Not-Quite-Sunday Catechism: Pleading the Ninth

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Q: What is the ninth commandment?

A: The ninth commandment is: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Lies 183/365

The ninth commandment can be a tricky one. Various forms of lying are often integral to our society and social norms. Even little kids, if they give it some thought, can find lots of gray areas. Do white lies count? How about half-truths? What about fiction and stories? What about politicians lying, or lying for the sake of an argument? What about branding or statements of affirmation? Ironically, thinking about lying generates a lot of “what ifs.”

It may have been a while since you’ve considered these seriously, and I urge you to do so before I compose my own comments. It’s always okay to tell your own kids, “You know what, I’m not sure myself. Let me think about it some more.” Or, even better, “Let’s think about it together.”

Here’s two links to podcast episodes that focus on lying from various neuroscience, social science, and philosophical vantage points. You’d probably want to listen in on these on your own (sans kids), at least at first.

IDEAS producer Nicola Luksic looks at our instinct to lie, why we do it, how we teach children to do the same — and why it can sometimes be a good thing.
[CBC Ideas] Born to Lie Audio
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/born-to-lie-1.3400603

Everyone agrees that lying is, generally, a bad thing to do. But it’s actually quite hard to figure out what’s wrong with it! In this IDEAS Classic from 2002, philosophers Michael Blake, Samantha Brennan, Arthur Ripstein and IDEAS host Paul Kennedy tell us the truth about lying.
[CBC Ideas] The Truth About Lying Audio
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-truth-about-lying-1.3410692

I think you’ll find a good introduction to the Biblical perspective as you go through the catechism discussion questions in Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, but I’ll toss in my two cents next week.

Janus Point

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Highlights from the past week:

  • An eventful snowy, rainy, weird Ancestral Knowledge
  • Baking “secret message muffins”
  • Finishing and discussing Bud, Not Buddy
  • A special Odyssey of the Mind acting seminar
  • Writing on Google Docs using the iPad
  • Watching Creatures of Light on NOVA
  • A family dental appointment with Mom the Dentist
  • A Shakespeare celebration at the Folger’s
  • Celebrating the Lunar New Year with activities at the Freer and dinner at Hong Kong Palace

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Coming up this next week:

Monday

6 pm: Beijing Opera on the Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center

Tuesday

11 am-8 pm: Valentine’s Day card-making at the Barrett Branch of the Alexandria Library

7 pm: STEAMtivity at the Beatley Branch (Makey Makeys)

Come get creative with fun hands-on activities! We will explore science, technology, engineering, art, and math with programs that allow kids to create creatively. Today we will be taking MaKey MaKeys to the next level by making giant floor keyboards!

Wednesday

12 pm: Student Living Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

See our collection come to life with student monologues and music from the Washington National Opera’s production of Lost in the Stars.

3:30 pm: Crafting for Kids at the Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Library

Thursday

10 am & 1 pm: HERO Live Stream: Jim Crow

10:30 am: Valentine’s Day crafts for pre-school kids at the Martha Washington Library

6 pm: The Sweater Set on the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center

Listen Local First presents local folkstresses The Sweater Set and Jessica Eliot Myhre of the Bumper Jacksons and Letitia VanSant who will perform vintage love songs in celebration of Valentine’s Day. The duo backs up their vocal harmonies with ukulele, clarinet, guitar, and upright bass.

Friday

Lincoln’s birthday

Friday to Monday: The Great Backyard Bird Count

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

10 am: Homeschool Game Hour at the Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Library

Saturday

10-4: Valentine’s Day Card Workshop at the Postal Museum

Love is in the details at the annual Valentine’s Day Card Workshop at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. Come out with the family and create heart-felt handmade cards and visit the museum’s stamp store to send the cards to your loved ones with a special Postal Museum postmark!

