InTolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo contemplates the ruinous world he faces. He tells his wise and patient teacher,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I often find myself wishing, as Frodo did, that “it need not have happened in my time.” That I could raise my children in a more stable age.
Sometimes we may exaggerate the difficulty and divisiveness of our modern life – especially when compared with the horrific conditions of most of human history. Perspective is often helpful in calming our fears. Yet, as a mother, it is evident that in many ways the world is becoming increasingly divisive, immoral, and selfish. We seem to be headed down well-trodden paths of conflict – roads laid down generations ago and marked with blood and destruction. We are willfully repeating lessons we should have learned long ago. Concerned parents look on in dread as our society descends into tribalism and self interest. We see greed and envy driving public policy; leaders usurping power; distrust and suspicion increasing; cultural unity and patriotism dissipating; faith and humility abandoned…Darkness looms…but Tolkien reminds us, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
As mothers, we must not be naïve – we must face the darkness. We must strengthen ourselves for the journey. Wishing things were different will not accomplish anything. We must act. But how? Our world is starving for virtue. We must accept our role as the Teacher-of-Virtue.
Absent moral and virtuous individuals, societies inevitably degrade. Who can shape the morality of a populace if not its mothers? The world may deny our influence, but the power of a strong mother endures.
“What a mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin.”
Henry Ward Beecher
The solution to our anxieties and to the world’s division, lies in strengthening our families.
“The family is the basis of society. As the family is, so is the society.”
Today, I felt discouraged about the future, about the world my children are inheriting. To cope, I distracted myself from the news and social media, and instead reflected on the love of my husband and children. As I hugged my daughter and read with my son, the day seemed brighter – we made it brighter. Fear will return when my thoughts inevitably rest on harsh realities, but I know what I can do to calm my fears – be a mother that puts her will and energy into raising resilient, educated, and virtuous children.
“Men are what their mothers made them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Frodo expresses his fears to Gandalf – as a child would to a parent – he gazes into the flames and wishes them away. Gandalf acknowledges and empathizes with those fears, but he knows the solution will not be found in staring into the fire. Instead, he pushes Frodo towards the only firm hope he has – his own action. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The world may burn, but we will not do the burning, we will do the building.
“Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”
As mothers, we must have faith in our influence. We can wisely use the time given us. The future is unsure – there will always be anxiety when facing the unknown. But our world will improve when we mothers decide – decide to replace that fear with faith and action, and intentionally teach our children to do the same.
“Pick up the cross of your tragedy and betrayal. Accept its terrible weight….We are all fallen creatures—and we all know it. We are all separated from what should be and thrown into the world of death and despair. We are all brutally crucified on the cross that is the reality of life itself….And the Christian command? To act out the proposition that courage and truth and love are more powerful than death and despair.”
I believe that a society built around Honor and Virtue are crucial if we want to shift our current trajectory. We must be willing to applaud goodness and condemn wickedness. We simply cannot say that all beliefs, actions, and choices are of equal worth and virtue, and still have a society where good can triumph.
I enjoyed the podcast episode below from Young Heretics. It brings a good perspective on the utility of Honor and Virtue, using Roman society as a case-study.
“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis
I’m searching over the roofs of my neighbors as my kids are yelling inside the house for me to help them to more dinner. Why is my heart racing? I could have planned this better. Why can’t I find this star?
I quickly jump off the railing of the deck a bit disappointed and head back inside as the children have begun fighting with one another. I place more potatoes on the plate for my five-year-old and I start wondering if I would have missed that thrill of hope long ago too.
I think many of us would have. In my current state of busy, at my current pace, I’m not confident I would have looked up long enough to become curious and follow. Veteran mothers tell me when the children are grown that I’ll have time to look up, to see the stars and learn their names. However, the older I get the more I know, like them, we don’t only use our time to look up, we often use it to look back.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them.” I begin thinking about why people were amazed by the tale of the shepherds, hearing and seeing angels and coming face to face with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Maybe the star of Bethlehem wasn’t this astronomical anomaly that stopped everyone in their tracks but was enough of a difference to make three wise men curious. Or Jesus, lying in a manger of a dark and cold cave in Bethlehem. Maybe that’s why everyone was thrown by the telling of His arrival. It wasn’t a beautiful place that required appreciation. It was a place full of constant hurry and conflict, much like myself.
