How This Parent Will Strive to Disagree Better

On the way to school this morning, the girls and I had a great interaction about how we treat one another. It began as they were talking about a t-shirt that they often wear to school that has the phrase on the front, “I love Lola” followed by the definition of “Lola” . . . “grandmother ” in Tagalog.

Middle, “When people read my ‘I love Lola’ shirt they think I’m talking about my dog.”

Youngest, “Seriously, don’t people bother to read?”

Eldest, you should totally say, “You know I enjoy careful reading . . . you should try it.”

Laugh, giggle and then Daaaad had to talk . . .

What followed was a great conversation about how some comebacks may seem really funny, and may even be clever, but that using cut downs meant to humiliate or demean was not okay.

“Go ahead, let your inside voice say it, but please don’t actually say it outloud. Deal?”

“Deal.”

No major eye-rolling. Just another teachable moment as they say.

Some of you are reading this and may be thinking this was not the best advice. You may be right, but it did get me thinking about how we parents model interaction in times of conflict and disagreement.

As a person who has the privilege of having a writing and speaking platform from which I can raise issues that are important to me, it’s not a surprise that I get a good deal of nastiness directed my way. Don’t worry, I let most of it roll off of me . . . though don’t let my momma find out who you are ;-) I’m not naive and I know that the big bad evil trolls are out there lurking. Waiting. At the same time, just because they are out there, does not mean that we should now abdicate public discourse to those who seek and reap division; accept this posture as the new normal or resort to the same kind of tactics.

Yes, this is one more post pleading for all of us to rise above the fray and choose to disagree differently. And I will say until I am blue the face that my commitment to remove tactics of humiliation, destruction and dehumanization from our interaction is not one that leads to a weakness in fortitude, devaluation of truth or limited impact. In fact, I would contend that in today’s hyper-snarky, techo-crazy world, I think people who have the discipline to exhibit unexpected humility, excruciating graciousness and passionate love of the other are the architects, curators and builders of a better tomorrow.

With my interaction with the kids and comments from this post and this update fresh in mind mind, I posed this question on my Facebook Page:

I wonder if most parents would be proud if their children interacted the same way at school during passionate disagreements about playground life as the parents do during passionate disagreements about politics?

If you take the time to read through the comments on the above links, I think you get a good sense of where I probably am in my own modeling: most of the time I feel okay about how I respond to others in the heat of the debate, but every so often, I resort to tactics that are patronizing, humiliating and destructive to the body as a whole.

These are not traits I want to pass on to my children.

So for my daughters’ sake and all who may observe me, I will strive to be and do better.

Anyone else?

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My Sunday Sermon, “Would Jesus Have Said Vagina?”

Photo by joethedork - San Francisco Bay to Breakers, 2005

[Photo By joethedork]

Okay, I am not preaching anywhere this Sunday, but feel free to “liberate” the idea, should you need a sermon starter. That said, I do hope that more than a few preachers out there are going to somehow use the recent Michigan State Legislature vagina kerfuffle as fodder for some good conversations on power, community and discernment.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about but have noticed an increased use of the word “vagina,” you are not imagining things. The increased volume of verbal vagina usage can be attributed to Thursday’s rebuke of Michigan State Representative, Lisa Brown, after her use of the word “vagina” during a debate on abortion the day before. According to the Detroit News, at the close of her argument about an abortion bill she said these words,

“Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no,’”

The result was that she was barred from speaking the next day.

“What she said was offensive,” said Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville. “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

This was apparently not out of character for this particular legislative body as Rep. Barb Byrum was also barred from speaking because of what she said during her failed amendment to the abortion bill banning men from getting a vasectomy unless the procedure was necessary to save a man’s life.

“If we truly want to make sure children are born, we would regulate vasectomies,” Byrum told reporters Thursday.

Wow. Just wow.

While there are many directions one could go with this, I think this situation raises some good questions for bodies of people who strive to engage in debate, discernment and decision-making. There have always been people who seem to cross the lines of appropriateness, decorum and social norms, but in this case we are again reminded that part of the discussion always has to be about who gets to determine those rules and to what end.

I am all for appropriateness in large groups and helping people to avoid unnecessarily over-sharing about their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I still remember during one meeting that I was leading when, during a debate on sexuality, a father shared with the body – and webcasted community – about his daughter’s sexual activity. He was trying to make a point, but I am not sure that it was very effective NOR did it get to the heart of his position. Instead, attention was drawn away from the point he was trying to make and the energy of the whole body was deflected away from debate.

Now some might say that Brown’s and Byurms’s comments did the same thing, but I would disagree. I do not think that their use of “shocking” language drew attention away from the debate, instead, their comments got the heart of the actual debate on abortion AND challenged the enforcement of random rules like “decorum” and “civility” that are meant to stifle voices and preserve power. There are few things about which I agree with the Tea Party, but one thing that I have appreciated is that they have used their place of authority to speak into systems that have lost touch and/or have used sets of unspoken rules to control and maintain power. I rarely agree with the content or tone, but they get it. Sometimes, you just have to call horse manure when you perceive it being unnecessarily spread. There may be repercussions for those actions, but speaking truth to power, by it’s very nature, will illicit reaction and rebuke.

So the burning question for me and I hope for preachers the world world over this Sunday is, “Would Jesus have said, ‘Vagina’?”

Jesus healed in the Sabbath and said to those in power… Mark 3:1-6

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Jesus was a tad bit bold, shocking even, and said to those in power… John 6:25-59

48 I am the bread of life.

Jesus sometimes had enough, got pissed and said to those in power… Matthew 11:20-24

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

All of this goes to say that there are times when shocking words that defy decorum and civility are needed in order to hold accountable the very people who have the power to define the rules of decorum and civility. These acts help bodies to reflect on whether the rules and expectations of behavior help move a body forward with a sense of integrity or if they are a means to maintain power, silence the minority and lessen the positive influence of the body.

Jesus was not always about speaking shocking words to power, just as I am sure that not all of the representatives involved in this case are always the inappropriate or uptight caricatures that they are made out to be. But at the same time, just as Jesus called us to prayer, compassion, service and love . . . in order to make a point about an issue and to speak truth to power when needed, he did so with a prophetic and often shocking word.

So yes, Jesus would have said, “Vagina.”


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