Saturday, December 26, 2009

Well, Virginia, about this "Santa Claus"...

Back in the days when I taught elementary school, I taught sixth grade for one year. Sixth grade -- eleven- and twelve-year-olds.

In language arts, we were studying persuasive writing. At the time, my sister, a Montessori teacher, was blogging about the whole Santa thing: do you, essentially, lie to your kids about him? Tell him he's real when, *SPOILER ALERT*, he's not, and then deal with the consequences of lying to your children like this. Do they still trust you? How do they feel when they find out?

So, in class, the kids were talking about finding out where their parents hid the Christmas presents. To me, this meant I was talking to a group that already knew parents bought the presents, not Santa, because in my house, Santa brought all the presents (none of the tags said "From: Mom and Dad," they all said "From: Santa" or they were from friends or other family members). See how often privilege rears it limiting head? "In my experience, it's LIKE THIS. Therefore it must be LIKE THIS for everyone else, RIGHT?"

Turns out, in many of my students' houses, Santa brought SOME of the gifts, and parents bought the rest. So, when I said, "Alright, so, we all know Santa's not real, right?" a mild sort of chaos erupted.

I had had the best intentions. I was going to have these kids, who were close to the age where they found out Santa was a lie, write persuasive essays saying whether parents should lie to their children or just be honest about the Santa myth. What a great lesson, right? Too bad half of my class was not yet at that age where they found out Santa was a lie.

Backpedaling, I came up with something else. I blogged about it, here. Go read what some of my kids wrote. They are surprisingly adult about the whole Santa thing.

What brought all this to mind this year was this link, tweeted by @MariaMontessori.

So, what do you think? Especially those of you with little ones? How do you approach the whole Santa thing?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Response to @bekahferguson: Abortion and the Bible, part 1

This post is way past overdue. But I got my nails done today, which means I can type again, so here it is.

The anti-choicers on Twitter are, for the most part, laughable. They cannot string two coherent tweets together without resorting to name-calling or worse. Logic fails them, and basic science is Greek to them. And, most of the time, Greek (and Hebrew, and Aramaic, and whatever other languages were spoken in Bible times) are also Greek to them, since they know as much about the Bible as I do about skinning cats.

However, @bekahferguson doesn't fit that description. She can discuss without name-calling, and when you bring up a point she actually addresses it. And when I asked her for Bible verses that condemned abortion, she actually was able to provide them (something no other anti who's told me the Bible condemns abortion has been able to do).

She emailed me a list of verses, and while I didn't compare each and every one, it seems many of them are also addressed by Joyce Arthur here, a link that was posted on Twitter last night.

This morning, @bekahferguson replied to my RT of the Joyce Arthur article with this article, which takes Joyce Arthur's same verses and says how they are pro-life.

The funny thing is that the author of the second article begins by saying (emphasis mine):
When reading the text, one should keep in mind her approach to textual interpretation. As any informed Christian knows, Bible verses can be manipulated to make a case for almost any kind of theological belief. Verses that seem to contradict that argument can be easily reconciled through a number of tactics, in order to maintain one's stance. The assumption that many theological hucksters try to foist on an unsuspecting public is that texts, like the Bible, interpret themselves. No research on anything outside the text is necessary in order to understand it. Although the Bible has many passages that can be plainly understood by any literate individual, if one is to grasp what the Bible says in-depth, it is simply impossible to do without being familiar with history, theology or what other parts of the Bible say. Blind proof-texting is not a sound approach to scriptural interpretation. But this is precisely the approach Ms. Arthur has taken. She isolates from their contexts whatever verses she produces, even to the point of contradicting herself.

True, to be sure, but as easily applied to Ms. Arthur's analysis as to "Suzanne's" (even though she seems to think that by dividing the article into sections with roman-numeraled titles, she has made her article sound much more scholarly and therefore "right"). Ms. Arthur has a list of references at the end of her article; Suzane just uses her humongous brain and unequivocal interpretation of the Bible to make her points.

And, um, all that stuff about contradicting yourself? Well, dude, you just proved you don't know your Bible too well... because the Bible itself contradicts itself. Stop and think about what the Bible is, how it was written. It's a huge text, written over a span of hundreds of years, by many different humans. It's not "the Word of God," it's the Word of God as interpreted by the flawed humans who wrote it down and transcribed it and translated it and rewrote it for hundreds and hundreds of years. So, when you read the Bible, you gotta take a deep breath and grab the saltshaker. You have to interpret, because the words you are reading have been interpreted, since before they were written down for the first time.

