Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Many and Varied Things

We had a long-anticipated visit from the cousins on Sunday, and then we followed it up with a Memorial Day spent wandering about together as a family--first to the wetlands nature trails (which proved, as we had hoped, less pollinated than other parks so that DOB did not spend the entire time dripping), then the "castle park" and winding up at the mall for Orange Julius and the mall playground. Then we went home and everybody played outside until supper time. And after all that, everyone was tired enough that it was almost calm when we read the first chapter of The Hobbit to great acclaim.

Our internet connection has been spotty for a few weeks, and at some point we realized that the phone line was down, too. We called the company, but were concerned that it might be the phone (which we got for $2 at Goodwill because we don't use the landline, it's just for emergencies and babysitters). It wasn't. Apparently some previous owner had cut the phone line and decided to splice it himself. It's a wonder it had worked for so long.

I've started making strength training a priority, more for my own sanity than anything else. The trouble is, the only time I'm likely to do it is first thing in the morning. That is also the time when everything is crazy anyways. However, the kids are now mostly able to survive for a short while and I just do the next step in cooking breakfast in between each exercise. On mornings when DOB goes to the gym I do the strength training at home and on mornings when he leaves a little later I go for a walk/jog. I am feeling dedicated enough that I even got workout clothes so I could stop running about town in his old pajamas.

Anyway, after over a month of trying, I can finally do this exercise:
My workout gear is not that fancy. And I am never going to be that thin again. But I am amazed that I can do it at all.

Dash has an invisible parrot on a stick.

Dot is planning a "Mermaid and Tarantula Show."

Yesterday we swung by the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk. And I saw bananas on the way in. But still, I didn't need a cart for that, did I? Then I got to the back of the store, beside the milk, and saw that, after months of absence, they had the $1 ground turkey back in stock. I wanted to get eight packages. My hands were full. It would take too long to get a cart and come back. So I piled them up on top of my purse and held them in place with my chin. It was cold. Very, very cold.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Solutions to Common Problems

Problem #1: You used to like reading this blog, but it's gotten really boring since I started talking about courtship.

Solution #1: This is a post that is not about courtship.

Problem #2: You're a manly man, but you really wish you could haul around a ton of junk in one place, like women can in their purses. (But not in your brief case, because you actually keep briefs in there. Legal ones.)

Solution #2: A map case. It's military. It's a durable canvas. And it has room for your phone and keys and wallet (so you don't have to sit on it and put your back out) and a couple of notebooks and you favorite pens and a wee ninja.

Problem #3: You have a lot of small children who insist on bringing you flowers with no stems all summer long.

Solution #3: Float them in an elegant bowl. I would include a picture of the real bowl, which is actually more elegant than this, but I still haven't replaced the camera cord.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Heartbreak-Free Hotel

Courtship, Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.

If you did not grow up being taught from pre-puberty about the goal of emotional purity--saving all affectionate thoughts for your future spouse, once identified--I'm not sure there is any way to communicate how this concept can dominate adolescent life. Every thought of interest in the opposite sex is a sin tantamount to adultery. All friendships with the opposite sex are constantly suspect. And if you are a girl raised in these circles you are in a double-bind, since you can't have a real career either, which means you really are not allowed to think about the future in any way whatsoever. Just keep your head down and get good at doing laundry.

Fortunately my parents were much more lax in their application and more balanced in our private conversations, and I grew up without the more extreme problems that often resulted. But I saw and felt the double-bind keenly.

And I still can't figure out where this idea comes from. Some people argue that it is inappropriate for two single people to act towards each other in a way that would be wrong for two people already married to others. But plainly if that were true, no one could ever get married under any scheme. I would find it highly inappropriate for DOB to be prayerfully considering whether he should take another wife.

Anyway, at some point you proceed beyond adolescence and are ready to get married. Here the courtship schemes have to somehow allow for a marriage to occur without violating their notions of emotional purity. This is hard. 

