Tag Archives: children

On Protecting our Children

I’ve been pondering children’s beauty pageants, why it is that I recoil from them, what it is that troubles me? One of the themes that I am weaving through my novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, is the early sexualization of girls in our culture, a concern I share with many mothers and grandmothers and fathers too. The boundaries of permissiveness have been redrawn, the taboos redefined. Wrong has merged into right; deviancy has blurred into the new norm. Ah, freedom! And without responsibility! The great sixties legacy. But is it a coincidence that crime is up, out-of-wedlock births more common, single parent families a larger portion of the population. Delinquency is clearly related to fatherless and broken homes. 

Many women, seeking their career as they have been urged to do, never find Mr. Right (don’t count on a man to support you, they are warned, and probably correctly so). Their biological clock races forward and soon test tube babies are the answer to their natural longing for motherhood. Adding to this, and a result of this as well, many men never grow up, take sex where they find it, sex being so available, are never held accountable for their actions,  never become fathers to their children or breadwinners to their families. They drift through life, suddenly finding themselves, well, adrift, and perhaps slightly depressed.

The traditional family, with all of its imperfections, has tried to protect women (and men) from exactly this situation. Sex within marriage ensured two parents raising children, or at least if did not ensure, won the prize for the best chance we had and have today to create stable homes for the raising of the next generation. And why must we have stable homes? Because broken homes are just that – broken – and do not provide the environment in which children can grow to become healthy adults, reach their God-given potential. This brokenness also puts tremendous stress on the single parent raising a child alone.

Full disclosure, I was divorced and a single parent. The pain involved in the breakdown of a marriage and the brokenness of a family is enormous. The guilt, the fear, and the sheer exhaustion all take their toll on mothers (and it’s usually the mothers) who try to be all to the child and at the same time provide food and shelter. There are not enough hours in the day to do both adequately, and usually food and shelter come first.

So as I see more and more of this brokenness in our culture, due largely to easy artificial birth control and casual sex that lead to casual marriage or no marriage that lead to casual families holding together until falling apart in casual no-fault divorce. These are serious, sacramental events – sex, marriage, childbearing – that have serious consequences for our children and for our society. 

This coarsening is somewhat reflected in child beauty pageants. But wait. Am I against spelling bees involving ten-year-olds? How about my church Christmas pageant with the cute preschool angels? Are all stage competitions and productions involving the young something we should worry about? I think not. While adoration and fame may create a false impression of the real world, it is a good thing for children to experience success and be recognized for it. I played in a piano recital when I was ten, as did my son when he was ten. Folks listened and clapped. We sang in choral concerts, church and school. My husband played solo violin and even sang a few solos as he was growing up (until his voice changed), performing with adults in the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.

So what is it that bothers me? Where is the line crossed, the fire trail breached by the flames? We all recall Jean Benet Ramsey of Colorado and her tragic death at the age of six. What troubles many of us is the sexual aspect to some of the pageants: the adult makeup, the adult costumes, the pouting lips, the luring looks, the posing and flirting and acting the part of a Hollywood ingénue or a Las Vegas stripper. In these instances, the children are molded in a strange (even dark) way to value skin-deep beauty and to see sexual manipulation as a good thing. They are also taught that it’s okay to be treated as an object, to be objectified, and in the end, to be used.

From the audience’s standpoint, men are gazing upon children who are striking sexual poses. It’s supposed to be “cute” but, in the words of Dan Rather, it’s really “kiddy porn.” And Internet porn has become an international pastime. It says, hey, it’s okay to look at these children this way. And Facebook encourages the uploading of “selfies” by wannabe teens in response to “modeling” calls. The culture tells the children and the adults who look that it’s okay.

But it’s not okay. 

In researching these pageants across the country I’ve noticed that many have two “types,” one called “natural” and one called “glitzy.” The natural ones require modest clothing; the glitzy ones do not. The natural ones require no makeup; the glitzy ones encourage makeup. So perhaps the industry is policing itself to a degree. The murder of Jean Benet Ramsey spotlighted child beauty pageants in the 1990s, and perhaps things are changing on their own.

Probably not soon enough. I’m all for free enterprise and as little government regulation as possible, but I was pleased when I read that France was banning these pageants for young children. The role of government is a proper one when it protects children in their younger years. We have laws against child pornography, Internet and otherwise. We have laws against parents abusing their children and even parents who neglect to protect their children from harm.

In our highly sexualized culture, with the power of the Internet setting things on fire, let’s discourage children from growing up too fast. Let’s give them, at the very least, a chance to grow up.

Today, this First Sunday in Lent, we cry “Lord, have mercy.” We weep and we cry out, not only in repentence for our own selfishness, pride, envy… but for our families, our nations, and our world.

 

Passages

It has been a season of passages for my ever-widening circle of friends, and since we love one another, I have walked alongside them, mourning and celebrating with them. 

The deaths – those passages from this world to the next – mark time and remind us of time. We don’t have steeple bells in our neighborhoods anymore, but the tolling is heard just the same. And in the Church, these passages are not just mourned, but are framed by births, Baptisms, Confirmations, and weddings. The dry grass of our elders is replaced by new growth, greening the soil of our parish. New life replaces the old; bells ring for the new just as they toll for the old. 

As Christians, we believe that death is a temporary parting. Something greater awaits us, something glorious, and one day we shall see those we love and who love us. Yet we remain here, rooted in time and earth, housed in flesh not yet transformed to glory. 

In this time we have been given, we have one another to cherish, and as I gazed upon the newlyweds in our church undercroft this morning, I shared in their joy. Their eyes were full of one another, as though each had sunk into the other’s heart and desired nothing more. Earlier we had worshiped together as a family. We had sung together, prayed together, and with one voice boldly proclaimed our beliefs together. We had taken part in the Eucharistic supper of the Lamb.

