April Showers

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Photo by Georgia Gong

During the last days of March, we fell asleep to the sound of rain on the roof for the first time in a very long time. I awoke in the morning to the sound of morning doves calling, filling a months-long silence.

It felt like the release of a long-awaited promise: that maybe spring would, indeed, come again. The week before, my daughters – who had wished for the coming of winter snow back in autumn – went outside with shovels and attempted to help spring along by clearing the snow off of our lawn.

And now, the snow was melting, all on its own, revealing the first shoots of the bulbs I’d planted back in the fall starting to poke through the thawing ground.

But the rain, which sounded so soothing on our roof, also carried the threat of impending danger – or, at the very least – the threat of inconvenience.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

A Good Friday Meditation on the Loss of Logic: Evangelicals, Guns, Life, Liberals, Free Speech, Bacon, and Jesus

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I have a daughter who cares so deeply about animals that we sometimes beg her: “Please, treat your sisters like they’re ducks.”

All animal-care chores in our house fall to this daughter; it is she who feeds our dog, and who wakes up early (some days) to help me with our poultry.

As our family continues down the road of trying to grow more of what we eat, we’re considering whether to keep a few animals for meat. We don’t eat much meat, but nobody in our house is vegetarian. While our daughters are fairly picky about the meat they eat, they agree on two things: bacon, and ham. Ham is an occasional treat, but our family consumes at least one packet of (uncured) bacon a week. Therefore, if we were to pick one food species that would make economic sense, it would be pigs.

Pigs make practical sense, too. They don’t require much in the way of housing, and they’re a short-term commitment (piglets arrive in spring and are ‘harvested” by late fall.)

When the possibility of pigs came up in dinnertime conversation, our animal-loving daughter burst into tears.

“We’re going to KILL them?” she sobbed.

We pointed out, as gently as possible, that she had eaten bacon that very morning. Her response was, “But I didn’t KNOW it!”

“Exactly. And chances are that pig you ate didn’t have a very good life. If you care about animals, wouldn’t you rather know that the animal you’re eating was treated well? That it was allowed to free-range under the trees? That it died as humanely as possible?”

“NO!” she wept. “I don’t want to eat anything that I know. That’s just no way to treat a houseguest! How would people feel if animals started killing them for food?”

We pointed out, as gently as possible, that if she felt this way then she might consider becoming a vegetarian. She shook her head. “No,” she protested. “I really like bacon.”

This same conversation has been repeated numerous times, always with the same illogical conclusion: My daughter rejects the idea of us raising animals for meat – even though she knows these animals will be treated far more humanely than much of the meat in stores or restaurants – while also refusing to give up eating meat. She literally weeps for the pigs while eating the bacon.

As exhausting as it is to argue in circles with my daughter, her thinking reminds me of what’s happening in our national dialogue these days.

Logic entails consistency: Your actions should correspond to your thoughts. My daughter is illogical because she is unable to consistently match her thoughts with her actions. If she truly cares about animals, she should either a) only eat meat that was treated well, or b) stop eating meat. If she continues eating meat with no thought to its origins, then she shouldn’t claim to care about the well being of animals.

That makes sense, right?

And yet.

Exhibit A:

I give you conservative Evangelicals who bemoan the moral decline of our country and long for nothing more than a return to “family values.” According to polls, the majority of this group supported the presidential campaign of a thrice-married man who boasted of adultery and sexual assault in the past, and may recently have unethically covered up other illicit affairs; a man who, as President of the United States, continually spews out puerile take-downs on Twitter.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council – a mouthpiece for conservative Evangelicals — recently said, “We kind of gave him – ‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.’” Perkins explained that Evangelical Christians “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

Oh, right: Punch the bullies, just like Jesus said.

Actually, if anybody was being bullied on the playground, it was Jesus.

According to my reading of the Bible, the only people Jesus punched (verbally) were the religious leaders of his day, whom he called “hypocrites” because they were more concerned about advancing their own power and glory than truly following God. (Sound familiar?) So they executed Jesus; he was threatening their authority, while failing to threaten the Big Bully of the day — the Roman Empire.

It shouldn’t be surprising to John Perkins and other Evangelical Christians if they feel “kicked around.” Here’s what Jesus himself said: “’If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’” (John 15: 18&20)

Being kicked around makes sense when you’re a counter-cultural troublemaker who’s calling out the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, teaching about justice and mercy, and caring for those on society’s margins.

What doesn’t make sense is claiming to care about morality, except in the case of an unrepentantly immoral leader whom you hope might advance your agenda, or claiming to follow Jesus while grabbing for power and respect.

Exhibit B:

In the wake of a Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17 students at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School, many called for the passage of common sense gun laws on a local and national level – things like universal background checks, raising the age limit for gun purchases, and giving law enforcement more authority to remove guns from people deemed legitimate threats. They condemned the hypocrisy of certain politicians, who send “thoughts and prayers” to victims of mass shootings, but who resist passing stricter gun legislation because they take campaign money from the NRA (the equivalent of weeping for the pigs while eating the bacon.)