Followed strictly, emotional purity would require Fiddler-on-the-Roof arranged marriages where you meet at the wedding and finally discover you love each other after twenty-five years. This seems so extreme that usually it is considered OK (for reasons not at all clear) to have feelings at some earlier point. When, exactly, is not clear. 

After all, you have two points to coordinate: the point at which the couple is emotionally attached to each other, and the point at which they have made a binding commitment to be together. If you allow feelings to come first, then you provide the possibility that people might break up. If you’ve gone around equating emotional purity with physical purity (and physical purity with salvation), this is unacceptable. On the other hand, if you expect the commitment to come before the feelings, you are back to arranged marriages and it’s not clear how, exactly, the decision to marry should be made. (Direct revelation? Compatibility charts? Casting lots?)

This tension creates a lot of confusion in courtship circles, as there simply is no way to reconcile it, unless you can magically have everybody feeling and promising exactly the same thing at exactly the right moment which, of course, never happens because human beings are not robots.

This is not to say that endless brief and fragmentary relationships are a good way to spend one's youth. But those are, perhaps, not the only two alternatives. This is where the claim of some courtship advocates that what they are advocating is just what everybody did before dating was invented in the 1920s proves absurd. Have they never read a novel written before 1920? Broken hearts have always been a risk of love.

When DOB and I became close friends, we were stepping over the bounds of proper courtship. We didn't have parental approval to become close friends. We had made no agreement yet. By the "emotional purity" rules this was "emotional fornication." Getting to, you know, like someone. Making a point of talking to them. Caring about what they thought. This is sinful. Because . . . because why? Because it might not turn into marriage? Because breaking up will make you sad? Risk of sorrow does not equate to sin. All love is risky.

The truth is, without breaking the "emotional purity" rules we never would have gotten together in the first place. We would have had no opportunity to get to know each other. Who is going to risk everything (courtship is a very high-stakes process) on someone they have not really had the chance to get to know and have no feelings for and no assurance of reciprocal feelings? From my observations many other successful "courtships" actually fudged this rule quite a bit. And many hearts have been broken because courtship provides no informal way to explore a potential relationship and find out if it would work before it becomes a huge, public deal.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Goin' Courtin'

Courtship used to be a generic term for mating rituals, whether of singing backwoodsmen or strange tropical birds. Somewhere about two decades ago, certain segments of conservative American Christendom decided to appropriate this term for a new (yet traditional!) method of approaching marriage in a particular way that would be holier than, more successful than, and above all, not the same as dating.

Dating was bad because it was associated with immorality, divorce, rebellion, and wasted youth. Unfortunately, it was not nearly so easy to define what would be occurring instead. Books were written, seminars were held, pledges were signed, but everybody was signing up for different things, which resulted in a great deal of confusion when they tried to actually get together.

Still, two elements emerged as key for true "Biblical" courtship. (I forget how it was explained that something was Biblical when no one had heard about it until 1990.) There had to be parental approval and guidance of the process, and "emotional purity" was exalted to the level of physical purity, which was in turn exalted as far as it could go and still hope for a future human race.

Many people had many other details added on to this. (My favorite was the idea that courtship should consist of constructing a "compatibility chart" to determine the suitability of the potential partners. "Our charts indicate we are compatible--will you marry me?")

There was some good stuff in all this, of course. Promoting passionate romance among young teenagers is pretty silly. (Of course, so is treating them as perverts because they have natural desires, which was what the teaching of "emotional purity" often amounted to.) Having purpose. Consulting elders for wisdom. All good things.

But the structure of courtship went beyond providing some balance for the decadence (and by that I mean not excess of chocolate, but lack of a center, loss of purpose) of modern romance. It created a new structure that not only, like all human structures, had its own set of problems, but because it was promoted as "God's way" exacerbated whatever problems might arise.

And on that, more next time. And the time after that. And to conclude.

Friday, May 18, 2012

It's Hard to Be Me

Wednesday night dinner was running a little late. But only a little. It was all on the table, dished out, and I just needed to get some cups out of the cupboard.

