Archive for the ‘children’ Category

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Giving our children a vision of human ‘normal’ beyond the Disney deception.

November 3, 2014

Elsa

Buzzfeed has a set of images going around, re-drawing some of the Disney Princesses with ‘slightly’ more realistic waistlines.

If Disney Princesses had realistic waistlines

They oddly have a separate post with the eyes re-drawn in closer to human proportion.

If disney princesses had normal size eyes

jewellery made from dismembered Barbie Dolls

jewellery made from dismembered Barbie Dolls

It seems that while they are trying to point out some evidence for the dismorphic approach to female bodies in the Disney-verse, they continue to perpetuate one of the key practices in objectification themselves: the segmentation and dismembering of bodies for depersonalised evaluation.

Nevertheless, I recognise that they are trying to help (a bit, but not too much, so as not to disturb the thriving ecology of media driven image control, in which Buzzfeed is a significant organism itself ).

Unfortunately, the post simply shows the Disney images alongside some slightly modified figures and leaves it all hanging under the title of ‘IF’. The response from some mothers of girls (which thank God I am not, but still share their concern) has been a fairly frustrated angry whimper of disempowerment. The pictures didn’t actually point out something that these women hadn’t noticed. They all have waistlines of their own, and they know what a real female body is meant to look like, because it stares them, hopefully smiling and full of grace and pride in the mirror daily.

I didn’t actually see any responses from Dads, but I imagine the response would be the same. I’ve seen them turn their heads to watch a real waistline or two on the street, none of them looking like a Disney dish.

In some ways, the post was a bit of a slap into the face to us who live in real bodies but see these images foisted upon almost every possible surface: cups, t-shirts, backpacks, undies, buses…a taunt that says, “We know this is inaccurate, we know this creates unrealistic expecations, we know this is damaging” (because we know how many mornings we don’t face our body in the mirror with admiration, joy and pride as it deserves.)

But what can be done? Disney is not going away. And they are not going to change their physical norms in a hurry. The world is still reeling from Elsa not getting a hook up at the end of Frozen, as if we’d never heard of a single female before! And we know that manufacturing and marketing are going to keep plastering these images onto every imaginable object. Fortunately, our capacity to correct and counter this imagery lies not in protest and shutting it down – though let’s not take it lying down either – but in our own hands, in what we create ourselves.

One of the ways we can help is to recover the practice of drawing in the family. As a child, many of the images I saw on a daily basis were drawn by my own mother. My grandparents sketched and painted, and sent me small gifts of their own art. Drawing with children is lots of fun – it’s something they are usually really happy to join in with, and in doing this, we have the chance to ‘re-image’ the world for them.

A great activity is to choose a page from National Geographic and both try to draw one of the people on the page. Doing this regularly exposes our children not only to alternate visions of humanness from the fake-disney stock, but also provides mounting evidence over time that the world is full of lots of different kinds of beautiful ‘normal’.nat geo

Although popular media has a good shot at influencing our kids, they primarily look to those they live with for the strongest clues about what is real and trustworthy in the world. We are not at all behind the eightball in this.

You don’t need to be great with a pencil or brush – it’s the process that communicates most strongly for children anyway. If lines really aren’t your thing, get out the clay and model up some figures with alternate proportions. Get out a  tablet and download a drawing app like sketchpad. Sometimes, when you’re in the cafe or stuck in a queue and you would normally let them open a game app with pre-fab graphics, instead open the drawing app and  draw/doodle with your children. Or even better, keep a few crayons and a jotter pad handy – something I know plenty of parents already do.

The key step here is to draw with your children.

At the very least, as you begin to draw or paint or shape, you will discover new insights into your own assumptions about beauty, form, body proportions, as you choose how to represent the human form for yourself, and your children. Will you strive for realism? Will you idealise? Will you deliberately exaggerate for fun, to over-correct common distortions? Art is as much revelation as it is representation.

My ipad was initially a disappointment to my young nephews and nieces, being completely devoid of games. Nevertheless, it’s still popular, because of my own love of the drawing apps on it. I am not gifted in making lines, but I am comfortable experimenting to see what happens!

Daniel

Daniel, March 2012

And in the midst of it all, I can draw my superheroes with short legs, thick waists, large noses, flat feet, no cleavage showing and happy smiles. I can even draw un-heroes, and value the ordinary.  It seems the children in my life don’t judge me by Disney standards. Our warm love for each other and the social power of being together, of enjoying creating and experimenting is a value we share.

Perhaps, the crayon can be mightier than the pixel.

