Posts Tagged ‘rules’

first communion

Posted: June 18, 2010 in beautiful
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She walked down  to the front of the church by herself, standing in line, only eight and yet making her own decisions to take the sacrament, making her own choices to put herself  in the moment of holiness. 

She stood expectant before the woman serving her, like Vermeer’s girl at the window, caught in the light, reaching to open the glass to something beautiful.  The little communicant held the bread, her short black hair cropped straight along the bottom of her chin , her head tilted as  in the painting, angled slightly down and yet opening to something outside of herself.

Then she took the cup, and held this too, perhaps too long, certainly longer than the adults before and after her, either not sure what to do or simply savoring the moment, maybe a little embarrassed, always looking down at the hem of her dress, sipping the blood of Jesus so carefully,  half emptying the cup and handing it over,  as if it were too special to drink it all. 

It was her first communion, but then firsts were now coming fast  for her. Only a few weeks before she prayed for Christ to live out his life in her. Shortly after that she was baptized, by her own choice.

The server took her cup from her, still half full, and she went back to her seat with her head still down.  The adults moved more quickly through the line after her. 

Not long after this,  a young boy came to the front. He had been served the sacrament already that morning, but now he was back for seconds.

“I’m hungry,” he said, looking up to the woman holding the bowl of bread.  “May I have some more?” She looked down at him and said softly,  “Certainly you can.” So he took another piece of the fresh, soft torn bread and stood there, before her, and ate it. Then looking up he said, “I’m still hungry. May I  have some more?” 

“Yes, you may have some more,” replied the woman with the bowl.  And so he ate again, standing at the altar hungry,  taking communion for a third time, eating the body of Christ again and again.

Then he returned to his  his seat.

It isn’t in the way things are usually done.

We adults take the bread and the wine by the book, as if by prescription, as if by mandate passed down from some ancient Pharmacopoeia Sacra, with the sacred liturgy and the defining rules for the administrations of the holy medicines. We know the drill; we hurry through, we get it done.

We nervously drain the cup; we never think to savor the bread; we don’t like to wait; we don’t know how hungry we are; we don’t go back for more.

And yet, what Jesus said about the little ones somehow comes to mind, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

To stand expectantly in church as if in a Vermeer, by the window with our arm extended, the warm light  falling softly on our skin,  to keep our heads tilted down a little longer, waiting, savoring, opening to something, beautiful, to hold the fresh bread between our fingers a little longer, to drink the glossy, purple cup as if it were to precious to use all up.

To eat and drink and yet know that we have not had enough, to come again to the front to stand in the holy place hungry, to ask for more of what we are starving to death for but can’t get enough of — this we might learn from a child.  

Perhaps if we could only — and yet in time —  as we grow younger — perhaps we can do just these things.

The Values Outlast The Rules

Posted: January 21, 2010 in family
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Values rule, not rules.

Over a recent holiday my daughter and I  hiked through some beautifully sculpted sand cliffs down to the beach at Torrey Pines State Park in San Diego. On the way down, we stopped and ate the lunch we brought. On a bluff overlooking long, curling waves we chatted away and  luxuriated in the sun and sage bushes.   On another day we drove to downtown San Diego together and had lunch at a favorite bistro of hers. I picked the corn chowder and turkey sandwich based on her recommendation. The rye bread was superb — my choice. Afterward we walked and shot pictures of ourselves sitting by a fountain at the train depot.

These days were the best! I think of these kind of days as the it-was-all-worth-it, the now-we’re-really living, the it’s-so-good-to-be-together days.  The activities were simple, but the time was rich with deeply shaping, underlying values —  the value of respect for each other’s choices, the value of good food and the universally esteemed  value of walking with someone you love in a beautiful place.

We parents want our children to open their arms and take in our values. Step-parents and single parents and foster parents and grandparents and adopted parents and surrogate parents and every other kind of parents want to enrich our children with a wealth of rich, wise beliefs.

But there is a very important question here:  How do we do this?  Let’s try to be bluntly helpful about this. Not by pounding our children with the rules. If we pound children with rules they may reject our values.  I know a family where the kids were constantly dominated by rules. The rule hounding  produced anxious, angry, frustrated  children. On the other hand, too little rule making and enforcing and we may produce undisciplined,  unwise and disrespectful children. I know a family where the parents were very passive and the kids were very much in charge. Everyone of the kids made a mess of their adult life. It’s a balance, but keep in mind the end — we want to produce value-inspired people, not rule-enslaved people.

