Archives: September 2011

The Mirror at the End of Life

09.13.2011 12:17 PM

At my ballet school, there is one spot at the ballet barre where a person cannot see the mirrors that line two of the studio walls.  In this spot of reflective respite, the mirrors in front are blocked by the audio equipment and to the side a window breaks up the vast expense of reflective glass.

I stand in this spot.

My teacher will ask from time to time, “Amy, can you see yourself?”

I confidently shake my head, ‘No.’

“Do you want to move?”

Once again, I shake my head no.  I am thankful that talking is not encouraged in the ballet studio since I would then have to explain that I can’t quite handle the truth of the mirror yet.  I am enjoying what dancing feels like right now and absorbing the truth of what my dancing looks like right now is not quite yet within my abilities. I’d like to keep what is real and what is true separate for a bit.

This interchange highlights how the way we see ourselves is not always the way that we look.  I learned early on that movement does not always look the same way that it feels.  I recall Ms. Mackie, on one knee, her hands molding my foot into a proper pointe en bas, arch turned out, heel pushed high, toes turned down.  It felt terrible, uncomfortable, and unnatural.  It looked pretty.  What was real and what was true was not the same thing.

Dancers tend to have a love hate relationship with the mirror.  Ironically, the stage has no mirror so we spend the majority of our time rehearsing in a false setting.  In theory, seeing yourself and others can help in correcting poor placement, poor technique, or poor spacing.  But when you are moving, you only catch blurry glimpses of yourself which you then quilt together in your mind with stitches of judgment, both positive and negative.  In stillness, the mirror can become a torture device, forcing you into yourself in endless obsession with the inherent faults of your existence.  A pointed and haunting example of the mirror’s power can be seen in the life and dancing of Nina Sayers in The Black Swan.  She sees reflections of herself everywhere, none of them her and all of them her.  What is real?  What is true?

At NPR.org yesterday, they featured a story on a dignity therapy which was developed by a Russian psychiatrist Henry Chochinov through his work with dying patients. Dignity therapy involves facilitating, recording, and passing on the dying person’s life story.  What he and family members of the deceased find surprising is that the perceptions of the past have changed in the light of death.  Chochinov comments:

“The stories we tell about ourselves at the end of our lives are often very different than the stories that we tell about ourselves at other points…When you are standing at death’s door and you have a chance to say something to someone, I absolutely think that that proximity to death is going to influence the words that come out of your mouth,” Chochinov says.”

They interview Kate Frego, a bereaved daughter, whose mother used dignity therapy in her last months of life and who bequeathed her life story to her.  In reading her mother’s story after her death, Frego is surprised:

“…one of the first things Frego realized was that there would be no earth-shattering headlines or dark revelations. Instead, she found the opposite: Often in the story, Frego says her mother “just dramatically underplays something that I know was actually much larger and much more meaningful or painful or upsetting to her.”

The author of the article wonders:

“Was Frego’s mother’s version a deliberate distortion of the truth, brought on because she was facing death? A whitewashing or attempt to bend the narrative of her life in a more positive direction? Frego doesn’t think so. She believes that the fact that her mother was so close to death just changed her interpretation of things.”

“It wasn’t an intentional blurring; it really was her giving us her take on things and where she was at the time,” says Frego. “She was telling us that she chose to remember the happy parts of it. And truth is the way we perceive what’s happening to us, how we interpret it.”

I tend to agree that limit experiences alter our perceptions both of the present as well as the past and open up a liminal space where we can become more ourselves in the future.  As our memories and regrets and hopes mingle and dance in our minds, our stories change.  Limit experiences hold the mirror of eternity up to our mortality and we must define anew what is real and what is true.

“When you face death, it’s like facing a wall, and it forces you to turn around and look at the life that you’ve lived,” says William Breitbart, a psychiatrist at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.”

Joan Hitchens from Storybooksforhealing comments on the NPR piece and shares this quote:

“I can only sum up all forms of end of life retrospective as just this: “The past determines the present,” according to Sigmund Freud, but, “The present redetermines the past,” responds Erik Erikson.”

