Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Thoughts about Gender Equality

My posting on Father’s Day was partly about gender equality, and now I want to share some more thoughts on that important subject. When I wrote ten days ago, I talked about how the emphasis on gender equality has taken a lot of pressure off fathers. It has also, thankfully, made it possible for some fathers to spend more time with their children. But perhaps for other fathers it has increased stress because of added child care and housekeeping expectations.
I appreciate the comments which Thinking Friend Susan Miller posted regarding my June 20 piece about fathers. She wrote that when she was at home her mother always made more money than her father. Susan continues, “She was a teacher, my father a preacher (mostly in small country churches). It was never an issue in our house. My dad was also the main caregiver because he was able to stay home with us when we were sick and run us to and from practices. Again, it never occurred to us that this was unusual. So I thank both my father and mother for not raising my brothers and me in a home of stereotypical expectations. I think we are all better parents because of it.”
Although there is some remaining societal stigma, some fathers are satisfied to work only part time, or even to be “househusbands,” in order to spent more quality time with their children. I think this is commendable. For some men with a full-time job, though, there is now more stress because of the expectation that they spend more time in childcare and in doing housework than traditionally done. Thus, “Now, Dad Feels as Stressed as Mom” was the title of a June 18 article in The New York Times.
In a lighter vein, I used to say that there would never be full gender equality until women were willing to carry things in pockets like men (wisely) do. While I still think that is true, perhaps it is also true that gender equality also depends to a degree on men being willing to carry, as I have for years as it is a long-standing custom in Japan, what I have recently learned is now sometimes called a murse (a male purse) or a manbag, although messenger bag is probably a more popular term.
One of the chapters in Manhood for Amateurs (2009) by Michael Chabon is entitled “I Feel Good About My Murse.” He closes by explaining that his murse “holds my essential stuff, including a book—for true contentment, one must carry a book at all times, and great books so rarely fit, my friends, into one’s pocket—but no more, and so I can wear it, and my masculinity, and my contempt for those who might mock or misunderstand me, very lightly indeed” (p. 157). My sentiments, too.


Happy Birthday to June, my lovely wife who was born on this day in 1937. The picture is one I took this morning. (She doesn’t look like she is going to need a gravestone soon, does she?!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thoughts about Gravestones

Soon after posting “More Thoughts about the Afterlife” on June 15, I made a contribution for the upkeep of New Hope Cemetery in response to a recently-received letter asking for donations to increase the cemetery endowment fund.
The first person to be buried in New Hope Cemetery in rural Worth County was Elizabeth (Montgomery) Seat (1795-1878), my Grandpa Seat’s great-grandmother. There are six generations of Seats buried there, including my little brother who died soon after his birth the year before I was born. All the Seat family graves are marked by easy-to-read gravestones.
In talking about the size of our gift to the cemetery association, June said she thought we ought to finalize the purchase of a plot in New Hope and get our own headstone ordered and erected. And she may be right.
Actually, we are going to be cremated, and she has in mind for 1/3 of our ashes to be buried at New Hope, 1/3 in Polk County where her parents and other relatives are buried, and 1/3 in Japan. I have agreed to that tripartite arrangement. But, still, I am not in a hurry to put up a stone in any of the three places, and I am not sure that I want to.
In thinking more about the matter, it seems to me that gravestones, since they are now usually called monuments or memorial stones, should, by rights, be erected by the descendants of the deceased rather than by people putting up their own stones before they die.
An online dictionary defines monument as something “erected as a memorial,” and a memorial is defined as something “intended to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or an event.” So, I wonder, why has it become rather common for people to erect their own monuments or memorial stones?
Is the (rather recent?) practice of people erecting their own gravestones primarily because they want to save their children and grandchildren trouble, as often they live in other places? Is it the result of people being afraid their children and grandchildren won’t put up a suitable stone? Or is it the result of monument companies trying to increase their sales by getting people to buy stones sooner rather than later? Or is it all the above?
I am not sure yet what we will do about this matter, but this is part of what I have been thinking with regard to gravestones. I wonder what others around my age or older have, or haven’t, done. And for those who have already erected a “pre-need” stone, I wonder what their rationale was.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thoughts about Fathers

