The Fear of Being Different

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TED lectures are a great way to wake up my mind when my body wants to go back to sleep in the morning. The other day my brain went crazy with all the implications from Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s 12 minute talk at TEDxSydney.

“Fear is feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.”

Waiting for the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives . . .

How often do we let our deep desire for the end result keep us from making the journey?

“Once I get the housework under control I’ll start inviting people over more.”

“Once the kids are in school I’ll have time to start an Esty shop.”

“Once my To-Do list is done I’ll build an awesome family culture.”

I’m sure you have your own list of dreams you aren’t working towards because you don’t have the resources, the time, or the know-how you think you need to get started.

But worst of all, waiting for the after-photo means we don’t see ourselves as worthy enough to live the lives of meaning we desperately want.

“I’m not worthy of dinner guests when the floors aren’t vacuumed and the walls are bare.”

“I’m not worthy of doing the work that matters to me until I’ve done the work everyone else wants me to do.”

It’s hard to be different

In a way these excuses keep us safe, because if we start building a family culture based on our values whether or not they match those of society around us, we’re going to meet resistance and even outright hostility.

“I soon learned that living outside what the mainstream considers normal can be a frustrating and isolating place. I’ve been openly laughed at, abused from passing cars and been told that I’m delusional. I also receive smiles from strangers who recognize what it takes to walk down the street with a spring in your step and your head held high.” -Drinkwater

If we fear what our neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street will think if we start living our dreams, imagine what the internet could do to us!

There’s no way around it. If we say anything about how we are different on-line we will receive hate mail.

Crawling back to bed sounds like a good idea until we realize that absolutely no one can wear the straightjacket of “normal” all the time. Some of us fit it much of the time, some of us can’t fit in it at all, but no matter how you live, people will comment.

So we might as well relax, have pithy polite responses to the comments we get all the time and stay at peace knowing that it’s not about us.

It’s not about you

Our differences might be the target of the comment, but the comment comes from a place of personal insecurity.

If I’m happy with my white walls I don’t have to comment on how much work it must be to paint all the walls when I visit a friend’s colorful house. But if I think I ought to paint my walls and put up curtains, then a well-decorated house will intimidate me.

If I haven’t made up my mind whether I really care about wall color and curtains or not, then I’m even more susceptible to saying something that might seem critical when it’s really about me, my own house, and my own insecurities.

This happens to be a live example and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I think we all have areas in our lives like this.

Find Peace for yourself

The best antidote I’ve found to quieting these insecurities (besides prayer) is to make sure I am doing my most valuable work and using my time for things that matter most.

Then at the end of the week we I see all that I haven’t done, I know that I was living according to my values.

It might be frustrating how slow progress seems to be, but knowing I was in the right place going the right direction gives me peace about those things that have not yet happened, like beautiful walls.

I hope you can see that sometimes we’re on the other side of thoughtless and hurtful comments and that it can help you tempter the hurt of negative comments. It’s not about you. Let it go.

As one 12-year-old TED lecturer said, “hater’s gonna hate.”

We can never please everybody, so let’s stop waiting for the perfect “after-photo” version of ourselves and start living our lives!

“Easy to say”, I hear you thinking. I know it’s not that easy to live.

Thin or healthy?

“I’ve even been called “the ISIS of the obesity epidemic” — a comment so absurd that it is funny. But it also speaks to the panic, the literal terror, that the fear of fat can evoke. It is this fear that’s feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.” -Drinkwater

I’ve disliked Trim Healthy Mama (a diet cookbook that seems to be in right now) from the time it came out and haven’t known exactly why, but this talk helped me see into my own insecurities.

The title implies that the only way to be healthy is to be trim and the only way to be a mama is to be healthy and trim. I’m pretty sure my kids don’t care if I’m trim – actually I know they love a cuddly mama.

I also remember my college days where I spent countless hours hating my body and swinging wildly from diets to binging. I never want to go back to that wasteland again.

God made food for our health and our pleasure but he warned about being a glutton. Our society may have neglected the Bible but it still despises the glutton.

“We live in a culture where being fat is seen as being a bad person — lazy, greedy, unhealthy, irresponsible and morally suspect. And we tend to see thinness as being universally good — responsible, successful, and in control of our appetites, bodies and lives.” -Drinkwater

The idol of thin

When we focus on the end result – being thin – we get distortions, like the claim that you can drink all you want of the Trim Healthy Mama shake and still lose weight. In other words, “be a glutton, and still believe you have self-control.”