I am reminded of Harry and Dumbledore’s final conversation in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Walking through Harry’s version of “heaven,” the two discuss the past, the present and the future.  As Dumbledore turns to leave Harry asks:

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (723)

As we ponder our hope for legacies, genetic and otherwise, our gaze into the mirror of mortality may cause us to edit the story of our existence and hope that the legacy we leave is one of real truth.


Hastings Center Contest

09.13.2011 11:19 AM

I received an e-mail this morning about a contest hosted by the Hastings Center.  The public is invited to respond to two bio-ethical questions and a cartoon.  One is related to whether transhumans will have better sex or no sex at all, the second relates to current medical practices that will be ridiculously outdated in 50 years, and the last is a cartoon.  We are invited to write a caption for a cartoon featuring a test tube woman, test tube man, test tube toddler, and human baby in a stroller.

I immediately thought of how much I would love to read what bloggers and readers here might write!  Please copy any responses in the comments here!

Go!


Thoughts on Life and Death from Roger Ebert

09.12.2011 9:43 AM

Featured in today’s Obit.com, Julia M. Klein reviews Roger Ebert’s new memoir, Life Itself.

She traces his life journey from Urbana, IL to Chicago, highlighting the significant friendships and relationships that have made life worth living. He writes of his critic partner, Gene Siskel, and his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert.

“The two critics did not start out as friends, and their on- and off-air skirmishes were visceral and unfeigned. But over time, “linked in a Faustian television format that brought us success at the price of autonomy,” they became close, forming a fraternal bond. “No one else could possibly understand how meaningless was the hate, how deep was the love,” writes Ebert, who says he continues to miss his television partner on a daily basis.

His tribute to his other partner – his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, a former civil rights attorney who supervises his business interests – is equally moving. During his lengthy illnesses, “her love was like a wind pushing me back from the grave…,” he writes. “She continues to make my life possible, and her presence fills me with love and a deep security. That’s what a marriage is for. Now I know.” This is forthright, emotional without being sappy, with not a wasted word.

Living in death’s shadow, Ebert maintains that he does not fear it “because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.” He embraces no conventional religious faith. Nor does he have biological children to ensure genetic immortality. But his thoughts and ideas, he hopes, will survive, at least for a while.”


The M.Guy Tweet

09.11.2011 10:46 PM

Marriage Media
Week of August 29, 2011
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

 

1. Why Marriage Matters In the News (continued from The M.Guy Tweet of August 22, 2011)

2. Census Bureau News — Marital Events of Americans: 2009, PR Newswire

These new statistics come from the report Marital Events of Americans: 2009, which examines marriage, divorce and widowhood in America as well as selected characteristics for those experiencing a marital event in the past year. The report is the first of its kind to describe the detailed characteristics of marital events among Americans ages 15 and older using data from the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS).

3. Better Marriage Prep a Shield Against Divorce, Deseret News

Burchett said she has seen couples postpone marriage dates until issues they discover are resolved. “We even have couples come through the program and decide not to get married.” She said study results indicate couples who have premarital training are more likely to seek professional help, and seek it earlier, if there is trouble during the marriage.

4. Is Marriage for White People?, TIME Healthland

A new book by Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks. . . Researched and written over the past 10 years, Banks’ book explores the unpleasant — and often unspoken — contributors to and consequences of declining marriage rates among African Americans. With 70% of all black children now born to unwed mothers, the consequences have never been clearer. As for the solutions, Banks provocatively suggests that black women begin looking beyond their own race for marriage material and potential fathers of their children.

5. Should Parents Marry for the Kids?: A Shaky Foundation for Families, The New York Times: The Opinion Pages

Indeed, the number of cohabiting couples in the United States has grown 14-fold since 1970. Millions of adults seem to enjoy the freedom and flexibility that cohabitation affords them. But cohabitation looks a lot less appealing from the vantage point of children who find themselves in a household headed by cohabiting parents. Children in cohabiting families are about twice as likely to drop out of high school, use drugs, or end up depressed, compared with children in intact, married families. They are also at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused, according to a recent federal report.