As you know, today is Father’s Day in the U.S. and in many other countries around the world, so Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers who read this.
Today I feel sad that I no longer can express thanks to my father. I was especially sad in 2008, when for the first time in my life I could not wish him a happy birthday on March 21 or give him a card or token of appreciation on Father’s Day. But I remain grateful to him for the gift of life and the material and spiritual nurture he gave me.
I am happy today to be the father of four adult children as well as the grandfather of seven. They are a joy to me, and I appreciate the way they live from day to day and year to year far more than any words or tokens of appreciation I may (or may not) receive today.
I am also happy that both of my sons are good fathers; my oldest son the father of two grown daughters, my youngest son the father of two small daughters, the younger of whom was born in February of this year. The picture on the right makes me think Ken is a proud father, which he has a right to be.
It is not easy being a father. In many cases it is much too easy to become a father; but being a father is quite difficult. That is especially true when the father is expected to be the head of the home and the main “breadwinner” for the family. That is the traditional position of fathers in this country, but one that has changed considerably during my lifetime. It is also a very common idea in Asia and in other parts of the world.
Earlier this month, June and I watched “Tokyo Sonata” (2008), an intriguing movie about a Japanese “salaryman,” a husband and father, who loses his job because of downsizing but tries to carry on without telling his wife and children. His attempt to maintain his position of authority in the home leads to near disaster for both him and his wife as well as for their two sons.
As those of you who are familiar with my ideas or who have read my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism know, I do not accept the “chain of command” idea, which has been forwarded by Bill Gothard, among many others, and widely accepted by many conservative Christians. That idea is as much Confucian as it is Christian, and among other things, it leads to inordinate pressure on husbands and fathers, such as is so graphically portrayed in “Tokyo Sonata.”
So, I write this in honor and praise of fathers today, but also in gratitude that many fathers now don’t have to carry the same heavy load so many in the past had to bear. It's still not easy to be a father, but, thankfully, the increasing emphasis on gender equality makes it easier for many than it used to be.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More Thoughts about the Afterlife

That noted theologian Woody Allen is reported to have said, “Rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow men, I’d prefer to live on in my apartment.” Unlike Allen, I have the hope, and the firm confidence, that after death I will “live on” in Heaven and not just in the hearts and minds of others. But similar to Allen, right now I prefer to live on in my home on Canterbury Lane.

On March 20 I posted “Thoughts about the Afterlife.” After reading the chapters on old age and death in Harold Kushner’s book Conquering Fear, I have been thinking more about the afterlife—but now with reference to myself rather than my parents. (The 3/20 posting was the day before what would have been my father’s ninety-fifth birthday.) 
I was thinking about this matter while jogging the other day, and the words of the old gospel song “O That Will Be Glory For Me” came to mind. Two of the verses declare, “When all my labors and trials are o’er, / And I am safe on that beautiful shore, / Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, / Will through the ages be glory for me.” And “Friends will be there I have loved long ago; / Joy like a river around me will flow; Yet just a smile from my Savior, I know, / Will through the ages be glory for me” (words by Charles H. Gabriel, 1856-1932; first published in 1900). 
In my forties, I probably found considerable significance in those words, but for some reason I don’t find them particularly helpful now. At this time I want to make the most of living here and now rather than focusing on what will happen after death. And at the end of my life, whether thirty days or thirty years from now, I would like for the focus of the funeral to be about life on this earth rather than about my life in Heaven. 
Again, I say this not because I don’t believe in Heaven; rather, for whatever reason, I just don’t seem that interested in Heaven or in any hurry to get there. Like before, maybe it is because of my inability to get any good grasp of what life in Heaven will really be like. At any rate, my interest and emphasis at this time is how to live meaningfully right now, as a fallible human being on earth. And maybe that is as it should be. 
Jesus, after all, didn’t talk a lot about Heaven. He talked about the Kingdom of God. Even though Christianity has often interpreted the Kingdom as beginning at the end times, for Jesus it was primarily his vision for here and now. And Jesus’ emphasis seems to have been upon the existence of a “beloved community,” not just the bliss of isolated individuals.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Conquering Fear”

