Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Silence in the Kitchen | a fragment from Raising Adults

Kids have an amazing capacity to learn new tricks. They don’t allow themselves to get very cold or hungry or lost more than once without pretty good reasons.

    One very good reason, of course, is to get under the skin of a parent who is a hijacker.

    When, on frosty mornings, I see kids on their way to school without their jackets, I imagine the sort of conversations that occurred on their way out the door. For example….

Interior. Morning. Kitchen. An eleven year old boy runs a piece of bread around the rim of a jelly jar and chews thoughtfully, having decided toast is too much trouble.  
From another room we hear an adult voice: Are you wearing your jacket? 
There is silence in the kitchen. The adult speaks louder: Are you WEARING your JACKET! 
The boy speaks, his mouth full of bread: Snot Cold! 
Adult: What? I said, are you wearing your jacket? 
Silence in the kitchen. After a moment the adult hollers: ANSWER ME! 
The boy glances up at the clock. Indeed, he is not cold at this moment. He is, however, tired of being yelled at from another room—though he is not about to venture from the relative safety of the kitchen, at least not voluntarily, to find out what the hollering is about. In an instant the boy decides he will placate the one in the other room but, for reasons he hardly understands, he will not satisfy her. His voice rises with the patronizing tone he will use again some fifty years in the future to explain to his mother why she must eat her strained vegetables: Mom, it’s too hot to wear my jacket in here. Don’t worry about it.
With that, the boy dips his finger in the jelly, rubs it on another piece of bread which he folds neatly in half, walks past his jacket and out the door into the cold, clear day of his youth.



Monday, July 17, 2017

Miracles | (Someone Special)

This is who we are.

Cause + Effect | I learned it from you! OK?

The line between actions and consequences is severely blurred for a lot of kids because, by and large, they don’t understand the general principle of cause and effect.

    They don’t understand cause and effect because the adults in their lives constantly come behind them to fix things when they screw up.

    This problem is complicated by idle threats and equally idle promises.

    An example: The promise, If you’ll be good boy (whatever that means) at the store, I’ll buy you a treat, is easily lost in the excuse: It’s too close to dinner; you’ll spoil your appetite.

    Not fair! Sure, we have to be concerned for a kid’s nutritional well-being. So we’d better take care to not make idle promises in exchange for compliant behavior.

    All right, that’s it! One more word out of you and we’re going straight home!

    Really? You’re going to load everybody back onto the bus and go straight home? I’m not saying you shouldn’t do exactly that if it fits the situation. But please don’t threaten to do it if you know you can’t live with the consequences of following through.

    If I say: Stop nagging! You kids are killing me! I should have the decency to die the next time one of them nags. Otherwise, it’s just an idle promise.

    More to the point, our children falter in learning the connection between cause and effect when, not wanting them to experience pain, many of us are quick to rescue them from the consequences of their failures and wrongdoing.

    When they’re young we easily replace a toy carelessly lost or broken in anger and shield them from the cost of their actions. Time passes and we drop what we’re doing to deliver an item thoughtlessly left behind so a middle-schooler won’t suffer a loss of face or miss a meal or fail to turn in a paper on time. Still later, we cover a negligently overdrawn checking account or pay a traffic ticket and insurance increase resulting from a moving violation, or hire a lawyer to rescue our beloved failure from a ruined life.

    And they resent us for it. Maybe not in the moment, but soon and forever until we make things right.