11:30-3:00: Presidential Family Fun Day at the National Portrait Gallery

Celebrate commanders-in-chief with the Portrait Gallery this Presidents’ Day! From calligraphy lessons to scavenger hunts, a Virginia reel workshop and a gallery talk from author Flora Fraser, there will be activities suited for every member of the family

12-4: Love in Every Language at the Freer-Sackler

Enjoy a digital slideshow of images of love in Asian art, create Valentine’s Day cards using woodblock prints that say “love” in more than a dozen Asian languages, and fold heart-shaped origami. All ages welcome with adult companions.

SuperBetter

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Last month, I posted “What Good Games Can Teach Us About Learning”. This month I picked up SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, an interesting self-help book that argues for applying game design principles to self-improvement. No, this is not about LARPing; instead, McGonigal repackages a lot of well-worn tactics of mindfulness and goal-setting and such into this game framework.

I’m not a fan of gamification nor of self-help programs, but I found SuperBetter interesting to peruse because of its overlap and elucidation of what I posted earlier. Here are McGonigal’s seven rules for getting SuperBetter:

  1. Challenge yourself.
  2. Collect and activate power-ups. (Rewards)
  3. Find and battle the bad guys. (Obstacles)
  4. Seek out and complete quests.
  5. Recruit your allies.
  6. Adopt a secret identity.
  7. Go for an epic win.

What she’s essentially proposing is to focus on a goal or a set of goals, and then systematically look for and determine available resources and possible obstacles towards the pursuit of that goal. In a sense, she’s showing how to design a responsive learning environment—a game environment—in real life. You are creating a strategic schedule for mastering steps to your goal, mapping out potential difficulties, and determining the support, skills, and motivation that you might need to draw from to persist.

Most important is the mental framing of this approach. By seeing this pursuit as a game, you determine a virtual identity for yourself as a “hero” or “player.” The whole endeavor is now a learning challenge, a quest of discovery that is ever-increasingly challenging, but always conquerable. You are not approaching your living passively but as an active designer and player of your experiences.

This seems to me a viable workaround for the inherent problems of gamification and extrinsic rewards. By being both the designer and user of the system, one makes indirect motivations direct and exercises tactical performance in the service of adaptive performance.

Check out the book, along with McGonigal’s website and app.

Sunday Catechism: Mad World

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Q: What does the eighth commandment require?

A: The eighth commandment requires that we lawfully acquire and increase our own and others’ money and possessions.

Q: What does the eighth commandment forbid?

A: The eighth commandment forbids anything that either does or may unjustly take away money or possessions from us or anyone else.

Mad Men Party: G Cover for Boston Globe

This week I’d like to do something a little differently, and quote some passages from The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. It’s a book I recommend, not because it has infallible advice, but it raises a number of thought-provoking questions relevant to how we deal with money around our kids.

The passages I’m quoting come from the chapter entitled “Are We Raising Materialistic Kids?” Highlights are mine.

Allison J. Pugh, now a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, spent a couple of years following both affluent and struggling families around Oakland, California, and described them in a book called Longing and Belonging. What she determined is that our children are constantly navigating something she refers to as an “economy of dignity.” In doing so, their feelings of self-worth often rise or fall depending on constantly shifting standards around the possessions and experiences that matter in their own little worlds.

Pugh, who saw these economies playing out in both poor and affluent communities, starkly describes the feelings that many children experience when they don’t have a Game Boy or haven’t been to the vacation destinations that most of the other kids are talking about. For kids with nothing to contribute and no bragging rights, it’s akin to “a sort of unwelcome invisibility.” Pugh describes the “matching” that goes on when they make meek attempt to interject with information about a different (cheaper) game or other (closer) destination that’s barely relevant. Kids want to belong, so this is one way of saving face. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the privileged among them engage in what Pugh refers to as “patrolling,” sniffing around the dignity claims of others in order to pass judgment. They run, she concludes, a “dignity gauntlet.” In this sort of environment, many parents attempt to shield their kids from any psychic blows by providing a “full provisioning” that leaves them wanting for practically nothing. (93-94)

Most of us will eventually be in the position where they’ll ask us to explain our own large purchases or extravagances. What will we say? Is every car or handbag or vacation defensible? And what does it mean if we feel defensive about it? Can we explain it all without scolding the child who is asking what is, at its root, a reasonable question, even if the tone of voice is a little bratty? After all, they just want to know what we stand for; our spending choices is one way that we articulate this.