What are values? Values are our deepest beliefs, our core truths, the things we hold to be good and right, those guiding ideas that help us live well.  Where do we get them? We get them from our most trusted sources —  our experiences,  our  family,  best friends, our trusted spiritual leaders. They also come from the collective wisdom of the community. They are beautiful,  powerful  realities — things like love, beauty, honesty, kindness, integrity, trust in God, hard work, tolerance of diversity, freedom to make choices.

To really understand values, it helps to see that they are somewhat different from rules. Rules and values are similar in that they both set standards, but rules tend to demand while values tend to inspire.   In general we might say that values endure; rules change. Although some don’t: Replace the toilet paper roll when it runs out; don’t use other people’s tooth brush.  Rules are typically imposed from the outside; values live within and surpass rules.We give our children a rule; hold my hand when we cross the street. But one day the child will cross alone, taking her own responsiblity to look both ways.  A value underlies the crossing rule, the value of safety, and we want this value to guide all our children’s choices, even their risky ones.

Ask of every rule you make for your children, what value does it flow from? When the value becomes embedded in the child, the rule may no longer be needed. The goal is for our children to grow out of our rules and into our values. The goal is for them to become motivated from within, not from without.  A curfew will one day be let go; the value of rest and of safety will not.

In our family we have a kind-of unwritten rule that the person who cooked dinner doesn’t have to clean up., and all the people that eat without cooking, are expected to help reconstruct the kitchen. It works; it gets the job done.  But behind the rule are at least two important values: the value of order and the value of responsibility.  My wife and I hope that these values will remain in our girls long after they are gone from our home and our rules.  

How do we build our values into our children? Bottom line: your kids will most likely value what you model by your own behavior, not what enforce by your own rules. They will learn the most from what we do with them and for them, not as much what we say to them.

When our children were younger, we took them to dance classes and music lessons; we put them on sports teams. And we had a general rule that when we committed to a class or a season, we went every week and completed the experience. These were fun times,  but these times are now gone. And yet we can  see that the value of art and of sport and of teaming with others and of following through  is something that the girls now own. One now plays on a special olympics type of  basketball team by her own choice. The other is chosing to study literature in London next fall.

As our children grow up and leave home, we will no longer be there to provide the experiences and enforce the rules, but our hope is that through the experiences they have had and the way we have interpreted these experiences for them,  powerfully shaping  values will remain. When our children are with us we make rules about money and time.  One day we hope that they will internalize and live by the values behind these rules,  the value of saving, the value of planning ahead or the value of spontaneity.

 We do well to keep in mind the end product: we want our children to own the underlying powerful beliefs that make for the best life. Do your best work parents.  Go deep. By your own actions, embed powerful ideas in their little psyches.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my oldest daughter and I went to church, went out to lunch and split a sandwich, came home and watched a football game together, went out to a movie, afterward did a little shopping for necessities, grabbed a bite at one of her favorite places for for dinner and came home and read and goofed off.  It was like being on vacation. No rules; we did what we wanted, but we honored a very high value — us!

When their arms are open and their spirits are open, while you still have time with them, pour into them the most profound and lasting values of life — the values of love and kindness and nonproductive leisure and respect and the supreme value of just being together.

You Got Me Beggin’

Posted: December 7, 2009 in rules
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I love the rules.  I love the rules that bring order and safety to intersections, business and games. I love the rules that protect, that have regard for what is true and good.

I want regulation of the food industry. I want a no-face-mask rule in football. I love a red light that keeps someone from crashing us both where the streets cross.

I hate the rules. 

I hate the rules that exclude, the rules that crush difference and diversity, the rules that hammer people who don’t fit the mold.

And I hate it when we beat people up with exclusionary rules.

When I see that, I hope to see someone bring to the table, something different, something like mercy.

Duffy, the Welsh singer and songwriting phenomenon, gives modern expression to a mercy cry. She sings,“You got me beggin’ for mercy, why won’t you release me.” 

