Monday, June 28, 2010

Of polls and anarchists

An article in the Montreal Gazette June 28, 2010, reports on a national poll showing support for the monarchy as ‘lukewarm’ across the country, decidedly cold in Quebec. The occasion of course is the beginning of Her Majesty’s Canadian tour. Interestingly, the same poll looked at attitudes toward some other terms such as ‘socialism’, ‘family values’, etc. “(W)ords such as religion, church, Catholicism and Protestantism drew half-hearted reactions from most Canadians…… And 89 per cent of Canadians gave "family values" a positive response.”

The Anglican Church reviewed the findings, and reported on its website: “ A large majority (77%) of all Canadians say they do care (emphasis added) whether or not the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian Churches survive the legal claims against them. Although church goers, regardless of frequency, express concern over the Churches' survival, concern is higher among those who attend regularly (89%) than among those who do not (71%)……. Only 22% of Canadians say they are indifferent to whether the Anglican Roman Catholic and Presbyterian Churches in Canada survive. ……. Forced to choose between making Churches pay claims regardless of consequences or protecting them from bankruptcy, fully 80% of Canadians believe the Churches should be protected from bankruptcy."

So when I look at these comments in aggregate, I am left scratching my head a bit and wondering if the cup is half empty or half full. Is the ‘lukewarm’ reaction to religion words the result of a national decline in interest for all things religious – or is it a sign of the strength of religious beliefs holding up as well as it is under incredibly trying and scandal-plagued times? That it could be much much worse, in other words, if we were not a nation who understood at some level that one’s relationship with God is bigger than the institutions that provide a home for our worship of God.

Another musing. We spent $1 billion to put on the greatest ….. what? ….. show of collaboration among the world’s leaders? …… embarrassment to our country? …… photo-op for the Prime Minister’s next election campaign? …… forging of a strong way forward by those who govern the world’s economies? What is your own take on that? Well, there I was trying to think through the significance of it all, when I see the live coverage of black clad people smashing up downtown Toronto and setting a couple of police cars on fire. I will not repeat the angry thoughts that ran through my head as I watched. But as always happens – without fail – when I am in one of those moods, the thought starts to insinuate itself, ‘These are God’s beloved.’ I tell you, that is tough. I am not only wanting them to be stopped, I have some punitive measures in my head. That is not God’s way. I think of the Prodigal Son. These are wayward folk. Boy are they off track. So cynical, so angry, so despairing of ever having influence in what they see as the power structures in some or all nations. Lash out, disturb, inflict pain, and disrupt. An embarrassment to people who still do believe in the power of protest, and who marched peacefully. What is the response to them? I feel an elder son response coming on big time.

But the Father just waits. And hurts. Not for himself, you understand. That would be us, that would be the elder son, taking it all so personally. No, the Father hurts for the woundedness of people whose wounds further hurt not only themselves but the citizens of the community around them.

I do know what the Father asks. That we pray for them. That we try to find it in our hearts to be less concerned about the punishment than the conversion – less concerned about the handcuffs than the softening of hearts.

I will try. And as I say that, I know that the first heart that needs to be softened is my own.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Let's talk about attachment

I talked a while ago about the workshop I attended in Ottawa, led by Gordon Neufeld. The theme was bullying, and what I did not say was that the theoretical context was what we in the field know as Attachment Theory.

Briefly this was first articulated in the 1950’s and 1960’s by a British psychiatrist named John Bowlby. He said that the ‘attachment system’ plays out between child and caregiver (parent), and is as built in as the feeding and reproductive systems. In short, when a child is in distress and cries, the child cannot stop the cry until one of two things happens: parent comes and comforts (change diaper, feed, etc), or child is simply exhausted. When the parent responds to comfort, the child’s brain develops the ability be comforted, leading to the day when the older child comforts him or her self. When the response is no response, or a yell or a hit, the baby’s problems increase. Distress intensifies, and no inner template is developing. And the world is on its way to being a very scary place.

You know people who play this out every day, somewhere on the safety scale (you are one of them). You will see those who handle conflict very well; you will see those who take everything personally, and either rage or cry. You will see those who are unfailingly kind and charitable; you will see those whose only interest is themselves, and getting there first. You are seeing the results of what we call secure and insecure attachment patterns.

Attachment relationships occur in every creature species and across the lifetime. When we become adults, the dependence/ independence dynamic is slightly different, in that it does not characterize the relationship (as in parent-child) but rather situations. I need to be taken care of right now, and I need you for that. When you need to be taken care of, I am there for you.