6. Marriage Activities Use Beyonce’s Pregnancy to Send Message to Single Moms, Washington Times Communities

R&B Pop Superstar Beyonce Knowles’ recently announced pregnancy has ignited lots of interest but also social debate about controversial issues like the high rate of out-of-wedlock births in urban cities. . . “If Beyonce can make just one young girl want to wait for marriage before having her child then that is an important impact,” Tyler said. “Some of our young people don’t even realize that marriage is a realistic option for them.”

7. For Richer, For Poor: The Growing Marriage Gap, The Fiscal Times

“The trend for higher-income people to be more likely to marry contributes to [the wealth gap],” says Mariko Chang, an independent consultant for The Insight Center For Community Economic Development, a think tank based in Oakland, Calif., who sees this as a serious problem. Marriage has long been associated with greater wealth — a 2005 study at Ohio State University found that someone who married and stayed married for 10 years had nearly four times more wealth than their single counterpart. And that gap is even wider when it comes to the median net worth (the difference between what the household owns and what it owes). According to Census data, the average median net worth of married households is seven times the wealth of unmarried households.

For more, see this site.


TWO CHANCES FOR REMEMBERANCE THIS 9/11/11

09.10.2011 7:06 PM

 

This Sunday 9/11/11 we are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the crash of the three airplanes used as the weapons of delivery.  A day now referred to as Patriots Day. No one disputes the importance of this day, the impact it has had on our nation or the need for it’s citizens to forever remember the loss of human life that occurred on that date.  The coincidence of date has seemed to obscure the fact that 9/11/11 is also the date for the observance of National Grandparent’s Day.

 

Some think that the anniversary of this nation’s greatest tragedy must be given the major focus.  Even D.J. McQuade-Lancaster, the daughter of Grandparent’s Day founder Marian McQuade was quoted as saying, “The two events wouldn’t have been a good fit.”  The organization Generations United, hosts of an annual rally in Washington each year must have agreed: they moved their event to September 15.   I guess the thought being Grandparent’s Day is suppose to be a happy day.

 

 

To signify the autumn years of life, the organizers considered the month of September as the perfect time of year to observe Grandparent’s Day.   In 1979 President Jimmy Carter officially proclaimed Grandparent’s Day and the second Sunday of September was the time chosen.   These two observances will forever occur at the same time of year, whether days apart or on the same day.

 

Should the remembrance of 9/11 preclude the observance of Grandparent’s Day?  No the two are not mutually exclusive.  Although there are no official statistics kept of the number of grandparents who were victims of 9/11, the probability appears to be that there were many.  The fact that the majority of the victims of 9/11 were so young under the age of 39 would also indicate there are a great number of grandparents who are among the living mourners of such precious loss.

 

But that is not the only reason that 9/11 and Grandparent’s Day should be forever linked.  Grandparents are the family’s  memory keepers.  Among them are the ones who still personally remember the meaning of December 7th, and November 11th and now September 11th, the life changing events of our recent generations. Grandparents have always been the depositories of understanding of these events, the ones to pass on their meaning to those who follow.  So it is appropriate to honor them on such an important day and  to remember those grandparents who live now only in memory.

 

So on this memorable day of 9/11/11 let us honor those who died that fateful day by stopping to remember them and those they left to carry on. Also we must not forget those that survived the horror of that day and are still living with it’s aftermath.  And in that same spirit of reverence and remembrance seek out the grandparents in your family this Grandparent’s Day and let them share their memories with you both happy and sad. Don’t forget, whenever you are with your family, whatever the occasion never miss  the opportunity to say, “I love you.”

 

I wish all grandparents on their special day, blue skies and sweet lemon trees for the year ahead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


8

09.10.2011 3:19 PM

I guess I’m going to be played by Rob Reiner.  Maybe they thought his experience playing “Meathead” would be a plus, in this new role.  I always have liked everything his father did on the old ”Dick Van Dyke Show.”