Trouble was, some of those cups were upside down and some of them were right side up. In a moment of temporary (the temporary part of this has been disputed) insanity, my hands decided the way to handle this situation would be to flip one of the cups over while my hands were full of other cups.

Whether it flipped over or not is impossible to say, because it somehow shattered. Glass shards hit DOB, who was sitting across the room. Glass covered the counter, the floor, the table, and, especially, me. I stood barefoot in the middle of the wreckage, holding the cups that had somehow escaped the apocalypse and dripping blood.

Supper was very late. Fortunately we determined that only one piece of glass had made it to the table, and we threw out the coleslaw which is rather sparkly just in case, but the rest of dinner proved edible and no one has started bleeding internally yet. Most of my external bleeding has stopped.

Very, very late that night, after everything was cleaned up and everyone was in bed, I dropped the point of a heavy book on my foot. It's still swollen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Day of Gatherings

It was a beautiful and fun, but exhausting weekend. First there was a baseball game to watch, with friends and cousins in it. (The ducklings still show no interest in organized sports. But they had a great time with the disorganized sports happening on the sidelines, dressed, in Deux's case, as a rather overheated knight/pirate/cowboy/ninja.)

Then we went to Grammy and Gramps' house, as we usually do on Saturdays. Then we came home and had some friends over who brought some outgrown toys: a toy kitchen and a tractor. Much racing between the basement and the backyard.

Dot and Dash pose with the cousin's dog.
Then we had church on Sunday morning, followed by a large gathering at Their Majesties, officially to celebrate Rocketboy's 25th birthday, as he was on leave, and also incidentally to celebrate Bookworm's graduation (summa cum laude, double major in mathematics and mechanical engineering, and yeah, we're only slightly proud of her). And then there was Mother's Day and Their Majesties' anniversary to toss in. It was a lot of fun, especially since horribly-timed illnesses have caused some or all members of the Duchy to miss the last few months of family gatherings.

After that the group of people who Play Weird Games came over and we played Weird Games until after bedtime. We got back at DOB, who had creamed Rocketboy and me on Friday night, but who lost badly this time.

Now we are very, very tired.
Deux finds the Legos wherever he goes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Killed for Sport

This week one of our stories to read for school was a children's adaptation of King Lear. We have done several Shakespeare-derived stories, though mostly comedies up until this point. They loved  A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, but I was still a little nervous about how they would handle a tragedy. (They haven't quite recovered from the story of Roland, more than a year ago.)

No problem. Death and banishment were just as great dramatic fodder as meddling fairies and disguised courtiers. We acted it out with Lego characters as we went along, sending the banished characters skidding across the table and on to the floor. This was such a great hit that we had to do it again. Then we needed a live-action version. Deux served as King Lear, Duchess and I as the two wicked sisters, Dot as Cordelia, and Dash as All The Other Guys.

Everything was winding up to a dramatic conclusion and I poisoned myself after handing poison to the Duchess, then collapsed in dying agonies on the floor. And then my agonies became real, because I landed with my hand on a piece of Lego. It drew blood. We amended the story to have Death By Stabbing.

We read about Antony and Cleopatra in history. This has been a pretty gory week.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Submission, but not like that

Since I’ve started on misapprehensions of Ephesians 5, I’ll continue in the same vein. Although other verses get roped in, Ephesians 5 is without a doubt the keynote text in teaching that there is a hierarchy in marriage; that men in some way are called to rule and women in some way are called to obey. That if there’s a stalemate, then man gets the tie-breaking vote. That the man’s goals and dreams are of more significance than the woman’s.

I already talked about the problem with interpreting “head” as “decision maker.” It’s a modern connotation, not an ancient one. There’s just nothing in this passage about decision making in difficult situations.