Harold S. Kushner became widely known after the publication of his best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981). Last year, Kushner (b. 1935), an American rabbi aligned with the progressive wing of Conservative Judaism, published Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World, his twelfth book.
Kushner’s fine book was the topic of discussion yesterday at Vital Conversations, a group that meets once a month at the Antioch Mid-Continent Library. Alan Cohen, Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Shalom, a Conservative Jewish congregation in Kansas City where he served as senior rabbi from 1989-2008, and now Director of Interreligious Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Bureau, helped facilitate the discussion.
After declaring in the opening chapter that the “eleventh commandment” is “don’t be afraid,” Rabbi Kushner deals with the fears of terrorism, natural disaster, rapid change, the self-destruction of humanity, rejection, growing old, and death. In the final chapter he asserts that “hope and courage are the will of God.”
As Kushner says at the end of the first chapter, “Our goal should never be the denial of fear but the mastery of fear, the refusal to let fear keep us from living fully and happily” (p. 24). Earlier in that chapter he wrote, “Our goal should be to recognize legitimate fears, dismiss exaggerated fears, and not let fear keep us from doing the things we yearn to do” (p. 11). Those are wise words.
The chapter I most identified with was the seventh, on the fear of growing old. Kushner rightfully, I think, states that “the most terrifying aspect of growing old is the increased risk of serious, debilitating illness. We worry that we will lose the ability to do the things that we enjoy as well as the things that define us” (pp. 125-6). I don’t know that I am “terrified” at that prospect, but it is definitely a concern.
Thus, I like the words he attributes to Mel Zuckerman (founder of the fitness resort Canyon Ranch): “My goal is to die young—as late as possible.” That statement was probably adapted from the British anthropologist Ashley Montagu, 1905-99, who wrote in 1956, The idea is to die young as late as possible.” That is an appealing idea, and a goal I, too, want to embrace.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Edinburgh 2010

June 2 was the beginning of “Edinburgh 2010,” a five-day conference marking the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference of 1910, one of the most important Christian conferences in the twentieth century.

While the Edinburgh 2010 meeting is sponsored primarily by the World Council of Churches (WCC), it is encouraging to note that the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), as well as the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches are a part of the “General Council.” The Baptist World Alliance is also a part of that same sponsoring group.

Leaders of the WCC and WEA spoke at the opening session on June 2. Noting the promise of theological conversations among Evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholics, and members churches of the WCC, the WEA leader said, “I hope that we can listen to one another with love and respect, build bridges rather than create chasms, pray together, learn together, discover new friendships.” That is an aspiration we all can surely affirm.

There are some conservative Christians, though, who are critical of the meeting in Edinburgh this week. From May 11-14, an alternative commemorative meeting to the one being held now in Edinburgh was convened in Tokyo. There were around 2,200 who gathered on May 11 for the conference whose official name was “Tokyo 2010: Global Mission Consultation and Celebration.”

One of the sponsors of Tokyo 2010 was CrossGlobal Link, an association of over ninety mission agencies that was formed in 1917 under the name Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association. Marvin Newell is the current Executive Director of CrossGlobal, and he was one of the plenary speakers at the meeting in Tokyo.

Soon after we boarded our flight to Tokyo on May 10, a man across the aisle in the row ahead of where I was sitting started reading a manuscript that appeared to be about missions. I asked if he was going to the missions consultation in Tokyo, and he said he was. It turned out that he was Marvin Newell, and he soon signed and gave me a copy of his new book Commissioned: What Jesus Wants You to Know as You Go.

There is a lot of good stuff in Dr. Newell’s book, which I sped-read on the airplane. And there were, no doubt, many good sermons and papers presented in Tokyo. But I am sad there still is so much division in the church, and I think the meeting this week in Edinburgh is a more hopeful sign for the future of world Christianity than the alternative meeting in Tokyo.

Edinburgh 2010 ends on Sunday afternoon with a “symbolic act of reflection, thanksgiving and commitment” to be held at 2 p.m. GMT. At that same time churches and Christian communities around the world are encouraged to celebrate “the global church united in its commitment to global mission.” For those of us living in CDT, that is 9 a.m. (but for those in Japan, it is 11 p.m.).

I hope some of you will be able to join me and many other Christians around the world at 2 p.m. GMT on Sunday for some time of reflection, prayer, and commitment to both the unity and the global mission of the church.