Saturday, April 30, 2016

Flannery O'Connor: Mystery and Manners

   I adore her. She challenges me, requires something of me, and invites me to listen to the world and the happenings of the heart.

   The fiction writer presents mystery through manners, grace through nature, but when he finishes there always has to be left over that sense of Mystery which cannot be accounted for by any human formula.

   It makes a great difference to the look of a novel whether its author believes that the world came late into being and continues to come by a creative act of God, or whether he believes that the world and ourselves are the product of a cosmic accident. 

   It makes a great difference to his novel whether he believes that we are created in God's image, or whether he believes we create God in our own. 

   For the last few centuries we have lived in a world which has been increasingly convinced that the reaches of reality end very close to the surface, that there is not ultimate divine source, that the things of the world do not pour forth from God in a double way, or at all.

   For nearly two centuries, the popular spirit of each succeeding generation has tended more and more to view that the mysteries of life will eventually fall before the mind of man.

   In twentieth century fiction, it increasingly happens that a meaningless, absurd world impinges upon the sacred consciousness of author or character; author and character seldom now go out to explore and penetrate a world in which the sacred is reflected.

    We live in an unbelieving age but one which is markedly and lopsidedly spiritual. There is one type of modern man who recognizes spirit in himself but who fails to recognize a being outside himself whom he can adore as Creator and Lord; consequently he has become his own ultimate concern.

   Today's audience is one in which religious feeling has become, if not atrophied, at least vaporous and sentimental. When Emerson decided, in 1832, that he could not longer celebrate the Lord's Supper unless the bread and wine were removed, an important step in the vaporization of religion in America was taken, and the spirit of that step has continued apace. When the physical fact is separated from the spiritual reality, the dissolution of belief is eventually inevitable.

   Today's reader, if he believes in grace at all, sees it as something which can be separated from nature and served to him raw as Instant Uplift.

   Either one is serious about salvation or one is not. And it is well to realize that the maximum amount of seriousness admits the maximum amount of comedy. Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.

   The novelist and the believer, when they are not the same man, yet have many traits in common – a distrust of the abstract, a respect for boundaries, a desire to penetrate the surface of reality and to find in each thing the spirit which makes it itself and holds the world together. But I don't believe that we shall have great religious fiction until we have again that happy combination of believing artist and believing society. Until that time, the novelist will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has. He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition, and through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by. This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one.

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O'Connor

Friday, April 22, 2016

Child Abuse Prevention: YOU

    We have a crisis of child abuse in our nation because we have a crisis of care for children.

    The week began with our family hosting a 4 ½ year old boy for 3 days. When we dropped him off on Tuesday night, my heart was raw from the goodbye. A few days later on April 21st, we attend a Marion County Safe Families event at the Salem Public Library. Listening to District Attorney Walt Beglau my heart hurt. Our nation's children are facing the loss of their childhood. Is an American childhood a thing of the past, and if so, why?

The Loss of Family and Fathers

   Our children are paying the toll for our moving into and out of relationships as it suits us. Separation from a parent is a huge cost for children and it's impacting them.

   Younger generations of Americans are struggling to commit to the idea of lasting relationships, and the average length of marriage in the US is about 8.8 years.

   Harper Lee said, “You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family...,” but we've increasingly decided choosing our family is up to us, regardless of the consequences for the children in our lives. They pay the social, mental, emotional, and physical cost of our choosing to disconnect from our commitments so quickly, or not commit at all.

   Yet, we have virtually no mental health budget for juveniles in Oregon. District Attorney Beglau brought up the lack of access to mental health services as one of the new great challenges to our youth. Suicide rates are at an all time high.