Bold questions like this also result from pent-up frustration. We control so much, and they know it. Kids run the dignity gauntlet in outfits and arenas that are mostly of our choosing, not theirs. We decide what they can wear, what they can have, where they live and go to school, and what they can do when they’re not in class. Setting strict limits on all of this seems like the right default, even if we do drive nice cars ourselves. When we see them appearing literally to ache for things that other kids have or do, however, it often calls to mind our own feelings of childhood longing. And satisfying our kids’ desire for dignity and a sense of inclusion in the present can make us feel like good parents, and signal to ourselves and the world that we are doing just fine. Dignity, it turns out, involves intense feelings for both parents and kids. (96)

“That moment of deprivation and indignity scares parents up and down the class ladder,” [Allison Pugh] said. “They may remember their own experience of how often it happened to them and how much it hurt, and they want to protect their child from that moment. But they should relax. Kids manage that deprivation well. It’s not bad for them to experience it. That’s how I felt after three years of watching them.” (111)

I think our recent catechism questions, with their focus on work and justice, challenge us to remain engaged with the world, to participate in marketplaces, to honor by social contracts and legal systems, to take a stake in our societies — but also demur from its traps of false valuations and hyperbolic self-importance.

We can, and should, teach our children to take on economic responsibility without participating in the “economy of dignity,” to see how money becomes a problem when it seems to mean more than it is, when really the truth of our self-worth lies elsewhere. That education begins with our own attitude towards material wealth and how we steward it for them.

Why does a loving Father with infinite resources not shelter us from want and suffering? Because to do so misses what true security, providence, and salvation really is. To do so thieves us from Him and tempts us to thieve.

Not-Quite-Sunday Catechism: Rich Dad, Poor Dad

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Q: What is the eighth commandment?

A: The eighth commandment is: You shall not steal.

Probably more than any other commandment, kids think they know this commandment. After all, so much of the grievances of their earliest lives have been about possessions: taking, grabbing, sharing, and stealing. They all have experiential understanding of the guilt and hurt associated with theft.

We talked this past Sunday, though, about what might be the attitudes or beliefs behind this temptation. It is, one, a feeling of poverty or inadequacy. Our fallen world has an economy of scarce resources, and our survival instincts tell us to grab and hoard as much as we can. Free market extremists might even say that stealing has merit, may even be an imperative, as long as it’s done within technical bounds.

A second core belief is that we are our stuff. We derive status and personal valuation from what we own, especially relative to what others’ own around us. We see money as a way of keeping score or our consumerism as a statement of our values.

I’m sure there must be others, but I think these two major assumptions lie at the heart of most of our ruthlessness, entitlement, greed, and parsimony.

There’s so much that’s already said on this, not only in sermons, but in the gospels themselves, that I’ll keep my own comments short.

We win, in our salvation, not a lottery but a royal inheritance, an eternal crown to cast at the feet of Jesus. When you win the lottery, you have sudden access to a vast but finite sum of material wealth. Your means have been turbocharged, but your identity, desires, and community, at least at first, remains the same. That extreme change in that single variable, though, threatens to distort everything else: your friendships will be tainted, your desires will balloon, your standing against others has a new context, your sense of self will be put to the test. Everyone will want what you have (not who you are), and you now have to defend your new holdings and decide how to parcel out and manage this mountain of money you’re sitting on.

Our heavenly treasure, however, is devalued by the rest of the world, and it is unlimited. It demands of us not to push others back but to pull them in. It challenges us to evaluate with faith not sight, recognizing a new economy of hope and promise, one of abundance not scarcity, gracious and unconditional atonement not debt. We stand anew in heart and soul and power, a Comforter at hand, as well as a church as family. We look the same as before, but we now a sudden and forever access to the divine—His forgiveness, His redemption, His sanctification, and His glory.

