Saturday, June 30, 2007

I went, I wrote, I conquered!

Appropos of nothing, I am delighted to announce that I am the official winner of the Angelina Jolie limerick contest. What? You never heard of such a thing? Well, if you followed the links I've recommended in the sidebar and found Relevant Blog, you would see that Mary DeMuth is running contests to give away copies of her two novels (here and here) which she had autographed to various celebrities and which are being returned to her by some of the celebrities and their peeps. Angelina Jolie's books came back, and Mary announced a contest to get her copies. The task: write a limerick about Ms. Jolie. And the winning entry, written by moi:

The famous girl named Angelina
Looks too much like a string bean-a
Instead of L.A.,
Brad, take her to Pompeii
And make her fill up on tortellini-a

Perhaps not Pulitzer material, but I have been wanting to read Mary's two novels, about which I have heard many good things, so I am very excited. Definitely the boost my Saturday needed.

Later in July, I'll be posting an interview with Mary and some information about her newest nonfiction release, Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I did it all for the kids--and a cookie

My oh-so-funny and scary-smart colleagues at The Point, Gina and Roberto, have put up two posts that are must reads. Gina points out the shallow way we sometimes throw around the word "martyr" and Roberto expands on Gina's comments by quoting Chris Rock, who appears to be gunning for Bill Cosby's spot as truth-teller-in-resident.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Grunge and grace

I was trying to track down this quote:

"Grunge is what happens when children of divorce get their hands on guitars"

which was in an earlier post I did on the book Smashed.

I found the orginial Newsweek article text here and was drawn into the sad, sad story of Kurt Cobain.

Cobain's mother was a housewife; his father, Don Cobain, was a mechanic at the Chevron station in town. They divorced when the singer was 8. ...The image one gets is that of a frail kid batted between warring parents. "[The divorce] just destroyed his life." Wendy O'Conner tells Michael Azerrad in the Nirvana biography, "Come As You Are." "He changed completely. I think he was ashamed. And he became very inward-he just held everything [in]....I think he's still suffering." As a teen, Cobain dabbled in drugs and punk rock, and dropped out of school. His father persuaded him to pawn his guitar and take an entrance exam for the navy. But Cobain soon returned for the guitar. "To them, I was wasting my life," he told the Los Angeles Times. "To me, I was fighting for it." Cobain didn't speak to his father for eight years. When Nirvana went to the top of the charts, Don Cobain began keeping a scrapbook. "Everything I know about Kurt," he told Azerrad, "I've read in newspapers and magazines." ...Ed Rosenblatt, Geffen Records president, says, "The world has lost a great artist and we've lost a great friend. It leaves a huge void in our hearts." That is certainly true. If only someone had heard the alarms ringing at the rambling, grayshingled home near the lake. Long before there was a void in our hearts, there was a void in Kurt Cobain's.

And now I am reminded why I am writing about the incredible hope and healing we have in Christ.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Love, Peanut

Excerpt from letter I sent to my grandparents, age 8:

"A week ago I swallowed my tooth! I was eating a vanilla wafer and it's how I swallowed my tooth."

I lost another one to corn on the cob after this. Sadly my adult teeth emerged in the most frightening, crooked mess ever seen. I am the before and after success story of orthodontia. My mother will be glad to know that I have long since given up the dream of torturing my orthodontist to make up for the pain he inflicted on my metal-bound mouth. Yes, it was worth it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Calling all pastors

I finished reading David Instone-Brewer's Divorce and Remarriage in the Church over a taco at Moe's on Saturday. It is a thought-provoking book, and to be honest, I feel inadequate to fully evaulate his claims. So I'm going to appeal to you pastors out there. I think there are a few pastors who read this blog from time to time. Instone-Brewer's book is sub-titled "Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities," so his book is really for you anyway. I'll give you the basics of Instone-Brewer's premise here, but don't cheat -- go read the book, follow his entire argument, and let me know what you think. (OK, if you want to cheat a little, you can go to his web site and get a quick summary of his thesis.) You can leave a comment here on the blog, or email me (you'll find my email address in my profile).