In the midst of this outcry, I heard comments from people – some of whom I know and love – to the effect that we shouldn’t demand stricter gun laws, because guns aren’t the real problem in mass shootings. The real culprits are any of the following: mental health, student bullying, parental negligence, violent video games, or an overall decline of American moral and family values. These people weren’t exactly touting automatic rifles, but they were saying, “Why bother with laws when there are also social and cultural problems at play?”

This line of thinking baffled me, because I just can’t see how this is an either-or situation. Should we address societal issues like mental health, bullying, violent content, and discipline? Sure! Should we also consider passing laws that will make it more difficult for troubled 18-year-olds to get their hands on automatic assault rifles? Yes!

The thing is, I’d guess that almost every person (the ones I know, at least) who voices this “Why bother with gun laws?” view, also mourns for the hundreds of thousands of unborn children who are aborted every year. And I wonder how they’d feel if I said to them, “You know, abortion is really a mental health/parental negligence/sexual promiscuity/decline of American moral and family values problem, so why bother changing any laws?”

If you feel strongly about abortion, don’t you want to address all of those things? I would hope that you’re opening your home and your wallet to pregnant women who need support, volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, adopting children, advocating for better sex education and health care, and speaking out against the sexual objectification of women and America’s unhealthy relationship with sex. But I also bet that you’d like to see some laws that would at least discourage certain types of abortion.

That would be a logical approach. Instead, some people who call themselves “pro-life” appear more invested in the lives of unborn children than the lives of high school students. If you are truly pro-life, doesn’t that mean every life? As in: unborn children’s lives matter, their pregnant mothers’ lives matter, teenagers’ lives matter, Black Lives Matter, the lives of those on death row matter, the lives of those we send to war for our country matter? Otherwise, you’re just proving Barney Frank right: “Conservatives believe that from the standpoint of the federal government, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

Exhibit C:

Thus far, I’ve focused my critique upon conservative Evangelicals. Inconsistent logic isn’t just a conservative Evangelical issue, though: Let’s consider politically liberal people who claim to embrace justice and tolerance. They believe everyone deserves to be treated fairly, regardless of race, income level, gender or sexual orientation — unless your political views offend them, in which case you deserve to be mocked, muzzled, and ostracized from discussion.

It’s been posited that this sense of superiority among liberal intellectuals contributed to a polarizing divide in our country that resulted in the election of our current President. On a smaller stage, it’s wreaking havoc in my husband’s industry: higher education.

On college campuses across the country, many faculty and students claim to welcome the free exchange of ideas – unless those ideas are odious to them.

Just the other week, I witnessed an exchange on Front Porch Forum, our community’s online bulletin board, which began when a member of the community became confused after our town’s gun safety rally was mistakenly listed as a “March for Life” (which wasn’t inaccurate, but it was part of the national “March for Our Lives.”) This person wrote in asking if the march was to protest the death of unborn children. Another member of our community – a colleague of my husband’s – responded by labeling this person an “anti-choice racist.”

How does such dialogue crushing name-calling get us anywhere?

Ideas, even offensive ones, should be brought into the light and engaged; they don’t just disappear if you kick them aside. History shows that if you force those with whom you disagree into a dark corner, they’ll just get angrier and angrier, and that anger will crystallize their ideas and make them more powerful.

Just as it makes no sense to be pro-only-some-lives, it makes no sense to be tolerant and open-minded only to those with whom you agree.

***

This may sound like a rant, but it’s really a love letter, born out of concern.

I am concerned for the Evangelicals, because we claim to worship the same God. On any demographic survey, I’d be labeled evangelical: I believe in the Bible and I love Jesus.

I am concerned for the liberals, because we tend to vote according to similar priorities; I find the so-called “liberal” concern for justice and marginalized people far more Jesus-like than that of many “conservatives.”

If my daughter continues weeping into her bacon without changing her actions, we will soon stop taking her concern for animals seriously. This is exactly what’s happening on a national level to Evangelicals and liberal intellectuals alike, but their lack of logical consistency reflects back upon things like Jesus, life, mercy, free speech, and justice – things that we should be taking seriously.

I’m not qualified to be writing this, being no paragon of logical consistency myself. I bemoan America’s love of big-box convenience, yet I still can’t seem to stop buying things on Amazon. I’m concerned about screens and social media destroying our culture, but I maintain a Facebook account. I’ve been known to eat animals of unknown provenance. I agonized for months over whether I should write this, while continuing to compose sweet little columns about my children and poultry – fiddling while Rome burned.

Matching our actions to our convictions is hard, because it always demands sacrifices, be they power, control, comfort, or bacon.