What about the other commands? Just keep in mind that every command given in this passage to husbands and wives separately has already been given to all believers, male, female, young, old, single, married. We are all to love one another as Christ has loved us. We are all to submit to one another in the fear of God. Women are not somehow exempt from exhibiting Christ’s love, nor men from exercising submission.

In other words, these are universal principles. Women are to love their husbands as Christ loved the church, and men are to submit to their wives in the fear of God. To say otherwise is to argue exceptions into commands that are plainly written as universal.

What about in practice? I grew up with the hierarchical teaching on marriage. I didn’t seriously consider any other options. In fact, twelve years ago I probably would have argued for a pretty extreme view of male hierarchy. However, even then I had the sense to avoid guys who had anything at all to say on the subject. To me a single guy who needed to talk about being the leader in the home was waving a huge red flag. I am now deeply thankful that I had that much sense.

Although DOB never did particularly hold a strong position on needing to be in charge, there’s no doubt that by nature he’s a take-charge person and by nature I’m fairly easy-going. It would be pretty easy for us to follow a hierarchical pattern. And initially, we kind of did. Because it was what we were used to. Because it was what we were told was right.
The trouble is, every time I’ve decided, “Well, that’s what he wants to do so I should just submit,” when I had a different view, it has been absolutely the wrong decision. It always has meant stopping the conversation we needed to be having. It has been cowardice on my part.

This doesn’t mean me insisting on my way. It means we are one. Like the head and body cannot operate without full agreement, neither can we. If we haven’t reached agreement yet, one or both of us don’t yet have enough of the other’s perspective. When we do that work, the work of really listening and trying to understand, we always find out what is best for both of us.

Now that does not address the problem of what to do when one partner is being intractably stupid. However, I don’t see how this problem is actually solved by giving men the unilateral right to be the intractably stupid ones.

Monday, May 07, 2012

An Important Event

Thirty-three years ago today, an event very important to my life occurred, though I took no notice of it at the time. I was more interested in immediate events, such as figuring out what everything within reach tasted like.

Still, without my notice, it occurred: The long-lost Duchy of Burgundy welcomed the birth of its rightful ruler. And the world became a better place. At least a better-observed and critiqued place.

Long live the Duke!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Being Controversial

I'm feeling even more controversial than I thought, so instead of starting with courtship, I'll start with critiquing this statement:

“A man should be the spiritual leader in the home.”

This is one of those phrases, like “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” or “God helps those who help themselves” that many people think is in the Bible, but actually isn’t.

It seems like people are taking this from the end of Ephesians 5. Only there’s no command there for men to be spiritual leaders. There’s a command for men to love their wives—but the example given is quite practical: “as their own bodies.” Nothing profoundly spiritual about making sure your wife is fed and clothed. 

There's the example given of Christ's love and care for the church, but unless you actually believe that husbands somehow are able to save and sanctify their wives (and I'm afraid that's heresy), it's clear that this is given in the way of inspirational example, not practical scope of activity. Paul quickly ties it back down to earth with the analogy to the body again. The passage as a whole reads like this: See how Christ cares for the church spiritually, as part of his spiritual body? That's how you should care for your wife physically, as if she were your own physical body.

There’s also a description of the husband as being the “head” of the wife, but, first of all, a description is not a command. It’s the way things are, not the way they should be. Second, there’s nothing about being a “spiritual” head. Obviously a man is not physically the head of his wife, but there’s a vast logical gulf between being the “head in a metaphorical sense” and being the “leader in spiritual matters.”

And that’s before we even get to the question of what “head” means, which is a theological and linguistic question above my pay-grade, so I’ll just point to the problem with the common “leader/decision maker” interpretation that is obvious from a general familiarity with the Bible and other ancient books: in ancient times, the heart, not the head, was spoken of as the seat of decision making, faith, and spiritual power.

Well, but so what? Is it bad for men to take the lead in spiritual things? Shouldn’t we encourage them all we can?