While Joyce Arthur's article does contain an amount of snark, and towards the end it sort of unravels into God-hate (though, given the snark, one wonders how much of it is honest, how much is tongue-in-cheek), Suzanne's article does everything she accuses Ms. Arthur of doing. Suzanne keep saying that Ms. Arthur is missing the context... but then Suzie doesn't really bother to fill us in. And her entire article is spent saying how Ms. Arthur is wrong and how mean she is because she's a bully and stuff. Wouldn't Suzanne have written a much more useful and compelling article telling us how the Bible is pro-life, instead of telling us it's not not-pro-life?

But I digress...

In college, I took a course called "The Search For Extraterrestrial Life." Yes, for serious. I thought the class would be fun; we walked in the first day and the first thing we saw what a formula as long as the blackboard was wide (and these are the wide college-classroom blackboards), which we would study and get to know intimately throughout the course of the class. The formula consisted of all the elements and stuff needed to create life on a planet, and the variables dealing with the probability of these things being found on other planets in or out of our solar system.

At one point in the class, the professor took a moment to soapbox on the beauty of science, and how "it's like clockwork": this element combined with that element make this thing, and this thing combined with that one leads to that other thing, and so on and so forth. If you recreate the conditions on Earth way back when (after the Big Bang), you will see life be born in the same way it happened all those billions of years ago, because that's the way the system is set up to work, like clockwork. One thing leads to another, which leads to another, and evolution is beautiful.

Which, you gotta admit, is pretty cool.

He concluded his speech with, "And this is why there is no God. There is no need for a God, because science makes it happen, and it all happens by itself, without the need of a deity to help it happen."

And that's when I almost stood up in that 300-plus-seat lecture hall* and said, "Now wait just a minute, genius!"

Yes, it's all set up to work like clockwork. WHO DO YOU THINK SET IT UP LIKE THAT??

Of course it is set up to work without God sticking His hand in it all day long to fix it. He's a busy guy! He's got stuff to DO! Do you think that "perfect" system just happened by chance? Seriously?

The professor and I took the exact same fact, and drew opposite conclusions from it. He did not want to consider the existence of a God, so he saw this fact as proof that God was not necessary, therefore He was not real.

I, on the other hand, do believe there is a God. I saw this same fact and took it as "proof" that God must have created the system to work without His help.

Same thing happens with the Bible. Many times, you will get out of it what you were looking to get out of it. And I admit this is true of myself, too. Yes, when I read the Bible I am reading the verses with my own bias, tainted by my previous understanding of what the Bible tells me.

Everybody takes verses out of context from the Bible. How can we not? The verses are numbered sentence by sentence! It's like they wanted us to take each sentence by itself, out of context.

Some people will look for more context than others. To some, "context" merely means reading the sentences before or after the one verse, or even reading the full chapter. To others, "context" means reading the chapter and reading different translations. To those who can read ancient Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic and whatever other languages the Bible was originally written in, "context"means going back to those original words (if you have access to the original scrolls) and reading those words, then researching what connotations those words had back in that era, and what the historical and sociological context was, what meaning those words and actions had in those days.

Context is complicated, and hard to get to. Some of the context is completely lost to us, because we do not know what those words meant in that day. Even if we could all access the original words (and we all learned those ancient languages), we cannot understand what those words meant to the people writing and using them. There is too much context we do not have.

So, if you want to read the genius that is my interpretation of a bunch of Bible verses, tune in tomorrow.**

*Not that all the seats were occupied, but still.
** Um... or whenever I get around to writing part 2 of this. Which, honestly, will probably be Wednesday or so.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Ode to Mom

"Who is the birthday girl today? Laurie is the birthday girl, they say!
Laurie is the birthday girl today, happy birthday to you!"

"We had a very lovely time, at your party, your birthday party.

The cake and ice-cream were just fine, at your party, your birthday party.

We hope next year, you'll ask us back -- we'll be here, you can count on that!

So thank you for a lovely time, I'll invite you to a party of mine!"

