don't. There's somehting there about the respect for the beliefs of others. And about proselytization, perhaps.

Am I naive in believing that Santa is in my heart, and that therefore he is real? There are different senses of "real." It depends on what is important to you. I don't want Santa to be a "real" flesh-and-blood human being I could meet on the street. I do want to think that there is a spirit of giving within us that can be nurtured and can bloom. It's a comforting belief to me.

Since beliefs modify our behaviors, I try to examine my beliefs to check if thy result in any dangerous behaviors. If this one ever makes me want to persecute some subset of human beings, or deny them some rights, I'll have to reexamine it.

If you don't want to believe in Santa, I figure that's your own business.

However, if you tell me you're going to sell your house to go in search of Santa's North Pole workshop I think you've crossed the line.

Posted by: James at October 18, 2004 4:32 PM

I remember Democracy. I learned it from the same nuns who told me about God and Santa Claus. I was kind of hoping it would turn out to be like what they said.

I sure hope the math they taught me wasn't a bunch of baloney too. OTOH, I'm not real happy with the way numbers are adding up lately...

People love trite phrases, bumper-sticker mentality, bite-sized aphorisms that can be cross-stitched on a rainy afternoon. Nuns teaching kids are full of these wisdomesque phrases. I understand the desire to have a few pithy-sounding words to put on your buttons and bumperstickers and throw pillows. I just don't understand why they have to be substitutes for thinking.

If the Bush administration wanted to roll out "CHOICE IS TERRORISM" as a rallying cry, it'd catch on easily and you would see it plastered all over the biggest gashog vehicles, right next to the two-dollar made-in-China US flag decals.

Posted by: Julie at October 18, 2004 4:44 PM

Interesting question, James. I sometimes feel that way about Santa. But, even as a kid, I saw him as something else too, something that some people transfer to their belief in God when they grow up: something for nothing. Whether it is expensive loot, or protection from terrorism, or support of a particular sports team, or just some vague request for "good luck," I believe that is what both Santa and God mean to a lot of people.

Now, you know I don't believe in any of that foolishness, and I don't waste any money on the lottery either, but I remain convinced (despite my parents' vigorous denials) that I have a forgotten eccentric rich relative, I call him Uncle John, who is going to die peacefully in his sleep very soon, and will will all of his money to me, his favorite niece. I in turn will buy nice cars for all of my friends, because hey, I just got something for nothing, might as well spread the joy!

In recent years, for me, that happy spirit-of-giving association with Santa has devolved into the bitter, commercialized association I have now: the spirit of getting something for nothing, or rabid commercialization. I see Santa's face when I'm at the store, I don't say "ah, the look on Emily's face when she opens this gift... I'm sure it will be her favorite of the 200 things she opens on that blessed day." I say, "I hope this is Uncle John's big night."

It's not that I don't like the idea of the spirit of giving. I'm just not sure I can reconcile that with Santa any more.

Those barn doors are now my desktop wallpaper, btw. Gorgeous!

Posted by: Julie at October 18, 2004 5:17 PM

If you want a higher resolution version of the barn doors picture, try this link.

It ought to work better if you have a large desktop. The program I used to do the original resampling left something to be desired.

Posted by: James at October 18, 2004 9:19 PM

Wow. You go away for a few days and the atheist blog starts discussing religion? Weird. Hang on. The Red Sox won the pennant last night. Am I in an alternate dimension?

Posted by: briwei at October 22, 2004 10:45 AM

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