The trouble is, once you say “the man should be the spiritual leader,” you’re implying that there is something fundamentally wrong in a house where the wife is (or thinks she is) currently more interested in spiritual things than the husband. This often has more to do with perception than reality—since many women are more verbal, more duty-driven, more sociable, or simply have more flexible schedules than many men, they will often act more in ways that fit the public perception of “spiritual” than their husbands will.

So then what? Does she try to curtail her own spiritual growth so that she can let her husband be the leader? Does she suffer in silence? Does she try to maneuver him into spiritual leadership? Whatever happens, you’ve created a lot of discontent and tension in a situation where, quite often, the husband was doing just fine at loving his wife as his own body, but now is judged inadequate because he doesn’t like to get up early for family devotions, or whatever it is that currently counts as “spiritual leadership.”

Over time, people grow and change. At times one spouse may have greater spiritual interest, at times the other. This is not a problem. We should all be following Jesus. We should all be considering how we can encourage each other to good works. We should all be seeking to be a servant, which is God’s standard of spiritual leadership.

And by the way, I have never met a man who did something more eagerly because he got a good guilt trip over it.

(Another passage this idea could come from is I Corinthians 14:34-35, and while that’s another can of worms—here’s a good discussion—it doesn’t contain a command to men either.)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Odds and Ends

  • The Duchess has decided that milk gives her headaches. So far avoiding it seems to be working. She is perfectly happy with goat cheese on her beans and almond milk on her granola, so it has not been too difficult except for eliminating half my breakfasts and all white-sauce based suppers. We're hoping it's a temporary sensitivity that will go away after a short period of avoidance.
  • I had a guest post over at Girlfriend's Guide to Homeschooling, on the topic of courtship. I may write a series on this topic over here, because I'm feeling in the mood for some controversy. Then I may find some more controversial things to write about. This will probably make the blog very boring for people who read to hear about cute things the kids do, so I will have to get them to agree to do extra cute things to supplement.
  • The squirrels ate all of the lettuce I set out in regular beds. They left most of what was in the flower bed. I'm suddenly not at all interested in gardening any more. Plus, it's raining.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Foamenting Discontent

You know how there come those days when you've had a busy, fun couple of weeks with people visiting and trips to the zoo and the trains and staying up late talking and watching movies together and it's all settling down and you vow, "Tonight's the night we go to bed early! Tonight's the night we get back on schedule!"

You know how that's the night a child always needs to go to Urgent Care?

It was Dot's turn. She's never been. Just before bedtime, she somehow managed to snort a piece of craft foam, much to her surprise. Her own efforts to dislodge it only bloodied her nose and made her more distraught. I arrived home in the middle of this (I had been at Bible study) and was, I confess, a little skeptical. We couldn't see it. Her nose had stopped bleeding. How did we know it was still there?

However, when it comes to handling emergencies, DOB is the specialist. This is because I refuse to believe emergencies are actually occurring, especially late at night. "Sure, it looks like that limb is severed, but we can probably put it back on with Super Glue. Or maybe it will look better in the morning." I'm better at routines. Whereas DOB gets all fired up at the prospect of a New Problem To Solve. And also believes that medical help is sometimes necessary.

So we called Their Majesties, who abandoned their supper to come sit with the other kids, and drove to Urgent Care. The other kids have gone to the ER, where it is slower because you are behind people with actual emergencies like heart attacks, whereas at Urgent Care snorted craft foam is more exciting than sprained wrists and earaches.

I was apprehensive about how Dot would take this.  She tends, as I have mentioned before, to be extremely difficult and unreasonable under stress and she had been cranky and tired before the incident occurred and completely bonkers afterwards, wailing "I can't DO anything!" until Deux managed to soothe her by reading enough Mother Goose poems. How would she take having her nose poked at?

Apparently she figured out that there was now something she could do. Because she lay still, serene as the Lady of Shalott, even though it took dozens of tries before the doctor could finally extract the foam. The doctor afterwards told her, "You are perfect, you know that?" She nodded smugly.

Today she was cranky and unreasonable again.