Both of these songs, preceded by the traditional "Happy Birthday" (which you already know, I'll wager, so I didn't feel the need to transcribe it for you), are sung at every birthday at my mom's house. This is part of the Donovan legacy; my grandparents sang these songs with their kids, and my mom taught them to us. When I've celebrated a birthday with Freddy's family, and these songs are not sung (because they don't know them), I feel something is missing.

Growing up in Chile, my mom always sang these songs with us. Even though they were in English. Now, we went to an English immersion school, so our classmates spoke English as a second language, and most of my dad's family also spoke English, but the songs still would have made some parents feel out-of-place... not my mom. She sang them to us at every birthday.

I bring all of this up today, because today, December 4th, is my mom's 60th birthday. Not that she looks it, mind you, but I swear to you it is.

Back in 1973, when Salvador Allende was elected President in Chile -- the first democratically elected socialist president -- my mom was packing her bags for a Fullbright Scholarship study abroad program. She had three countries she could go to: Chile, Argentina, and a third one I can't recall at the moment. She picked Chile because they had just elected a socialist President. (When she told me this, and my jaw dropped all the way to the floor and rolled down the hall and around the corner, she said something else about how Chile had great psychology programs and lots of great studies had been/were being done there, or some other malarkey, but she's let the real reason out of the bag already).

That's how my mom ended up in Chile, where she met my dad and decided to stay after her one-year study abroad program ended, causing much rage from my grandparents.

I guess that tidbit (that my grandparents flipped out when she said she was staying, but she stayed anyway) should have clued me in, but it didn't. I knew that part of the story growing up, but it still didn't hit me how strong and awesome my mom was and is until just the last few years.

My mom is the oldest of seven. SEVEN. And of those SEVEN, five are boys. Men. And, in my grandparents' poisoned-by-sexist-society-and-strict-gender-roles eyes, "better."

So, it's my mom, then four boys, then one more girl, then another boy. My mom was, essentially, a Mini-Mom. She was a live-in nanny. When I spent Spring Break with my aunt and uncle, the second-born, my aunt (who had dated my uncle since high school) told me Mom was, indeed, the Mini-Mom. When she and my uncle came home from school, it was my mom who asked them if they wanted a snack, and made it for them. (There is less than 2 years between my mom and uncle, in case you were wondering.)

This is why Mom-as-a-revolutionary-socialist was so shocking to me. She was the Goody-Goody-Two-Shoes. She couldn't be a socialist!

But then again, she's a social worker. She works way too hard for way too little money. Sometimes she works for free, because the families need her and she's not going to turn them away because the insurance company is slimeballing its way out of paying, again.

So, really, is it any wonder she raised a bleeding-heart liberal pro-choice Christian? I guess not. Apple, tree, not falling far from, and all that.

Speaking of being a pro-choice Christian (which I always type as "Christina." Egocentric much?), I owe my faith to my mom. She was the one who was there, always, when the Catholic Church, or the self-righteous priest or religion teacher, said something stupid that, essentially, went along with the Pope's teachings but not with Jesus's. She talked to me about it, and answered my questions, and told me God loves me, full stop. Like when the priest gave an entire sermon on how to pray: that you have to pray kneeling by your bed, elbows on the mattress, or God doesn't hear your prayer. Mom told me that was ridiculous, God doesn't care how you pray. "You can be sitting on the toilet and God will hear your prayer," she said. Which of course immediately gave me the visual of the priest, in his black robe, sitting on the potty.

Mom was the one who took me, kicking and screaming, to the youth group meeting at the Lutheran church we'd started attending. I was too shy* to go, but she made me, and three years later I was president of the youth group. So there. (I'm actively over-involved in my current church, as well. All because of Mom making me go to that Sunday afternoon meeting.)

Because of my mom's work with abused children I always considered myself pro-choice. I've known from an early age there are way too many unwanted and unloved children in the world to force women to bring in more. I used to say, back in my high school days, that I would not personally have an abortion, but the procedure should be legal for any woman that wanted it.

In college, when I got pregnant, I found out that, indeed, I would have an abortion. My mom raised me to be strong and assertive enough to make that choice, and thanks to her teachings on what God's love was all about, and the Lutheran church's teachings -- as opposed to the Pope's -- I knew that God left that choice up to me, and that He put certain people and events and circumstances in my life to help me make that choice.

