Archives: November 2011

A Question of Confidence

11.30.2011 3:35 PM

I am pondering the existence of confidence today.  Are their certain roles that should by default engender and demand our confidence?  How it is we determine whether or not we have confidence in another person? Credentials? Education? History? Genetics? Intuition? Experience?

I think that I first became consciously aware of confidence in others through performance. In Najinsky’s “Afternoon of a Fawn,” (the link takes you to Nureyev’s version, which if you haven’t seen, have you lived?!?) the tableau of women dance in profile the entire piece which means that most entrances and exits force you to be blind.  As the tall woman in the middle of the trio of women, I never got to lead, although I imagine that leading backwards, blindly is not any easier than being stuck in the middle.  Our fingertips connected us to each other, and I learned to confidently follow their lead in terms of where we were going and how quickly we went, since Stravinsky’s non-existent counts didn’t help much.   As a member of the corps de ballet I trusted the dancers in front of me and beside me to know the music, know the spacing, know the timing, and when the lights came up, perform.  I trusted that those around me were paying attention to me, to the music, and depending on their confidence in me, we could be confident partners. Read More

‘The concern of a donor for the Italian cryokids’

11.30.2011 12:10 PM

A new story at, by an Italian sperm donor father.

‘A Letter to My Father’

11.30.2011 12:08 PM

“Who are you?”

A new story posted at

The Split Among People Who Oppose Same-Sex Marriage

11.30.2011 11:34 AM

In comments, responding to Christopher, Elizabeth wrote a very concise summary of the heart of her own (anti-Same Sex Marriage) stance, and also the heart of Christopher’s (pro-SSM) stance.

there are reasons to hear the concerns of those who wish to have equal rights to marry someone of the same sex, and there are reasons to hear the concerns of those who believe redefining marriage will weaken even more the social and legal idea that kids, the vast majority of whom are born to heterosexuals, need whenever possible to know and be known by their mothers and fathers, which is most likely to happen with their mother and father are married to each other.

Here’s a curious thing I’ve realized about the gay marriage debate: There’s a big split between the intellectuals and non-intellectuals on the anti-equality side of the debate, but not so much on the pro-equality side.

Both Elizabeth and Christopher are, obviously, far more well-read and articulate when discussing marriage equality than most Americans are. (Practice does that for ya.)

But the core of Christopher’s argument — “equal rights” — is the core of the arguments you can commonly hear from practically anyone who supports same-sex marriage. It’s easy to explain, and it’s an argument that has a lot of salience among Americans (particularly younger Americans).

But as far as I can tell — both from personal encounters and from polls – the same can’t be said about the argument against equality. Most ordinary people who oppose same-sex marriage say they’re against it because of their religion, or because they just don’t think being gay is moral.

Intellectuals who articulate a secular case against marriage equality, such as Elizabeth and David, are making an argument that has very little to do with why ordinary people oppose it.

(Let me emphasize that this is merely an observation. The rightness or wrongness of the secular anti-equality arguments are not determined by how popular they are; an argument can be entirely correct and nonetheless be unpopular.)

Does this matter? Well, I think it has a great deal to do with why the pro-equality side is winning this argument. The core argument against marriage equality isn’t the secular argument skillfully articulated by David and Elizabeth; it’s that God doesn’t want gay people getting married. That’s an argument that has less and less salience with each new generation of Americans.

‘Parent-Child Relationships in Children’s Literature’

11.30.2011 10:36 AM

A paper by Maria Donata Panforti, professor of comparative law at University of Modena-Reggio Emilia, Italy, in the newly-launched International Journal of the Jurisprudence of the Family.

Papers are not available free online so I’ve excerpted an interesting bit of this paper, below.

See this link for full table of contents with many other interesting papers.

…According to the reading I suggest, then, Pinnochio is born in a single-parent family; moreover, that parent is a man (Gepetto, who is a joiner). He is conceived through an unusual and unnatural technique that makes us think of assisted reproduction (he is a piece of wood carved out by his father). He is reared by Gepetto, but from time to time, and indeed in some key moments of the plot, a female character intervenes, first called the Child with turquoise hair, later on also the Fairy. Read More


11.30.2011 10:03 AM

Where can I find a free sperm donor? I am looking to get pregnant. But I need a sperm donor. Where can I find one. I need one that The sperm can be shipped to me which is health and clear.

The Onion: ‘Nation’s 10-Year-Old Boys: ‘If You See Someone Raping Us, Please Call The Police”

11.30.2011 9:52 AM

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA—In the wake of the sex abuse scandal that rocked Penn State earlier this month, a coalition of 10-year-old boys from across the nation held a press conference Saturday outside Beaver Stadium, home of college football’s Nittany Lions, to remind Americans that if they see someone raping a prepubescent boy, they should contact the police immediately.

“Considering that the monstrous acts perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky went unreported for years, even after a fellow coach saw him raping a 10-year-old boy inside the facility behind me, we feel perhaps not everyone is totally clear on what to do if one witnesses such a thing,” said spokesperson Joshua Pearson, who was flanked by several of his fifth-grade colleagues. “Many of you will no doubt be relieved to know the proper course of action is really quite simple: Just contact the police. Call 911, go to your local precinct, stop an officer on the street—the bottom line is, if you see one of us getting raped, notify the police, and do so as quickly as possible.” Read More

‘Two Generations in Poverty: Status and Trends among Parents and Children in the United States’

11.29.2011 10:47 AM

A new Child Trends report.