I begin loading the dishwasher and as I run the plates through the warm water of the sink, right outside my small kitchen window, is the Christmas Star, in my line of sight. The Great Conjunction. For a few brief moments, all was calm and bright. There was no rushing or anxiety––I was astonished. In all its distant glory, it was enough to stir the gratitude in my heart for that Gift given to us over two thousand years ago. He had found me, right where I was at in my rushing and running, as faithfully He does. And my weary world rejoiced.
I unravel another bundle of lights from the Christmas tote and ask my husband to line the roof in white. This year, I’ve noticed, more neighbors and communities have put out extravagant Christmas displays. Possibly for the children, most certainly for me. How dark the shadows have been this year.
My husband begins climbing a ladder, and I think back to how I’ve been reading “A Christmas Carol” a few pages at a time, out loud as often as possible the past few weeks. My newborn niece was recently victim to my retelling of Jacob Marley’s haunting visit to Scrooge. As the old man stumbled away from the glow of the town to his cold quarters, Charles Dickens wrote, “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
How honest a statement about the darkness! To sit in apathy and bitterness, hardened and invulnerable. Can we truly “like” such a thing? Surely not forever! Scrooge, having seen the truth, would tell you so today.
I think about what price bringing illuminance anywhere has cost. Relationally, geographically and economically, intellectually and emotionally — light is not cheap. It takes time, a loyal and intentional investment.
I toss up another strand of lights to my hardworking and semi-uncomfortable husband and remember in the spirit of the season how after four hundred years of silence, God pierced the sky to lead humanity through the shadows. They hadn’t heard or seen from God in centuries, and in following the star He gave them, they find the Light of the World; a humble baby. A price paid to reveal and close the dark path of misery.
My darling husband makes his way back down the ladder, thankful to live another day on the ground, and I take a look at the beautifully lit corners of our roof. In corresponding with a woman about resuming the practice of her faith, C.S. Lewis wrote, “One can’t go on thinking it over for ever, and one can begin to try to be a disciple before one is a professed theologian. In fact they tell us, don’t they, that in these matters to act on the light one has is almost the only way to more light.” (4 January 1941, Mary Neylan)
We must kindle what’s in front of us. Stir the heaviest embers, and pray for enduring flames. Keep lamps burning, our front porch lights on, and continue pushing back the shadows not just for our paths, but the paths of others. Light is not cheap, still God finds each of us worth His radiant mercy and encourages us to dwell abundantly in His glow. No matter the season, on rooftops or six-feet-apart, strive to be light.
“You’re going to go see Christmas lights. I need you to put on your shoes and coat and wait quietly. Your brother is too little to go. Please do not tell him where you are going.”
As a five-year-old, I can imagine how powerful it must have felt for her at that moment, for she immediately went downstairs and told him she was going to see lights and that he would not be attending.
My son, Jack, went into a tantrum, and later that night my “very sorry” daughter and I sat and looked out the window as her sister went to see Christmas lights without her.
As her tears began to dry and the weight of her actions lifted, I started telling her of the importance it was for a woman long ago to treasure in her heart a secret God had given her.
“An angel came to Mary, a young, unmarried, and dependent girl, and told her that God was going to give her Jesus, the Savior of the world. Do you know how she must have felt? Excited, nervous, maybe like you, she wanted to burst from the seams and tell the world. But she didn’t make that choice. The Bible says that Mary kept all the things the Angel had told her in her heart and thought about them often.”
For a brief moment, we sat in the warmth of one another. Then as youth so conveniently allows, my daughter leaped from my lap to face me, the cold air creeping from the window met my chest.
“Why didn’t she tell everyone?” She asked.
“Do you remember what happened when young Joseph told his brothers about his coat and his dreams?” I responded.
She thought back and remembered a project she had completed in preschool where she made a coat of many colors with different pieces of fabric. She told me that the brothers had gotten angry and jealous and hurt Joseph.
I nodded as she returned to my lap and looked back out the window at the lights in our front yard ready to listen. “Mary didn’t want to hurt or confuse others who wouldn’t understand and she didn’t want to be hurt herself. She had a long way to go because babies stay in a mommy’s tummy for a while and she and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph, had some things they needed to figure out. So she kept it in her heart. Do you know what happens when we keep good things in our hearts?”
