Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I Am Reformed: Overview

Months ago, I promised to do a series of posts on why I belong to the section of Christianity that calls itself Reformed. And then I slipped into the world of fevered children and adult root-canals (there's a post on that coming soon), and this blog became a no-man's land.

I kept meaning to post. As an added nudge, I've been asked to teach a Sunday school class this fall on Reformed theology. Then this week I read another post about an abusive church that called itself Reformed and I decided I shouldn't put this off any more.

So where to begin? As I worked on this post, I realized I was trying to write a one-paragraph description of the reasons for the Protestant Reformation. If you've never tried that, don't. The experience made me nostalgic for those root canals.  I could tell you the Reformed church is the branch of the Reformation that clustered around theologians like John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger and Ulrich Zwingli. Or I could talk about the different historic emphases between Calvin and Luther, or Calvin and the radical Reformers like Menno Simons. But I don't want to write that post, and you don't want to read it.

So I'll go for too simple, rather than too complicated. Reformed theology is an understanding of Christianity that emphasizes the omnipotence of a merciful, holy God. God's power over all things - often called his "sovereignty" - is systematically affirmed in whatever theological issue is under discussion. All goodness is seen as the result of God's action, not human effort. Even the good things we do are ultimately caused by a sovereign God.

In Reformed theology, God is the one who acts. I receive the grace and mercy of God. I don't achieve it or earn it. Even the part of me that acts to receive it, is in fact God moving in me to allow me to receive. Reformed theology is an expression of Christianity organized around the persistent reminder that things ain't up to me.

If I were to sum up why I am Reformed in something short enough to fit on a t-shirt, it would say, "I'm here for the Sabbaths." I mean that figuratively (though literal Sabbaths are pretty great too). The Sabbath is the day of rest. In the Sabbath we acknowledge that our labor, whatever we may tell ourselves, is not necessary to the running of the world. In the Sabbath we submit and receive rest, even when a thousand insistent impulses are screaming out to us that our work is essential. I make my home in a Reformed church (see that little c in church? That's important. I'll write about that another day) to worship the Lord of the Sabbath, who gives my soul rest. I stay here because of the freedom and joy I have found in knowing it doesn't depend on me.

Next post in Why I Am Reformed: Original Sin! Why a phrase that makes you feel doom and puritanical gloom comforts and encourages me.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If I wrote this in hieroglyphics, she'd be interested

I am writing this with a nine-year-old in my lap. Nine-year-olds do not easily fit into a lap, and rarely want to. However, I have been trying to spend more time writing, and this nine year old is feeling a little neglected. So here she is, insisting that I write around her. I am reading this aloud as I do, and she is giggling helplessly. In fact, she's laughing so hard, she is sliding out of my lap.

This may be the most effective way to remove her.

She came into the study to show me what she has been making. My girl is fascinated by ancient Egypt, and has drawn and cut from cardboard the funerary amulets used in the mummification process. She tells me the names of them (scarab, wedjet eye, ankh, djed pillar, Nephthes, Isis, and the four sons of Horus: Imseti, Duamuteph, Hapi, Qebesenuef). I have a graduate degree in ancient near eastern history, but she already knows more about ancient Egyptian burial customs than I do.

My mother asked her the other day if she was still interested in ancient Egypt. "Aren't you over that stuff yet?" I don't know if this was teasing or not, but my girl insisted there was nothing wrong with loving ancient Egypt, so she was unfazed by Grandma's prodding. Maybe this will be a lifelong love for her; maybe not. But I love the joy she brings to it, the way new books and new facts and new photos light up her eye.

(It sure beats her other love: Star Wars. She's never even seen the movie. I know. Nine-year-olds.)

Last spring, she took cardboard and popsicle sticks and made a senet game, the ancient board game we know from paintings and texts. She and her sister still play it. I have not played once.

"Grown-ups do not understand children whatsoever," she tells me, "Even though they're both human beings." Because what endeavor does she see me devote myself to? What interest does she see me cadge moments for? Only writing. And here she is, in my study, insisting I write around her.

Children don't understand grown-ups at all.

Monday, July 22, 2013

My Creative Parenting Solution and How It Failed

My girls do not like to clean their room. Shocking, I know. But last week, when I sent them to their room to clean it, they were even worse than usual. After two hours of whining and "cleaning," their room still looked like this:

I particularly like the snow boots lying around in July. 

I had been warning them all summer that if they did not clean up when I asked them to, I was going to take away their stuff. This was the day I would follow through.