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Repenting on Trinity Sunday – a thousand bad kids talks and other terrible ‘trinitarian’ sins

June 15, 2014

SMITFsunlight

God beyond our imaginings and present to us, more near than we know,

We repent of reducing you to an idea.

We repent of breaking the second commandment.

We repent of calling you ‘like’ anything you have made

like an apple, an egg, a triangle, 
like ice,

like a cord of three strands, like a ponytail*

We repent of these thousand terrible ‘children’s talk’ object lessons.

We repent of our great sin – objectifying you.

We repent this day in which we see how our theology forms us:

 as we have brazenly objectified God,

so we have issued ourselves with license to objectify others.

We rejoice in the deliverance from binary locks

that your trinitarian self brings our imaginations,

and yet there is still much to repent.

We repent of our mis-shapen doctrines,

pressed from tri-level politics:

Our hierarchies, our patriarchies,

our ecclesial castes, our idealised family structures.

We repent of the elite Father,

merchant middle-class Son,

transient slave Spirit.

We repent of all the times we have said

‘Trinity is a hard thing to understand’

and added another stumbling block before one another,

before our children,

implying that they should understand you

and yet not offering the faith that they can,

as if you had not your very self already revealed.

We repent of making of you an intellectual challenge,

that we might feel clever,

of pretending you are a science to be measured like stars

and hypothesised like philosophy –

and then all your complexity reduced again

to five minutes of thinking about an orange.

We repent of forsaking scripture.

We repent of abandonning the stories you have given us

and replacing them with points and propositions

and proofs and prolegomena.

We repent of abandonning the stories

in which you entwine your call, your questions, your challenge,

your care,
 your suffering, your solidarity and your otherness

perfectly and accessibly.

Let us not forsake who you are – real, revealed and revealing still.

Let is not forsake true trinitarian life in you.

Through our repentance show us doorways to living truly:

let us find and know and follow your trinity

in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly.

Let us find and know and follow your trinity in faith, hope and love

*http://www.christiancrafters.com/trinity.html Yes, there really is someone who has attempted to explain the trinity with ponytail. Obviously, I don’t recommend it.

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Hear many voices; Be many times sorry

May 26, 2014

indigenous map

Multivocality, apart from being the name of my blog, really is one of my favourite things about reality
– Bach chorales
– good conversations
– my husband’s readings of A.A. Milne
– pentecostal worship before it went mainstream and marketable
– Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladin
– the way I think

and of course, the deepest truth-telling I know – the multivocality of the Bible.

Today, on National Sorry Day, this map reminds me:
hear many voices…be many times sorry.

http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/

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Ash Wednesday Sacred Space for Average Households

March 5, 2014

junkBegin your season of Lent as a household by creating a (portable) space that will remind you of the invitation to travel with Jesus and his followers across the ages through the intersecting stories and symbols of life and death and new life. Use a tray or platter to define the space, so it can be placed in the middle of your common table as a focus, or moved easily to one side, or another space as necessary over the whole season of Lent. This can serve as a place for leaving short written prayers, or simply one word reminders (names, places, issues) and to light tea-lights for prayers.

Some options:

1)    Make a collection of small bits of junk: pipecleaners, wire, plasticene, sticks, bolts and nuts, springs, hinges, buttons, the broken innards of clocks/radios/mp3s, straws, cardboard scraps, plastic scraps, fabric…

Form this into a scene of some kind from your imaginations and concerns and views of the world.

 2)    Use pieces of charcoal to write or draw symbols and words of Lent on a piece of sandpaper. Tear the edges of the sand paper to ‘roughen’ the boundaries. Leave some crumbled charcoal and dust clumps on the sandpaper.

 3)   Read the confession prayer as you construct your sacred space. Often there are one or two people in any given group who find words more helpful than tactile activity. You’ll know who those ones are. Don’t compel anyone to either read or to construct, but allow people to gravitate to the part of the task that will engage them well. The aim is not for everyone to have to do the same thing, but to do something together, in which each person has a part.)

 *

We are made from solid stuff

We can list our molecules and decode our DNA

But we cannot make ourselves

God alone is our creator and life giver

 

We are easily broken,

We burn out and we crumble to ash and to dust

And we cannot save ourselves

Christ alone is our deliverer and healer

 

We are able to know both good and evil

We can choose between our desires

But we cannot fully resist evil or get rid of its lure

The Lord alone is the holy one who defeats death with love.