Prevalence of ACEs by Category for CDC-Kaiser ACE Study Participants by Sex, Waves 1 and 2.
ACE Category Women Men Total
Percent (N = 9,367) Percent (N = 7,970) Percent (N = 17,337)
Emotional Abuse 13.1% 7.6% 10.6%
Physical Abuse 27% 29.9% 28.3%
Sexual Abuse 24.7% 16% 20.7%
Mother Treated Violently 13.7% 11.5% 12.7%
Household Substance Abuse 29.5% 23.8% 26.9%
Household Mental Illness 23.3% 14.8% 19.4%
Parental Separation or Divorce 24.5% 21.8% 23.3%
Incarcerated Household Member 5.2% 4.1% 4.7%
Emotional Neglect3 16.7% 12.4% 14.8%
Physical Neglect3 9.2% 10.7% 9.9%

   Family arrangements are linked to economic outcomes, which in turn are associated with the environment in which kids are raised, according to a Pew Research Center report. Kids living in cohabiting families or single-parent families are two to three times more likely than kids in married-parent families to be living in poverty. (Pew Research)

ACE Pyramid From Kaiser

    The breakdown of belonging, and the breakdown of the family, go hand in hand with the rise of anguish, of loneliness, and of chronic self-centeredness. And here we find the roots of our great social unrest. ~ Jean Vanier, Founder of L'Arche Communities in his book Becoming Human

Violent Games and Media

   Our children's access to violent video games, technology, TV, and movies is creating a violent society all around us and robbing them of healthy emotional and social development.

   I remember when my son was in 2nd grade. A student in the class told me he was allowed to play Grand Theft Auto. THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON. This game is full of incredibly realistic violence and a user may "pay" for the services of a prostitute to recover their health and kill them to get some of their money back.

   Even the 4 year old who stayed with us this past week told me he's allowed to play Fast and Furious on his phone, which pits drivers against law enforcement officers, has profane language, is filled with drug use, and has half-dressed women kissing each other.

   We sit in shock. We wonder where our mass school shootings come from - our children are totally detached from the consequences of screen violence and more importantly real human hearts. No wonder we, and they, have no inability to connect in relationships. The disconnect regarding life, love, and others which we put into our children's minds comes forth from those minds – all while adults encourage, endorse, and support this access to violent media.

   Further, we refuse to reign in the NRA in the United States, and design and manufacture our guns with fingerprint identity technology which specifically activates the gun for the buyer alone. Yes, this technology already exists, but we refuse to use it.

   The value of the US Gaming Entertainment Media Industry is $594.7 billion and children account for 26% of all gamers in the US.


    Pornography is destroying our marriages and families, and pornography is child abuse. Today, pornography accounts for 35% of all internet traffic. Yes, 35% of all internet traffic. Some of the most highly searched words are “child” and “teen” and the focus is abuse and bondage.(American Girls, Nancy Jo Sales, 2015)  God help us. God forgive us.

    Utah has declared pornography a crisis. God bless Governor Herbert, he has taken great criticism for doing and saying the right thing, but then doing or saying the right thing has never be easy. When did we begin to think it would be?

   Britain has put family friendly filters on every internet connection – unless you ask for that filter to be removed. WHY don't we do that? Make sure you are filtering your internet! Pornography directly influences the sex trafficking of children and is an abomination. Further, it is destroying our marriages, and it's teaching our children that physical intimacy is about bondage not love, joy, and deep intimacy within a committed relationship. We must say "no" to pornography.

    Internet customers in the UK are prohibited from accessing a range of web sites by default, because they have their Internet access filtered by their ISPs. The filtering program has applied to new ISP customers since the end of 2013, and has been extended to existing users on a rolling basis. A voluntary code of practice agreed by all four major ISPs means that customers have to 'opt out' of the ISP filtering to gain access to the blocked content. (Wikipedia)

   We have not "opted out" of trashing our minds in Oregon. Portland is #1 for sex trafficking and strip clubs in the nation, and Seattle is #3. God help us. God forgive us. It is time for us to wake up and know these facts and to help stop this violence against women, children, and those affected. There is a reason I hold the hands of my children in Portland and Seattle, and you should too.

Legalization and Sale of Marijuana

   The recreational sale and endorsement of marijuana is stealing childhood from our children, it's stealing their parents, and it's stealing their futures as it steals their brain cells. We have a problem people. We have voted this mind destroying drug into our states, streets, and neighborhoods and now your local Parent Teacher Committee is discussing how to keep marijuana laced candy and food products out of the schools and away from children. Are you discussing this at home yet? If not, it's time to engage on the issue. God help us. God forgive us.