To be clear, I am sure Trim Healthy Mama and other diet books have helped people and that they can be used wisely, but a focus on thin can lead to the worship of something other than God: our own body image.

Other factors are much more important to our health that our weight and measurements.  Do I have the energy to get through the day?  Am I flexible enough to get down on the floor and wrestle with the kids?  Can I kick a soccer ball around with my kids without gasping for breath?  Do I partake of God’s gift of food with thankfulness?  Do I enjoy the pleasure of movement and dance?  Do I have the self-control to temper the appetites of my heart?

Why am I writing about diet and health on a family culture blog?

Because views about body image and self-worth are passed on primarily in the family. It is in the sphere of family that children first pick up the idea that they need to wait for the “after-photo” before they can start living their lives.

However unworthy we feel, surely our children deserve better? If we want it for our children, we need to live it ourselves. Our actions speak louder than words.

You are loved the way you are, now go and do your most meaningful work!

The Antidote To The Checklisted Childhood: Raising Self-Directed Learners

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How often do you read something that convicts you as a parent but fails to provide sufficient help on how to change?

It happens to me all the time. I can see problems myself, people, what I need is help and solutions!

I recently watch this engaging TED lecture about How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ critique is good, but her solutions just scratch the surface.

She points out that over-parenting sends the kids the message “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”

“[O]ur overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, deprives our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.

“Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.

“So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.”

So if we shouldn’t micromanage and limit our kids to the checklist of things that we personally deem as important in life, what should we do?

“[A]m I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no.

“What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned with the specific set of colleges they might be able to apply to or might get into and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set, the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.”

But how?

In her talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims goes on to discuss the importance of kids doing chores and parents providing unconditional love, and that’s a very good start.

But does requiring chores train kids to “think, plan, decide, do, hope, and cope” or develop the “habits, mindset, skills set, and wellness” necessary for success?

That’s asking a lot of chores.

Happily, this time I won’t just leave you with questions, I can point you to a resource that addresses this very question of how we train our kids in their self-efficacy so they become makers, dreamers, and doers full of hope and grit and ready for success wherever they are.

And you can buy it from me for just $987! – JUST KIDDING!

This stuff is so valuable it should be available to every parent, and it is.

Lori Pickert writes at Camp Creek blog and volunteers countless hours to help parents learn to be mentors in their children’s self-directed learning.

She has a book that explains her ideas and gives concrete steps on how to start NOW wherever you are, whoever you are, whoever your kids are, whatever your budget.

She is also one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. Her standards are high, but she believes everyone can take that next step toward raising self-directed learners.

The book is Project-Based Homeschooling, and don’t let any word in that title intimidate you. The book is about how to support that part of your child’s life that he or she is in control of, and you as the parent gets to decide how big that part is – this is not about letting go of all control or giving your kid one type of education!

Lori’s book explains how to be a supportive mentor in the work your child does apart from the checklist you give him.

There’s nothing wrong with a checklist. Put chores on the checklist, put hiking or family time or whatever aligns with your deepest values on the checklist, but make sure you pay attention to, appreciate, and encourage the work your child does apart from the checklist.

When you learn to appreciate your child’s work and see how important you are in supporting it, it will be much easier to know how to cull the checklist so you don’t ruin your child with the “checklisted childhood”.

So don’t worry about your lengthy checklist now, just do the next right thing.  Skim the blog, read the book. Contemplate how the ideas might fit well with your situation and family life.

Remember, you are in charge, you are wiser and more knowledgeable than your child in many things – but not everything.

Then let’s enjoy the journey! It’s anything but easy and well-defined, but it is every bit as exciting as a great adventure story!

“My job is not to make [my children] become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims

Full disclosure: I write this of my own free will and won’t earn a cent from it. Lori’s ideas have challenged and encouraged me like no other so I’m happy to pass them on!

An Experiment In Obedience

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We are three weeks into a six-week experiment with training our kids in the habit of obedience.

I prefer to secure the child’s will, give him lots of choice within boundaries, and give him time and space to make a decision. But sometimes a child just needs to obey because a parent knows better.

Our kids weren’t bad about obeying, but sometimes it took some convincing. Convincing takes time that we sometimes do not have.