 

We are called to follow Jesus and walk in his steps

But only forgiven and forgivingly

Only falteringly, and only together

The Spirit alone makes us one, gives what we need and comforts our steps.

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The Student’s Speech, the King’s Speech and Smoothing Speaking Spaces

November 9, 2013

There’s an Upworthy clip going around this week, that shows a young highschool student who addresses his year at school. He has been bullied in younger years, and speaks with a significantly disruptive stammer.

watch a teenager bring his class to tears by just saying a few words

The clip shows a teacher trying the ‘King’s Speech’ manouvre on him. He puts on headphones and listens to music while he speaks, and his speech becomes significantly smoother. This is not hard to understand. Our brains are so easily deceived. We know this.

It is, of course,  wonderful to see a young man at this pinnacle moment in his highschool journey being given a voice and listened to by his peers.

But I found myself in the strange position of watching this clip while another young man was finding his voice, not far from me. And the juxtaposition of these two students and speakers made for some interesting questions.

In the next room, my son was preparing a presentation for American History, assembling a slide show of powerful images from the Vietnam War, and recording a commentary of reflections on the impact these images had on the American population, and the civic and political discourse surrounding the war.

Every so often, as he was recording, his speech stumbled. It was late at night, and he was under time pressure. I could feel him rushing.  Everyone makes errors of speech in these situations.

But I also know that this young man not so many years ago, assessed by the speech pathologist, rated an average 7 stammers of speech per 10 words. That was a lot of bumpy talking.

I remember the long, painful (and expensive) process of going to our appointments every week for a year and a half, and the every day routines and exercises we did. It was emotionally expensive, trying to motivate him to go, and when I failed in motivating, having to just be that big bad momma and make him go. I remember the attentiveness it required of me as his primary support person in the therapeutic endeavor, to give him feedback on every phrase he uttered from morning to night. ‘That was really smooth…Good job…Great smooth sentence there…really smooth talking, mate…that was a bump…”.

I had to try to keep a ratio of 5 praises of smooth speech for every time I identified a ‘bump’. But I also had to try to call every bump I heard. We played therapy game after game, we made recordings of his speech, we kept a log book.

Those of you who know me personally know that I have a great capacity for intensity, which this required, but my appetite for record keeping and administrative detail is feeble, as are my skills. Nevertheless this is what we did, kept the log, did the routines, charted the stats, together. I think this process of re-learning, and transformation has shaped my understanding of human learning and change more deeply than any other pedagogy or educational philosophy. He barely remembers much of this process now, six years later, but his speech remains steady, confident, smooth.

When I saw ‘The Kings Speech’ I loved the scene with the phonograph. I loved the little colonial oasis of the Australian family in Harley Street, which stirred in me that slightly proud but mostly awkward awareness of how unmaskable my Australianism is when I am in the UK, and the complete betrayal my own speech is in that context.

But I also simply cried through the entire film, my heart most strongly connecting with Bertie’s wife (well, who doesn’t secretly wish she was Helena Bonham Carter?) and Lionel, the therapist.

It was the tensions of those who wished the King better, who tentatively, boldly and furtively acted to bring him resources for healing who were the chalk of my bone and salt of my tear. He resented, resisted and rejected them. I know how that feels in such a process.

The story of The King’s Speech’ and the story of my son who, after a year and half of intense work was charting 0 stammers for every 10 words consistently, and now records his own voice expecting a ‘journalist-perfect’ fluidity of speech, these are stories not of instant quick fixes but of committed, determined, painful, relationally demanding work, both for the individual and for their alongsiders.

Going back to the student in the Youtube clip. I wonder if he will one day have such a story. Not just this momentary window of being listened to, and wondered at, but which he cannot be fully present in, as he relies on the distraction and deception of the music in his headphones to enable it to happen.

What I wish him, is alongsiders. Not just those who will stop throwing rocks, but those who will toil with him to clear the rocks over which he stumbled. The role of the class in this student’s life, speech and capacity to find hisvoice is important. He certainly needed them not to bully him. But he also needed more than just to be left alone. He needed them, just as we all do, to be active participants in his healing and empowerment. To make a hospitable space for him.

And, to be fair and honest, others in this cohort, needed this too. The bullies needed active accountability for their speech-malfunction. The malfunction that caused hate and derision, mockery and put-downs to impede their communication of truth.

I wonder what roles we understand ourselves to have in each other’s lives? I am a very shy person. I naturally do not want to comment on anyone’s speech. I would like to sit at the piano all day and make sounds, preferably that no one will listen to. I love words, and I would like to write poetry, but preferably that no one will ever hear. I like the people-less quiet, where I can sort out the many voices in my mind.

But I live in a world of people who struggle to find a smooth path for their voice – for their real voice.

As a mother you do lots of things that are out of your comfort zone. For my son, it was an easy decision to commit to being with him in this. But I am not a mother to everyone. I need a role model for rock clearing and path smoothing for the voices of others.

Of all the Biblical characters who have been my closest friends since childhood, John the Baptist is my favourite. Wild, uncouth, weird, lonely, misunderstood, yet intriguing, passionate, truth-telling, bible-busting, counter-cultural, and he jumps at the presence of Jesus as a foetus! He’s a prophet I can take as a mentor. Sure he’s probably autistic, but that makes him all the more loveable in my book.

And he is the one who repeats the call of Isaiah as the kingdom of God is on the verge of who knows?

“Make the crooked straight and the rough smooth”. (Luke Chapter 3)

And then he goes on to outline the practical stone-shifts his society needed to clear the path for justice and salvation. Soldiers, businessmen, the poor, the rich, all called to clear for each other.

Refraining from being throwers of rocks is not enough.

Let’s be clearers of rocks.

The process of making space, a smooth way, a hospitable territory – whether it be in actual space, or in thought space, or in our speech, it’s a challenge we can respond to as we alongside one another. We can clear the road of bumps for one another as we travel, we can make space for each other as we speak. I wonder also, how we can do this in community, collectively. What would a church, for example, look like that made this rock clearing and road smoothing it’s primary task? After all, John reminds us of the claim that ‘All flesh will see the salvation of God.’ Does that alter our plans at all?

 

 

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Ancient families, economics and some one to sing the baritone

October 7, 2013

I try not to blog or post on facebook on the research that I am doing for my doctoral thesis. The point is to write the thesis, not thousands of words in blog posts. But I am cutting myself just a little bit of slack today. Besides, this bit of reading was kind of  off-broadway anyhow.

I have been reading on childhood and families in ancient societies.

I am noticing how many contemporary analyses of ancient families attribute family structure, role and identity constructions (especially in what we would call ‘extended’ households’) to economic advantage/survival alone. No doubt there were/are gains in labour sharing and productivity by this arrangement.

But I wonder if there is something about the Western scholarly mindset that is blinded by these factors, and misses something else that motivated and sustained larger multi-generational families. It seems that the 20th/21st century western scholar can’t imagine reasons for living with others unless there was direct economic gain. [Note to self: read some more diverse global voices.]

Is it not at all possible that ancient families shared life together in rich tangled textures because it is nicer like that? Because in extended families, or families that welcome strangers and travellers, there can also be plenty of love and listening and affection and solidarity to go around for the things in life that don’t boil down to $$$? That human community thrives not just on there being enough bread and water and blankets, but also on

having hope for one another,

inspiration to be daring,

the meeting of the eyes that gives comfort and understanding,

models for problem solving,

 forgiveness in failure,

healing touch,

wrestling partners,

dancing partners,

some one to sing the baritone

and people you can cry with because though your soul is submerged in the salty blindness of tears you know when you come up for air,  they will still be there.

I know, I know – I’m an incurable idealist. Still my small experiences of extending our household beyond the nuclear family, and of being a sojourning third adult in other families myself makes me suspicious of purely pragmatic economic theories for one-roofline community formation.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was for a long time thought to explain the development of civilisation historically, not just provide a rubric for understanding how individuals might prioritise an agenda for survival.

It was theorised that the ‘higher’ needs, like  friendship, family, intimacy, creativity, respect, and morality only ‘evolved’ in societies that had sorted the basic function of food, shelter, property and security.

This led to an inflated view of the importance of technology and industry as a means for securing access to the ‘higher’ needs. And it led to a subsequent blindness and prejudice in recognising the qualitative, affective, creative and spiritual dimensions embedded in ancient and so called ‘primitive’ cultures.

The hierarchy was also subtly misapplied to individual human chronological development. Assuming that until humans had nailed the functional tasks of mobility and self-feeding, and certain conceptual markers like ‘object permanence’ that there was no moral, affective, intimate or creative content to the child’s world. And perhaps you look at Maslow’s pyramid with the same wry smile as I do – as you observe the self-actualisation of the individual at the pinacle. Truly he so perfectly manifest the zeitgeist of inherent individualistic naturalism.

Closer unprejudiced attention reveals that the earliest incarnations of human life are responsive to relationship, along with other cultural factors. That real human persons of any and every age are alive and alert to corporate existence, contingent, dependent and, if they know what’s good for them, loving it.