— from Raising Adults by Jim Hancock




Sunday, July 16, 2017

in-betweenness | this is who we are

Not fully child, not fully adult....
Adolescents can [glimpse their in-betweenness] by looking in the full-length mirror on back of the bathroom door. The opaque glance and the pimples. The fancy new nakedness they're all dressed up in with no place to go. The eyes full of secrets they have a strong hunch everybody is on to. The shadowed brow. Being not quite a child and not quite a grown-up either is hard work, and they look it. Living in two worlds at once is no picnic.  One of the worlds, of course, is innocence, self-forgetfulness, openness, playing for fun. The other is experience, self-consciousness, guardedness, playing for keeps. Some of us go on straddling them both for years.
We become fully and undividedly human, I suppose, when we discover that the ultimate prudence is a kind of holy recklessness, and our passion for having finds peace in our passion for giving, and playing for keeps is itself the greatest fun. Once this has happened and our adolescence is behind us at last, the delight of the child and the sagacity of the Supreme Court justice are largely indistinguishable. 
– Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark,  p. 2

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

For His Own Good | Hijacking

Hijacking begins with the conviction that I know you better than you know yourself. I feel certain nothing could make you happier than thinking I believe that.
    This is what an awful lot of adults (and not just a lot of awful adults) regularly do to the kids in their lives. Come to think of it, adults do it to each other all the time and I don’t know anyone—adult or child—who enjoys it even a little bit.
    Hijackers assume kids will end up in the wrong place, or at least try to get there a different way than the adult would—which of course makes it the wrong way. No matter how mature the youngster actually may be, she will feel childish at the hands of the Hijacker.
    “Do you have your lunch money?” is an insult on the lips of a Hijacker because it means I’m pretty sure that left to your own devices you’d starve. Remember that time you forgot your lunch money? You were hungry weren’t you? I wouldn’t want to let you make that mistake again. There’s very little chance the child will be hungry at the end of this exchange as she’s probably had about all she can stomach.
    Most adults mean no harm when they Hijack. The goal after all is to head off undesirable consequences. But Hijackers do considerable harm to their relationships and the self-esteem of those they care for. The underlying message of Hijacking is:
You’re helpless without me. You need me for the most trivial matters. I’m saying this for your own good. You’d lose your mind if I didn’t hand it to you on the way out the door every morning. Never forget that. And, honey, have a good day. 
    Hijacking fosters dependence instead of encouraging intelligent independence. Right through adolescence, Hijacker insists on looking after details like what to wear, what to eat, how to study, when to sleep and wake, how specifically to get from point A to point B. Then, should the child makes the mistake of relinquishing control in any of these areas Hijackers blame them for not looking after the little things any fool can accomplish in his sleep. It’s a dirty business, Hijacking. 
    You don’t understand! It’s for his own good!
    Blah, blah, blah.
    No, really; he’d forget his head if it wasn’t attached!
    Not more than once.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Canary in a Coal Mine | Young, Hoping + Coping

     Children are often the first to succumb to toxic cultural conditions. Look around, it’s not hard to see that for some, the song is over before it’s barely begun.
    In this connection, much has been made of adolescent suicide, as should be. Confirmed reporting of data on causes of death lags well behind real time. We know that, in 2014:

425 10-14-year-olds died by suicide
1,837 15-19-year-olds died by suicide
3,253 20-24-year-olds died by suicide

Including 20-24-year-olds is an artifact of the first wave of reporting in which, other than 10-14-year-olds, the numbers are often released in 10-year groupings—15-24-year-olds, 25-34-year-olds, and so on. A lot of us are accustomed to thinking of teen suicide differently than young adult suicide, much as we’re accustomed to think differently about 24-year-olds and 15-year-olds giving birth. But maybe it’s useful to consider the lives of people in the five years after their teens. Most of us don't think typical 24-year-olds have much in common with typical 15-year-olds, but many 24-year-olds are still within reach of help from people they knew and trusted when they were 15 (as well as people they might have trusted at 15, had they known them).
    In any event, in 2014, the rate of suicides spiked from about nine per 100,000 15-19-year-olds to about 14 per 100,000 20-24-year-olds. That spike is typical of recent years. For people endeavoring to raise adults, this is sad news.
    The vulnerability of American children and adolescents is measured in more ways than suicide. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducts longterm Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance that does more or less what it sounds like: The YRBS studies risky behavior in America’s student population. These indicators suggest that, in general, things are not as good as we wish, and not bad as we fear.
    Here’s a sampling from the High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance 2015 Results:

    If you’ve been told things are getting worse all the time, the data show that is not true. Much of the conduct measured in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance is trending less risky compared to the peak between 1991 and 2015. Any-is-too-many, yes…but let’s give credit where credit is due. In many ways, the current crop of high schoolers are doing better than, or about as well as, the generation before them at the same age.
    Having said that, we return to the any-is-too-many theme. Kids in trouble are in as much trouble as kids in trouble ever were. Their families suffer the same sort of distress all distressed families always suffer.
    When teenagers take risks in reaction to real life stress—self-medicating against pain, for instance, or non-suicidal self harm to deflect pain—they are trying to do what people have always tried to do. They are trying to cope.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Shots Fired or the Silence of the Lambs

Imagine a shooting in a crowded place where no one hears the gun fire...where one person after another falls wounded or dead because the firearm is all but silent.

Here are the Members of Congress who intend to rip this scenario from your imagination to play out in your local dance club, the lobby of your airport or church, along the margins of your local ball-field, in a grade school classroom, and then another, maybe a third before anyone notices ("I wonder why those children are screaming.... Oh, well, now it stopped").

These Members of Congress are the sponsors of the Hearing Protection Act of 2017, ISYN—because the worst thing about shootings is the noise, right?

1st Session
H. R. 367

To provide that silencers be treated the same as long guns.

January 9, 2017

        Mr. Duncan of South Carolina (for himself, Mr. Carter of Texas, Mr. Gene Green of Texas, Mr. Austin Scott of Georgia, Mr. Biggs, Mr. Gosar, Mr. Hudson, Mr. LaMalfa, Mr. Harris, Mr. Westerman, Mr. Olson, Mr. Chaffetz, Mr. Hensarling, Mr. Carter of Georgia, Mr. Labrador, Mr. Brooks of Alabama, Mr. Smith of Texas, Mr. Bishop of Utah, Mr. Brat, Mr. Abraham, Mr. Palmer, Mrs. Love, Mr. Bridenstine, Mr. Stewart, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Emmer, Mr. Ratcliffe, Mr. Jody B. Hice of Georgia, Mr. Buck, Mr. Weber of Texas, Mr. Messer, Mr. Mooney of West Virginia, Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Newhouse, Mr. Smith of Missouri, Mr. Graves of Georgia, Mr. Lamborn, Mr. Wenstrup, Mr. Rogers of Alabama, Mr. DesJarlais, Mr. Massie, Mr. King of Iowa, Mr. Gohmert, and Mr. Yoder) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, and in addition to the Committee on the Judiciary, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned

To provide that silencers be treated the same as long guns.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.This Act may be cited as the “Hearing Protection Act of 2017”.
SEC. 2. EQUAL TREATMENT OF SILENCERS AND FIREARMS.(a) In General.—Section 5845(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by striking “(7) any silencer” and all that follows through “; and (8)” and inserting “; and (7)”.
(b) Effective Date.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, the amendment made by this section shall take effect on the date of the enactment of this Act.
(2) TRANSFERS.—In the case of the tax imposed by section 5811 of such Code, the amendment made by this section shall apply with respect to transfers after October 22, 2015.
SEC. 3. TREATMENT OF CERTAIN SILENCERS.Section 5841 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(f) Firearm Silencers.—A person acquiring or possessing a firearm silencer in accordance with Chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, shall be treated as meeting any registration and licensing requirements of the National Firearms Act (as in effect on the day before the date of the enactment of this subsection) with respect to such silencer.”.
SEC. 4. PREEMPTION OF CERTAIN STATE LAWS IN RELATION TO FIREARM SILENCERS.Section 927 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: “Notwithstanding the preceding sentence, a law of a State or a political subdivision of a State that, as a condition of lawfully making, transferring, using, possessing, or transporting a firearm silencer in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, imposes a tax on any such conduct, or a marking, recordkeeping or registration requirement with respect to the firearm silencer, shall have no force or effect.”. 
If it becomes law, the Hearing Protection Act of 2017 will make it illegal for any state or local jurisdiction to regulate or record the manufacture, transport, sale, possession, or use of silencers. 