Loss and Meaning after Trauma

09.10.2011 1:51 PM

Thinking about critical distance and how understanding trauma demands attaining a level of distance without disorientation on the part of the one who has experienced suffering.  In working with those who have experienced personal loss I am often reminded of the old V8 juice commercials, where someone who has not had their V8 faces their day, walking at a 45 degree angle.  Everything is a little off.  You are still able to function, just at an odd angle.  Everything looks different because you are different.

I imagine that I am no different from many of you who have in the last week done some reading about 9/11.  My reading has felt a bit like national scrapbooking.  Bits and pieces, different perspectives, pictures and words collected and held together under one umbrella of loss.  No one photo or word or refection capable of containing the elusiveness of loss and the immensity of memory.  Many testimonies to how meaning from loss can only be culled from time and ritual.

This weekend I’ve been catching up on my reading of old magazines.  In the July 2011 issue of Vanity Fair, Eva Gabrielsson, life partner to Steig Larsson, (author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et al.) writes of his death.  Her memories of his sudden death and the public and private rituals afterwards resonated with many of the published memories of ten years ago.  How sudden loss disorients and numbs and spins us toward focusing on basic needs, like mere survival.

She writes of the day before his death, articulating the details of a normal life.  The phone calls, the routines, the scheduled appointments.  And then the call comes.  “Get here right away.”

Larsson is in the hospital.  She only learns the course of events leading up to his hospitalization later.  At the time, she is solely focused on getting to him from Stockholm.

“At 4:22 that afternoon, he was declared dead.”

She is not with him yet, and her friends are advised by the doctors not to tell her until she arrives in person.  She feels betrayed when she arrives at the hospital, learns of the time of his death and realizes that she had conversations with her friends there en route but in each of those conversations he was already dead.

She calls his family and asks them to come.  His father, his brother.

After she learns the news of his death, countless friends and colleagues show up at the hospital. “Everyone was hugging, embracing, weeping…except for me; I still felt turned to stone.  People were in a state of collapse, dazed, at a loss, while I was simply there.  I was smoking, and I didn’t understand anything.  When I looked at the crowd in despair, though, I did tell myself that Steig had some good and wonderful friends at Expo.”(90)

The reality of death is soon followed by communal and private ritual.  She writes:

“In Sweden, funerals take place a few weeks after a death.  For Steig’s service we had to wait even longer because people were coming from all over.”

“I woke up very early that morning.  When I try to remember that day and the ones that followed, I can only finds scraps of memories lost in a fog.  I wrote nothing down in my diary; it was as if I hadn’t been there.  The burial service, in a small chapel, was only for relatives and close friends, whereas the commemoration was a more formal and public event.”

“I chose 18 speakers who would talk about Steig…”

She chooses to speak but cannot imagine what she will say so she begins a search for a letter from him that she can read.  She finds an envelope that says that it is only to be opened after his death.  One was a will, bequeathing everything to her and the other a love letter to her.

“Eva, my love,

It’s over. One way or another, everything comes to an end.  It’s all over some day.  That’s perhaps one of the most fascinating truths we know about the entire universe.  The stars die, the galaxies die, the planets die.  And people die too.  I’ve never been a believer, but the day I became interested in astronomy, I think I put aside all that was left of my fear of death.  I’d realized that in comparison to the universe, a human being, a single human being, me…is infinitely small.”

He goes on to encourage her to live and not grieve and to thank her for their life together and to say I love you.  He expresses the common human expressions that Dr. Ira Byock says we all long express before we die:  I forgive you, please forgive me, thank you, I love you, and farewell.

A few days after the public ceremony she creates her own private ritual of remembrance. She takes a black urn, places in it her favorite pictures of Larsson as well as special mementos of their relationship, and places that urn in a place of prominence and honor in her home.

“I placed the ceramic vessel full of our lives on a shelf, and behind it I slipped a few sheets of homemade paper I’d bought at Kvarnbyn in Molndal, outside Goteborg.  On a blue sheet I’d written down what I had lost, and on a yellow one what I wanted now: To survive another year.”