So, here is my prayer for all of us on this Good Friday – for conservative Evangelicals, liberal intellectuals, and me:

May our actions align with our beliefs, in the same way that a carpenter in 1st century Palestine said he loved the world enough to die for its sins – and then hung on a cross and did just that. That’s the kind of logical consistency that can change the world.

(Not) Wheeling and Dealing at Barter Day

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When we began homeschooling our children about two years ago, it was a choice born of necessity: Our family would be spending five months in Berkeley, California while my husband was on sabbatical, and in order to have the flexibility to make the most of our stay (and to avoid navigating the Berkeley public school system), homeschooling seemed the obvious solution. I assumed it would be a contentious, stressful, and painful experience. More than once, I assured myself (and my daughters), “We can survive anything for five months!”

When we returned to Vermont and continued homeschooling our children, it was a choice born of love. The actual experience of homeschooling my children proved my expectations wrong: It felt nothing at all like ‘surviving,’ and more like thriving.

Homeschooling in Vermont has meant that our family has become part of a group known as the “Addison County Homeschoolers.” That’s the name assigned to the group’s email list and its Facebook page, but the group itself is a bit diffuse. In a style that I’ve come to identify as very Vermont, our homeschool group is more like a loose collective of families who tend to do their own independent things, but who gather on occasion for community events.

These community events include a couple of theater productions each year, weekly open gym and sharing times, an annual spelling bee, and a monthly meeting.

This month, the Addison County Homeschoolers came together for something that was once an annual event, but that hadn’t happened in a year or so: Barter Day.

Click here to continue reading about our Barter Day experience in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Curses!

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“Mommy broke the compost bin and said a bad word!”

On the first Friday of March, my daughters broadcast this announcement to every person we saw: friends, family, neighbors, check-out clerks. It was BIG NEWS in our household, because it was the first time my daughters had heard me swear.

I am not a swear-y person (at least, not outside of those conversations that happen behind our closed bedroom door when I update my husband about certain events of the day.) It’s just not my habit: I didn’t grow up in a swearing house, and to this day I’ve never heard my own mother utter anything stronger than, “Darn it all!” I try to set a similar example for my daughters, while encouraging them to be careful about what comes out of their mouths.

“The words you say paint a picture,” I’ve told them more than once. “Think about what kind of picture you want to be painting.”

To this end, not only the “big bad swear words” are verboten in our house; we also try to avoid words like, “shut up,” “stupid,” and “hate.”

All this to say: If curses are coming out of my mouth, it’s a sign that something is dramatically off; that something has pushed me outside the limits of who I want to be.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Riding in the Death Star

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“I bought us a truck,” my husband announced one night as he walked into the house after a day at the office.

My daughters reacted to the news as if we’d just announced a candy-only dinner, a week off of school, and a trip to the beach, combined: a squealing, jumping, hands-in-the-air impromptu dance party. The first two questions they articulated were:

“What color is it?” and, “Can we ride in the back?”

“It’s black,” he answered. “We’ll call it the Death Star.”

Just like that, we became the owners of a pickup truck.

Please click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

 

Oh, My Dog!

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Of all the human and non-human species that make up our family, I’ve written the least about our dog, Gracie. My daughters always do nutty things, the ducks and chickens teach us about life and death, and my husband is the “straight man” in the midst of the chaos.

But Gracie, our five-year-old labradoodle, is complicated.

The contributions that a dog is expected to make to a family typically include: companionship, affection, and exercise. My daughters insist that Gracie adds all three to our lives: Their interactions with Gracie mostly involve snuggling on the floor, feeding her treats, and dressing her up in funny costumes, all of which Gracie submits to dutifully. “Gracie’s the best dog in the WORLD!” a daughter exclaims daily.

My husband and I would agree that Gracie adds exercise to our lives, because one of us has to walk her on a leash at least twice a day. We have to walk her on a leash because we don’t have adequate fencing at our house, and we can’t trust Gracie to be outdoors off-leash. We can’t trust Gracie to be off-leash because, for the five years that we’ve known her, Gracie has demonstrated repeatedly her inability to control her emotions.

Click here to continue reading about Gracie in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Safety

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It was this year’s peculiar cocktail of sub-zero temperatures, accumulating snow, thaws with mixed precipitation followed by a return to freezing temperatures – combined with the heavy clay soil and topography of our property – that turned our yard into a skating rink.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think we had three ponds on our land, when what we really have are three huge frozen puddles. This distinction means nothing to my daughters, who slip and slide with abandon over the smooth expanses of ice in their snow boots. Where air has gotten in between the ice, they stomp on the top layer so it fractures into thin shards that they pick up and eat — nature’s original popsicles.

My husband and I, with higher centers of gravity and work to do, snap metal crampons onto our boots when we go out to walk the dog or feed the poultry. We walk gingerly and drive slowly. We play it safe.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.