    District Attorney Walt Beglau confirmed that one of the top three issues facing Oregon children is the legalization of marijuana. Cases of child abuse and neglect due to marijuana are now flowing into their office. Northwestern University has scientifically proven marijuana fries your brain cells, and now Columbia University is saying marijuana is addictive for at least 20% of the population, and we need to start creating and funding treatment programs for marijuana addicts.

   In a few years we will be sick about what we've done, when a new generation can't hold down a job, live productive lives, and is addicted to much harder drugs. Yes, it's well known: marijuana is a gateway drug, and lastly, the children born under a new marijuana genetic code may potentially need more of society's resources because, yes, marijuana effects sperm health.

The Loss of Children's Privacy Rights

  When a community is closed and fearful of true dialogue where each person is respected, it is a sign of death and not life. ~ Jean Vanier, Becoming Human 
   The unprecedented loss of our children's privacy, safety, and respect rights violates all children and steals their childhood. The transgender bathroom access issue is a HUGE issue facing us right now.

   I'm going to give it some weight here because our community is directly dealing with this issue right now in our schools. Please give me some grace, especially if your community is not facing it and you are not actually yet dealing with this.

   In our community, one student's request for full inclusion has been handled very poorly by those who are charged with leading our school district in protecting and respecting all children. Their handling has been a direct and clear misapplication of Oregon law (SB2), which seeks to protect all citizens and children - regardless of sexual orientation.

   The law specifically provides a policy for schools in section 659.850 which says: “Discrimination does not include enforcement of an otherwise valid dress code or policy, as long as the code or policy provides, on a case-by-case basis, for reasonable accommodation of an individual based on the health and safety needs of the individual.”

   I'm aware Americans are deeply divided on whether to provide full inclusion for transgender persons into restrooms and locker rooms, but we must find a way to dialogue and we must find solutions that work for all. I beseech us to have a kind conversation on this issue and to think critically about our decisions for now and for the future.

   I will not address municipal policies here, but only policies which directly effect our schools, and therefore our children, knowing that appropriate solutions must be found to protect transgenders, but solutions for one group cannot endanger our children, who are equally at risk of abuse.

   I believe that no transgender person should have to use a restroom or locker room where they are uncomfortable. Period. We should not force any person to go where they are uncomfortable. Ever.

   However, in considering others, we consider all. We must consider the privacy rights and feelings of our children - just as we are asked to do for transgenders. We must consider the safety of all our children - just as we are asked to do for transgenders. 

   Specifically, since we've been told in our community that any bathroom or locker room in any of our schools is open at any time to anyone of any gender, I want to know that when a 6 year old child stays after school for art class, in a now nearly empty building, with substantially fewer staff on hand, and the building doors are unlocked, that they do not need to worry about encountering someone of the opposite biological sex in their restroom.

    Yes, we have laws against assault, but that still doesn't mean we should create policies that open the doors up to an area where our children are isolated, vulnerable, and not visible to adults, and therefore increase their risk of facing assault or abuse.

    1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime. Their healthcare and mental health costs will be 16% higher over their lifetime. The statistics in the link above are horrifying, including for those of various sexual orientations. Let's not increase this percentage of violence in our society by creating environments with a higher risk of abuse and assault. I beseech us to look at the numbers and acknowledge the pain of sexual assault in a way that leads to solutions for all persons, and protections for all persons. 

   I will only say from personal experience, that if you have ever been abused or molested as a child, this is all that needs to be said. And if you have not been abused as a child, I encourage you to look around you, because the statistics above say that you know someone who has been abused sexually or physically.

   I feel the predominant voices calling for full inclusion fail to either holistically understand, or choose to address, their full inclusion request opens up those restrooms for ANYONE, not just one transgender person, but potentially pedophiles.

   And I am NOT calling transgenders pedophiles, nor will I ever. Everyone is entitled to due process and not to face unfair defamation.

   Further, anyone who has fully made the biological/sex change to the gender where they feel they most are comfortable, appropriately belongs in that restroom or locker room. That is not what I am addressing here.

   I believe because MANY (Christians and non-Christians) have failed to stand against the defamations transgenders do face, recognize they are often bullied, defamed, and face violence, we are struggling to have a conversation that leads to solutions for all. Maybe when we acknowledge their real pain, they will acknowledge our real concerns and our real pain.