My sister had told me about a friend of hers who devised a creative punishment for her daughter's disrespectful behavior. She took away all the clothing from her fashion-loving girl except for a t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants. Her daughter could earn back her clothes piece by piece, with good behavior. It worked. 

The secret parenting grapevine has given me many good ideas. I thought this could be another one.

So I calmly (well, mostly calmly) informed the girls that refusing to clean their room yet again had triggered these draconian measures. I would pack up all their clothes and toys. They would be allowed one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of shoes, and one toy for two weeks. (No restrictions on underpants. I am not crazy.)

This is the point where I should have heard ominous background music.

First of all, my kids have a lot of stuff. Four kids, even after I keep their clothes pared down to only the things they like to wear, still have piles of clothes. I knew it would take me days to pack it all away. But it was worse: to pack it all away, I would first have to make space in my storage areas.  So now I was into a task that would take days.

It would be worth it if it worked, and they learned to clean their room. The kids have actually improved this summer at keeping the common areas of the house clean.  We started a weekly Bible study at our house this summer, and are keeping things more orderly for it. Because cleaning the living room and dining room is a less difficult task, the kids have been cheerful and useful when it needs to be done. I wanted to see them master this for their bedroom too.

When the four-year-old saw her empty closet, she cried. She loves her pretty dresses, and sobbed because she believed I was giving them all away, like I do with the clothes she outgrows. I explained to her that she would get her dresses back when she shows me she can keep her room clean. At that, she stopped crying and stopped caring.

The other girls were a little upset at first, but quickly found the bright side. "We'll be just like cartoons!" exclaimed the six-year-old. "They wear the same outfit every day too!"

Uh-oh. This was not really working out as a punishment.

But the worst was the toys. I thought allowing them only one toy for two weeks would be the part they hated most. Instead, they spent a blissful hour as a group, discussing the finer points of their toys, and which one qualified as their one, true, best-beloved. They luxuriated in this. The kids seems to believe that the conditions I had set had finally allowed them to give their favorite toy the accolades it deserved. At last, their favorite would understand how much they really loved it. And it was all thanks to Mommy's great idea.

At bedtime the first night, the kids took off their one outfit and handed it to me in exchange for a nightgown. I had had the foresight to make sure their outfits could all be sorted in a single load of laundry. But this still meant I had to wash, dry and fold them each night before I went to bed. And this was on top of the big new task I had given myself of packing away everything else. More work for me, when I rarely keep up with all my regular work.

The next day went on much as the first. Their closets were cleaned out, but I still had a mound of dirty clothes I'd picked off their floor, and nowhere to put them once they were washed. At bedtime the second night, the kids cheerfully handed me their clothes. "I like this!" said the eight-year-old. "It's so much easier."


By day three, my commitment to this project was lagging. To make it work, I really needed to be supervising a brief cleaning of the bedroom each day, but I was too swamped. We planned to go swimming this day with grandma too, so now I had to find the swimsuits in the clothes I had folded. I was pulling out the swimsuits when the worst happened.

A stomach virus hit.

I will spare you the horrifying details. I will just say that with only one pair of pants, and all the others packed away, my children began to... uh... desperately need to change their clothes. The trip to the bathroom stretched to twenty-six miles long, and my girls were running that marathon several times an hour. Sometimes unsuccessfully. I dragged the top-bunk mattresses onto the bedroom floor (at least there was room now) so that precious seconds were not wasted climbing down the ladder on the way to the Room of Necessity.

My most loathed household task is unnecessary laundry. Washing clothes the children leave on the floor for days without ever having worn it makes me howl in frustration. Now I was in the world of frantically necessary laundry.  Those single favorite toys now needed the washing machine too ("he's going to the spa!").

Now here we are, one week into our experiment, and I think we can all pronounce it a failure. The little kids are running around in their underwear, and the big girls are fending for themselves with whatever they can find from the dryer. The virus appears to be done with us, but not all the children have had it, so I am nervous about taking them out of the house. There was very little warning last time it struck.

So my plan has not worked. They have not learned to keep order in their room. But I think they have learned that they don't need as much stuff as they thought they did. When I look at how they clean the common areas, I realize that they work more diligently at that because they have hope they can finish it. The task is accomplishable. Their room has so much junk, cleaning it feels overwhelming.

So when I throw in the towel this week and put all their stuff back, I am not putting it all back. They don't need as many clothes as they have. I am simplifying even more to something they can manage.

But until I find the time to do that, the only orderly kids' bedroom I have will be on Pinterest.
No one lives in this room.