I imagine that tomorrow will be a day for many of both public and private remembrance of lives and stories lost in a heartbeat.  And though Larsson is right that “in comparison to the universe, a human being, a single human being…is infinitely small,” to the beloved, the life and love and memory of a single human being can be as infinite as the universe.


‘Why Cohabitation is Worse Than Divorce for Kids’

09.09.2011 3:01 PM

A conversation with Brad Wilcox hosted at The Washington Post.


Into the Woods…

09.09.2011 1:09 PM

In the past week, I’ve been reading Judith Wallerstein’s insightful and breathtaking work, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study as well as Kevin Wilson’s fascinating new novel The Family Fang.  As I look back on the real and fictional terrain they cover, tracing the perspectives of children attempting to survive their families and live to adulthood, I see their point crystal-clear:

If you are a parent to a child, be an adult.

Wallerstein points out that the odds of your being and acting like an adult in service to the healthy development and maturation of your child are higher if you are married, but the true enemy of childhood is chaos.  Although intact families can be chaotic, divorce always brings structural and emotional chaos to a family system.

“Their lives begin with an intact family that one day vanishes…For children, divorce is a watershed that permanently alters their lives.  The world is newly perceived as far less reliable, more dangerous place because the closest relationships in their lives can no longer be expected to hold firm.  More than anything else, this new anxiety represents the end of childhood.” (31 and 60)

However, chaos can reign in intact families, in single family homes, in co-habiting homes…and chaos is always bad for kids.  Children need adults to be in charge and who put their development first.  I like her description of what being an adult on behalf of your child looks like:

“In a well-functioning family, mothers and fathers are in the background as children grow up.  Their role is to create a safe and supportive place for the children, whose job during elementary and junior high is to go to school, play, make friends, and simply grow up…Their parents should encourage, applaud, feed and clothe the players…the things that can make a difference in the child’s life always involve sacrifice and change on the part of one or both parents.” (57 and 257)

In other words, children should not necessarily see their parents, but they should not disappear.

In the Kevin Wilson’s Fang family, chaos reigns supreme. Camille and Caleb Fang, the parents, are explicit that their lives are devoted to creating chaos as art.  Carefully orchestrated and recorded moments of societal dissonance enmesh them to each other and to the world of artistic expression.  And then children come along.  Although Annie and Buster see themselves as children and individuals, their parents refer to them as Child A and Child B, or simply A and B, who are then dragged along and incorporated into the family act.  The parents see the children as equal players in their life work, but children see the world and their family much differently than adults do.  As Buster muses:

“How often had their parents sent them into the wilderness of a mall or public park or private party and asked them only to be prepared, to open themselves up to the infinite possibilities that their parents, god-like, would create?” (167)

Children are at the mercy of their parents, and chaos makes pretty unmerciful parents. Everyone in the family cannot be center stage in order for the children to mature into a healthy adulthood that is defined by meaningful relationships and meaningful work. Neither Fang child can figure out what to do nor who to be with, and when they do step out in faith they are terrified.  Buster speaks of his choice to try to be in a relationship:

“Actually, it seemed like a good idea, but I was terrified of it.  I feel like I’ve always done things that were profoundly bad ideas, and it’s always ended exactly as you’d expect.  That comes from Mom and Dad.” (233)

And then their parents disappear for real.  I won’t spoil the book for you, since you really must read it, but they spend the remainder of the book sorting through this dilemma:

“They (the siblings) would forever come to this impasse.  Buster wanted to believe that his parents still loved them, that they planned all of this as a way to save their children from falling apart and to make them strong. Annie, however, was certain that their parents had created something just for themselves, and that they did not care what pain they caused in service to this idea.” (169)

In childhood and young adulthood, they have no adults to help them negotiate this mine-field of relative meaning.

I first fell in love with Kevin Wilson’s writing with his collection of short stories, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. I have been fascinated by how in both his stories and this novel, parents suddenly disappear, often exploding in fiery flames.  At first glance, one would think that incorporating the idea of spontaneous combustion would be a narrative stretch, but I wonder if Wilson is not a child of divorce.  In one short story, a young man’s parents spontaneously combust on a train and he is left to raise his younger brother.  He supports them financially by working in a Scrabble tile sorting factory, where each day he stands knee deep in lettered tiles searching to create words from the sea of letters around him.  His family has disappeared, he is deeply lonely, and he lives in a world full of meaning that is opaque and confusing to him.  And the tiles just keep falling.