Instone-Brewer says there are two main Old Testament teachings and two main New Testament teachings on divorce; they are interlaced, as the N.T. teachings refer back to the principles in the O.T. teachings. So the O.T. passages are Deuteronomy 24:1, which allows divorce for adultery, and Exodus 21:10-11, which allows divorce for neglect of food, clothing, and conjugal love (which we could extrapolate into abandonment, abuse, and neglect). The N.T. teachings are in Matthew 19:3 and following, where the Pharisees question Jesus about Rabbi Hillel's "Any Cause" divorce, a (willful?) misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, and I Corinthians 7, where Paul instructs the believers in Corinth on marriage, singleness, divorce, and widowhood. Instone-Brewer's argument on this latter passage is far too involved for me to try to sum up here.

So pastors and other Bible scholars, get a copy of the book and let me know if you think his arguments stand up.

Why does this matter for a blog on the children of divorce? As I mentioned before, the church has often excluded families after divorce. Sometimes it was the subtle exclusion of people who didn't know what to say and simply felt uncomfortable around those who are hurting. But sometimes it was the overt exclusion that forbade our moms and dads from being members of the church or serving in leadership. Not long ago, I knew a man who lost his job with a denomination after his wife had an affair and divorced him. You'd better believe the children of that couple were hurt by the denomination's actions.

The way the church treats divorced individuals affects entire families, not just the former spouses, and much of that treatment rests on our understanding of the legitimacy of divorce as informed by Scripture. I grew up on the conservative side of these issues, and I was challenged by this book to rethink some of my assumptions about divorce. For those who grew up on the liberal side of these issues, I think you will also be challenged by this book in some of your assumptions. And really, if a book makes us think, hasn't it pretty much done it's job?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saturday distractions

An entire flock of sparrows has been emptying my bird feeder and giving me good excuses to be distracted from the writing I'm supposed to be doing. The new birdfeeder is also attracting a pair of cardinals, a bunch of blue jays who are too big and too dumb to figure out how to get to the seeds, a grackle who can't fit inside but who hilariously hangs on to the bottom and spins around while pecking furiously between the openings in the cage, doves and robins who happily pick up whatever spills on the ground, a lone nuthatch, and of course wily squirrels who are not supposed to be able to fit in the cage but who of course do.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Love, Peanut

Excerpt from letter Mom sent to my grandparents, when I was age 7:

"She has made several friends at school. Her best girlfriend is Jessica. She's on her second 'boyfriend' who is Billy [name deleted to protect the innocent]. It seems Billy 'lets' her hold crickets (which, according to her, aren't the same as bugs). She even brags that she's the only girl in her class who will hold crickets!"

Um, I've since changed my mind, both about Billy and about crickets.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jesus and the rabbis

I'm reading David Instone-Brewer's excellent book Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. So far, I've made it to chapter 5 and, based on my reading thus far, I can heartily recommend this book.

Instone-Brewer applies his extensive study of Jewish rabbinical thought to the biblical passages on divorce. The teachings of the ancient rabbis represent an enormous gap in modern Christian thinking generally (not just as it applies to divorce), as I began to discover years ago when I started reading Chaim Potok's novels. Potok writes about Jewish characters and is usually exploring the conflict between branches of Judaism. Most famously, in The Chosen, he contrasted Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism. Reading Potok's passages on what the different rabbis thought about this or that Old Testament (for us) teaching gave me a deeper and richer understanding of my Christian faith. In that tradition, Instone-Brewer asserts what I have read elsewhere: that Jesus' teaching on divorce in Matthew 5, in response to a question from the Pharisees, is basically His way of deciding between the divergent teachings of Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammei. Understood in that context, Jesus' teaching takes on a very different meaning than the Christian church has traditionally taught.

Ultimately, this argument has extremely modern applications since it centers on whether divorce can be obtained without cause. Jesus says, no; there are allowances for divorce in the law, but they are for specific reasons and can only be initiated by the wronged party. Divorcing for reasons outside of the law constitutes an invalid divorce. If the divorce is invalid, than so is a subsequent remarriage.

When I was growing up, much of conservative Christianity taught that any remarriage after a divorce constituted adultery. If Instone-Brewer is right (and you'll have to read his book and follow his thesis to decide that), than this teaching is false; and if it is false, than the church has wrongly subjected those who have divorced biblically and their children to unwarranted shame and condemnation.

Furthermore, Instone-Brewer acknowledges (though indirectly--at least through chapter 5) one of the bitter complaints that comes up so often among divorced folks: namely, support payments. According to Instone-Brewer, if a Jewish man in Jesus' time divorced his wife because she had broken the marital vows, she was not entitled to a settlement of any kind. But while Jewish men of the first century liked having the easy out of a divorce for any cause, their wives also liked it because, having not been found guilty of violating their vows, they were entitled to a settlement from their husbands, one that was often sufficient to care for them for the rest of their lives. Do you catch the modern application here? If we followed biblical models for divorce, we wouldn't have all these bitter exes complaining about the money they have to pay for spousal support.
More to come as I keep reading.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Love, Peanut

Excerpt from a letter my mom sent to my dad's parents when I was 4:

"We bought her some Valentines for her to take to Nursery school the other day. She thought she was supposed to take them to sell! She doesn’t quite understand why she’s supposed to give them to the other kids."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Love, Peanut

Actual excerpt from a letter to my dad, as dictated to my grandma around the age of 4 or 5:

"I talked to Santa today at the mall. He got my letter. He has real whiskers. So does Otto, Doug's dog."

The good stepdad

Since birthmothers often are awarded primary physical custody of children after divorce, a stepfather has a wonderful opportunity to mold a child's daily habits, friendships, values, sense of responsibility and approach to school and to life. Here are some suggestions. [source]

It's really refreshing to see something complementary about stepfathers in the press. Usually, stepfathers are portrayed as potential sources for abuse as "an unrelated male in the house." Does that happen? Sure. The evil stepmother also exists outside of fairy tales. But not every stepparent is evil incarnate. And it's good to see an article that not only acknowledges the very positive role that an active stepfather can have in a child's life, but that also gives stepfathers some tips for how they can engage in that role.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Modeling forgiveness

Now, here's a mom who gets it. (Courtesy of Jen Abbas, whose aunt this mom happens to be.)

If you can't grow up and put aside differences for one day then how will you ever teach your kids forgiveness?

Yes, evil exists

Seriously, what is wrong with people?

Dad kills child, self
Mom beat baby to death over divorce

OK, I know the answer is sin, but does Satan really have to get this kind of joy? No wonder God hates divorce.

One divorce, sunny side up

A new children's book, written by a now grown child of divorce, looks on The Bright Side:

He found that he has actually benefited from being a child of divorce.
· He met lots of new people and learned a lot about his parents.
· He became more independent and gained insight into himself.
· He could talk more openly with both parents.
· He learned how to stop blaming himself and separate his parents’ problems from his life.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The kids made me do it

I really and truly love the people at DivorceCare. They have done so much to heal broken lives within the church and they have made the church a wonderful place of healing and hope for broken people in the community. I really just can't say enough wonderful things about them. Which is why I was so sad to see this pop up on one of the daily emails they send out:

"Children are the leading cause of second marriages coming to divorce," says Gary Richmond.

Mr. Richmond goes on to say:

"They see the stepparent as the enemy, and they strongly defend the missing parent in the home."

Now, to be fair, the entire rest of the email is focused on positive ways that parents can help their children adjust to a new stepparent, and it is good. But the first part of this quote by Mr. Richmond is rather stunning.

First of all, since when are we blaming children for the failure of their parents' marriages? Hey, I realize there are angelic kids (like me, natch) and then there are holy terrors. The post right before this one covered a marriage program by an organization focused on autism, and certainly parents dealing with disabled children face an added strain on their lives, including their marriages. Parents who lose a child to death often divorce. But, really, we're blaming the kids now? How about adults taking responsibility for their actions and their decisions? How about remembering who the grown ups are?

(And, again, to be fair, I think the whole context of the DivorceCare email does that, but yes, this one statement sets me off.)

Second, I'd like to see the statistics to back up Mr. Richmond's statement. And I'd like to see how those stats are being determined. Because parents are told over and over again to let their kids know that the divorce doesn't have to do with them, it has to do with Mommy and Daddy. And if that's the case, how are we sure that Mommy and Daddy have fixed their issues before hooking up with Stepmommy and Stepdaddy? If Mommy was Runaround Sue in her first marriage to Daddy, chances are she'll be the same way with Stepdaddy, and that sure isn't the fault of little Johnny or Jane, no matter how loyal they feel toward Daddy.

Now, my guess is that Mr. Richmond is instead extrapolating and interpreting data, skewing it to suit his purpose. Yes, I've seen the statistics that say second marriages are more likely to fail than first marriages, and when there are children from the first marriage, that likelihood rises. I don't dispute that. And no, it's not always like the Brady Bunch. It might be difficult and there may be days when Mom and Stepdad or Dad and Stepmom wish they could hang the little brats by their thumbs. But the kids can't march off to divorce court and dissolve the marriage. Only the people who made the vows can break the vows.

So, may I submit to you, my readers, that people filing for divorce are the leading (only) cause of second (any) marriages ending in divorce.

Keeping everything the same

Life is hard enough for kids with autism. One thing that helps autistic kids is routine and stability, so imagine how much more traumatic divorce is for these vulnerable children. With that in mind, this is very good news:

Today the National Autism Association (NAA) announced the launching of its Family First Program, a comprehensive national marital counseling program to combat divorce rates within the autism community. The new initiative offers couples with autistic children immediate access to marital counseling, and a grant program for those unable to afford it.

Read more here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Unborn child of divorce

Well, it had to come to this some time:

She got the house and he got the Honda. The problem in Augusta and Randy Roman's divorce came over the little things -- the really little things. Frozen embryos that they once hoped would bring them children.Augusta Roman wants to keep the embryos and try to have a baby. Randy Roman wants them destroyed, or at least kept frozen.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A marriage good enough

Women like this will put people like this out of business. And that would be a good thing.

It's good to be admired

My friend's two-year-old thinks I'm great. Her four-year-old is less impressed by this stage of life, but the little one's eyes still light up when I show up at their front door.

So yesterday, my friend emails to tell me that she and her husband and their girls were sitting outside, admiring the beautiful sunset colors. As she often did with her four-year-old, she turned to the two-year-old and asked, "Who made the sunset for you?" The four-year-old has long known the answer to this one, which is of course, "Jesus." Apparently, the two-year-old hasn't had quite the same theological training yet. When asked, "Who made the sunset for you?" she looked up at her mommy and said, "Kristine?"

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Not your ordinary sleepover

Elizabeth Marquardt on the oddities of a child's life post-divorce:

one of my first thoughts (after first simply appreciating this terrific childhood-from-the-child’s-point-of-view piece of writing) was that this experience precisely parallels what life is like for children of divorce, except that your friend’s (perfectly nice) mom is your (generally perfectly nice) stepmother or stepfather (who, nevertheless, might as well be from Mars), and no one comes to pick you up at 2 am.

Just say no Ritalin.

A new study released in Canada found that kids there in divorced families were significantly more like to be on Ritalin than kids in intact homes. The reasons are unclear--maybe the stress of divorce caused the child to act out, maybe mom or dad is too stressed to deal with normal childhood behavior. Whatever the cause, the news isn't good, as one Canadian doctor noted:

Because … if we are going too quick to prescribe medication, like Ritalin, like methylphenidate, we may not only be masking the normal process of adaptation to divorce, but we may be contributing to the degree of distress the children of divorce are experiencing.

Are you a football?

Elizabeth Marquardt talked about feeling like a football being tossed between two people, always in mid-air, floating between one parent's world and the other. If you're a kid with that story, you could be on the Today Show:

For a special series, “Through Innocent Eyes,” TODAY is looking for children between the ages of 8 and 18 to tell their story. If selected, we will give the children simple cameras for them to record their stories. They will be paired with NBC correspondents and producers, who will be their mentors. Their stories will be edited by NBC and air on TODAY.They will be selected for their ability to tell a compelling story. For example, one might be a Muslim refugee living with her family in middle America or a child with a military parent stationed in Iraq. Another might be a child of divorce moving back and forth between two households or a child of gay parents. One could be a child athlete or performing artist or live with a disabled family member.We’re looking for a variety of situations and lifestyles. We want to celebrate childhood, but not avoid the social issues of growing up poor, or disabled, displaced, or “different.”

My only question is exactly which category divorced children fall into. Surely not "different" in today's world!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Knocking on the door to adulthood

Don't ask why I was reading a review of the upcoming movie Knocked Up. I can't explain it myself. The movie, if you're not up on pop culture, is about a girl who gets pregnant after a one night stand with an irresponsible guy. She keeps the baby and, according to the review, the guy is launched down a pathway toward grown-up land. But perhaps this was why I was meant to read this review:

At a moment of crisis Ben calls his father, a nice, tolerant guy played by Harold Ramis, for advice. “Just tell me what to do,” he begs, but no help is forthcoming. (“I’ve been divorced three times. Why are you asking me?”) The absence of a credible model of male adulthood is clearly one of the forces trapping Ben and his friends in their state of blithe immaturity.

I've read about this notion of men trapped in adolescence, most notably in Don Miller's book To Own a Dragon. Now that it's hit the big screen, I guess it's officially a social phenomenon.

Change isn't the only permanent thing

From a divorced dad, who also happens to be a divorce attorney:

CHANGE IS A PART OF LIFE. Every day we move from dawn to daylight to dusk to dark. At each stage there is a loss; a loss of darkness when we emerge into daylight, a loss of summer as we move into autumn, a loss as the child moves away from the milk of its mother to solids, a loss in moving home, in changing cars and in changing schools.Yes, change can be and often is hard but it's how change is dealt with that determines how successful are our outcomes. Looked at this way you will recognise that nothing is permanent. The body and its surroundings are continually changing. So everything is impermanent. These are unavoidable truths.So the sooner your child understands this about the world the less your child will suffer.

This dad's point is that children should just accept that change is a natural part of life and get over it. Divorce is certainly natural--in the spiritual way that Scripture uses the word. That is to say, it is sinful and fallen, not redeemed and whole.

There are a lot of broken, impermanent things in life, it is true. What is also true is that each of these things ought to make us realize that brokenness implies the absence of a perfect whole; it is less than what it ought to be. These things should drive us to seek the perfect, the permanent. They should drive us to seek God, who never changes, who is a Rock of permanence in a world of tumult.

Running away from divorce

I came across this interesting article today, linking divorce and runaways.

A 2006 report from the National Runaway Switchboard, a Chicago crisis hotline for runaway youth, shows that family dynamics, such as divorce, arrival of stepparents and sibling friction account for nearly 30 percent of calls in 2006. There is a clear link in Illinois between divorce rates and the number of missing children.

I was a little skeptical of the data, since most of the counties mentioned are in Chicagoland. Were they misreading the data since those counties have dense population? As if reading my mind, the article went on:

Some may believe that the high number of missing children in specific counties can be attributed to population size, but census data proves otherwise. Although McHenry and Madison counties are among two of the top 10 largest populations, neither are within the top 10 counties with missing children.

Although it would be nice to know where McHenry and Madison counties fall with regard to divorce rates. If they were also not among the top 10 counties for divorces, then the case for a correlation would look stronger.