“What?” She asked in wonder, having now completely forgotten the Christmas-light adventure she was missing.
“God grows those dreams and promises and we can talk to Him about them in our heart any time we want! We ask God to bring the right friends in our lives to help us and we trust Him to guide our feet and can focus on what He’s saying. The busy world around us sometimes doesn’t offer helpful opinions, and when we keep good things in our heart while we journey with God we don’t have to worry about letting others down and can change more easily when we discover God’s will is different from ours. Do you think Mary wanted to have a baby in a stable with all the animals?”
She laughs as I continue. “Right! Mommies don’t want to have babies in the hay! But Mary trusted God and brought close friends and family into her secret. Now, how do you think the night would have been had you gotten your shoes and sat and waited?”
I felt her take a deep breath as her little voice began. “I would have gone with Cora to see lights and Jack would eat ice cream and be happy with you. I would not have cried.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. But you also wouldn’t have been sitting here with me getting extra snuggles either,” I tell her as I squeeze her closer to my heart. “Sometimes we don’t keep things in our heart as Mary did, but that doesn’t mean God loves us any less or that He won’t trust us with other good dreams as we grow up. Because of Jesus, sorries, and forgiveness, we get another chance.”
She returns my squeeze with a hug as we watch her sister pull up with her uncle and cousins from their neighborhood adventure.
“Cora’s back! I’m going to tell her that Mary kept a secret in her heart — but I won’t tell her what it was.”
“Oh no, baby, the whole world knows now. Jesus was born! You can tell her the whole secret.”
Remi runs out of the room as my husband opens the front door and I hear her yell out to her sister that she had something important to tell her. How beautiful it is, when a good secret comes to fruition, in God’s perfect timing.
To me, this image of two rival football teams kneeling in prayer after a hard-fought game provides a contrast to our current polarity. Can we kneel together, despite our differences, despite having opposing goals? Is our society leaving a space for such an act of unity?
First we have to ask ourselves, why would these young men do such a thing? A football game is very real and important to those playing it and a loss is not easily overcome when dreams are on the line. However, we know it is a game so perhaps it is not all that shocking that they can shake off a loss and come together to pray. But real life, with real stakes, surely, is something different. But is it?
In WWI in a remarkable event known as the Christmas Day Truce, young men from both sides, (German and British), despite orders to stay put from their superiors, jumped out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy. They sang together, exchanged gifts, and celebrated the birth of their common Savior. The day before, these young men had been shooting at each other. But somehow, as we imagine those young men grasping hands in 1914, it seems that war had been a game after all, and the Truce was something more real – it was a glimpse of potential. We imagine an opening of truth to these young men, just as the football players experienced something real in that prayer-circle, after what had been just a game. But in order to get those glimpses of peace and unity, there has to be a unifier.
These two groups of young men would go on fighting, go on playing the game – and there is purpose in their conflict, there are lessons that needed to be learned therein. But conflict itself is not the purpose, and they knew this. There was something that made them stop fighting – a power above the disputes of the world. They paused and prayed together to their common God, they celebrated the birth of Christ. Belief in this transcendent truth is crucial for our sense of perspective and our ability to cope in a life full of suffering and strife. There must be something above to give meaning to the things below.
In the late 1800s Friedrich Nietzsche made the bold declaration that “God is dead, and we have killed Him.”* With rising secularism, we see that many, unfortunately, believe in Nietzsche’s unbelief, and live their lives without God. But, as Nietzche understood well, this shift away from God does not come without dire consequences. How, now, are we motivated to come together after a football game, or shake hands during a war? Where can we see the growth in tragedy, or let go of grievances without any hope of eventual victory?
The philosophies of men are like man, limited and finite. They are doomed to follow our follies, our imperfections, and our short-sightedness. We need a guiding philosophy that transcends man, one that humbles us, that emanates from beyond ourselves. Something that falls on all of us – good or bad, Boise State or BYU, German or British. This is the truth that fell on these young men.
There simply is no earth-bound philosophy that can do this. In a post-truth society, there is nothing to bring opposing teams together; no unifier, no comforter. Secular individuals may seek out a worthy existence in a post-truth world, without examining how or why they seek worthiness – but societies will fall.