As Wallerstein writes of chaotic family systems:

“there is far less opportunity to escape from the madness that surrounds them because there are no true adults to give them a helping hand.” (150)

Both Wallerstein and Wilson follow young people traversing the wilderness of growing up.  I think of Little Red Riding Hood who is sent into the wilderness to tend to the needs of the previous generation, her grandmother, and along the way is led astray.  Her mother, no father is mentioned, tries to provide a roadmap, but in a time of distress she is not backstage ready to help and encourage and support.  Little Red is swallowed up by the wilderness and with the countless different endings to the story you can choose, she is left to create meaning for herself.

As Little Red sings in Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the close of her journey into and out of the woods:

“And I know things now, many valuable things,

That I hadn’t thought to explore,

Do not put your faith in a cape and hood,

They will not protect you the way that they should,

And take extra care with strangers,

Even flowers have their dangers,

And though scary is exciting,

Nice is different than good.”

The world is wild, so if you are raising a child, be an adult.


Thoughts on Compassion from Joan Halifax

09.07.2011 4:02 PM

So, I’ve become a bit addicted to Ted Talks.  I must share this new video just posted from Joan Halifax, a Buddhist roshi who serves individuals in hospice and on death row.

Some beautiful quotes:

“The wondrous thing is that people are dying all around us and we do not realize that it can happen to us.”

“Compassion is the ability to see clearly into the nature of suffering.”

She makes this comment about her service on death row:

“I learned that any attachment to outcome would deeply distort my capacity to be truly present to the whole person.”

How attached to outcomes are you?  Yea, I’m squirming.

“The enemies of genuine compassion: pity, moral outrage, and fear.”

And I love this description of the moral life in Buddhism:

“We believe that it takes a strong back and a soft front to face the world.”

My, oh my, to have a strong back and soft front…


No Wedding No Womb Launches “Map Your Future Campaign”

09.06.2011 11:47 PM

The “Map Your Future” campaign has two goals: to match at-risk youth with mentors on an online platform, so that no matter where in the world the participants live, the remote mentorship model will allow participants to communicate via the web through video chat, email, and instant messaging. We will select 20 high school and first-year college students to be matched with 100 mentors in the fields in which they want to pursue, but also have the mentors act as  surrogate elders, giving advice about how to navigate the social pressures they face. The second goal is to provide $1,000 grants to each child to help with educational costs like books, meals, tuition and supplies.

But we can’t do this without your generousity. Twenty students getting $1,000 = $20,000 total funds needed to kick start this program. And since this is a unique social media platform, we need software designers to build the code from the ground up, which will cost thousands.

We need your help! If you’d like to donate, click here. Any little bit helps, and no donation is too small.

Christelyn D. Karazin is the founder and organizer of “No Wedding, No Womb,” an initiative to find solutions to the 72 percent out-of-wedlock rate in the black community.


Child Focused?

09.06.2011 1:52 PM

At the WSJ today, an article: “The Child Focused Divorce.”

I can imagine the follow ups: The Child Focused Way to Have Your New Boyfriend Spend the Night…The Child Focused Way to Move Your Kid to a Worse Neighborhood Because You Can’t Afford the Family Home as a Single Parent… The Child Focused Way to Tell Your Child That You Have More Time to Sleep In/Excercise/Socialize/Fill in the Blank When He/She is With Your Ex…

In our national study of young adults from divorced and intact families, 63 percent of those who grew up with married parents strongly agreed, “Children were at the center of my family,” compared to 34 percent of those from divorced families.

Child focused?


From Australia: New major report says decline in marriage hurting children

09.05.2011 10:12 PM

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Adele Horin writes:

…Growing  rates of child abuse and neglect, of children being placed in foster  care, and of teenage mental health problems, including a rise in hospital  admissions for self-harm, are rooted in the rise of one-parent families and de  facto couples, violent and unstable relationships, and divorce, the report  says.