   And we must have solutions for all, because we cannot disconnect opening up bathrooms and locker rooms to ANYONE from the very real fact that our children live in a culture saturated with abuse and denigration of their very beings. I cannot disconnect what I see as a Safe Families host mom and just "adjust" to this request when I know it will create more abuse risk for children.

   I do not get the privilege nor the luxury of ignoring the abuse, violence, sex trafficking, and pornography statistics shared above - and neither should you. Regardless of our sexual orientation, we should be FOR the safety of children, and for all person's privacy rights.

   I also want to know that when my child is in a school locker room they are not exposed to the private parts of the opposite biological sex. It seems that privacy of the body is a thing of the past in our culture, or it seems that is being sought, while at the same time we pass stricter drone legislation and stricter privacy laws regarding filming of someone without their consent in a restroom or locker room. (New Oregon laws in 2016)

   Maybe we need to have a conversation about honoring one another's boundaries and bodies. Do we know how to do that in our society any more? I proffer the sexual revolution has not made us more free, nor more healthy. Do we believe we have a right to access another person's body or space? Because that is what we are doing if we pass full inclusion laws.

   Our children deserve their privacy to be protected, and the United Nations agrees. Yes, those are my feelings, and theirs. Let us consider that when we fail to protect our children's privacy and their feelings, and throw them together into restrooms and locker rooms we are not making them equals, nor are we just "teaching our kids to get over it and deal."  We will not buy into that lie. Lack of respect for one group does not beget respect for another group.

   When we force ourselves or our ideas upon another, we as a society are teaching our children not to value another person's body, space, or feelings, because their body is no longer respected, nor their feelings, nor their privacy. This can only bring worse violations of each of us against the other - not love.

   I do not believe full inclusion for transgenders (unless they have made the biological and surgical changes) can advance our society forward in respect, kindness, and love  - because you are taking privacy and rights away from one group in an attempt to give it to another group.

    There must be compromise on both sides, and case by case accommodations can be made and absolutely should be made as mandated in Oregon by SB2. Every person needs to be safe and have their privacy respected. We can do this people with common sense and loving policies!

   Praying about this the other day, this is what I heard:

   The truth of how to resolve these issues is not some high, mighty, and unattainable goal - the truth is in our hearts. The truth says we protect all, and all must seek solutions. The true law we should follow should be written on our hearts - we are to love our fellow human beings, but that does not mean we love one to the exclusion of others. Solutions will require compromises for all and protect all.

   A perfect policy or answer will not arise, but love and kindness from both sides will lead to solutions, and yet policies cannot be ignored. It is the job of government to protect all her citizens, especially her littlest - not just transgender persons.

   And I will just say, because I've done a lot of looking into the law, that Title lX is not a justification for opening up facilities. The 9th Circuit Court said "no" to full inclusion in 2009 in Tempe, AZ on the basis of safety. The Eastern District Federal Court said "no" in Sept. of 2015, telling the US Dept. of Education, "they cannot disinterpet their own regulations for the purposes of litigation." 

  Further, in an Illinois case the Oregonian faultily reported as a "landmark case" the US Dept. of Education settled with the Palatine District (D211) in December of 2015, and the student remains behind a privacy curtain. Privacy for all matters. It is important, and all must be respected. We all should know that D211 worked to meet this student's every request for education, training, conversation, and restroom access within the school. They even gave locker room access, they simply asked that the student remain behind a privacy curtain in that locker room, and the student agreed.

   The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child protects privacy rights for children. Why do we, the most "enlightened" nation on the earth fail to do so?

    In healthy belonging, we have respect for one another. We work together, cooperate in a healthy way, and listen to each other. We learn how to resolve conflicts that arise when one person seeks to dominate another. 
~ Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

   We are deeply divided on these issues, but even among the LGBT community there are those that disagree with full inclusion. In all of this, we must find a way to have a loving conversation. I applaud a Lewis and Clark law professor calling us to engage in conversation. Because, well, travel bans are their own kind of bullying and do not lead to thoughtful conversations.

A Call to Action and Preventing Abuse 

   What will you do in the months and years ahead to prevent child abuse in your neighborhood, at your school, and in your community? Have you seen Spotlight the movie? If not, go see it.