Baptism, our preacher explained, was our invitation to this holy supper, this wedding feast of the Christ and his bride, the Church. We are baptized near the entrance, for this is the beginning of our path. We enter the Church through Baptism and are invited to journey in time to the altar table. We reply to this invitation in Holy Confirmation. We say yes, and now we don our wedding garment – our spirit of penitence and worship – to take a seat at the festival table, to take part in the great celebration, the Eucharistic feast. 

So the Bride of Christ becomes the Family of God, as God enters each of us, and we are linked with one another in a deeply satisfying and sacramental way. We cherish one another and we partake, take part, in one another’s joys and sorrows. The newlyweds I congratulated this morning hopefully will be blessed with children, the incarnation of their love. So too, our Family of God shall share this blessing with them; we shall welcome each child through the open doors of our parish church. We shall baptize them and through water and spirit shall invite them on the journey to the altar, to their Confirmation, to their taking part in the wedding feast of the Lamb at the Eucharistic table.

We live in a dark and nihilistic age. And so, it seems to me, that the light within the Church shines even brighter, in contrast. But each of us must accept the invitation to enter the light, so that we may truly love one another, so that we may fully see the path ahead, the choices we will  need to make along the way. We must don the wedding garments of Baptism and Confirmation. We must wear the robe of penitence and sing the songs of praise, as we mourn and we celebrate our sisters and our brothers.

We have been invited to love, to share incarnation on earth, to journey with one another, to ring the chimes and toll the bells as we pass through these remarkable and holy passages of life.

Patient and Brave and True

My husband and I drove from one micro-climate to another this morning as we headed to our local church, from valley sun to coastal fog. I entered the Sunday School rooms, switched on the lights, and leaned the welcome sign against the front door.

I inflated balloons – red, blue, yellow, green – and tied them to white ribbon, making a Sunday School bouquet, and hung them next to the sign outside. The sign read, “Summer Sunday School, Saints of God, All Welcome.” I left the door ajar in spite of a cold breeze that had found its way through the July fog and into our church.

All was ready – the Attendance Chart with its stickers, the circular rug for Circle Time, the organ accompaniment downloaded into my smart phone for “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Small pails, pink and blue, waited for seeds and soil, the beginnings of new life, one of our summer projects.

I Sing a Song of the Saints of GodThe teachers arrived, followed by the children. We sat around the circle and read the story about the Saints of God (based on the hymn).  I tapped my phone and the organ accompaniment began. We stood, singing and illustrating the words with hand movements and twirls. As we sang (and twirled) I pondered the words of this classic hymn (243):

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
 
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God – and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
 
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
 
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there’s not any reason – no, not the least –
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
 
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
 
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too. (Lesbia Scott)
 

I love this hymn for it defines a saint as practicing ordinary virtues. Saints are patient, brave, and true. Saints simply love God and because they love him, they try to do his will. They are “just folk like me.” They may not always succeed (saints are not perfect) but they try.

Patience and bravery are clear enough. But true? The saints were true to the truth. They believed God became man and died for us, rising again. And they were martyred, rather than deny this vital truth. They were martyred for witnessing to it, for telling folks the good news.

Mary MagdaleneMy recent novel, The Magdalene Mystery, is about truth and its telling in the media, in academia, and in the Church. It is about the truth of Saint Mary Magdalene, who she was and who she wasn’t. It is about how we know what we know about the stunning events of that first century, events that changed our world, indeed, saved our world.

Tomorrow, July 22, is the Magdalene’s feast day, and we celebrate this woman who knew Christ Jesus, was the first to see the risen Christ, and preached his resurrection in Provence. With Bishop Maximin, she traveled the roads east of Marseilles, sharing the good news with this Greco-Roman culture. Some years later, she died and was buried in the area of Aix-en-Provence. Today, some of her relics rest in the cathedral in St. Maximin and some in the Grotto of La Sainte-Baume nearby, where legend says she lived her last years. Other relics are venerated in the Vézelay cathedral and some relics rest in her Paris basilica, La Madeleine. 

A group of American pilgrims are traveling to La Sainte-Baume for the annual Dominican pilgrimage from the town to the cave (Dominicans care for the grotto). They will pray for blessings, for patience, for bravery, for truth, and continue praying a novena, a nine-day prayer cycle. And, according to many, Mary Magdalene is a powerful saint and will hear these prayers. Paula Lawlor, a mother of seven from San Diego whose intercessory petition was answered some years ago, is leading the pilgrimage. She believes Mary Magdalene saved the life of her son, pulling him from an abyss. She believes this was a true miracle, and is now committed to witnessing for this saint. It is clear that Mary Magdalene changed Paula’s life.

Our Gospel today told of Christ’s warning against false prophets, “Ye shall know them by their fruits…”. We know the saints by their good fruits, by the lives they led, and lead among us today. As I sang with the children this morning, I knew Mary Magdalene would have done the same, teaching the next generation the truth about God and his mighty acts among men. She would have shared her love of God. She would have encouraged them to be saints too, to bring forth good fruit. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection, and she witnessed throughout her life, just as we do today.

This morning at church, after coffee and conversation, my husband and I stepped outside. The fog was gone, the sun shone brightly, radiantly burning away the mist, allowing us to see the leafy greens and the blues of the sky. A dim curtain had been parted, lifted, burned away, just as it was parted two thousand years ago in that Easter tomb-garden when Mary Magdalene saw her risen Lord.

(To follow Paula’s pilgrimage, visit http://magdalenepublishing.org/blog/.)