You see, my mom does her work quietly. (She doesn't post it on a blog, for the world to see, like *ahem* some people I know...)

But when the claws need to come out, they do.

When we first moved to the US (from Chile), we showed up in the middle of the school semester, even though we had just finished a full school year in Chile.** I had just finished 8th grade, and my mom wanted me to go into high school. The high school counselor wanted me to do 8th grade again (because, really, how could a girl who'd been going to school "south of the border," in what had to be a third-world country because it wasn't the US or western Europe, ever be able to compete with our super-duper USian students???)

Mom was not going to have any of it. She quietly, calmly sat in the counselor's office, explaining to him that I was capable of doing high-school-level work, and that I should be put in 9th grade (even though it we were two weeks away from fall semester exams). She didn't leave until he agreed.

By second semester (i.e., three weeks later) I was in honors English. So take that, stuffy ignorant counselor man!!!

I got a special treat a few weeks ago, when Mom had to have a chat with her littlest brother, who had been harassing my sisters and me via Facebook. I wish you had seen her pwn his sorry self. In the dynamic in which they grew up, she is female and therefore less than. He is male and therefore superior. Yet she proved him wrong, on so many levels, during that phone conversation. Because you don't mess with her cubs, and because she rocks. (I wish I could elaborate, but not only is this blog post eternal as is, but I should take the high road and not divulge details of the jerkitude of said uncle. Plus, the point is my mom rocks.)

My mom's mom is a product of her time. There are strict rules for what women should and shouldn't do, how they should behave, and how they should treat their husbands. (Even though my grandma was a bit of a rebel -- she went to college even though her mother wanted her to come home, since she'd already met my grandfather and therefore already had a husband. So the rebellion and outspokenness does come from somewhere...)

I can imagine how my mom was raised, what expectations were put on her as she grew up. Especially as the oldest, and a girl to boot, when there were six other children in the house. As I was growing up I did more than my fair share of whining and complaining and saying mean things against, and to, my mom... pretty much every single one of which I regret now. Not just because I'm a grown up (arguably) and know better, but also because I have gotten to know my grandmother and have an idea of what my mom experienced as she was growing up. Looking back, knowing all I know now (why is it always that way?) I cannot believe my mom was as "free" with me as she was, considering where she had come from. (And please note I'm not trying to bash my grandma, she was a product of her generation and her parents' generation and upbringing as well.)

So this is a tiny insight for you, Blogosphere, in to the Mom of Criss***. I could write a series all week long about her, but I don't want to bore you. (And there's some stuff she might not appreciate me putting on the blogosphere...)

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you and admire you more than I've ever let you know. Thanks for making me who I am, and putting up with me during the teen and college years. I know that was not easy, to phrase it as an understatement.

(Also, sorry none of us can make you a cake as cool as all the cakes you've made for us. Like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or any of the bazillion others you've made for us over the years... Strawberry Shortcake cakes, and Hello Kitty cakes, and Darth Vader cakes, and Belle cakes, and...)

I have found more cakes!
Belle's dress
Racketball racket for my step-dad
Combo birthday-anniversary cake for my grandparents
50th birthday
Pony and Ariel
Cats (because, really, how could we not?)
You can also check out all the wonderful Mom-love she put into her confections here, on Marcy's special birthday cake Flickr set.

*Yes, I know. Believe it -- High School Criss looked nothing like Post-Divorce Criss.

**Seasons are opposite on the other hemisphere, so our school years went from March to December. We had Christmas over summer vacation.

***Um, and others. Lots of others, actually. And Grandmother of three more. She's a busy woman.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"It's beginning to look a lot like... deforestation"

In the last two weeks, I have received more catalogs in the mail than I received all year long. Some are repeats of stuff I'd already gotten, and pretty much EVERY SINGLE ONE is unsolicited.

(Now that I think about it, can I put a "No Soliciting" sign on my mailbox? Will that make the evil catalogs go away?? Please???)

Between all the trees being chopped down to make all these catalogs, and all the tress that will be chopped down to make wrapping paper, are we going to have any left to chop down to decorate?

If you're looking for gift ideas, here are a few:

Plant a Billion Trees (click on Act Now)
Or, if you're more the DIY type, here's an instruction manual.

Looking for a card to go along with those gifts? Check out some of these.

You get the gist. Get creative. (Google it.)