Posts Tagged ‘Respect’

Small Children Are Whole People -or- “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!”

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A nearly-forgotten pet-peeve resurfaced for me the other night: It really bugs me when people talk about a baby as “half” a person!

This came up while my husband, son, and I were playing a family game. My son got a question about how many pets he would like to have. His answer was 5 1/2. Puzzled, I asked him about the “half” pet.

“Well, you know, like a little baby pet of some kind.”

And I think, or at least, I hope, I mustered a smile and an uncomfortable laugh before I gave my son my thoughts on the “half” verbiage.

I don’t think I would have thought quite so deeply about the “half a pet” explanation he gave me if, when he himself was a “little baby,” I hadn’t already thought quite a lot about how younglings are not “half” anything. When he was very young, I was keenly aware of how wholly there this tiny person was.

Back then, I always felt indignant when staff at restaurants would observe that we had “two and a half” in our party. Inside I was thinking, “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!” My baby being only a fraction the size of a mature human did not mean he was only a fraction of a person!

I worked at being gracious when people referred to my son as “a half.” I didn’t want to be unkind, but I felt like I needed to say something. Quite often I used a little humor to make my point and would playfully mention that we think of him as a whole person.

On a strictly practical level, I can tell you that keeping up with the demands of an infant is no small undertaking! When sleep is scarce, showers get further apart, and conversation becomes increasingly child-related, it is clear that this small person is all there, all the time.

But on a deeper level, I’m big on the sacredness of life and part of that means that I honor and treasure the lives of even very young humans. Treating kids as whole people, respecting them as beings all their own, is really important to me.

I know that my son didn’t mean any harm by talk of half a pet, and restaurant staff don’t intend disrespect by referring to a babe in arms as “and a half.”

But how we talk about this matters. The words we use hold meaning.

It matters if we verbally discount another person (or pet, or any other living being). Even if that person is very tiny, that person is worthy of our full respect.

In fact, I would go further to say that especially if another person is tiny, or vulnerable in any way, the onus is on us to make sure that we honor the agency and dignity of that one.

So, I tried to explain some of this to my son. And I tried to do it light-heartedly enough, because it was game night, after all. I didn’t want to make it too heavy, but I do hope it gave my son something to think about.

If nothing else, my son got to hear about how his mom defended his honor when he was too young to do it himself. And I think, or at least, I hope, that matters.

I’m No Fool

Foolishness

Art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

“Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

–1 Corinthians 1:20

When I was in 8th grade my health teacher told me, “You should be a defense attorney because you’re the most argumentative person I know.” This was after a particularly lively class discussion in which I was defending an unpopular viewpoint, and doing quite well for myself.

In 9th grade, my team and I (we were Ben, Ken, & Jen) won our big debate in history class that year.

In 10th grade, my English teacher predicted, “I see you as a zealous ACLU lawyer” because I had been outspoken about certain issues in papers I wrote for her class.

I tell ya, when I get on a topic I can really go at it.

I’m passionate about what I believe in and I don’t mind speaking up. Okay, let me be perfectly frank, I enjoy speaking up. I like a good hot-topic discussion.

In recent years I have had some great opportunities to have some of these kinds of discussions online. There is a particular Facebook group of ministry colleagues with whom I especially enjoying bantering.

However, online discussions lack a lot of the check points you have in in-person dialogues. You don’t get to see the other people’s faces or hear their tone of voice. It’s possible to ram right through a discussion and not realize that you’re coming across all wrong.

I try to watch myself online. I work at being civil–talking about issues rather than making personal attacks on my conversation partners. I admit when I’m wrong and I apologize when I realize I have made a conversational misstep.

But…I do love a good debate. I can hold my own quite well. I’m pretty stubborn persistent too. And with my goal not to make the discussion “personal,” sometimes I err too far the other way and get so caught up in the impersonal ideas behind it all that I can forget about the people.

One of the texts for my sermon on Sunday was 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and it’s all about the foolishness of the cross and comparing human wisdom with God’s “foolishness” (see art of verse 25).

It’s a great passage to preach on.

But verse 20 (quoted above in bold type) about “the debater of this age,” preached to me this weekend as I reflected on my zeal for a good debate.