The more we revel in this newfound royalty, the more we should be able to shed our “poor dad” attitudes from before—and the more we should be able to recognize the new attitudes and responsibilities we now need to embrace: magnanimity and patronage, leadership and legislation, protection of the weak, and sharing of our gifts.

Janus Point

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Highlights from the past week:

  • Mensa Box Challenge at the Silver Spring Library
  • Odyssey of the Mind
  • Indie Game Showcase at the American Art Museum

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Coming up this next week:

Sunday

Mercy Street premieres

Alexandria is going nuts over Mercy Street so there’s lots of tie-ins to visit in the next coming weeks:

The Journey to be Free: Self-emancipation and Alexandria’s Contraband Heritage
Alexandria Black History Museum
Exhibit extended through March
902 Wythe Street
703-746-4356
http://alexandriava.gov/BlackHistory

During the Civil War, thousands of African Americans escaping slavery sought refuge behind Union lines in Alexandria, Virginia. The fugitives found freedom in Alexandria, but also a city under siege. The influx overwhelmed the city. Rampant disease and deprivation took their toll on the freedmen. A cemetery was created for those who had survived slavery, but did not live long in freedom. “The Journey to be Free” shows the legacy of Alexandria’s Contraband community and the amazing story of their burial ground that was lost and rediscovered, now memorialized as the Contraband and Freedmen Cemetery.

Medical Care for the Civil War Soldier Exhibit
Fort Ward Museum
Ongoing exhibit
4301 West Braddock Road
703-746-4848
https://alexandriava.gov/FortWard

Fort Ward Museum has an ongoing exhibit which features original medical instruments and equipment from the Civil War period and information on Union Army hospital sites in Alexandria.

Mercy in Alexandria: Walking Tour
January 2-June 19 – Sat-Sun: 4:30 p.m.
Tour starts at Visitors Center, 221 King Street
DC Military Tours
703-407-6663
http://www.dcmilitarytour.com

Experience an inside access tour of 19th century Alexandria. Accompany a trained military historian through Civil War era Alexandria and learn the actual history behind the TV show. Get behind the scenes of locations “Mercy Street” characters lived, worked, and played.

Occupied City: Civil War Alexandria Self-Guided Tour
Starting January 16th
The Lyceum-Alexandria’s History Museum
201 S. Washington St.
703-746-4994
http://www.alexandriava.gov/Lyceum

Learn about the real history behind the show on this self-guided walking tour, which features significant Civil War Alexandria sites all within walking distance of The Lyceum, which was seized and used as a hospital during the war.

Who These Wounded Are: The Extraordinary Stories of the Mansion House Hospital
Carlyle House Historic Park
January 11 to July 11
121 N. Fairfax Street
703-549-2997
http://www.carlylehouse.org

From 1861-1865, the U.S. Army used Carlyle House, then the home of Emma Green and her family, and the adjacent Mansion House Hotel as a hospital and staff quarters. The people who lived and worked at this site in Alexandria and their real life stories have inspired the PBS television show, “Mercy Street”. The owner of the house and hotel, James Green, was one of the richest men in town and made a deep historical footprint on Alexandria.
Carlyle House’s exhibit will feature the factual story of the history of the site and its occupants. Upstairs, a new interpretation will explore the lives of these individuals through period hospital rooms and doctor/officer housing.

Green Family Exhibit
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
January to May
107 S. Fairfax St
703-746-3852

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary remained open and operational when Alexandria was occupied during the Civil War. The Green Family and Union Quartermaster staff shopped there to purchase everything from Laudanum to Cologne. Today, visitors can take a guided tour and experience the historic space where occupied Alexandria came to shop. The exhibit will feature the purchases and stories of the Green Family and the Union Quartermaster.