I attended another workshop on attachment this past week, and as always happens, information builds on what you already know. The presenter was Dr. Diane Benoit from Sick Kids hospital in Toronto. I may refer back to her work and that of Dr. Neufeld from time to time, because parents really need to become experts in this and skilled at it. The neat thing for our work is that parents who do not have the skills, can acquire them.

So, for today, here is Dr. Benoit’s list of parent behaviours that produce a severely affected child:

1. Emotional communication errors: contradictory/ mixed signals; failure to initiate response, or inappropriate response, to infant cues of distress;
2. Role/ boundary confusions: role reversal, sexualized behaviour;
3. Disorientation: parent is frightened or disorganized;
4. Intrusiveness/ negativity: attributing negative motivation to the child; tries to control with objects rather than holding, comforting;
5. Withdrawal: distancing self from child; directing child away from self by using toys

You see what is missing in all these; accurate response to distress, through use of the eyes, smiles, voice.

Out here in the orchard, the animals never holler to their young, “I’ll be with you in a little while.” They never ignore the pleadings of their young, and above all they never whack them over the head when the young are in distress. The young learn from the start that they are safe in their parents’ care.

We humans, are so much smarter, right? And we get it wrong many times every day before lunch.

Perfection is never the minimum. But developing the mindset, the awareness of how this works and how important it is, is the minimum. The skills, if we do not already have them, can be learned.

And a big nod in the direction of our relationship with our Creator. Have you noticed? The attachment system starts right there. Our God designed us to be dependent on him. In return God has total regard for us, will never put us off, will never whack us over the head. Never. When those bad times come along, that is not God doing it to us. On the contrary, God is waiting: when the attachment system is turned on in us, God is right there. How neat is that. You are always safe with this caregiver. Always.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Inspired by a Rapper

His picture was on the front page of the Entertainment section of the Star. I was not going to pay much attention until these words caught my eye: “But the one thing you’ll never hear – or miss – on a Shad song is profanity. “I don’t really curse too much in regular life, so I figure it would be disingenuous to just put that in my music……. And also, who says that has to be the vocabulary of the music? Hip-hop’s always been about doing your own thing and you don’t need to curse to engage people.””

Call me naïve, but I did think that was the vocabulary of the music. My exposure has been limited, but I have heard Eminem. I feel sorry for that guy.

But Shad. I am blown away. This guy has my utmost respect. I do not know anything about him beyond what I read here. I do not know what he does with his life otherwise. But to be willing to go out to your public with this message ….. well, sir, I thank you.

More than that, with my cynicism lowered and my judgementalism looking at me in the mirror, I feel called to clean up my act. Indeed I feel free to do that. Shad made me realize that I carry a bit of a what’s the use mentality. Know what that does? It lowers my resolve, my discipline.

Amazing. And cool (if that doesn’t sound too uncool coming from an old guy!). He doesn’t know it, but he is a gift. To me, anyway. I think the Risen Lord would approve of that. Do you suppose He had anything to do with it?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Perfect game

Perfection. I was thinking about this concept the other day when major league umpire Jim Joyce blew the call on the last out for Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. Twenty-seven batters up and twenty-seven batters out, is the definition of a perfect game. Replays show that Gallaraga had his perfect game. The last batter was out at first base, but the ump called it wrong. And the call stood. Baseball has no mechanism for overturning such a call. Fans are rightly screaming for video-replay option, to let the umps have a second look.

All my professional life I have been urging people to consider that perfection is not the minimum. This advice is especially important for people who are hard on themselves or on others. Baseball has a clear definition for the perfect game. Life does not.

Out here in the orchard, perfection is not even a consideration. The creatures go about their work. They build, they reproduce, they hunt for food, they feed themselves and their young. If things do not work out, they try again. You see it all the time. Funny that is does not work that way with humans.

We do something and then we evaluate it. We watch someone else do something and then we evaluate that too. How do you score on the harsh-judgment meter?

Sometimes we evaluate our effort even before we do it. And get too nervous to try. So we bail.

Fortunately our God does not see it the way we often do. The story of the Prodigal Son is a tremendous illustration of how God assesses things. Where many of us humans would be yelling at the younger son for being such an ungrateful little jerk, the Father simply welcomes him home. Does God blow the call, then? Or is the message rather that the outcome is not about performance, it is about relationship. God is not hanging out for us to get it right all the time.

In life as in baseball itself, perfection is not the minimum. We would go crazy if it were. Staying in the game is the minimum, always returning to the relationship. We will be called safe, count on it.