It was a bit of a warning shot. Sometimes when I get on a roll, the sheer energy of the discussion fuels my passion all the more. I needed this warning to remind me to continue to watch myself that I don’t get too carried away in cool, rational, debating.

I cherish my people and I never want to be so “argumentative” as to harm a relationship. I’m not giving up on the friendly banter–I just want to be sure to keep the “friendly” in there.

I’m glad that God have me this reminder not to behave like a fool.

How Pop Culture Saved My Marriage

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Every once in a while a film gains popularity not just for its entertainment value, but also for how it helps us grow. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002, written by Nia Vardalos) has helped me to be a better wife.

 

The Problem

Early on in my marriage I discovered something about my husband that baffled me. He used Windex to clean non-glass surfaces!

This was so foreign to me. I was raised in a home where we cleaned tables and counters with a dishrag and the Windex was strictly for cleaning windows and mirrors.

My confusion and frustration with his liberal use of Windex was not just because it wasn’t the “right” cleaner for all those jobs. It also seemed to me that using Windex added unnecessary steps.

Getting out the spray-bottle, spritzing it on the surface, and then wiping it off with a paper towel seemed like a lot of fuss to clean a surface that just needed a little wipe-down with a dishrag.

I tried to come to terms with this practice of his, but the conflict was made worse when he decided to try a different brand of glass cleaner to save money. That alternative brand was so heavily scented that I lost all sympathy with his choice to clean everything with glass cleaner.

I dubbed that off-brand, ‘The Death Spray’ and I prohibited my husband from using it in my presence.

Eventually he managed to use up The Death Spray and when he did, in my own way, I actually welcomed the return of good old Windex. We had reached a bit of a truce about this cleaning conflict.

 

Seeing Clearly

The real breakthrough for me with the Windex issue came when we saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The father in the movie used Windex for everything–including physical ailments. Anytime someone had something wrong, the father urged them to “put some Windex on it.”

Seeing this over-the-top, yet sincere insistence on using Windex put my husband’s use of it in perspective. The movie character went way beyond what my husband ever proposed doing with it!

I mean, my husband was just adding a couple of surfaces to the glass-cleaner’s usage. He wasn’t trying to pass it off as a cure-all!

And so finally, I relaxed more about my husband using Windex to clean non-glass surfaces.

 

Set-Backs

Since those days we have expanded our repertoire of surface cleaners. We have used all-purpose surface cleaning sprays and antibacterial surface wipes extensively.

In my view, Windex is still best for windows and glass only. And I even got my husband to go along with using the all-purpose sprays instead of Windex on tables and counters!

I thought we had reached a point where he no longer felt the need to use Windex for “inappropriate” cleaning scenarios.

But I was wrong.

Since moving to Texas I have favored the antibacterial wipes over all-purpose spray cleaners, so we don’t have any all-purpose spray cleaner in the house.

So…the other night I asked my husband to wipe down a table and he, by default, reached for the Windex and paper towels.

“But honey, we have the antibacterial surface wipes for that!” I insisted.

He looked at me with that deer-in-headlights look that always means I overreacted.

I paused, remembered the perspective on Windex I gained from watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and then I relented.

So, you see, that movie has made me a better wife! And that is how pop culture saved my marriage.

 

Such a Time as This

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My mother-in-law has been having serious health issues that have landed her in the hospital. I’ve come to Houston (where my in-laws live) to be part of my mother-in-law’s care team.

There’s nothing like caring for a sick mother-in-law to bring out the responsible adult in me.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting with my in-laws and I love them dearly.

But, at times, I have behaved, well, like a child, around them. I’m not proud of it, but I know I can be stubborn and rebellious when my elders try to offer guidance or correction.

Now though, with my mother-in-law’s condition being so serious, I am all in.

I can’t explain how exactly I am able to be so fully present as I am now, but I have this incredible peace about being here to help.

It is as if everything in my life up to this point has worked together to prepare me to be right here, right now. I’m sure that sounds strange. But looking back on so much I have lived through and learned I can see how those threads are woven together to clothe me for this time.