Its author, Patrick Parkinson, professor of law at the University of Sydney,  has called for a review of government policy to ensure marriage is not being  undermined. He says it is time to question whether the nation can afford to  maintain policies that give neither encouragement nor support to marriage.

…Professor Parkinson said he was shocked and troubled by the data he and his  research assistant, Antoine Kazzi, had uncovered. ”It is the cumulative impact  of all the data taken together which is so troubling,” he said.

…The report says myriad explanations could be offered, including child sexual  abuse and family violence. But the main demographic change is the rise in the  number of children who by the age of 15 have spent time not living with both  biological parents.

About 25 per cent of children born in 1981-85 had either been born to a  single mother or experienced parental separation by the age of 15, nearly three  times the rate of  baby boomers.  They had also spent three times as many years  living in a stepfamily…


Is it Really Possible to Speak the Truth in Love?

09.04.2011 6:27 PM

Several weeks ago I shared a quote from historian and theologian Martin Marty who observed:

“In today’s world, the civil are no longer committed, and the committed are no longer civil.”

I have been chewing on that quote for weeks now and it often seems that the strength it takes to speak truth in love and genuinely listen to those who are opaque or foreign or frustrating to us may only happen in miracles.

God often likes to mess with me so right when I am in my deepest places of doubt and introspection, God forces me outside myself.  I rarely mention it here, but I am a preacher, and this week I was preaching in a local community about an hour away.  I rarely type my sermons anymore but due to the visit of Tropical Storm Lee, I typed it in and emailed it to them in case I could not make the drive due to wind or rain or flooding.

On this second day of endless rain and gray on the Gulf Coast, I share this sermon with you, and hope that it gives you food for thought.  We are all committed and passionate people and I pray that we are as equally committed to civility.  The Gospel lesson for today is Matthew 18:15-20. Read More


Reflections on Standard & Poor’s “Global Aging 2010: An Irreversible Truth”

09.01.2011 11:01 AM

As a Gen-xer who will be in my mid-70′s in the year 2050, articles like the one published by Standard & Poor on the trajectory of age-related expenses for global economies over the the next 40 years cause my palms to sweat and my heart to pound.  They are wise to comment that the time for global economies, especially 1st World sovereigns, to reform their budgetary practices and prepare for the onslaught of age-related costs (pensions, social security, healthcare) that will fall on all of society is NOW.  We have a precious window in the 2010s to reform our practices and philosophies before the silver tsunami begins to erode our financial footings in the 2020s.

Considering how obtuse much of the financial research and data can appear to a layperson, the concluding remarks are straight-forward and cause me to pause:

“Since 2007, the global economic and financial crisis has by our reckoning substantially affected many sovereigns’ budgetary positions. Governments are beginning to respond with medium-term plans for fiscal consolidation. The results of our analysis highlight the potential benefits of this strategy for the long-term sustainability of public finances. At the same time, a number of governments across the globe, and particularly in Europe, have recently accelerated preparation for, and implementation of, structural reforms linked to age-related spending items–particularly pension systems–thus continuing the positive momentum built up since the start of the past decade. At the same time, however, we expect the upward risk of higher health-care costs will be an increased drag on governments’ already burdened budget positions.

The challenges ahead are daunting for the vast majority of sovereigns covered in this survey, particularly in cases where market pressures are pushing policy makers to embrace budgetary consolidation simultaneously with structural reforms of pension and health-care systems. For some sovereigns, this may put the relationship between the state and electorate under strain and severely test social cohesion. (death panels, anyone?!?!)

Nevertheless, our study suggests that unless advanced sovereigns embrace reforms at a faster pace, the fiscal pressures will become increasingly unsustainable. At the same time, the aging demographic profile of their electorates could well make the political climate for reforming pension and health-care programs even more difficult than it is currently.”

(an excerpt from Standard and Poor’s “Global Aging 2010: An Irreversible Truth:”)