I guess I should end this year with a serious post, some profound commentary, philosophy, or at least a glimpse into my hopes and dreams for 2018.
Instead, you get MarbleLympics.
This is thanks to our Swiss grandchildren, who are huge fans of Jelle's Marble Runs.
The whole family enjoys them, but Joseph (7) and Daniel (4) are obsessed, watching the videos when allowed, running their own marble races with their Hubelino sets, in the sand on the beach, or on the bare living room floor. The family received a beautiful, 3D map of Switzerland for Christmas; in Daniel's eyes, the Alpine valleys were just so many marble runs.
For months, Joseph has been teaching himself Dutch through DuoLingo, hoping for a chance to visit to Jelle Bakker himself in the Netherlands.
Porter and I have also been captivated by the MarbleLympics. Here's the opening ceremony and first event of the 2017 games; from there you can find much more to watch than you'll ever have time for. It's all very cleverly done, and I love the commentator, who not only calls the events like a professional, but reports "an injury on the field" when a collision results in a chipped marble, and issues a serious call for better stadium security when some marbles fall out of the stands and "rush onto the field."
Enjoy! And have a happy New Year, too.
What happens when good quality musical instruments are found under the Christmas tree. I'm sorry for the back-of-the-head shots, but if I'd brought the camera to where it was visible, it would suddenly have become the center of attention. It's a little hard to hear the keyboard, but it is providing the music that they are jamming with.
Famed theologian Dr. R. C. Sproul once said to us that the first question he'd ask God on arriving in heaven was, "Why sin?" I can still picture that moment vividly, though I remember nothing more of the conversation than that one question.
He now knows the answer, but is no longer sharing his considerable knowledge with the world. Robert Charles Sproul died yesterday.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, "Living next to [the United States] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."
Going to the same church as R. C. Sproul was like that. He eventually left that church, as did we, though on different paths. But his influence was great, for good and for ill. Personally, I owe him a good deal, for it was in large part due to his efforts that our family came to know and love liturgical worship.
I don't think our children realized how famous he really was until they went off to college. To them, he was, "the guy whose son taught my Sunday school class," "the composer of that hymn I like," "my friend's grandfather," etc.
R.C. was a great man. By no means do I imply that I liked or respected everything he said or did. Like many people who accomplish much in this world, he was larger than life.
Oh, are you wondering about the title of this post? It comes from this obituary in today's Washington Post. Here's the full quote:
He offered his lectures and classes on what were called cassette tapes for audio listening. He pioneered Bible teaching on VHS tapes for TV viewing. He was figuring out distance learning many years before people would take online classes or listen to podcasts.
R.C. was older than I am, but if I needed any further evidence than morning stiffness to prove that I have been around longer than much of the Post's audience, it is that the author felt it necessary to explain cassette tapes.
Requiesce in pace.
Lenore Skenazy has a new site (relatively new—I've fallen a bit behind) called Let Grow. I haven't explored much yet, but the Let Grow Resolution deserves all the publicity it can get, so I'm (uncharacteristically) lifting it in its entirety here.
The “Let Grow” Resolution:
Our children have the right to some unsupervised time, and we have the right to give it to them without getting arrested.
Statement of findings
- It is good, healthy and normal for kids to walk and play outside, and run some errands on their own.
- Violent crime is at a 50 year low.
- It is not low because we are keeping kids inside. All crime — even against adults — is lower now, and we are not keeping adults inside.
- The risk of child abduction by strangers is very low.
- Being in a car accident as a passenger is the leading cause of death among children, not stranger danger.
- Lack of exercise is a contributing factor to short term and long term health risks for children.
- It is in the public interest for children to walk and cycle to their day-to-day destinations, and to play outside on their own.
- When kids do that, they learn social skills, problem-solving, creativity and compromise — the skills they will need in college and beyond that they do not get in adult-run activities.
- Because we can’t always prepare the path for our children, we must prepare our children for the path, by giving them freedom and responsibility, so they gradually learn to be independent, resourceful and resilient.
Right of Children to Freedom of Movement
- Therefore, this legislature decrees that it supports letting children walk, cycle, take public transportation and/or play outside by themselves, with the permission of a parent or guardian.
- Allowing children to exercise these rights shall not be grounds for charges against their parents or guardians unless something else is found to be amiss.
Questions, comments? Contact Lenore Skenazy at Lenore@LetGrow.org .
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Mostly, I like the great Reformation hymn, Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Good music, powerful words.
Too powerful. I have a problem singing the middle line of the above verse: Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. Usually I manage to sing it by faith, but sometimes thinking about beloved kindred causes me to choke into silence. I'm pretty sure my devoted Christian friends, strong as ever in their faith, are still choking a bit as they watch their two and a half year old son struggle in his battle with leukemia. The hymn is still true: The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever. It's just hard sometimes.
But I really thought my problem was with the kindred part. I didn't think I'd have so much trouble letting the goods go.
We are in the process of replacing our stove, which has served us exceedingly well for over 40 years. Eventually I may tell the story of its replacement, but first things first.
