Child Training

One’s mind goes in a multitude of directions when the sermon title is along the lines of child training. If you’re a young person you may think, not for me. I wonder if parents feel very preached to and squirm in their pews. Singles may tune out, unless they are teachers vying for answers as well. I find the truth of the Word so guiding and comforting. Anyway…

Recently I wrote a tribute to my dad since I think one should do these kind of things this side of the River; and I put it here in honor of the child training of which I was once a recipient.

Sixty-Four Lines

On Your 64th Birthday

You teach like a champion,

Explain with simple illustration,

Demonstrate truth like Jesus did with

Objects common to nature—geese,

Rhythm, the body, our brain!

We celebrated when you turned forty,

Had a party at school in the basement!

I like sixty-four better. Your hair is whiter,

Thinner, rooted deeper in wisdom.

You’ve endured a lot. I wonder if the

Court trials the days you were pinioned

On the witness stand held a candle to this

Past year when covid collapsed your normal

And you suddenly ground gears with brothers.

I think it has stretched you more than

The year you went into service with

Twenty-three dollars or was it two hundred three

In your pocket and the Little Green Duster

As your only collateral.

A recent sermon you preached on harmony

Versus unity struck a tremendous chord

With me. We are all so different.

A kidney, an eye, a toe, or a lung.

If only all would understand it’s more about

Following the Director than singing their own line!

I remember how you used to sing in the

Shower. I’d waken to hear your rich

Melodies, and I still am amazed at your

Energetic tenor every time I sit in the same

Auditorium! I want my children to know

Every song in Praises We Sing. That must

Have been your philosophy back when we

Sang through the books in family devotions.

Speaking of philosophies, I was thinking

Lately of how you taught us that tardiness

Affects others exponentially for when you

Slide in one minute late, but there are ten

Around the table, you have just stolen ten minutes!

You also believed in frugality and switched off lights

As you made your way to your spot at the head.

I guess our family dynamics were more

Enormous than some. That didn’t

Dampen your adventurous spirit of

Driving grandparents and a wife and

Five children to Belize in Nineteen Eighty-Seven,

Or leave behind seven littles but fly the

Three oldest to the other side of the world

To stand on the equator in Two Thousand. I’ve

Been permanently changed because of that trip.

Vehicles are to be driven, not idolized.

Mornings are golden, why squander gold!

Church is for participation in the bride of Christ.

Why miss out? Strangers are unknown friends.

And dogs are for revenue. Thank God.

You told me once how God took you from

The farm – like David from the sheepfold.

How it’s not so much about skill but

Availability, a heart in tune with the Father.

Your prayers are practical because Christian

Living is where the rubber meets the road.

It’s why you don’t need to slam the trunk,

But maybe why you should lift up your

Voice when you speak. And then sit down

When you are done – without circling three times.

Is Facebook Eroding Your Soul

            Ignorance has never been bliss. Perhaps we have been blissfully ignorant for too long, swept away with the glitter and speed and glamour of connections and information.  This paper presents several ideas about what happens as a human interacts with modern technology, specifically the internet. If you’re not a brain surgeon how would you know that that grey jelly-like blob inside your skull is physically changing, learning new pathways, and building new circuits within days of practicing a set of repeated actions; that the means by which we talk and think is being physically changed when using a screen and responding to Google? The way one thinks and interacts within a physical community is directly affected in proportion to the frequency and quantity of time one spends in a virtual community.

            A virtual community is a group of people that connects across the internet; many bonds are formed around common hobbies, similar jobs, or shared personal trauma or sickness, etc., whereas a physical community is made up of the people that live within a twenty mile radius of your doorstep, the ones you interact with on a regular basis like the co-workers that walk through the same door of employment that you do, the moms you meet at the park, or the ones you meet with at your monthly book club.

The phenomenon of virtual community is a modern invention that people of all race and age have bought into because God created people with a divine desire for relationship. Some tap into a social network like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter seeking belonging that they are not finding in a physical community. The interesting part is that commitment to a social network is completely voluntary. The President is not paid to post on Facebook or comment on Twitter; neither am I. Usually one risks a certain level of vulnerability albeit a fake vulnerability. Many believe that joining a Facebook group will keep them up to date with their friends; I see pictures posted by my first grade teacher of thirty-four years ago and an out-of-state acquaintance from twenty years ago; news flashes from my newest neighbor and the local weatherman, but very little if anything from my closest friends. That reality offers two propositions: I am antiquated or Facebook gives me a false sense of connections; it is not connections with the group of eighty that I worship God with on Sunday, nor the group of thirty I interact with five days a week, eight hours a day, and it does not include the people on my frequently-contacted phone list. I conclude the Facebook portrays a connectedness that is not true.

Facebook not only offers an illusionary identity of connectedness, but studies show that it is addictive and can lead to depression. “There are three phases distinguished in Facebook intrusion phenomenon: (1) withdrawal, which is connected with distress when person cannot have access to Facebook; (2) relapse and reinstatement, when person has failure in controlling their amount of Facebook use and cannot reduce it; and (3) euphoria, which embraces positive feelings and sense of connectedness with other people while using” (Elphinston and Noller). I propose that multitudes are trying to stem their own pain and emptiness by tapping into a virtual community; relationships when done well are some of the most satisfying parts of life, but difficult relationships in a physical community cause people to become disillusioned. Many turn to ‘safer’ friendships in a virtual community as if distance equals safety. But the illusion only goes on and when one awakes one day and finds it all empty, loneliness and depression set in. A study released this year by the Anatolian Journal of Psychiatry conducted by Cakici, Babayigit, Karaaziz, Cumhur states, “Depressive individuals exhibit passive behavior when they experience stressful conditions in order to find relief. Rather than developing appropriate coping skills, they are inclined to develop addictive behaviors that enable them to manage stress” (Cakici, 250). While many believe that joining a virtual community will satisfy their need for relationship and bring them happiness, this same study states, “Facebook addiction is believed to be related to PTSD and depression, in a similar manner to gambling and substance addiction” (Cakici, 246). In 2018 a study among 555 Italian and American Facebook users reported, “Internet addiction was associated with higher Facebook intrusion and lower self-esteem” (Seidman, 793). Thus, I repeat Facebook users are seeking happiness, but surprisingly discover loneliness. In 2015 a study was conducted among students at a university in Turkey; “the results suggest that there is a negative relationship between problematic Facebook use and predictors of well-being like subjective happiness, subjective vitality, life satisfaction and flourishing” (Satici & Uysal, 190). The satisfaction and vitality with which one lives life has direct repercussions on the ‘goodness’ a person is able to bring into his or her physical community; a lonely, depressed individual brings little sunshine and peace to a physical community.

Physical relationships take a lot of energy, a lot of time, and a lot of forbearance and forgiveness. Relationships in a physical community are usually not efficient or tidy or prescripted. They usually do not match personal expectations. Physical relationships die quickly when fed by a consumer mentality, but that is the mentality of Facebook and other social media sites. One browses Facebook to see what is happening, to be amused or entertained or caught up on the latest gossip and in the process expends a lot of emotional energy cheering for, stressing about, or connecting with distant people and places and events. When one lives within a physical community with a “what’s-in-it-for-me” attitude, one will soon be discouraged and give up. There is a disconnect between reality and social media because people do not ‘like’ you every day in a physical community; the neighbor doesn’t usually give you a thumbs up as you walk by; and the lady beside you on the church bench may not notice that you were feeling sad.

            Google was invented to be a worldwide fact collector. One may become smarter by obtaining facts but gaining wisdom has rarely come through the purchase of cutting-edge technology. Google is programmed to respond to input; it has yet to respond from its heart to yours, but the illusion persists that Google cares about you and has got your back and is out to protect you, which is the concurring feeling when your name pops up on Amazon and you receive personalized emails from stores that thank you for shopping with them. Nicholas Carr warns that people who use the internet religiously often become efficient, because one’s brain begins to adapt to computer lingo, but it operates at a very shallow depth and on a very calculating basis. The computer is a calculating machine based on mathematics. In honor of efficiency and speed, by which Google operates, one sacrifices the contemplative, reflective thought processes necessary to delve into deep relationships and built by the process of reading and digesting books. One also let’s go of emotional reasoning; computers operate logically. Emotions are the opposite of logic and the essence of humanity. By sacrificing deep thinking on the altar of efficiency and speed, twenty-first century humans sacrifice the muscles needed; the intrinsic ability to form deep and meaningful relationships within a physical community.

            Connections through the internet connect, albeit unrealistically. The illusion is that one knows a person through a few words and pictures posted in a virtual community but blurbs are slanted and pictures don’t wholly portray one’s life or character such as the habitual lateness with which one shows up at work, or how often they’ve visited the widow next door, nor whether they kicked their shoes off when they walked in the door last night dog-tired or if they kissed their wife or yelled at her. One can send happy emojis, while spewing tacks. What an absurdity to communicate through emojis. We might as well be back in the stone age before Gutenberg and his printing press, not to mention that tone of voice and body language communicate more than words or emojis; this is the whole of a person you get when relating in a physical community which is absent in a virtual community.

In conclusion, one’s energy and time is measured; being human means that one does not have a bottomless tank of physical resources to bring into relationships. In direct proportion to the time and energy expended within a virtual community one has less stamina and vitality to invest in his physical community.

p.s. This post and the previous one were written as assignments in a Composition class last fall, hence the different tone from regular blog posts.

Works Cited

Cakici, Mehmet, Asra Babayigit, Meryem Karaaziz, Ozlem Cumhur. “The Prevalence and Risk Factors of Facebook Addiction: Is Facebook Addiction Related with Depression and PTSD.” Anatolian Journal of Psychiatry (2020): 245-252. online.

Elphinston, P. Noller and R. A. “Time to face it! Facebook Intrusion and the Implications for Romantic Jealousy and Relationship Satisfaction.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (2011): 631-635. online.

Seidman, Agata Blachnio & Aneta Przipiorka & Martina Benvenuti & Elvis Mazzoni & Gwendolyn. “Relations Between Facebook Intrusion, Internet Addiction, Life Satisfaction, and Self-Esteem: a Study in Italy and the USA.” International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2018): 793-806. online.

Uysal, S. A. Satici and R. “Well-being and Problematic Facebook Use.” Computers in Human Behavior (2015): 185-190. online.

Fast Fashion

The following essay was written as an assignment in Composition class; you will find it rather different from other blog posts. Originally it was entitled “Evicting the Demon of Fast Fashion.” I’ll be the first to say that I still shop at second-hand stores, but it has heightened my awareness and challenged me in my consumer habits and I present it as that.

Being consumed with fashion is not only dreadful stewardship, but also a stamp of a temporal worldview. The fast fashion industry mindlessly enslaves little, poor people (at least it is giving them a job) while polluting the world and consuming natural resources, nevertheless, the consumers are happy for a moment; entitled to look cool beside their neighbor. Buying into “fast fashion” with its throw-away mindset and self-obsession and its encouragement of child labor stands in direct violation to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

“Fast Fashion,” a term coined in the last thirty years, is the rapid-paced industry of providing cheap clothing with the latest designs, and compelling people to buy constantly to reflect the modern style. This style does not change by the month or season as in ancient eras, but by “micro-seasons” (Azevedo 1).

Cheap and rapid ward-robe turnover only began one hundred fifty years ago, after the sewing machine was patented in the US in 1846. Before that, clothes were hand sewn and made to wear and last. A century after the fantastic invention of the sewing machine, in the 1960’s, Mary Quant invented a new custom—special styles of clothing for youth. Suddenly it became affordable to “keep up with the Jones”. Today, clothing can be made in mad bulk, which dramatically lowers costs, and in turn gives opportunity for a necessity to become an ego-statement.

Zara, a Spain-based retailer, hit America in the 1990’s with the revolutionary ability to take an article of clothing from an idea to jacket-on-the-rack within fifteen days. This bizarre whirl jazzed up sales and consumption; it has revolutionized the fast fashion industry, drowning teens and grandmas alike in a flurry of buying the latest and greatest.

The fast fashion industry has become so widely accepted that today only about 3% of the clothes worn in America are manufactured here; a wild difference from sixty years ago when 90% of the clothes were manufactured this side of the Atlantic. A 2019 New York Times article reports that fast fashion has pushed producers to the point where 60% of the clothing is made from synthetic fabric. Most of this clothing cannot be recycled; pollution has become the cry as landfills overflow and furnaces burn after hours to get rid of the excess.  

Europeans and Americans, the two world figures pushing fast fashion, are simply drowning in their own wealth. This incredible deluge of cheap clothing demanded by such selfish living has boomeranged to create dreadful waste. British MP Mary Creagh said, “We are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill” (sic) (Liu 2). “According to the National Association of Charitable and Recycling Organizations, last year Australian charities paid $13 million a year to dispose of 60,000 tonnes of unusable donations” (sic) (Liu 2).