Portia, in the Merchant of Venice speaks of the salutary benefits of it, saying,“[Mercy] is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

 The church sings, “Kýrie, eléison. Lord have mercy!”  

What is mercy?

Mercy is an antibiotic for failure, a remedy for our failures to keep the rules, and for our failures in applying the rules.  When we fail, mercy has power to restore.

Recently I had an infection in a tooth. The doctor gave me Erythromycin. The pain and infection stopped.

I like to think of mercy as divine Erythromycin.  Where there is the infection of failure, mercy can lessen pain and punishment. When guilt from mistakes attacks, mercy can help fight off condemnation. Mercy is compassion, made visible.

When we break the rules, mercy applied has  antimicrobial action; by forgiving it brings  amnesty to suffering, and by acquitting it brings healing to crushed psyches.  Mercy begets mercy. It inspires a future of magnanimous choices.

This isn’t abstract. Every day we choose.  Every day we judge each other and when there is failure we chose, consequences,  no consequences, punishment, no punishment.  And when all is said and done, in the aftermath, we forgive or we don’t forgive. We keep jumping on the mistake, or we erase it with mercy.

The opposite of mercy is harshness. Somewhere between the two is justice. We must constantly be deciding, to stick to what is right, to figure out what is fair, to apply consequences where this is appropriate, to make exceptions where this is right and good, to judge, to acquit and to live with each other afterwards — or not. 

It is a judgment, when to apply mercy and when to punish. 

But the thing is, history would suggest that most of us are not in danger of being to merciful.

There is a kind of circle to this thing too, to keep in mind. The mercy that goes around comes around. And the harshness that goes around comes around too,  hard and fast and blunt.

We often get what we give. It’s enough to make you pause before you swing.


Posted: November 19, 2009 in people
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You can choose to be critical or gracious.  You can sing one of two songs: a sad,  negative ballad or a happy, positive tune. It is hate or love, looking down on people or looking across at people, living by the rules or living in freedom.

In the recession, many people without jobs or adequate funds are afraid, sad, negative and hopeless. I totally understand and sympathize. I lost my job during 2008.  I know.  I now have a new job, but I get it. It’s scary. But how we respond to the recession is a choice. I met some people this week in difficult circumstances who are hopeful, positive, forward leaning — even more generous. 

Yesterday,  I spoke to a woman who is under resourced. She recently found a way to make $200 extra dollars by involving her children in a friend’s business, helping with advertizing. Her eyes gleamed with excitement as she spoke of her children’s success. She was focused on them, on what they were learning, not herself.

Sometime we may not even be aware that we are making a choice. We are. We aren’t destined or fated or predetermined to be afraid, rule-dominated or cranky. Loss and hurt and bad luck don’t destine a particular outlook.   We can choose to see hardship as fuel to propel us into the next good thing.

I forgot to give someone back the keys I borrowed from them yesterday. Her response: “It’s okay. I’ll borrow my husbands.” Gracious! No key rule imposed on me.

The world is populated with mistakes. And there is a rule against every one of them.  Rules say what people can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do. They have value in creating order. “Give back what you borrow” is a good rule. But “It’s okay when you forget,” is a crucial rule for lasting relationships.

Order isn’t primarily a function of imposed rules  but instead a function of the desire for progress, improvement and freedom. An orderly way of relating best stems from  a  positive, intrinsic, internal drive. When we love,  we bring about an order that is beyond and better than imposed rules.

Take for example  how women have been defined in our culture. Women, like men,  have been defined by by gender rules. These rules don’t always operate, but they do so often enough that they are powerful behavior shapers. Women should be thin. Women should be nice. Women shouldn’t be paid as much for the same job as men. Women shouldn’t intimidate men by being more competent. Women shouldn’t do certain jobs or play certain roles.

Recently a friend told me. “I was told by some male leaders who were not very open to female leadership that I wasn’t a leader.” She is now leading a highly organized and well-funded non-profit effort to feed people during the recession. So much for that judgment. It wasn’t based on reality or openness. At the heart of the matter, it wasn’t gracious, open to possibility, to freedom.

Limit or empower. Shut-down or open up. Live under the rules or beyond the rules. Be critical or be gracious. It’s  my choice — today.