So what are we left with, without God? Everything is now much more serious. This is no test; there are no games anymore. The end is coming hard and fast. There is no hope for a day of eventual unity and no moral good to strive towards. All beauty, goodness, and truth are simply illusions. There will always be a conflicting philosophy that keeps us from kneeling with an “enemy”. There will always be offenses too distressing to let-go of, with no belief that someone greater can take the burden.
People suffer when their God has died. Our souls become starved as we grasp for meaning and purpose while caught in a downward spiral. We become cogs in a machine. We become our own Superman but with no one to save. Our modern world shows the signs of this secular suffering. We see how people react when their “world” comes falling down, when their political party fails, and when their dreams are shattered. Rather than seeking a hopeful eternal perspective, they must face the bleak world before them. They are less able to laugh at the tragic game of life, less able to forgive, more judgmental, less resilient, and more selfish. It is not necessarily them I blame – these are the natural reactions of a person living in a Godless world.
So we return to our properly-aligned young men. Their displays of unity won’t be applauded by all. Those driving the will of our will-less world will not take it kindly, for it is threatening. They see these football teams kneeling before God and are appalled. They want to stop such displays of religiosity – stop the so-called brainwashing. They portray this display of belief simply as intolerance of other beliefs. Once Truth is discarded, reminders of it tend to sting. The “Conditioners”, as C.S. Lewis calls them – replace our outdated Truth with man-made imitations. And what weak replacements they turn out to be. Their fuel is envy and resentment, their compassion is apathy, and their motivation is power and greed. Postmodernism, Marxism, Subjectivism, Materialism are all designed to tear down all our Christmases, all our prayers on the football field, even our love of our homeland or shared admiration for a historical figure. Nothing can be shared, nothing can be held in common or above the struggle.
But it is a lie. There is a force that unites us all. A truth from above that ignites our inner goodness. We are brothers and sisters. And we know this – it is written in our hearts. We have urgings for love; we desire peace; we feel that loyalty is a virtue. We know that an angry young man is wasting himself. We know that laughter heals. Our deep morality and kinship remain, and these demonstrations, by young and ordinary men, show that there is hope in our deeper natures – for we are always called by higher things.
Note: You may ask, what does this have to do with motherhood? It is crucial that mothers see these dynamics, that we understand the state and direction of the world. When we see the ditches in front of us, we can step around them. When we understand what deception sounds like, we can teach our children to recognize the lies, and to seek out goodness instead. It is so crucial that we mothers don’t follow the destructive philosophies that surround us. It is up to us to ensure that, in our method of mothering, our children will build a future where truth, goodness, and beauty are allowed to thrive.
If you believe in what we are doing here on the Philosophy of Motherhood, please share our website and posts with your friends and family.
Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
A highly informative clip on Nietzsche (the whole video is great) – that helps us understand his worldview and start to see the results of his shift in perspective.
Good clip on Postmodernism, Nietzsche, and conflicting philosophy
There is no such thing as “my truth” or “your truth”. There is “my perspective” or “my interpretation” but “The Truth” is fact, and much more. It is reality. It is what we are all seeking to find. Unique individuals see and experience the truth differently – like a feather and stone experience gravity differently – but they are being pulled by the same force. We have subjective experience with objective truth*. It is useful to try and see things from others perspective because the more sides you see of the truth, the more you grasp it. But perspective is not independent truth.
I think the “my truth” trend is the most dangerous idea being perpetrated on our society today, particularly for our youth and children. Telling our children to find “your truth” gives them absolutely no grounding in life, no ideal to work toward, and no standard to measure their or others behavior. It’s sending our children into the dark woods without a light, map, or destination, and crossing our fingers that they won’t get devoured by wolves. As they venture out into those woods of unbounded “truths”, “their truth” will quickly and inevitably collide with others “truths’”. No one can thrive in such chaos and uncertainly. They cannot know if they have succeeded, if they should feel pride or shame, or if they are right or wrong. In their confusion, they are likely to latch on to a more stable truth – a confident wolf in sheep’s clothing- an ideology they can join minds with, to navigate the chaos. It may be Marxism, Ethno-nationalism, Gender or Sexual Identitarinism….something to make their path more certain.
When we spread the lie of relative truth we are not being inclusive and liberal – we are manipulating reality in order to allow all people to act however they want, perhaps in an effort to free ourselves of guilt for acting out our own basest instincts. This will not lead to love and happiness, but narcissism and broken relationships. We all have a moral code buried deep in our psyche, a sense of right and wrong – we can dull it with neglect and indoctrination- but we will never truly feel peace of conscience, never feel we have progressed, never feel we are “good” – while untethered to The Truth.
C.S. Lewis said, “I want God, not my idea of God.” I want the Truth, not my idea of truth. So next time you hear the phrase “my truth” or “your truth”, let it bother you – because it should.
*Objective truth = truth does not originate from our own mind, there is an external source of truth. My truth = truth is what I decide. “My truth” is most often communicated to mean, “I set my own rules.” This is incorrect. However, this does not mean God’s will is the same for all of us, or always looks the same. He is The Truth, and He dishes it out according to his plan and purpose. Yet He leaves us with many tools to discover it. I plan on doing another post, pulling from great thinkers, clarifying what “The Truth” really means.
The US election is today. Many of us fear for the future of our nation. I find the news, with its dire predictions and “worst-case scenarios”, disquieting. America’s chaotic situation is beyond my control. My thoughts and actions ARE within my control.
“Misery is almost always the result of thinking.”
As I look at my children, I want to be a strength to them. I hope to guide them through these storms as an example of fortitude. I want to be a light in darkness.
“Light unshared is darkness. To be light indeed, it must shine out. It is of the very essence of light, that it is for others.”
I hope in the coming days, instead of ruminating on my own worries – I will share the light I do possess with those that may need it. We all have untapped strength. The political system may be failing – but we have a spouse we love, or children we cherish. Maybe our candidate loses, but we still have our faith in God. We can find confidence in our gratitude. We can use that as a point of strength to help others. The more we stop thinking of our own concerns, and focus on others – the brighter our light. We will be active in relieving suffering, rather than dwelling on our own. So this week, let’s distract ourselves with well-doing. As we sacrifice our own fear, we will bring peace and light to this chaotic world.
I am not going to tell you who I voted for. I am not going to advise you on how you should vote. The answer to the former is likely of little interest to you, and the latter is none of my business. We each have our own mind, our own will, and our own perceptions. We each have in us the ability to seek the truth and make the right choice. I am no lover of politics – perhaps there is no truth to be found therein. However, the problem in our ever-political social environment is what others have called “The Closing of the American Mind”* or “The Coddling of the American Mind.”* Many of us have lost our ability to have an “open mind” – perhaps due to our education, or upbringing, or just laziness.
Having an open-mind means considering contrasting opinions, being willing to have our minds changed, and refusing to castigate those that arrive at different opinions. Instead, we increasingly see the other side as bigots, Godless, or just stupid. We are told “This time is different;” “The stakes are too high;” and “They are too wrong.” That same belief has driven many before us. It drove the atrocities of the Soviet and French Revolution and Nazi Germany. This election may be unique in many ways, but human nature has not changed. Our proclivity towards exaggeration, tribal division, envy, anger, and pride remain the same.
I have been shocked to see people I once respected hop on every social media bandwagon and become judge and jury to their fellow humans. This is not entirely their fault as “the facts” are hard to comeby in our modern climate. I have myself been too quick to assume news as fact. But we must be more conscious in seeking out opposing viewpoints – they are always there – and get the full picture before we jump to outrage.
“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”
We are often told the “other side” is driven by vile motivations or ignorance. The truth is this, all people have similar motivations, and we are all plagued by ignorance. We tend to believe our “enemies” are motivated by bigotry or power and we by love and compassion. The truth is more complicated. We are not as angelic as we would like to believe and they are not as devilish.
The Contempt of Labels
In the last few years we have seen such division in our nation and the world. Much of this division is caused by a true conflict of ideas – Atheist vs Theist, Capitalist vs Socialist, Republican vs Democrat. However, I maintain that it is often the label itself which creates the wedge between us.
Let’s imagine, for example, an open-minded young college student who takes an interest in socialism. He studies it privately. He seeks out opposing viewpoints. He interviews those who have lived under socialism. He researches its history and present-day operation. He does not fear putting socialism under close scrutiny because he is seeking truth, not a label. He remains humble and open to having his mind changed as new information is discovered.
“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.”
