Parenting Shrek Style

From Jason Lief

We were sitting at the table the other night eating supper when my son blurts out, "My friends and I were talking about sex today." He's eight...third grade. I looked at my wife, then looked at him, and said, "What do you know about sex." "I know there's a naked boy and a naked girl and they get on top of each other." I'll admit, I almost laughed. To hear an eight year old begin to describe sex in such mechanical terms - I barely held it together. "What else do you know?" I asked.  "That's all I got," he replied. "Good," I said back to him, "that's not for you to worry about. That's for moms and dads." With that the conversation turned to superhoeros and birthday parties. The next day I was talking to a buddy of mine who has a kid in the same class.  They had the same conversation, only this dad went further - he had the talk. As he told me about having the talk with his son, all thought about my response, or lack thereof. Was I wrong to change the subject? Am I wrong to think that my third grader doesn't need to be thinking about sex? "Good," I told my friend, "now your kid can tell my kid how it's done."


The Nation of No-Can-Do

From James Bratt

That would be the United States. The good-ol’ USA. The young nation born to offer (so says its Great Seal) a new order of the ages. The country where everyone can re-invent himself (and sometimes herself too), and where the techno-wiz in the garage or barn or basement workroom will come up with the gadget to solve whatever problem you care to name. The land where no one’s beholden to the past, and no one ever says die. The land of New and Can-Do. The land where, Ronald Reagan famously intoned, now a long generation ago, that it was morning again—“morning in America.”

Of course, when Reagan uttered that phrase he happened to be the oldest person ever to occupy the Oval Office, and by several accounts his last years therein were marked by incipient senility—not in the metaphorical sense of the term. That paradox points to the irony attending this slogan: “America as new” is one of the oldest, most tradition-worn ways to view the United States. What happens if we see America instead as old? It might help us understand the reality right in front of our face. Sensible, modest gun control in the face of the Newtown massacre? No can do. Reaching for more than the lowest-hanging fruit of fiscal reform? No can do. Avoiding another month of playing chicken over the debt ceiling? No can do. Recognizing the reality of global warming and taking bold measures now to diminish dangers ahead? No can do. Even if those steps helped generate new good-paying jobs at home? Don’t even wanna talk about it. Let the Mighty Mississippi drop and the Great Lakes shrink and the Midwest parch and the Great West burn and the average mean temperature hit repeated annual highs across the nation. Can’t do nuthin’ but drill more wells, frack more gas, and build up more fleet in the Persian Gulf. Always done it that way.

Reduced strength, reduced mobility, reduced flexibility, reduced resources, the constraints of the past and the iron cage of habit: when we hear these symptoms described of a person, we readily conclude that he or she is aging, and not so gracefully. Apply it to the nation and the United States comes off like one of those ageing couples trying to carry on in the old house where they raised the kids.


Hope Lives . . . Even in the Midst of a Zombie Apocalypse

From Theresa Latini

On the strong recommendation of a friend who has yet to steer me wrong on such matters, I began the New Year by watching the first two seasons of Walking Dead. On the surface, it’s just another zombie show—this time in the form of an apocalypse that makes the book of Revelation look tame by comparison. By the end of the first few episodes, it’s apparent that civilization (as we know it) is gone. Cities are overrun, governments do not function (if they even exist), and all infrastructure is wiped out. To make matters worse, every human being carries the zombie virus. Upon death, we all become “walkers” (unless someone mercifully severs our brain function one way or another). The Center for Disease Control not only has failed to stop the contagion but also is obliterated.

On another level, however, Walking Dead is far from your typical scary movie or television series. The zombie apocalypse creates an alternative world for exploring profoundly meaningful, timeless, spiritual questions about faith, hope, and love.


St. Freddie of Rupert

From Jennifer L. Holberg

We’re in the middle of our January interim term here at Calvin College, an intensive three week session when students typically take just one course. And intensive is indeed the word for it: between teaching all morning, prepping for the next day’s class all afternoon (plus the usual collection of meetings and obligations), and also trying to prepare for our spring semester that starts just days after interim’s completion, it’s quite the pace. We started on January 3rd, so there’s been no real time for reflection in this new year. And certainly nothing worthy of writing about on this blog.

That said, one of the aspects of belonging to this blogging team that really appeals to me is all the things to which my fellow writers introduce me.

So, let me reciprocate. It’s the least I can do in exchange for a short post.

Frederick Buechner, who I've heard referred to as St. Freddie of Rupert, has been an important writer for so many people that I thought folks might be interested in knowing about the flurry of work that has been going on around him and his writing.


Should Congregations Tithe?

From Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

“I chose to come to this church because it was known to give fifty percent to missions.” The speaker was an elderly man in my congregation, now gone to glory for many years already.

I really didn’t know what to make of his statement. “Weird way to select a church” didn’t seem like an appropriate response. I had almost no framework in which to place his comment. I had never heard of churches keeping such statistics, let alone taking pride in their stats. A congregation strutting its stuff about the percentage it gives away probably isn’t too healthy.

But that gentleman was letting me know that the twenty-something percent we gave away didn’t meet his standards; that we were spending too much on ourselves. The fact that it wasn’t 1954 anymore, that costs for everything from insurance to staff had increased drastically, that the way we do church was different, that the world was different—it was all more than we could talk about at the time.

A lot has changed over the past decades, from the techniques of fundraising to the role of the church in society. Are these the real issues? As a reformed Christian, I am always suspicious of my own motives. Are my concerns actually just selfish, a ploy to hang-on to more of my congregation’s money? No doubt our motives are always mixed, but I don’t think this is just a case of me trying to grab more.