So much for states rights, right?

Who, exactly, does this serve?

Look again at the list of sponsors. See anyone whose name you recognize? Anything you'd like to tell them? [h/t Dana Milbank]

Monday, June 12, 2017

Did She Jump? | Learning to ask a different question

For a long time, when hurting, at-risk kids and parents came to me for help, I wanted to know—the judge in me wanted to know—Did she jump or was she pushed? Things like that matter to the judge. How else can he assign blame? But over time, broken and battered myself, compassion posed a new question. Compassion asks: Does it matter how it happened? She’s broken. What now?
Here is my hope for all of us—you, me, our children, our children’s children: Acknowledging that things are seldom as they should be, I hope we’ll be able to look at things as they are and ask, What Now?
from Raising Adults by Jim Hancock

Monday, June 05, 2017

Anything + Everything | Who is my neighbor?

I've been thinking a lot about folks who say, "We will do anything to get others into heaven," while doing everything to keep them out of the country.

Perhaps this is one of those domains in which it is hard to be a Christian. I hesitate to put words in the mouth of G.K. Chesterton—even his own words—but I keep recalling his line: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." [1]

Mr. Chesterton's difficult Christian ideal included, in 1910, religious practitioners who didn't manage to live up to the promise, in part because, he wrote, "the princes conquered the saints." And then: 
....My point is that the world did not tire of the church’s ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. [2]
In a similar way, church is the last place some of my friends would look for a Christian—but, then, they're not at all clear where, or when, or why, they would look for a Christian. They're glad, as far as it goes, if they hear that a church hosts a feeding program, or gets involved in flood relief, or whatever. But they think of such gestures as table stakes for an operation that benefits from local infrastructure without sharing the tax burden. As long as nothing goes terribly wrong at a local church, they're content to keep their distance and be left well enough alone. Beyond hearsay, these friends are not particularly clear about who constitutes the membership of these churches, or what draws and binds the members together. 

As long as we're in the way back machine, I'll call up an address to Christians from M.K. Gandhi, quoted in 1930 by his good friend, Charlie Andrews:
When I began as a prayerful student to study Christian literature in South Africa in 1893, I asked myself again and again, 'Is this Christianity?' And I could only say, 'No, no. Certainly this that I see is not Christianity.' And the deepest in me tells me that I was right; for it was unworthy of Jesus and untrue to the Sermon on the Mount.....In spite of your belief in the greatness of Western civilization, and in spite of your pride in all your achievements, I plead with you to exercise humility. I ask you to leave some little room for honest doubt. Let us simply each one live our life; and if ours is the right life, where is the cause for hurry? It will react of itself. By all means drink deep of the fountains that are given to you in the Sermon on the Mount; but then you will have to take up sackcloth and ashes also with regard to failure to perform that which is taught in Christ's Sermon. For the teaching of the Sermon was meant for each and every one of us. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.... [3]
I think it's difficult to refute Mr. Gandhi on this point. I think we are — all of us who propose to know anything about Jesus — responsible to answer a question from Jesus recorded by Luke:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
There's the question: "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" This, apparently, is something Jesus wants to know.
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two [days wages] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [4]
It seems to me that everyone who asks, "What is required of me?" faces the question in return, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" Apparently, our answer to that question makes a difference.

[1] G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, Part I, chapter five, Dodd and Mead, 1910, p 48

[2] ibid, pp 46-47

[3] C. F. Andrews, Mahatma Gandhi's Ideas: Including Selections from His Writings,  Macmillan, 1930, pp 94-95

[4] Luke 10:25-37, The Bible, New International Version

Monday, May 29, 2017

The American Future: Commentary by Martin Marty

Memorial Day, Mayor Landrieu, and the American Future
By MARTIN E. MARTY   May 29, 2017
Mitch Landrieu at a New Orleans mayoral debate in 2010 | Photo Credit: Derek Bridges/Flickr (cc)
Recommended homework for Americans on Memorial Day: read, don’t simply read about, the talk Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered in New Orleans last week. (To make the task of locating it easy, we provide a link; see “Resources.”) As for “reading about” the talk, we do not lack commentary from analysts who are interested in eloquence, the destinies of the republic, and finding ways for citizens to address the future in times of chaos. Frank Bruni, in The New York Times, captioned his comment “This is Eloquence, Remember That?” Some are considering Landrieu’s efforts comparable to those of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and other modern prophets.