Nurse Clarissa Jones Exhibit
The Lyceum—Alexandria’s History Museum
Opening January 25th
201 S. Washington St.
703-746-4994
http://www.alexandriava.gov/Lyceum

The Lyceum mounts an exhibit on the life of Clarissa Jones, a nurse at The Lyceum hospital during the Civil War. It will bring home to visitors the true story of an actual nurse in Alexandria during the war, drawing parallels with characters portrayed in the PBS drama “Mercy Street.” It will include references to the experiences of other Alexandria nurses at that time, such as Anne Reading, who actually worked in the Mansion House hospital, and Jane Woolsey, who served at the Fairfax Seminary hospital.

Monday

Martin Luther King Jr. – Day of Service
Find a service opportunity at the Corporation for National & Community Service

Here’s one: Weeding out invasive species at Culpepper Garden (10-2)

Also, admission into National Parks is free today.

1-4: Climate Change Games at the Q?rious room at the Natural History Museum

Tuesday

12:30: Book Club at the Duncan Library
Discussing Brian Selznick’s Invention of Hugo Cabret

Wednesday

Odyssey of the Mind

4:00: STEAMtivity at the Beatley Library
Playing with Arduino!

Thursday

Father-son road trip

Sunday Catechism: Gaze Upon the Beauty of the Lord

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Q: What does the seventh commandment forbid?

A: The seventh commandment forbids thinking, saying, or doing anything sexually impure.

Vintage Decter redo

Let me begin this week’s reflection by making an observation that I think is fairly self-evident, but one that I haven’t ever heard made: the latter half of the commandments have a bias in audience towards the hegemony, more specifically, men. That is, while these commandments are rules for the entire community, they are worded in a way that speak especially pointedly to the men in that community.

To be sure, the commandments are almost stamps of larger principles and concerns that reach across time, culture, and demographics to our essential humanity, as we’ve seen time and again every week. However, the way they are specifically worded, the literal “thou shalt not’s”, are generally more applicable to males than females at that time.

This is unsurprising for a number of reasons, including the inevitable differential across gender in education, literacy, political and cultural representation, and access to legal interpretation.

But also because these commandments are more easily broken by those with agency — those with the power to act, those with the freedom, ability, and opportunity to impinge upon others’ well-being. And that power has belonged, especially back then, more to guys than gals.

It is true that these laws were applied and adjudicated to women, children, and other minority groups–even perhaps more harshly–but the laws seem to me to stand as perimeters that unite typical citizens, even those in varying levels of leadership. In a fallen world, they check the corruptions of power, in persons and in societies, and they stand to judge history.

Why bring this up? Well, because when I reflect on the seventh commandment, I inevitably turn to the fundamental sinfulness of the male gaze, which I think goes back to Adam’s conception of himself no longer as steward of Paradise, but its owner. Once people are seen as objects or property, notably tools to satisfy a relational need, we have a problem.

This can even be a problem within marriage. Sure, Eve was a “helpmate” — but a partner in holy work and worship, not an appliance for the husband’s personal actualization. Jesus did not take on a wife, but his treatment of women, including “sinful women” like Mary Magdalene, gives us guidance on how they ought to be recognized, appreciated, and elevated independent of their use or desirability to the men around them.

The righteous gaze does not evaluate surfaces but finds what is divinely good.

We live in a society that states that it wants to efface any gender difference and simultaneously aggrandize that difference perversely, pornographically. By resisting one of these fronts, I think we in the church often fall for a false dichotomy and lapse on the other. We emphasize gender roles but falsely frame those roles in a kind of conservative objectification. Or we bemoan the hypersexual elements of our culture without critiquing the limitations and disadvantages leveraged against women in other ways. We need to recognize the fight is far more fundamental; it is in our heart and in our eyes.

The more sexual freedom young women are seen to have, the more we’re having to have hard conversations about how that freedom is still circumscribed by the privileges and sexual agendas of their male peers. The Bible suggests that freedom is not a function of permissibility but of transformation–the sacrifice of agency to salvation–from a power that leapfrogs the dark principalities of this world. We need not fear for our sons and daughters if we know they can serve the Lord of the garden and gaze upon His beauty.