Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Different World of Evil for Our Children

One of my Facebook friends made an insightful observation when she noted how different our world was compared to thirty years ago, particularly in terms of the types of traumatic tragedies that we experienced from the eyes as children. She contrasted what might be the defining tragedy of our childhood - the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion - and compared that to what our children today have had to grasp to understand: 9/11, the Aurora theater shootings, the Newtown shootings, and now, the Boston Marathon bombings.

I remember the Challenger explosion as a middle schooler, and I'm ashamed to admit that among a lot of us, there was a great deal of intrigue and excitement that was intermingled with any sense of grief. I had heard that in another classroom which was watching the shuttle launch live on television, the explosion was followed by stunned silence broken by one youngster (allegedly Matt Reardon according to schoolyard folkyore) who jumped out of his seat, raised his fist and shouted "Yeah!" He was subsequently disciplined.

But despite our immaturity and the propagation of ghoulish and tasteless jokes (e.g. Q: "What does NASA stand for?" A: "Need another seven astronauts" and Q: "What did Christa McAuliffe say to her husband before she left for the space shuttle?" A: "Remember to feed the dog and I'll feed the fish."), we kids recognized that this event was ultimately a really bad and horrible thing. But it still seemed so distant from impacting us personally that we still were able to maintain a sense of security and invulnerability, and yes, it probably freed us to make those tasteless jokes.

Parents and teachers were asked to talk to kids about that tragedy, and it was usually an angle around how the astronauts were heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country's quest for scientific and technology advancement. The adults talked about about how accidents happen and that most of us need not worry about a similar thing happening in our school bus or our family Honda Accord. They told us that evil corporations like Morton-Thiokol would someday have their comeuppance with the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement for making faulty solid rocket booster "O-rings" (okay, they never told us that). But there was a theme of "it's terrible, but it'll never happen to you."

Not so with the tragedies of today. Our kids are growing up in a world where movie theaters are being shot up and individuals walk into a elementary school classroom and mow down the students with semi-automatic rifle fire. They are growing up in a world where standing in any crowd of people which nefarious individuals view as a "soft target" could eventually lead to being taken to the hospital or morgue chock full of ball bearings and nails from an improvised explosive device. Now when adults give the same talks to children, there are no more assurances that "it'll never happen to you". That's been replaced with "be careful and be vigilant."

The Facebook friend also followed with a point that I agreed with, and that was, "It's not about guns. It's about our society." The point isn't on the merits of gun control legislation, which is a separate post altogether - for what it's worth, I do think common-sense gun control legislature is something that should be pursued - but rather that the desire to do evil has seemed to have amplified and evolved over the years and that regardless of the mechanism, there's a raging desire to kill and harm without regard for the value of human life. Yes, sin and evil has existed since the time of creation, but there's a certain indifference to human life and dignity intermixed with a pervasive venom which just feels different.

This is why I believe that only the Gospel - applied individually - will ultimately save us collectively. There are lots of good solutions that can and should be pursued, but very few of these deal with the wickedness of the human heart in any sort of sustained way. It cuts to the evil of the human heart and prompts us to confess, "I'm a sinner in need of forgiveness and change, which is impossible without God's grace and power" and it embeds a core of humility of love, a love that is commanded to love your enemies, persecutors and those with whom you disagree. This is the talk I'll have with my kids. And above all it's a message of God's love and care for them, which endures even in a world of unspeakable evil.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Hunger to Learn

One of the things that I really appreciate about my children is that they embrace learning new things and find great joy in putting into practice that knowledge. Like most young families, there's a great deal of time in the car with parents in the front and kids in the back seats. In the search for squeezing out some quality time in the midst of those car rides, we play a lot of "games".

There are games are typically played during longer car rides, such as the picnic game, when you go around the car and state, "I'm going to a picnic and bringing an (food that begins with the letter 'A')." The next person in car then follows with "I'm going to a picnic and bringing an (the same food time which was mentioned earlier beginning with the letter 'A') and (a new food item beginning with the letter 'B')" It's a great time-killer and insomuch it sharpens our kids' memory skills, or mine, that's a bonus.

Another game that we play in the car is the "question game", where I alternate between Daniel and Sophia (Carissa isn't quite up for many of these games yet) random questions ranging from history, current events, science and math. To me, it's the equivalent of getting them to beg to eat vegetables because I'm pretty much drilling them on key facts and they actually find this fun. Maybe it's not such an odd concept, given quiz shows have always been popular and Jeopardy! has been around forever. Questions that I'll ask might be:

  • Name the first three United States Presidents
  • What is twelve plus eleven?
  • Name three kinds of reptiles
  • Name five Disney villains
  • Name five types of trees
  • What is eight times six?
  • Who is the current Vice President of the United States?
It's gotten to the point that they ask me to play this game in the car, which is pretty neat, and they're now making special requests around questions that they want to be asked. For example, Sophia recently was taught by Daniel the concept of multiplication by two, which Daniel explained was taking a number and adding it to itself. So Sophia asked to play "the question game" and asked me to lob a number of "times two" problems, most of which she got correct.

As I think of my children - and I think this might be true for children in general - I find in interesting how eager they are to learn new things, and how they embrace being challenged around these same new topics. It's almost an attitude of "I can learn that" followed by "bring it on!" In contrast, adults often view new things with great suspicion, and react with a mixture of fear, resignation and cynicism. I'm convinced that the axiom, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" was crafted by an adult as a cop-out refusal and unwillingness to learn and adapt to a new and changing world.

Perhaps this is because as adults, we'd like to believe that we "put in our time" and as people who are no longer children, we can claim intellectual mastery and the status of not needing to learn anything else. Of course this is not true, and if there is a cliché which rings true, it's the one that tells us that the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don't know.

I think this also points to a broader perspective of life and how people deal with change, because any change in life requires tons of new things to learn - I know this first-hand. From making new friends to navigating through a new workplace, church and community to figuring the mundane things around the best place to buy groceries, housewares and gasoline, each day brings new things to learn. I hope like Sophia I can replicate that attitude of "I can learn that" followed by "bring it on!