   We are all required to do the painful work of stepping up, facing the facts, presenting them, and then preventing abuse. Or God help us, we will have to give an accounting one day to our Lord who loves children and welcomed them.

   And let us not delude ourselves and think the state can care better than caring neighbors and friends, or worse, that it's simply the state's responsibility and not ours. The state's help will always be needed, but we, you and I, are called to act. The government caring for those in need is a relatively young concept. In healthy societies, communities care for their own in need.

   Therefore, we acknowledge 1 in 5 American child lives in poverty and doesn't have enough to eat. When every school in my town is a Title 1 school, that means that even more of those children are hungry in our community - every day. Many of them are also facing homelessness. It is the number three issue facing children today in Marion county. Whether short term or long term, homelessness is impacting our children.

   While I am sober about what our children face today, I choose optimism. We can and must make changes. We need to create an environment where they can say, “When I'm with you, I'm not afraid, I'm not ashamed, and I am safe.”* Yet, I want real optimism, not just a happy-go-lucky attitude.

optimism: the belief that good ultimately prevails over evil. ~ Websters

    Good will prevail over evil when you and I act to prevent child abuse. God will prevail over evil when you and I act to prevent child abuse, because we all are children of God, and WE are called to act and be His hands and feet. He gave us this planet and the people in our lives to care for - it's time we did that once more.

   And this is why our family has gotten involved with Safe Families: in order to prevent abuse and get further upstream ahead of the crisis for children and families in crisis. If we prevent one moment of abuse, if we keep a child from foster care for even a weekend, it means something - at least to that one child.

   Now let us act knowing:

   WE, the people, have voted for these violent video games with our dollars.
   WE, the people, have voted with our eyes and dollars for the trash  on the internet.
   WE, the people, voted in the legalization of marijuana.
   WE, the people, have chosen self over our families and their needs. 
   WE, the people, have chosen self over our children and their future.

   It is time WE do something to prevent child abuse. 

Ideas for Acting Upon

   Isn't it true that a change in society depends not only on the work of professionals but on each one of us working together?  ~ Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

   Sponsor a child in your community for a sport, or a season of sports, or several seasons of sports. If needed, help get them there. Give them real games to play, not video games.

   Get thee into the schools and volunteer; they will find a way to use you.

   Sponsor a child, or several for preschool in your community. Headstart is full up and spaces are incredibly hard to get. A child at risk for abuse who is in preschool has two huge advantages: they are now out of a potentially abusive environment several hours each day, and they are learning critical knowledge which will give them a head start when they arrive at school. PLEASE do this. Sponsor an American child in preschool. Contact a local faith based preschool. I promise you they will have a family that comes and cannot put their child in preschool without help. Give a child a chance.

   When you see children enslaved to their phones and their video games, engage them in conversation.

   Check out Safe Families for Children. I like to think of SF as the modern day "Block Home" or "Safe House". They need host families, but they also simply need helping families: families who will invest the time to help another local family in need with a meal or transportation. The children you end up helping are your neighbors but they may live five blocks away or 15 miles away. Yes, you are taking a risk helping those in need, but the risks you end up taking are not the ones you fear.

   Get involved with Portland's homeless youth. Give money to finance youth shelters and help with ministries that reconnect kids with their families, and put pressure on Portland to get rid of her strip clubs.

   If you are not using a filter on your internet and you have children visiting your home and using your phone or computers make sure you are monitoring at all times their computer usage.

   Support a local father in your area, or be a local father in your area to a child who does not have one. Opportunities abound through Boys and Girls Clubs, 4H, or other opportunities for coaching. Today, we have tons of kids who want to participate, and not enough adults to coach them.

   Finally, support a new modern day feminism. A feminism that supports, encourages, and educates women and protects and values the life of their unborn children. Be a voice for the voiceless. Connect with a ministry which ministers to young women who find themselves pregnant. Change a diaper. Change a life. Change lives.

   Be the change you want to see in the world. ~ Ghandi

* When I'm With You, by Citizen Way

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Loved & Celebrated

 Where do the days go?
Why they go with you and me.
 Adventures call.
Love binds us all.
 And sweet shall be our songs.