It was a General Electric stove, one of the very first with a regular oven on the bottom and a microwave oven on the top, and we bought it as part of improving a decidedly-unacceptable kitchen in our very first house, in Rochester, New York. At a price of something over $700, it was quite a splurge back in 1977, but if you ignore the cost of electricity and a couple of repairs, that works out to less than $20 per year for roasting meats, simmering stews, baking bread, boiling eggs, and making cookies and birthday cakes.
It still worked, mostly, after 40 years. The automatic oven cleaning feature started to get a little wonky, so we disabled it in 2001 when we temporarily rented the house out during our time living in Boston. When we returned in 2003, we left it that way in the interest of safety. The part of the oven door that holds it up when open went on strike, and after a couple of strikebreaking efforts that didn't last long, I learned to hold the door with a strategically placed knee as I maneuvered food in and out of the oven. A few years ago, the front left burner stopped working, and defied attempts to diagnose the problem. But it was when the two back burners started to act up that we decided, reluctantly, that it might be time to think about a replacement.
There's a saying, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that if you lined up all the economists in the world end to end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion. The same has been said about Langdons. I am a chief example, and the stove decision was no exception. Partly because I find shopping—even online, though that's better—absolutely agonizing, and partly because, well, because the stove still worked. When you have a working microwave, an oven that can bake and roast and broil, and one and two-halves burners, what's the rush? We started our new stove search well over a year ago, and the reason the search reached a conclusion at this most inconvenient time of the year is the Porter decided that I must make the decision now. So I did—I hadn't been wasting all those months and had done a fair amount of preliminary work—but as I said, the new stove is later story.
I'm happy with the new stove, but it was still a wrench to let the old stove go. It was foolish, perhaps, but I cleaned it one more time, with a heart full of thanksgiving: a labor of love, like that of women in bygone days who gently prepared the bodies of their departed for burial. If we could have found it a good home, as we did with the 1999 Chevy Venture we recently had to part with, I'd have been okay. But we learned long ago that no one is so poor as to desire our cast-off furniture, including appliances that work much better than this old stove. I mean, I know people really are that poor, but charities are not interested in meeting their needs in that way. Our city wouldn't accept it for recycling or even hazardous waste, but did give Porter the name of a company that buys old appliances. Great! we thought, even though we had to transport it to their site ourselves.
Which Porter did, today. And discovered that they weren't interested at all in the fact that much of it was still operational; all they wanted was the scrap metal. They paid him 14 pieces of silver—I mean dollars. That was better than our having to pay someone to dispose of it, but my heart breaks to think of our faithful stove, which could still do most of what it had been created for, crunched up into a small metal cube.
Let goods and kindred go. Right. If I can't even do it for a 40-year-old appliance....
At first I didn't participate in the "Me Too" campaign on Facebook (and elsewhere)—meant to reveal the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and assault in our country and now featured in Time magazine's "Person of the Year"—because, well, because I'm not a joiner, and I don't like chain letters, even if they don't promise me that blessings will come my way if I pass it on, and that misfortune is sure to follow if I don't.
Later, I thought it might not be such a bad idea to highlight a problem that has been ignored too long. Here's the Facebook exchange that started my thinking:
S: Me Too.
If all the women I know who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote "me too" as a status... and all the women they know... we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
Stop the silence. Stop the violence.
L: How do you define, "harassed"? There are days when I feel that being whistled at while walking down the street, or approached by a stranger trying to pick you up, is sexual harassment. And how about being kissed too familiarly by a drunk relative? "Felt up" by an overeager teenaged boyfriend at the movies? I could understand the last two being called assault, but I suspect many people wouldn't. At any rate, all of the above are unwelcome and ought to stop. But they are so many orders of magnitude below rape and other forms of what is clearly sexual assault, that I fear to muddy the waters and appear disrespectful of the pain of the latter victims. What is your take on this?
K: My view is this: any time one individual relates to another individual on an exclusively sexual plain, that individual demeans the other and diminishes their humanity. Although there are many degrees of disregard, the bottom line is that one person is being treated as something less than fully human. It's a way of thinking about people that is at the heart of sexism, racism, ageism, etc. As a human society we must insist on asserting the wrongness of that way of thinking. At school we define sexual harassment as any action of a sexualized nature that makes the target feel uncomfortable - from whistling to name calling to inappropriate touching to lifting someone's clothing and much more. It is important not to confuse harassment and assault. And important to distinguish what is legally prosecutable from what isn't. But we make too many excuses and allowances for behavior that is unacceptable. I think it is time to draw the lines about unacceptable behavior that falls short of rape far more clearly than we do.
L: I think life has gotten a lot harder since the 1960's. I could certainly say "me too" to the definitions of harassment you've given. But nothing compared with what I hear from others ... and no worse than non-sexual harassment, which I would call plain rudeness.