I know, I know – I’m an incurable idealist. Still my small experiences of bearing babies in my own body, of holding a new born who settles to the familiar Mozart phrases, of knowing spoon-fed children and adults traumatised by lack of nourishing touch  make me suspicious of purely pragmatic theories of personhood that can separate functionality from meaning making.

Whatever ideas we might have about what makes a good family or a good economic system or a functional human being, or a civilised society, I hope we never lack someone to sing the baritone.

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questions of hope, humans and the lunchtime philosopher

August 7, 2013

The building in which I study holds up a decent cultural life.

ImageThere is always a current exhibition of art in the foyer,  the main hall is a popular venue with chamber ensembles as a rehearsal and performance space and there’s a healthy series of lunchtime seminars by faculty and visiting scholars. 

As I am interested in (ok, obsessed with) the ways in which theology is ‘taught’ or ‘presented’ or ‘communicated’ in every sphere of human community, but especially in the academy, I take every opportunity I can to observe a theologian or biblical scholar in a live setting, strutting their stuff.

Don’t get too excited: with a few notable exceptions, there is very little, if any actual strutting. We’re lucky if the average, or even exceptional, scholar is adventurous enough to try both standing and talking.

Sitting in the chair reading is the conventional posture, in case you were unaware and wondering.

This afternoon the Centre for Ministry and Theology, hosted a seminar by a guest Jesuit scholar – and Christian Philosopher from the US. He presented a beautiful exploration of the dimensions of Hope. I loved it.

For a number of decades now, I have pursued the practice of asking academic theologians this one same question: I will ask if, and how, the ideas they have explored speak to the whole of human life – in particular to those who are under 12 years of age. I generally hold back and let others ask questions first. If there’s no time for my question I let it go.

Because, I have discovered over years and years of asking this question, that the quality of answer is usually extremely disappointing, as it was today.

The common shape of the answer, as today, is

‘I haven’t thought about it, I leave that up to people who have more contact with children than I do.’

Today, as many times before, the speaker found themselves in unfamiliar territory – and he began to bumble around. The quality of his thought weakened. The room became a little bored. I’m used to this, but I don’t think it’s because others in the room necessarily had disdain for a question about children as such – simply, that he wasn’t saying anything clear or helpful in response. Even I got bored – and I’m quite invested int he topic!

And so today, I witnessed again the cycle that leaves our theologies anthropologically weak and flawed.

It is perfectly acceptable for a scholar to have a multi-decade career and never think of humans as other than adults.

When asked to address the wider (and fundamental) dimensions of human life scholars have little to offer.

Listeners experience the questions of younger-years anthropological implication as basically unfruitful, and so these questions are not pursued in the academy, the marginalisation of the first decades of life continues in our theological and philosophical constructs.

In theology and christian philosophy, childhood remains Socrates’ unworthy ‘unexamined life.’

I grounded my question in some of his own material on the ‘greater (eschatological) hope and  ‘lesser’ hopes – science and progress and freedom. In my mind there is lots of interesting content in the interconnection between human life as child and these ‘lessser’ hopes – particularly in dialogue with the Zeitgeist philosophers of the past 2 centuries who have not posited science, progress and freedom as ‘lesser’ but great hopes. And in so doing have impoverished our sense of humanity, especially among the least and the little.

The object of my inquisition today, after a few minutes of ramble – including ‘I don’t have any children, so I defer to those who do’ and some strange comments about the observation that children collect dinosaurs,  concluded that he had only given very woolly answers because he didn’t have anything much to say.

At least he was honest.

It is rare in other conditions for a scholar to invoke the pretext that lack of concrete experience of something disbars one from considering it’s philosophical content. Besides which every single scholar whom I have ever met or proposed this question to had for a good many years actually been a child. Not one of them could claim an exemption.

There is plenty of great writing and thinking being done specifically about children as children. “Bring it on!” I cheer. But this is not the same as those who think  they are thinking about the basic, normative humanness, and seeking to make philosophical or theological claims about humans, not thinking intentionally about children as the primary normative human. Statistically at least, we must admit that many more humans start and finish life as children than as adults.

Today’s seminar was on Hope.

I hope that one day, when I raise my hand and ask this question of a speaker, they will look me confidently in the eye and say –

“I have thought about this as a matter of anthropological priority – and I can assure, I stand by everything I have proposed today to be equally helpful – or challengeable in reference to children as to adults. Next question.”

Here’s hoping…