Then I ran into this quote,

“Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having; and it is greatly easier to give the child the habit of perfect obedience by never allowing him in anything else, than it is to obtain this mere formal obedience by constant exercise of authority.” Charlotte Mason

Over time we’ve tried various methods to “exercise our authority,” but no matter what the method used, Ms. Mason is right, it’s a terrible burden.

What does “never allowing him in anything else” mean? Charlotte Mason suggests taking six weeks to train a new habit and she views obedience as a habit.

Six weeks sounds excruciatingly long to work on one thing, but it sounds blissfully short if it means never struggling with our kids over obedience again.

I won’t go into all the details, partly because I don’t like to make suggestions when an idea has not stood the test of time, but here’s a little bit of what we’ve discovered along the way.

Week 1

We saw lots of progress in the first week. I was thrilled to have obedience be a positive interaction with my kids. Since we all discussed the new idea and the advantages it would bring, they were eager to be on board.

I yelled much less, we all celebrated when a child was prompt, cheerful, and lasting in his obedience, and often it only took one child to obey promptly and receive praise to inspire the others to do so, too.

At the end of each day I was exhausted, but not worn out and frustrated, just exhausted like I’d done a hard day’s labor – and I had!

It was work to not give out too many commands, interrupt my work to be sure my command would be heard and obeyed, deal calmly and firmly when someone did disobey, and find my way in this new experiment.

Toward the end of the week the kids rebelled a bit, as if to say, “That was a fun experiment, Mom, but can we go back to doing things our own way when we feel like it?”

It was the first sign that maybe six weeks are necessary. Normally I revel in the success and start to coast. I coast until I wake up one day later and realize I’ve coasted right back to where we were before.

Week 2

We’d been fooled to thinking our work was mostly done because we’d seen so much fruit, but week two revealed that my husband and I weren’t fully on the same page. When he was lax, I was more likely to be lax and we all fell back into old habitual ways.

We had to work details out and remotivate ourselves.

We read through our list of motivations for this obedience experiment that we’d made at the start. We discussed the advantages with our kids again. Obedience brings liberty. Mom and Dad yell less. Not yelling was probably the biggest reason for us all.

We struggled this week, but we got back on track.

Week 3

We’re finding our rhythm. Stephan and I still have to find full alignment, but it’s getting easier for us all to require and deliver obedience.

The house is a bit of a mess. In order to train the habit of obedience, I haven’t been nagging about everything, which means pick-up time hasn’t happened because I’ve wanted to avoid an obedience fight over it.

Yesterday I asked Vivienne to pick up the beads that were scattered all over the floor and to tell her siblings to help as well. She said, “Oh yes, Mommy!” with a smile and ran off.

Stephan and I nearly fainted. Is Charlotte Mason right? Can obedience really become such a habit that it is really no great effort for the child?

I don’t know. This time Stephan went in to help them all pick up and keep a positive atmosphere, but such help in the past would not have been enough to prevent the kids from whining and complaining about the difficulty of the task.

This week I’ll try making more frequent requests for small pick-up tasks and see how it goes.

At this point, three more weeks doesn’t sound horribly long and I’m starting to hope that we really have habitual happy obedience at the end of it!

Have you ever focused on one aspect of parenting over a long period of time? If so, how did it go? If not, why not? The idea is new to me, so please share!

Tiny Habit Check-In

Over the past three weeks we’ve created a way to effortlessly replace one limiting belief about our family with a liberating truth using a tiny habit.

How are you going?

I have to admit I’ve forgotten more than I’ve remembered. Maybe repeating the same phrase every time I flush is a bit much.

I’ll try this next week:

After I greet the first child awake in the morning I will say to myself “There is nothing I’d rather be doing than sharing the exciting world with my bright and beautiful children.”

Please share how the week went for you, and how you plan to tweak your habit, if need be.

If you didn’t make a tiny habit now is your chance. Today’s post is so short you have a few extra minutes make a first version.

Don’t make it perfect. What’s the simplest version you can start today?

Culture Making Part XIII: The Powerful Alongside the Powerless

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Today I’ll wrap up the Culture Making series. There is so much more in the book, especially for Christians, but I think the series has gone on long enough and it’s high time we got back to practical applications.

As promised, I’ll share an inspiring example of the powerful working alongside – and not on behalf of – the poorest of the poor, and then share a few quotes to give you a taste of what treasures await you if you read Andy Crouch’s book.

Surprising Life in a Garbage Dump

“When I feel frustrated with the limits of my cultural power, as I do more often than I would like to admit, I like to think about the inhabitants of Smokey Mountain [a garbage dump in Manila]. . . There is no reason to think that they have any less innate capacity for cultivation and creativity than any other group of human beings made in God’s image, but they were born in a place where, instead of cultural goods being proposed and going on to reshape their world, the detritus of culture is brought to decompose and die.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried to increase my gratitude by thinking of those less fortunate than myself, but Crouch takes a surprising turn:

“I know just enough about this community to know that they neither need nor want my pity. In 1980 a Catholic priest named Father Ben relocated to Smokey Mountain from the seminary where he was a promising young scholar. He brought the residents there the good news about Jesus. And he began to instill in them the confidence that God had not forgotten them – indeed, that God was ready to breathe life into their efforts at making a better life for their families. The community of garbage-dump workers persuaded the city to provide them with water and electric services. They have built modest but dignified concrete homes at the edge of the dump, replacing shacks of cardboard and tin. They even built a community center where children play games and older people gather to pass the time.”

“The residents of the Manila garbage dump are not primarily a moral object lesson in my relative affluence. Rather, they are a reminder of the inexhaustible human capacity to cultivate and create.”

Good News To The Poor

“Perhaps that is the truest sense of the “good news to the poor” that Jesus came to proclaim: the poor are not as poor as they, and we, think they are. The creative God of history has made his resurrection power available to them. He has made his power available to us if we will become poor in spirit – no longer simply accumulating power but freely sharing it.”

“When we put our power [to other’s] service, we unlock their creative capacity without in any way diminishing our own – and in this way, spending power is very different from spending money. When we transfer money to another person, their net worth increases while our s decreases, but the power to create cultural goods rarely has this zero-sum quality.”

This goes for spending our power alongside our children, too. It in no way diminishes our own power and authority. If it does, we’re probably not giving them power to create, but power to destroy.

Where Do You Have Power?

As a foreigner, I lack a certain kind cultural power, and I know what a blessing it is to have someone come alongside me with their cultural power to allow me to unleash my creativity in a land that was not originally my own. Most people who serve me in this way probably aren’t even aware of it or what an impact it has on me (husband, are you listening? Thanks!)

In the same way, the power we take for granted could have a huge impact if we spend it alongside those who don’t have that particular kind of power.

Still don’t think you have any power? Think of it this way:

“Most of us have experienced being in a context where our jokes were funny, our ideas provoked interest and excitement, and we felt light and quick on our feet, able to realize our vision with little sense of friction – and then being in another context where the same jokes and ideas fell completely flat and we found ourselves tongue-tied and embarrassed. The difference was, in a word, power. Power, in this sense, is deeply and absolutely dependent on the nature of the particular public we find ourselves among . . . To leave the circle of one’s power is a deeply, existentially unsettling experience.

I’m tempted to say “See how hard life is for us expats!” but that would defeat the point that everyone, everywhere has some kind of power even if it’s not where we want it most.

“Honestly and gratefully assessing where we already have cultural power is also an essential antidote to the futile process of desperately trying to amass more.”

With whom am I sharing my power?

So let’s ask ourselves, “How can I become a steward, investing my cultural power in the dreams and plans of those with less cultural power than myself?”

Culture Always Starts Small

“No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small. And this means that no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.”

“When I was twenty-nine I was just beginning the most important cultural calling of my life, shaping the culture of a family that today includes just four people, which, if we are blessed, will widen over the generations, just as my family of origin began with four but now cannot even fit around the large dining table in my parents’ home. Scaling down can be as important as scaling up – I never expect to have better partners in shaping culture than [my wife and children]. Small things can become greater over time – those who are faithful with little are sometimes, just as Jesus said, given the chance to be faithful with much – but small communities can always create things that are out of reach of wider, thinner network.”

 

Bonus quotes for Christians:

“To be Christian is to stake our lives on this belief: the only cultural goods that ultimately matter are the ones that love creates.”

“Grace is for the poor in spirit, and the disciplines bring us, no matter our ascribed power or actual wealth, to keen awareness of our fundamental poverty.”

“Any experienced farmer can inspect the ground, note where the path, rocks and weeds are, and direct his attention to the best soil. But there is no way to similarly inspect the human heart. . . . What we can do, however, is pay careful attention to the fruit of our cultural work. Do we see a divine multiplication at work after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”

To me this describes work in the home perfectly. It isn’t efficient or glamorous, but it yields this kind of dizzying abundance that can’t be fully explained or quantified – and the joy, oh the moments of joy!

“So where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and the cross. Where do we find our work and play bearing awe-inspiring fruit – and at the same time find ourselves able to identify with Christ on the cross? That intersection is where we are called to dig into the dirt, cultivate and create. . . For my friend Elizabeth the intersection of grace and cross is found in raising three children who sometimes tax her to the very limit, creating a family culture of forgiveness, play and prayer.”

What we create in the family cannot be accomplished by schools, social work, government programs, or any other organization or network the world can offer.

Soldier on, my friends! It’s a great secret that what we make in the home cannot be made anywhere else and is of utmost importance.

Culture Making Part XII: The Counterintuitive Key To Successful Culture Making

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“Of all the creators and cultivators who have ever lived, Jesus was the most capable of shaping culture through his own talents and power – and yet the most culture-shaping event of his life is the result of his choice to abandon his talents and power. The resurrection shows us the pattern for culture making in the image of God. Not power, but trust. Not independence, but dependence.” – Andy Crouch

Last week in the Culture Making series we left off with the question,

How can we use our talents and cultural power for creating and cultivating with maximum and long-lived results?

The answer? Humility.

That’s the simple answer, but of course there is more to it.

First, we have to acknowledge the full extent of our limitations and realize those we think of as powerful are almost as limited as the rest of us are.

The Limits of Power

“All true cultural creativity happens at the edges of the horizons of the possible, so by definition our most culturally creative endeavors have a high risk of failure. No matter how much I try to gauge the changes of success beforehand, there is simply no way to tell except to try.”

“At the relatively small scale of my family’s life together, there are many ways in which I profoundly shape our shared world . . . Within the walls of our house, all four of us have real power to shape the very real culture we, and we alone, share.”

“My ability to make small changes in my local world is dwarfed by my dependence on the changes other people make at larger scales of culture.”

“The truth is that culture, precisely because it is world-sized, is simply too complex for anyone to control or predict. And this truth is cruelest to those who have momentary cultural success – the “survivors” toward whom the system is biased.”

“Our inability to accurately anticipate the direction of cultural change is one of the most commonly affirmed realities of human existence – and one of the most commonly ignored.”

“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” -Mark Twain

We can’t control our creations – we can’t even control ourselves!

“Indeed, over time, the unintended consequences of a given cultural good almost always swamp the intended consequences in magnitude, as people continue the culture-making process, making new culture in response to the changed horizons.”

“If there is one thing culture creators cannot do, it is to control their creations.”

“Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives. On a daily basis we break our promises, indulge our addictions and rehearse old fantasies and grudges that even we know we’d be better off without. We have changed less about ourselves than we would like to admit. Who are we to charge off to change the world?”

“Beware of world changers – they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.”

“Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be-world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of “changing the world” usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God’s ability.”

A Warning For Christians

There’s quite a bit more in the book about the Christian perspective, but up until now I haven’t included much because I believe many of the principles remain the same.

This time I’ll share some of what Crouch has to say to Christians since I know many of my readers are Christians. If you appreciate this snippet, then go read the book! He has much, much more to say to us – and it is quite humbling and encouraging and includes a vision of what we might do for eternity in heaven.

“[W]ise Christian culture maker will abandon the hope for Christendom – a culture in which the gospel is at the center rather than at the margins of possibility.”

“But just as the gospel never is comfortably contained in the realm of the culturally possible, it also never disappears from the horizon altogether. God’s grace and mercy, his endless inventive capacity to respond to human waywardness, ensure that every culture can be reclaimed.”

“Culture – making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility – is what human beings do and are meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God’s mission in the world, and it is the call of God’s redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker.”

“[W]ether you feel powerful or powerless, you are exactly the sort of person that God has a track record of deciding to use.”

“When God acts in culture, he uses both the powerful and the powerless alongside one another rather than using one against the other.”

So the more complex answer to the question of how we can use our cultural power effectively lies in the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless.

Next week, we’ll took at an inspiring example of the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless and what that means for us and our culture making endeavors.

Culture Making Part X: How To Influence Culture

“The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”

-Andy Crouch

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Last week we discussed the importance of being a culture keeper if we desire to be a culture maker. This week we’ll discuss a bit more why it’s so important to be a culture keeper and maker if we want to make a difference in the world.

Andy Crouch illustrates the various responses to culture we can have and their relative effectiveness by using the example of making chili for his family.

Crouch and his wife love chili, but their young children do not.

What options do his children have to “change their world” – to change the particular disliked cultural good of chili at dinner time?

Condemning Culture

Most children whine and protest when they don’t like dinner, but we all know that doesn’t change a parent’s mind. This illustrates the idea of “condemning culture,” that is a common response that might make us feel superior, but has little effect on the world.

Critiquing Culture

As kids grow older they grow more sophisticated in their protests. They could argue why green things (like bell peppers) should not mix with red things (like the tomatoes in the chili) and that cooking tomatoes makes them inedible.

We all know children with incredibly creative, if not effective reasoning. There is an important place for critiquing culture, but critique alone won’t change what’s bad out there.

Consuming Culture

After a period of fruitless protesting and arguing, often children stop fighting and eat a little of what’s before them, perhaps after a period of silent sulking. Over time they might grow to like it, or tolerate it, but it certainly won’t reduce the amount of chili served. It’s more likely to increase.

Copying Culture

The chili example doesn’t lend itself well to the idea of copying culture, but when we take the objectionable bits out of a particular cultural good and replace them with something more palatable, our cut-and-paste result is unlikely to be attractive to anyone but our own subculture of folks who already share our values. We won’t touch the mainstream or change the culture we object to.

Creating Culture

“There is one thing our children could do, though, that could have a decisive effect on our family’s culture of the table. If I come home . . . And find dinner already simmering on the stove, even if it’s not chili, I will likely be delighted. Especially if the food being prepared is a substantial improvement on our usual fare, just as tasty and even more creative than I would have prepared myself.”

Crouch points out that each of these responses can be appropriate at certain times. The problem comes when a response becomes habitual.

If we’re always critiquing and never creating, we’re not doing the world any good.

Consuming culture is unavoidable, but if all we ever do is consume, we are giving up our culture power and our ability to make the world a better place.

What part of your family culture do you dislike? Instead of trying to change others, could you create something new that would be an attractive alternative?

For example, instead of yelling “dinner time, go wash your hands and get to the table” and getting the usual sluggish response, I could try singing a particular “eating time” song for a few weeks and see if that doesn’t help with the transition. I hear from my teacher-friends that music helps a great deal with transitions.

Remember, we can’t make culture, we can only make particular cultural goods.

Singing one song is a small cultural good, but it doesn’t take much more breath than complaining that nobody comes to the table on time, and it could have a significant positive impact on our family culture. Hmm, maybe I’ll try it!

Culture Making Part IX: Cultivation And Why The Most Creative People Are Also The Most Disciplined

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I’m super excited to introduce this part of the Culture Making series. Let’s dive in with Crouch’s words:

“We cannot make culture without culture. And this means that creation begins with cultivation – taking care of the good things that culture has already handed on to us. The first responsibility of culture makers is not to make something new but to become fluent in the cultural tradition to which we are responsible.”

“Before we can be culture makers, we must be culture keepers.” -Andy Crouch

Admittedly, “Cultivation is a somewhat less appealing word than creation,” but the fact remains,

“The more each of us knows about our cultural domain, the more likely we are to create something new and worthwhile.”

Cultivation as a Child’s First Job

“In the West it is popular to imagine children as innately creative, since they lack the self-censoring self-awareness that plagues grownups. And children certainly do express their creative drive to make something new of the world from an early age. But childhood is much more fundamentally about imitation than creation. Learning language, learning our culture’s vast store of stories and saying and symbols, learning the meaning of street signs and stop lights, learning the rules of baseball, learning to jump a rope and dribble a basketball – none of these are, strictly speaking, acts of culture making. But they are indispensable acts of culture keeping, and they are necessary if the child is ever to grow up to contribute something to that cultural realm. We can only create where we have learned to cultivate.”

What Cultural Cultivation Looks Like

“Cultivation in the world of culture is not so different from cultivation in the world of nature. One who cultivates tries to create the most fertile conditions for good things to survive and thrive. Cultivating also requires weeding – sorting out what does and does not belong, what will bear fruit and what will choke it out. Cultivating natural things requires long and practiced familiarity with plants and their place; cultivating cultural things requires careful attention to the history of our culture and to the current threats and opportunities that surrounded it. Cultivation is conservative – ensuring that the world we leave behind, whether natural or cultural, contains as least as many possibilities and at least as much excellence as the one we inherited.”

Cultivation, Discipline, and Creativity

“The most demanding forms of cultivation are disciplines – long apprenticeships in the rudiments of a cultural form, small things done over and over that create new capacities in us over time.”

“[I]t is intriguing that the domains we often consider the most “creative” – art and music, for example – require some of the most demanding disciplines.” -Andy Crouch

“[U]nderneath almost every act of culture making we find countless small acts of culture keeping.”

“As small and seemingly insignificant as they are, disciplines can have powerful cultural effects. If I make dinner tonight for my family, nothing much will change in my family’s culture. But if I make dinner tonight, tomorrow night, next Tuesday and for the next fifteen years of our children’s lives, seeking to do so with creativity, skill and grace that grows over time – even if I never become an avant-garde chef and always follow the recipe – that discipline alone will indeed create a powerful family culture with horizons of possibility and impossibility that we may not even now be able to glimpse.”

Cultivate and Create

“With any luck, [our children] will be both culture keepers and culture makers – both cultivators and creators. And then they will be prepared to both conserve culture at its best and change it for the better by offering the world something new.”

This, my friends, is why I care about teaching my kids to love good music, and good food, to learn poetry and read the classics. I care about imparting the world’s cultural heritage to my children because it gives them cultural power to go and make something of their world.

Creativity begins with discipline.

No longer are unschooling (a word that to me represents allowing children to exercise their power and creativity) and classical education (a phrase that to me represents training sharp minds and imparting our cultural legacy) at odds in my mind – they are both fundamental to the health and training of productive, powerful, and peaceful human beings.

What’s your take?

Still not convinced? Next week I’ll dig deeper with Crouch’s arguments, but there simply wasn’t room for it all this time.

Culture Making Part VIII: The Imposter Sydrome/Claim Your Maker Status/The Slash Effect

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Do you ever feel out of place because you don’t deserve what’s happening to you?

Has anyone ever given you praise or honor that stretches the limits of what you can honestly take credit for?

If you’re like me, maybe you have imposter syndrome and you are not alone.

Do you ever feel that you are more than what people are giving you credit for?

Have you ever been dismissed at a function because you don’t fit the mold?

If you’re like me, it happens all the time.

How can this be? How can we feel we are both more and less than what people say we are, and why does it matter?

Nice to meet you. What do you do?

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who you Are, Dr. Brené Brown discusses how these types of conflicting feelings effect our work.

“[One] thing that gets in the way of meaningful work is the struggle to define who we are and what we do in an honest way. In a world that values the primacy of work, the most common question that we ask and get asked is, “What do you do?” I used to wince every time someone asked me this question. I felt like my choices were to reduce myself to an easily digestible sound bite or to confuse . . . people.”

I know Dr. Brown is not the only one who hates the phrase “What do you do?”

I’ve struggled for years with how to positively engage in conversations that start with “What do you do?” but as I am challenged enough with the phrase “How are you?” I’ve yet to come up with anything satisfying.

The Slash Effect

Dr. Brown shares a promising solution to the “What do you do?” problem:

“Marci Alboher is the author of One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success. Alboher interviewed hundreds of people pursuing multiple careers simultaneously and discovered how slash careers – researcher/storyteller, artist/real estate agent – integrate and fully express the multiple passions, talents, and interests that a single career cannot accommodate.”

What does all of this have to do with culture making?

The Slash Effect isn’t called as such in Culture Making, but Andy Crouch touches on the same issues when discussing where we choose to use our cultural power.

“Real culture making, not to mention cultural transformation, begins with a decision about which cultural world – or, better, worlds – we will attempt to make something of.”

“Some people choose a set of cultural ripples that was not originally their own. When they do so in pursuit of economic or political opportunities, we’ve traditionally called them “immigrants”; when they do so in pursuit of evangelistic or religious opportunities, we’ve called them “missionaries.” But as the wheels within wheels overlap more and more in a mobile world, most of us have some choice about which cultures we will call our own. We are almost all immigrants now, and more of us than we may realize are missionaries too.”

Maybe if we think of ourselves as making something in a particular cultural world it will be easier to claim the label of maker when we formulate our personal slashes.

Claim Your Work

You are in good company if you are afraid you aren’t enough to call yourself a maker.

Dr. Brown shared the Slash Effect in her book because she meets so many people who are afraid to claim their work.

Dr. Brown shares a story of getting to meet the woman whose jewelry Dr. Brown had bought online. The lady blushed at being called a jeweler and explained that she was a CPA and “not a real jeweler” because she only made jewelry for fun and didn’t make much money at it.

“As ludicrous as that sounded to me, I get it. I hate calling myself a writer because it doesn’t feel legitimate to me. I’m not writer enough. Overcoming self-doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.” – Dr. Brenè Brown

I’m not blogger enough. I’m not musician enough. I’m not Swiss enough. I’m not mom enough.

You Are Enough.

Please share in the comments where you feel you aren’t enough, and if you feel brave, follow it with the claim that you are enough. I look forward to hearing your slashes!

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

This is Part VIII of the Culture Making series. Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII here.

Culture Making Part VII: How To Encourage Our Children To Be Makers

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How do we help our children make something of the world?

Last week we discussed the most important way: be a maker yourself!

Here are some other practical ways to increase productive cultural power for our children to encourage their creativity, productivity, and responsibility.

Get Out Of The Way

One way is to get out of the way when our children are making meaning. It’s clear when they are painting that they are being creative, but what about when the 5-year-old dumps water on his dinner then refuses to eat it?

Our son did just that the other day and it turns out that his rice was too hot to eat and he wanted to cool it down. He’d recently watch a few videos on how water puts out fires by reducing the heat of the flame.

He was making meaning. As he had predicted, the water cooled the rice down, but he also learned that it made the food inedible.

Lori Pickert gives some hints on how to build what she calls a “maker culture” for our families in her book Project-Based Homeschooling.

I’ve mentioned before Pickert’s idea of producing what we consume.

“[When children] don’t just passively consume [but] actively produce . . . they take ownership over ideas and work with them, build with them. They take what interests them, what they enjoy, what they love, and they make something new.” – Lori Pickert

This idea takes us a huge step away from the idea that there are good and bad activities or good and bad media, and challenges us to ask what process is going on beyond the surface.

Instead of thinking books are good and movies are bad, notice whether or not a child play-acts his own stories after watching a movie, or shares a scene after reading a book.

Even if we don’t particularly care for Frozen we can appreciate the important work our children are doing when they play-act, draw, make dresses, and otherwise make something of the Frozen world.

A Frozen obsession won’t last forever, but the skills gained in making something of their world will if we choose to appreciate it rather than condemn it.

The Power of Attention

This brings us neatly to another tip of Pickert’s:

Give attention to what you want to grow.

“Think hard about what you value most, because that’s what deserves your attention. Your child will respond by doing more of whatever earns your focus. You feed a behavior with your attention, and by feeding it, you create more of it – so be thoughtful about what you invest with that power.” – Lori Pickert

What we shine the light of our attention on will increase, whether it’s the negative, or the positive.

It’s important to encourage with actions and not words. Make time, space, materials, and support for making and sharing.

Make Making Safer

To help get over the hurdle of starting, think of how you can lower the stakes so that creating and sharing aren’t attached to big risks.

Provide art materials that you won’t get upset about if they are dropped and broken.

Stay calm when you want to scream “What were you thinking?!” in the aftermath of a failed act of making meaning (like water on dinner).

Don’t immediately judge when your child (or spouse!) shares his work with you, rather show genuine interest and ask open-ended questions to learn more about the meaning behind the work.

For details and more concrete ideas, visit www.Project-Based-Homeschooling.com or read the book (it is not at all just for homeschoolers!).

In Short:

A child’s play is often the important work of using their cultural power to make something of the world. We can increase our children’s productive cultural power by getting out of the way when we see it happen, shining the light of our attention on it, and making it safer to venture into creative work.

Did this post inspire other ideas for encouraging and appreciating your child’s work?

 

This is Part VII of the Culture Making series. Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI and Part VIII here.