That was helpful, but I wasn't convinced. I have friends who have to live with that kind of pressure in their work environment, or have actually been raped, and I didn't think it right to put my own experiences in the same category as theirs. Mine fell into the more general category of "bullying," though with a sexual dimension, because bullies will strike wherever they find a weakness. That, and "the guy was too drunk to know what he was doing, and would be mortified if he knew." It seemed like putting into the same category of "wounded in the war" both the man whose arm was nicked by a piece of shrapnel and the one who had both legs blown off. It's true, but is it helpful?
The broader definition of sexual harassment certainly cuts right to the heart of the problem, and goes along with what Jesus said about both lust and murder. But is it helpful to draw the line around all women, at least of a certain age, and quite a few men as well? Maybe—but I still didn't feel I could participate.
And then, today, I remembered.
I made the comment, in a discussion at choir rehearsal last Sunday, that one of our members, who teaches physical education, sure doesn't fit the stereotype of a female gym teacher. And I got to thinking about what I thought of as a stereotypical female gym teacher, and remembered the bane of my existence from high school.
I've repressed a lot of memories from high school gym class, and I won't name names because I really have managed to forget many of the details. But if the teachers, themselves, were not outright abusive (though it felt like it to me), the system that they participated in certainly was. I suspect it was not uncommon at the time, and it certainly never occurred to me that it was something I could successfully object to—it was just one of the many miserable things teachers were allowed to do to students.
And lest you be wondering what fearful revelations I'm about to make, I'll relieve your minds: It may even seem minor to you, and I don't think I bear any significant scars, other than those inflicted by gym class in general. But there's no doubt in my mind, looking back, that it was an abusive, even a sexually abusive, situation.
By the time we were in high school, we were required to take showers after gym class. I could see it for the guys, but we girls almost never perspired enough to need showers—and the process wouldn't have gotten us clean if we had. No doubt gym class has changed over the years; I certainly hope the bathing situation has.
This is a rough plan of the shower room. Stripped naked, we were forced to give our names to a student monitor, who dutifully checked us off, then walk through a gauntlet of shower heads and out the exit. That's it. No soap—it slows down the line. In fact, the object was to run through as quickly as possible, minimizing our exposure to both water and the prying eyes of everyone else in the room. It was bad enough that we had to change into and out of our gym clothes in a public locker room, but the showers were an extra refinement of torture. Once a month we were allowed to avoid that humiliation, but that required us to announce to the monitor, and all within earshot, that we were having our periods.
If our gym teachers had been male, no one would question that this situation was wrong. I fail to see that them being female made the forced exposure of our young bodies and private matters to their eyes and those of the entire class any more acceptable.
Age, and having gone through the process of giving birth to our children, have since made me less sensitive to what other people see and think, but I still appreciate the private changing areas that are now provided in public pools and gyms. No one—especially no pubescent child—should have to go through what I, and my classmates, endured.
So yes, "Me, too." It's insignificant compared to what others have experienced, but it's part of a pattern of disrespect that needs to end. Jesus had it right, you know. It's our heart attitude that matters. When we wink at smaller offenses, we promote an atmosphere in which heinous acts proliferate.
It's time for national repentance, and a good place to begin would be with the highest office in the land. If that's not forthcoming—a grassroots effort is probably better, anyway.
I haven't forgotten my Seven Days of Thanksgiving series. Those posts take more time to write than I have right now ... maybe I'll finish by Christmas, because, of course, I'm sure to have more time as that day approaches, right?
In the meantime, here's a short TED talk that my friend Ashley shared on Facebook. It says several important things about how to have a good conversation in an age where those are becoming increasingly rare.
I see plenty for me to learn here. I think face-to-face conversations are especially difficult for introverted writers. The illustration where the guy asks, "How are you today?" and the girl responds, "Read my blog!"—that's me all over. It's hard to converse, or even want to converse, when you know that you can answer someone's question so much more coherently if you could only have a few minutes to write your response! On the flip side, that makes us more eager to listen than to talk. I don't want to hear my own stories; I know them already. I want to hear other people's stories.
With the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle making the news, and my old friend Gary Boyd Roberts* and the New England Historic Genealogical Society providing temptation in the way of an article and a handy genealogy chart, I decided to spend some time trying to link their data with my own. And indeed, I could. As it turns out, Meghan Markle is my 23rd cousin, once removed, with common ancestors King Edward I of England (Longshanks) and Eleanor of Castile, through American immigrant ancestor Robert Abell. Through the same common ancestors (but a mostly different line on his part, of course), I am also Prince Harry's 23rd cousin, once removed. Yes, this means that Prince Charles is my 23rd cousin, and Queen Elizabeth II is my 22nd cousin, once removed. Who knew?
Similarly, Porter is 23rd cousin three times removed to both of them, with common ancestor King John (Lackland) of England and his mistress, Clemence, through the American immigrant ancestor Thomas Yale.
Not that I can claim anything special in all this. Millions of Americans are cousins to the new royal couple. They just don't know it—as I did not until now. But I love puzzles, and have finally learned—no thanks at all to my school experiences—that history is fascinating.
It's time to bring back this quote from Joel Salatin.
On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system. And it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies. How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength. The stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe. The more paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers. When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol.