The Glass Darkly

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Step into a New Phase of Life

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I find it so interesting how our culture handles death. On the whole, we seem comfortable talking about it, even joking about it and some set up plans for it. In this child's prayer, we teach our children how inevitable death is. Yet despite all our euphemisms, sometimes once in a while, I find people who would rather protect themselves or their children from the thought or possibility of dying. I really don't know what is better for children, to talk about it or to protect them from it, but my instincts tell me, "teach them to talk about it." And what I have learned in talking to my children about death is that the concept of heaven is comforting to them for they see it in a very concrete way.

In Cambodia I used to cringe when people would talk about death. People there have seen so much death and brutal death at that. Maybe it is no different than here, but I found that you may never mention death near someone who is sick or people believe that you invited it. Yet there were often times I would listen to jokes (looong stories that were supposed to be funny) and the funny part was that someone would end up dying or killed in the end. While everyone would sit around laughing, I would sit there in shock and horror. Maybe depicting horror scenes in the plot of a "funny story" is one symptom of post-traumatic stress in a society that has lived through a genocide and 25 years of war. I don't know. But neither can I handle the brutality in many movies that I've heard people enjoy here. The interesting difference between Cambodia and here is that Cambodians would NEVER teach their children a prayer like the one above. Their animistic and superstitious beliefs guard them against anything that would tempt fate by even suggesting the possibility of calamity.

My son's very good friend died recently. His friend was a classmate and playmate and inspiration to my son, encouraging him to try new things and learn different sports. While my son showed various symptoms of grieving, his prayer shortly before the funeral went like this:

Dear God, tonight I pray for Eli . . . thank you that he can be with you up in heaven now. Thank you that his body is all better and new now and that he can have fun playing soccer up there and riding bike. I pray that he will be happy, too. Amen.

I know my son does not totally understand the concept of "soul" or "eternity" or even "grieving" for that matter. But then, do any of us? So we talk about the realities of life and death and new life and sometimes I am suprised what my children can grasp. Of course my children's developmental levels still require mostly concrete explanations, but I am comforted by knowing that they can know that death is not an end, but a step to a new phase of life.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Core Values and Following Christ

Conversations about values happen at so many levels, I sometimes struggle knowing which ones I should take seriously and which ones I can just listen to and shrug my shoulders at. Core values are what drive our passions, our choices, our time and resources. Values are often culture-driven and sometimes even handed down through generations. Core values are not tangible things or possessions or even things we do, but rather they are what give meaning to those things that we have or things that we do. It is very difficult to get people to identify their core values because it takes a lot of work. Core values are like seeds that are deeply embedded, often under multi-layers of societal, emotional, spiritual and personal issues and practices which people may or may not initially recognize. And sometimes, as people dig deeper and see the seeds, they would rather keep them covered. But, in my opinion, the fruit of values-conversations can be worth the dig if people are willing to look at themselves honestly and how their core values fit into the picture of the kind of person they want to be.

I had a woman approach me the other day and comment to me how she appreciates how I am very free to do what I need to do with my children and not worry what people are going to think. She said she appreciated this, and I believe that she did, however, I had a hard time knowing if I was to say "thank you" or "I'm sorry." She went on to explain that many people just feel we need to be more formal and have certain appropriate ways of handling children or babies. I can't remember everything she said, but it was obvious that I must have done things differently than other moms would normally do things. She felt that people should be OK with how I do things and not get all worked up over it. Perhaps it was my bewildered look as my mind inevitably scrambled to think of all the things I might have done that people would have considered improper which prompted her to go on to say, "it is probably related to your experience in a different culture . . . " I still don't know exactly what she was talking about but surely don't want to offend anyone!

My point is that, just the fact that she put the conversation into that context revealed that there were particular values which were colliding and she was trying to explain that. For that, I commend her! It would take a lot of discussion to come to an agreement as to what those values are, but interestingly enough, my guess is that the people she was referring to and myself would both agree on similar values, but hold those values to greater or lesser degrees. Thus, people can exhibit differing behaviour even based on shared values. Values which are dominant are the values that are most deeply seeded and will sometimes mask the existence of other values. And in the end, it is the choices we make based on those values which make the most noticable difference.

While many values we hold and the associated choices we make may actually be ones we think are OK, the point of the discussions, in my book, are ultimately to see if we are holding the kinds of values Christ held and are living the life Christ exemplified for us in His life on Earth.

So in America we talk about family values, for example, yet we give moms only 3 months to have a baby and return to work and dads rarely get anything. (in contrast to our Canadian neighbors who give moms one year paid leave and dads get quite a bit of time too . . . now doesn't that give a family a better start?) In our churches we want to live in community yet we need to call in advance of "dropping in" to visit and are just as happy at a soccer tournament on a Sunday morning as we are in church with our church family that we haven't seen all week because we're so busy at work and band practice and soccer practice and library night and .........

The truth is that freedom to live individually and independently is a much deeper seeded value that seems to trump all others. People don't want to be bothered by other people and put up their walls so that the "bother" part can be contained and controlled. And even in the church, we don't mind being doctors and helpers, but we prefer immunity against suffering. We don't want to show weakness or be dependent.

Independence vs dependence is only one example of a value conversation. I like this one because it is so hard for people to talk about and it reaches into just about every aspect of life. Can you see? Is it possible to imagine what our country would be like if Americans would operate out of a value of dependence? How would that change how we relate to one another? How would that change our relationship with God, with the world, with our environment? I wonder how many people who read this are saying to themselves right now that dependence is just not Christian!" I wonder how much God values our independent spirit? I wonder what other aspects and choices in life we can identify as growing from this same core value of independence.