Let me compare Landrieu’s genre to the forgotten language and intentions of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Landrieu addressed his city as “a people.” So did the prophets, like Jeremiah, revered in and beyond Judaism and Christianity. Landrieu was defending the decision and act of taking down the city’s four most prominent icons—the prophets would have called them “idols”—in the form of statues commemorating long-revered General Robert E. Lee and lesser Confederates who defended the enslavement of American blacks. The expressions of others before the removal of the statues were not always eloquent or healing: defenders of the statues and representatives of what the mayor would call the “Cult of the Lost Cause” often rallied with shouts or whispered with threats.

As the statues were being lifted up from their platforms and lowered to the ground, Landrieu—not to his or anyone’s surprise—was the subject of death threats. Yet, like Jeremiah, he spoke of “a future and a hope.” His speech exemplified Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s definition of prophecy as “hope projected backward.” In a time of bitter divisions in New Orleans and throughout the nation at large, Landrieu spoke not as a great denunciator, but as a great enunciator of directions for his contemporaries to take. Unmistakable was his identification with his great city, to some of whose many assets he referred in terms that a tourist bureau could envy.

Landrieu, from a prominent political family, with all the ambiguities that such an identification suggests, was almost pastoral in his regard for his audience and us non-New-Orleanian overhearers. He reminded locals that their city was America’s “largest slave market,” their state a place where 540 Louisianans had been lynched and where “Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.” Landrieu’s words reflected his Roman Catholic tradition, along with many other inspirations for critical preaching and constructive counsel. They inevitably called to mind the religious language of confession and a call to repentance. By some accounts, the act of repenting is not really about the irrecoverable past: New Orleans’s past is past! It is instead about experiencing and nurturing a change of heart.

Yes, Frank Bruni, eloquence has rarely characterized recent public speech. But now and then we hear it, or read it. In this case we are invited to join with those people whom Landrieu addressed as people, to which Americans at large belong or, in this case, are beckoned. Memorial Day allows us the time and the occasion for a confession about the now dead past and a call for a living future.


- Bruni, Frank. “Mitch Landrieu Reminds Us That Eloquence Still Exists.” The New York Times. May 23, 2017.

- “Read Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech on removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments.” May 22, 2017.

— courtesy of Sightings: Religion in Public Life, The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

One at a Time

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Maybe the Kids are Alright | a Fragment from Raising Adults

 Most kids seem to be doing fine. They’re not in jail nor do they seem likely to go there. They get to school or work most days.
They don’t carry concealed weapons, traffic in drugs, or consort with Russian spies. They seem to be turning out OK. 
    Perhaps it’s benign neglect: Despite ourselves, we managed to not screw them up. Maybe its Providence, which was very popular with the founding fathers and mothers and I see no reason we can’t invoke it now. 
    And maybe, somehow, we didn’t do such a bad job on the whole. Maybe the kids are alright.
    Except that some of them don’t seem alright, at all…some days it seems like most aren’t doing so well.
    Generation X, Y, Z, and whatever’s next, are clich├ęs constructed on something observable. That observable something includes sometimes disturbing levels of aimlessness, sadness, anger, fear, occasional violence, and hopelessness. Many of our children reach adulthood with a serious life skills deficit. They enter their adult years emotionally impotent, unable to cope with pressure, socially awkward, scholastically under-prepared, spiritually undernourished. This produces considerable second-guessing among those who think of themselves as somehow responsible for the outcome.
from Raising Adults by Jim Hancock