In response, new options have sprouted including Rent the Runway. For a set fee, one can rent a certain amount of clothing per month and thus be on the cutting edge of looks without overflowing the landfill. Efforts are also being made to recycle clothing. H&M, a company working towards global change, will pay 3c for every kilogram of returned clothing. “If this commitment was applied to the 6,000 kilograms of fast fashion dumped in Australian landfill every 10 minutes, it could add up to $180 every 10 minutes and $25,900 every 24 hours” (Liu 2). Liu argues that if nothing else, we should return clothes to the stores we bought them from and swamp our stores; piece by piece changing their buying policies.

The crisis alone is not only selfishness and waste, but child labor; a supporting pillar of fast fashion. When the US threatened to ban garments coming from Bangladesh, factory owners fired all children under 14, which forced them to find less profitable jobs and left one option for thousands of girls, prostitution.  Questions become volatile. Which is the worser of the two evils? In Bolivia, child labor has been legalized because poverty is the worser demon.

According to the National Labor Committee, “contractors making clothing for Wal-Mart pay only 12 cents an hour in China, 20 cents an hour in Bangladesh, and 43 cents an hour in Honduras” (The Free Library 2). I beg you ask, “Are my spending habits supporting child labor?”

I propose, that instead of closeting a Pinterest-perfect wardrobe, as followers of Jesus Christ in a naked world, we don the pants and shirt that is in our drawer, and establish schools for the impoverished, making education a feasible and affordable option. What if the $13 million poured into landfills last year, burying unworn clothes, were distributed one dollar at a time; freeing the prostitutes in Asia, clothing the freezing in Russia, and giving literacy to the impoverished in Mexico. In conclusion, will we be guilty of tracking red footprints to the judgement seat in Old Navy boots while wiping blood off our Forever 21 shirts?

References:

Azevedo, Andrea. “The Impact of the 52 Micro-Seasons on the Environment.” Blog. 2018. 31 Oct 2020. https://medium.com/@andreaazevedo_32670/the-effects-of-the-52-micro-seasons-on-the-environment-edd87951b74f.

Liu, Mark. “Time to Make Fast Fashion a Problem For Its Makers, Not Charities.” Viewpoint Essay. 2020. online.

The Blood Behind Those Bargains. National Education Association of the United States: The Free Library, 1999. 31 Oct 2020 https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Blood+Behind+Those+Bargains.-a061995570.

 

Riding Waves

It’s rough. I gulp a breath

before they crash upon my head!

Ten toes touch sand, I push up, up, and out

to break above the swirl. I paddle for I

feel the current drag me back and out—

a rush for spaces wide and blue beyond,

away from tethered tide and timberline,

away from brownish boundaries of beach.

Then looking out I see another wave—

now gaining height, now curling tall, now cresting white.

I gasp for air and squish my eyes—

it crashes in a spray of salty brine.

I sputter, cough, then gag, and vomit lunch,

the salt, this brew, so playful, yet so swill.

Ten toes touch sand, I push up, up, and out.

The current rips from boundaries of the beach

Away from limitations of the shore.

A gulp of oxygen, a spray – more salt

To sand my face. The sun breaks

through, a fearsome blaze to warm this

watery child. Ten toes touch sand.

I push up, up, and out.

Sanctuary

Such habits of routine we tout;

We stir and stretch and wander out,

Then make the coffee, find our nook

And settle down to read the Book.

We pray God’s blood all sores assuage,

Then sketch our thoughts on secret page

While sipping slow and soft our drink

That nourishes like ancient ink.

And finally, when the sun has broke

The night’s last grasp on dawning folk

And vibrant crimson streaks the air,

We rise, content that God is there.

Clay

Cobalt and crisp she sat on the shelf

Pristine and painted and cold.

A vessel of value, of untarnished blue,

A vessel for eyes to behold.

Crack! The walls shook as the earth shifted plates,

The shelf tilted crazily south;

A blue brittle vessel felt gravity grip

And she tumbled headlong to the ground.

Smashed and crushed she lay on a heap

When the Potter shoved open the door,

He gathered the pieces and whistled a tune

Remembering a dream from before.

Next day found a Potter bent over His wheel;

His hands molding pieces of clay

Tears flowed down his beard and softened those shards

Oh, it proved to be Redemption Day.

Cheerful and charming she sits by the well

Smooth, yet porous deep down

A vessel lifegiving for watering, washing

Cracks zigzag up to her crown.

Chosen by One, The Humble Clay Potter—

He still hums a merry refrain—then

Dust wafts the air with wanderers astir.

Thirsty hearts drink and hope again.