George Eliot, Middlemarch
By contrast, what we frequently see is a rush to label and denounce. Take the compassionate and suggestable young man who hears of the goodness of socialism from his one-sided professor. “Socialism is about equality and fairness.” Of course he supports equality and fairness, he would be wicked not to. After a few more episodes of indoctrination, he announces on Facebook that he is a Socialist. He joins groups and organizations promoting Socialism – building an echo-chamber around him. He avoids the opinions of the opposition – “They are greedy, they are not compassionate”. He becomes dogmatic and unwilling to admit to any of the downsides to his new tribe. He defends or ignores dictators and historical atrocities for fear it would poke holes in his ideology, which is safe and comfortable and filled with friends and supporters fighting a common enemy – an evil one. To lose that ideology, after it has become his identity and he has pronounced it to the world, would require an immense amount of humility and introspection – traits he traded in for comfort and safety.
“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There’s not one of them which won’t make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.”
The world is infinitely complicated – and so are we. There is such a shallowness in today’s perspective of identity politics and ideology. There are so many facets to our nature and thinking to examine in life. The more we dig, the deeper and more interesting we and others become. If, instead, I define myself by my political ideology – first and foremost – then when someone I love disagrees with my politics, I must shun or vilify them. When information or actual life experience contradicts my viewpoint, I refuse to integrate it. Once a political, social, or radical philosophy becomes our identity, the chance of changing course is unlikely – for an entire identity is a traumatic thing to lose.
“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”
Corrie Ten Boom
And so it is in 2020 as we approach our presidential election. We pick our labels and we stick to them. We build our ideological walls around us and view outsiders as a threat and anything that contradicts our own viewpoint as “hateful” or “ignorant”.
“We don’t have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem. . . . If you listen to how people talk to each other in political life today, you notice it is with pure contempt. When somebody around you treats you with contempt, you never quite forget it. So if we want to solve the problem of polarization today, we have to solve the contempt problem.”
Arthur C. Brooks
I have seen good Christian women, friends who previously I could not imagine saying a hurtful word, now labeling an entire voting block as racist and cowards. I have seen journalists say that anyone who votes for — is just plain stupid. This is insane and illiberal. These declarations simplify life to black and white- because that is what ideology does. But it is a lie. Life is complex and multifaceted, with various factors and motivations affecting people’s decisions.
“We must never forget that human motives are generally far more complicated than we are apt to suppose, and that we can very rarely accurately describe the motives of another.”
Firm in Truth – While Seeking and Understanding
Does that mean we don’t stand firm in anything and just toss with “every wind of doctrine”? As a Christian, of course, I say no, we must find the truth and feel safe therein. If we feel angry or fearful, we are not in truth.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32
But none of us have arrived at ultimate truth; we are all still seeking. We all benefit from different perspectives and from seeing others in their humanity, despite their differences. If we are right on an issue then opposing views won’t harm us because our truth will stand firm against their falsehood. However, if we are wrong then it would be nice to find out rather than continue believing and living out a lie.
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The experience we have on earth is subjective. A child raised on the streets of India will not see the same world as the daughter of a president. Does that mean there is no bridging the gap or that there is no “real” truth to be found? No. We are all having subjective experiences with objective truth. A feather falls differently than a stone. The quest is to discover the force that works on both of them – gravity. The truth is law, despite our unique experiences with it. We must allow our experience, our suffering, our passions to inform our view, but not close our view.
However, when we are confident we have found an aspect of truth, a moral principle that we should stand firm defending, we do not allow opposition or changing culture to sway us. There is truth to be found, when we find it, we hold it precious.
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
However, we also refuse to stereotype our opposition. We are eternal beings having a worldly experience, let’s not allow passing disputes to affect our eternal souls. Let us save space for humility, for places we can say – “I disagree, but I will listen with an open-mind and respect my eternal brother or sister.” When we are respectful of others we are more likely to open their minds to the truths we have discovered.
So how do we decide who to vote for? We decide with an open-mind.
Often when I listen to a fiery sermon, I go away thinking – “I wish Susie could have heard that. Maybe she would clue in to her judgmentalness!” But the fact is this: the sermon was meant for me. I hope instead of considering how others need to drop their anger, stop stereotyping, or closing their minds, we can see how we ourselves need to change. I know I am as guilty as anyone.