The timing alone is perfect. I’m between preaching gigs and between writing deadlines. I’ve relaxed a lot about my rigid online publishing schedule. I’ve done some important delegating. All of these factors allow me the freedom to be right where I am.

But on a deeper level, my spirit is prepared to be here.

I have felt a certain restlessness lately. I came to Texas somewhat reluctantly, then I grew to appreciate it–in large part because of the support my in-laws offered me. But as the time here wore on, I began to feel bound by being here. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And that longing in my spirit, that longing for purpose, is fulfilled in this time.

Somehow, even my resistance to being bound is oddly sated by the fact that I am but itinerant here in Houston. I go back and forth from my in-laws’ house to the hospital with a couple of bags with just enough of my worldly possessions to get by with.

My sister-in-law joked the other day about me being a gypsy. I kind-of liked that.

I can leave any time I choose.

And yet, I choose to be here.

I wish I didn’t need the freedom to “opt out” as badly as I do. But it is that freedom to go that gives weight and meaning to my decision to stay.

And as much as I love my dear husband, I have always felt like I am lucky to have him and never quite was all that certain what exactly I had to offer him. I know my worth isn’t defined by a single act and there are probably more reasons than I can understand about why he loves me back.

Still, this experience of being here now, helping as I am…I think perhaps, at least in part, that I became a Tinker for such a time as this.

 

Leaders: Are You Too Sexy for Your Church? So Sexy it Hurts?

Too Sexy for Church

One of my pet peeves among ministry colleagues is when they say, “I know it’s not the most sexy aspect of ministry,” about some unsung part of church-work. It has become a popular turn of phrase–almost a cliche–to talk about something in terms of how “sexy” it is.

Colleagues I know and deeply respect have said it. I won’t name names and I’ve lost track of who and how many. Just if you happen to be one, I’d like to suggest that you stop using the term “sexy” to refer to anything related to church or ministry. What follows are my reasons.

 

Four Reasons Faith Leaders Shouldn’t Use the Term “Sexy”

 

1. Stop the Obsession

Our culture is bombarded enough already with sex in advertising, sexual innuendo, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Too much. We as church-workers can do ministry just fine without making it look “sexy.”

It’s true that some aspects of ministry may seem a little ho-hum, but even the great moments don’t have to be “sexy” to be worthwhile.

There are so many other ways to describe ministry highlights: mountaintop experience, a holy moment, a God thing, serendipitous, great teamwork, etc. Please try saying what you want to say a different way.

 

2. Keep it Safe

Associating ministry with sex at all is just disturbing. People need church to be a safe environment not a sexualized one.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse by faith leaders happens.

Oftentimes predatory faith leaders will “groom” others beginning with small, seemingly innocent words or touch to desensitize them to the wrongness of their advances. Other times faith leaders will promise that sexualized talk or touch will have a spiritual benefit for the parishioner.

These behaviors are way out of bounds and just plain wrong. Faith leaders should never attempt to sexualize their relationship with parishioners in any way.

 

3. Words Mean Something

So you’re not a predator, you’re not “grooming” anyone. To you it’s just an analogy. But what you think of as a harmless analogy may trigger unwanted sexual thoughts for others.

I get that people use this term without intending to sexualize the church environment, but words matter and you can’t just throw around the term “sexy” without somebody thinking about sex.

And by “somebody,” I admit I am one; I’m very visual and yes, I’m going to go there in my mind…and I won’t hear another word you say.

 

4. Stop the Objectification

I don’t even like the term “sexy” when it would be more fitting because it represents a highly objectified view of sex.

I teach my son not to refer to others as “hotties” or as “sexy” because those terms treat people like objects.

Saying someone is “sexy” is saying, “I want to have sex with that person.” Such an announcement is often made with no appreciation for the personhood of the one desired or a relational context for the fantasized consummation.

Sure, most people want to be seen as attractive, even desirable, but we’re whole beings, not just play things.

 

I’m not opposed to sex. And I’m not saying that the subject should be off limits in church; in fact I think there are good and helpful ways to talk about healthy sexuality in our parishes. I just don’t think the term “sexy” accomplishes what it is intended to accomplish when used to refer to church or ministry happenings. The term itself is just a little too sexy for church–so sexy it hurts.