Several of us are doing are doing a word prompt a day in July. “Clay” was yesterday’s prompt.

On Planting Perennials

When you begin your new perennial bed, find a wonderful neighbor like Lucy.

Step two. Wander around her yard and ask for a snippet of this and snappet of that. Of course, you have wandered around her yard before, oohing and aahing over greens and blooms and now finally it is your turn to try Russian sage, daisies, thyme, sedum, poppies, blue stars, a grass, and more.

Step three. Stuff roots and dirt and stems into grocery bags or black plastic pots—every garden shed has a stash of those in one spiderwebbed corner.

Step four. Transport via your one set of wheels that carries everything from the weed-eater to the bike to the kitchen chairs. If you are lucky enough to have a relative that lives on a farm, swing by their place and also transport home a bucket or two of rich black gold to enhance the orange clay in which you will be spading.

Step five. Borrow your neighbor’s spade and dig holes. Divvy out black gold accordingly.  

Step six. Empty trunk of assortment of sprigs and leaves and cuttings; arrange and plant to your hearts content.

Step seven. Water liberally. Weed as needed.

Observations: Occasional early morning chats with flowers boost one’s spirit, especially conversations with coffee cup in hand. If a sprig here or there perishes, just toss it. Perennials spread rapidly and fill small spaces quickly. It is wise to leave a few spots so that upon visiting another neighbor one can carry home peonies, chives, and lily of the valley, packing more happiness into another crevice. Or one may find wilted bulbs on the laundry room shelf or in a bucket in the shed. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize them or have no recollection as to where they came from. Plant them. They may turn out to be calla lilies as mine turned out to be. Surprise. The past years experience attests to plants from Lowe’s or other nursery’s costing a lot more and dying quicker than ones from the neighbor; possibly their fine roots aren’t attuned to orange clay or black gold.

Opinions: The first year coddling them along and watching them grow is fun. The second year is more fun, watching green shoots poke brave heads out of cold soil when March winds are still howling.

Warning: Worms may destroy more delicate plants like roses, of which I have no advice on how to deal with such varmints. On the other hand, however, one may receive exquisite happiness from simple green fronds that burst into bloom. Thirdly, one may glean insights into the Master Gardener’s tender planting and pruning which he so lovingly carries out in each fleshy garden.

Conquered

The world tipped crazy that Friday night

When they captured the Teacher and

Bound him tight; with a straggling crew too weary

To pray, a disciple that betrayed him when caught

In the fray, alone and sinless, condemned to die.

The mob screamed “Blood!” in exchange for a thief

When the choice lay before them, they rebelled in

Disbelief that this Teacher was their Savior;

The Messiah, King of kings, so a sign was erected

To identify the Man in the middle, torn with grief.

The earth reeled violent; the veil split in two

When the Son of God fell silent, sacrificed

For me and you. Darkness mantled soldier, mother,

Night embraced each passerby, graveyards yielded

Saints long-sleeping, when the world’s Creator died.

The tomb sang “Empty!” that Sunday morn

When the women heavy-hearted ran with offerings

To out pour; not remembering Jesus’ teaching that

He’d rise and vanquish hell. Angels said, “Why

Do you seek the living Son among the dead?”

A Pandemic Virus

The world has gone mad, but

The finches still chirp at the feeder

So glad for a seed and some suet,

The sun shines today above cloudy

Gray skies, yet the fear and the tension

I sense in green eyes, on terse face

Makes mention of doubt. Have they no Father,

No God that is greater than pandemic

Viruses, rather self to trust. Have they

Not read in Psalm 46 the first verse that

The Lord stays the storm. He’s our refuge

And strength.

Be still and know.

Faith

It would be easier to wait till the story is written, till the final chapter is finished, till one knows. It is also nice to describe life from the mountain top; fantastic vistas, balmy breezes, blissful sunshine. But you know as well as I that a lot of life happens trundling through briary paths between stones and cacti or over blazing desert stretches; traversing winding mountain passes with frigid winds and fording swollen streams.

And so a question I’ve been pondering is, “What does it mean to worship in the dark?”

I haven’t got thunderous answers to my flood of questions. Only one still small assurance: “I am with you.” As these four words continue to settle in, they run like life-giving liquid deep deep down. A small assurance becomes a guiding star.

You see the preacher said Sunday that faith is not a leap in the dark but a walk in the light. Another quote I read recently said, ‘Patience with family is love. Patience with others is respect. Patience with self is confidence and patience with God is faith.’