We cannot gain truth if we refuse to seek it, in whatever “dark” corner it may dwell. Let’s consider unconsidered reasons why the “other side” may support their candidate. Let’s see the humanity in their choice. Let’s look beyond those things we have previously focused on to discover what policies may entice people. We should not fear such questions – it is a much greater risk to stay angry or ignorant than to let go of some self-imposed label or misperception. Perhaps we will not change our vote, but we will lighten our load.
The world will keep spinning no matter who wins this election- but it will only be bearable to live here if we can seek to understand those that interpret that spinning in a different way.
(We greatly appreciate you sharing this with anyone you feel would benefit. To my wonderful international readers, please forgive the American-focus, I hope you may glean things for your own benefit as well – as political division is universal.)
Quotes on Open-Mindedness
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.
Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
It is never too late to give up your prejudices
Henry David Thoreau
Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Autocrat of the Breakfast Table
Yesterday was my youngest child’s 4th birthday. She followed me around all day asking for details on her cake, ice cream, and presents. To each response she would squeeze my leg and say, “You are the best mom EVER!” Her siblings came home from school and bounded in the door excitedly, yelling “Happy Birthday!” She gave them each a hug, in turn, and said, “You are the best sister(or brother)…ever!” We had a wonderful evening celebrating our enthusiastic, loving, and intelligent little girl. She is our fifth child and despite my children’s pleas for more siblings – my five c-sections and general weariness demands she be the last.
Babies as a scourge.
As I saw this image on my Facebook and read the caption, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet little 4-year old. What would life be like if, like a scene from The Avengers, we snapped our fingers and she, and three of her siblings, vanished – leaving us with only our oldest? Life, for us, would be instantly transformed. However, I highly doubt we, or the environment, would be better off in their absence. Our family would have much more money – more resources to buy new cars, a bigger house, more trips. Is that better? It seems likely that our now smaller family – with our excess – may end up being a bigger strain on the environment. Our demands always seem to exceed our supply. All the resources my four additional children consume – mostly in the form of peanut butter sandwiches and second hand clothes – are unlikely to equal the burden to fulfill the desires of a bored and wealthier family of three. Children help us be content with less stuff – we made the trade for more life.
The other thing that struck me from this billboard, was the image of that sweet black baby. It took me back to my days working with cute babies in Eastern and South Africa. While doing my research and service work, I encountered many pregnant women or new mothers, often in the most destitute circumstances. I would sometimes question the wisdom of these women’s choice to have a child in such conditions. “Isn’t it irresponsible to get pregnant when you couldn’t even afford wood floors for your shack?” However, despite my reservations, these African women took a different view. They would always refer to their babies as a blessing. A new child is always met with celebration in African villages. In contrast, we, in the West, produce billboards featuring black children with a caption encouraging less children. I only pray those of African ancestry stick with the culture of abundance, rather the culture of scarcity we find in the affluent West. (Talk about Neocolonialsims and exporting bad ideas…)
The reality of life with our fifth child seems a direct contradiction to the popular idea of today – “humans are a parasite on the earth”. The earth, they say, is at risk of collapse and each additional child brings it one step closer to destruction. The “scarcity-doctrine” in popular culture has convinced many to either have no children or very few. China went so far as to limit each couple to one child. They came close to creating a sibling-less, cousin-less, aunt and uncle-less society. Is this the path to stability? What stability? Won’t we just need more resources to fill our new lack, in a spiritually and emotionally disconnected planet?
“With each new baby, the whole universe is again put on trial”
In America, we recently saw Amy Coney Barrett, a woman with seven children, nominated to the Supreme Court. Rather than feminists celebrating in the streets at this momentous sign of societal progression, we see questions about her choice to have a large family. Some call her irresponsible for having so many children; others question her motives in adopting children from Haiti. The concepts of “love” “goodness” and “self-sacrifice”are starkly absent in such perspectives.
Does each human soul detract from the world or enhance it? Michelangelo, one of five children, did consume materials from the earth to build the dome of St. Peter’s, but is the world worse off for it?
“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.”
I am the youngest of seven. My eldest brother still recalls my Dad lining up all the kids after my birth and introducing them to their new little sister. He told the children, “This baby is perfect, let’s try not to corrupt her.” They did – and I reveled in the corruption. We had a great childhood. Now we seven live all over the world, but we have a cherished bond that still stabilizes me.
“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply.”
Is the world collapsing?
We certainly need to carefully consider if and when we should have child. But according to Prince Harry, he, a happily-married prince, would be irresponsible to have more than two children…“for the sake of the planet”. But is all this panic and guilt-tripping about population growth actually based in fact? No. The truth is, our world is headed into a demographic winter. The population is decreasing at a rate that is not sustainable. The choice of how many children a couple should have is very personal and should not be dictated or judged by outsiders. However, from society’s point of view – responsible and loving parents should be having more children, not less.
The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population ; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.
It is, of course, true that more people will eat up more resources. This is something we should be aware of and adapt with. My university degree is in Environmental Studies. Sustainable development and conservation are topics I am passionate about. The environment should be protected and parents need to be the primary educators of their children in how and why we care for the earth. But the idea that we are headed towards population disaster is only true if you mean we will have too few people to support the existing ones. We don’t need any encouragement to have fewer babies. We are already choosing not to at alarming rates.* Ultimately the difference between those advocating for a sibling-less society and those, like my African friends, that see each child as a blessing, is perspective. One says “Humans are the scourge of the earth”, the other “Humans are the caretakers of the earth.”
The reality of love.
In order to live in the truth, we cannot allow ourselves to become detached from the spiritual and emotional realities of life. If we exist in a purely material world, reality becomes warped. Statements like “humans are a parasite” don’t sound horrific anymore. Love and goodness are mythical because a material world only runs on power and envy. Such a materialistic life will only lead to misery. We need connection – the more we get, the better life becomes.
Our lives are only full when we have love and a purpose to which we can dedicate our lives. Children fill our lives with love. They are the reason for our striving. They do not take our time, they are the reason we were given time. Every day with my youngest child is a day I get to experience more of life. Her laughter, cries, and the unfolding of her personality are priceless. Her siblings are more emphatic, considerate, wise, humble, and entertained because she exists. As a mother, I teach my children to care and protect the earth and be the solution to environmental problems. They will not be a source of scarcity, but contributors to the abundance of this planet.
So in answer to this ad, I say – Less joy, less excitement, less life, is not the gift you want to bestow on your child. Give them a sibling, and see the Earth flourish as a result.
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The sun had not yet risen but the small lamp in the room revealed a slight curve of hope in the corner of his mouth.
“Okay,” I responded, swinging my feet to the side of the mattress. I knew the moment I stood I’d have to make the bed. It was my way of ‘burning the ships’ and going forward with the day. What I wanted to tell him was that I was tired and sad, maybe a little nervous by all that surrounded me in the year 2020. I resolved with, “I’m not sure what’s next.”
I placed the final two pillows, straightened the corners of the covers, and my husband walked back into the bedroom with two cups of coffee in his hands.
“Come,” he said softly and motioned to the chair beside him.
As I made my way to him, I felt the word resonate on every level of my being and I found myself staggering through the voices of those who came before me. In Dickens where the Ghost of Christmas Present bursts with, “Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol).* Or when Odysseus seeks hospitality from strangers in the Odyssey, “Come, take some food and drink some wine, rest here the livelong day and then, tomorrow at daybreak, you must sail. But I will set you a course and chart each seamark, so neither on sea nor land will some new trap ensure you in trouble, make you suffer more (Homer, The Odyssey).** And Jesus to those weary saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).***
At least once in our lives those closest, our neighbors, and the strangest of strangers, will find themselves curious, tired, or in need. As a social media-driven society we are taught to connect and tag; to highlight possible solutions and disconnect from anything further than our custom feeds. But there is a practice, a unique patience, that used to be implemented in bearing the weight of a present situation or problem.
Xenia is the Greek term for generous courtesy and hospitality. We know its opposite very well as xenophobia, the fear of someone who is perceived to be foreign or strange. As we awake within our nations day to day, how many of us are receiving those with different thoughts and lifestyles in love?
C.S. Lewis writes, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life––the life God is sending one day by day.” (Yours, Jack)
What if, through what we consider interruptions and unpleasant, we focused on the possible friendship of those within our present, instead of the fear? What if our first words each morning, despite how we felt or what’s surrounding us, began with, “Come”?