Among the report’s highlights:

  • The younger the parent, the more likely a family is to be poor. Households headed by young parents (18-24) are more likely to be poor than households headed by older parents, regardless of marital status.
  • The younger the child, the more likely a family is to be poor. Families with young children (0-6) are more likely to be poor than families with older children.
  • Overall poverty rates mask much higher rates for some sub-groups, such as single-mother families, whose poverty rate was 40.7 percent in 2010, compared to 8.8 percent for married-couple families.

Pardon me, miss, but would you like my sperm?

11.29.2011 10:34 AM

Blogger Trish Bendix at “The Frisky”:

When you’re in a committed relationship, it’s inevitable you will be asked by friends, among other people, if you plan on having children. When you’re in a committed lesbian relationship, it’s inevitable you’ll be offered your friends’ sperm.

My wife and I have been married six months and I’m not sure if it’s that fact alone or the rise in popularity of lesbian pregnancies in pop culture that has given the males in our lives the idea that we will be needing a donor very, very soon.

“Give me until at least 30,” I tell them, which is more for the sake of halting the conversation than any plausible idea that I will want to give my womb away in three years anymore than I do now. But it doesn’t stop them. While at dinner with our friends Jen and Steve, a married couple, we got into the discussion of bearing children, when Steve said he would gladly give us his sperm.

There’s no real correct way to respond in these types of situations. You can say “Thank you, I’ll keep you in mind” or “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Or you could just be honest and say, “I haven’t really given any thought to this but, if I were, I’d probably skew younger.” But beyond the actual offer, there are so many things to consider, such as the fact that Steve has a wife who hasn’t quite counted out kids for herself. more


11.28.2011 11:20 AM

Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast and Rod Dreher at The American Conservative debate ideas I raised in “Get Ready for Group Marriage.”

For more, read One Parent or Five.

Muppets, Maps, and Meaning

11.27.2011 3:41 PM

“I was sleeping; don’t know if we’re in Iowa or Missouri.

It all looks the same, caught between the cornfields and snow flurries,

I haven’t yet arrived, but I’m not just starting,

I’m somewhere in between…” “Somewhere in Between” by Nickel Creek

I’m a sucker for a good travelogue.  Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker and gang, the Bundren Family in As I Lay Dying, the brake-less family in a Volkswagon bus in Little Miss Sunshine.  And I’m sure you have your favorites; stories that remind us that in the end the journey is far more important than the destination and that there are important lessons we learn about family, friendship and our ultimate purpose in life that can only be learned on the road.

Our family soaked in the joy of the new Muppets movie yesterday.  Harkening back to the original Muppet Movie, the whole gang is on the road to put on show. Read More

No Sweethearts in Sweden, No Misery In Missouri

11.26.2011 12:12 AM

About 5 years ago I started to think about moving out of Sweden. The main reason, I told myself and others, was the climate. I have a really hard time coping with the darkness and cold that lingers over the country for at least 6 months of every year. Finally one day I decided to walk the talk so I quit my job, sold my apartment and all of my stuff so I could travel the world and find a new home. Now, about one and a half years later I understand what I was really looking for and why. It wasn’t the sun I was craving that much- it was the opportunity to build a strong family.

When you travel as a Swede you meet a lot of people explaining how impressed they are with our welfare system and our generous family policies in particular. Of course, I can understand why that is. In Sweden all parents get 480 days of paid leave per child during which time they get to keep about 80 percent of their salary and when your child gets sick, you have 60 days per year to be at home taking care of him/her – with a big portion of your salary. You get allowances every month from the government to offset the cost of everyday costs of raising him/her. Families with children are eligible to receive a housing allowance. There are large tax subsidies for daycare and college education is almost entirely tax funded – just to mention some of our offerings. May I add that people are pretty good at pointing out how beautiful Swedish women are too.

So with all of these good looking women and great incentives to start a family, why in the world would I leave Stockholm to try to start a new life and build a family somewhere else? In this case, following the money won’t lead you to the truth – you find insights when you examine Sweden’s cultural views. First of all, women wait a long time to have children. Traveling, making money, building a career, and buying a house are all first priorities. The average age for women having their first child is over 32 years in my old neighborhood. And last year in Stockholm, more women in the age group 39-42 had a child than in the age group 23-26.

Secondly, as this survey shows, marriage is not seen as an important institution. Swedish adults believe divorce is almost always justifiable. And in stark contrast to nearly every country examined for this question, Swedes do not agree that children need a mother and father to grow up happily. Other research also shows that the majority of those who file for divorce are women, and that in custody cases that end up in court, the woman basically always wins.

Let me sum this up for you.

In Sweden women want to wait to have kids way up into their 30s, do not view marriage as important, do not view fathers as especially important, and the reasons for breaking up can almost always be justified. So guys, be prepared to see your children every other weekend. This is an inconvenient truth that is rarely or ever discussed in Sweden. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not interested in victimizing men, but I do think that we lost something important in our struggle for gender equality: gender cooperation.

Sweden is ranked as one of the world leaders in gender equality, but over the last decades we’ve seen a decline in marriage, more divorces and a steady growth in one-parent families. My dream as I grew up was to find a woman for whom it would be as natural to strive for a healthy, life long marriage and a strong family as for other personal achievements. A woman who doesn’t see men as a patriarchal threat to her independence and freedom, but rather a vital asset in her quest for these things. I’ve needed someone who believes that mutual commitment and trust are powerful tools to reach greatness both professionally as well as in private life.

I am proud to say that today, in Swedeborg, Missouri, I will walk down the aisle with a woman who shares this dream with me. And you guessed right, she’s not Swedish. She’s American, she’s 25 years old and in April next year we’re having our first child. It’s true that I will miss out on some great financial perks by not building a family in Sweden, but ironically enough, perhaps that’s the price you have to pay for building a family.

Happy Thanksgiving

11.24.2011 9:47 AM

Here’s to a wonderful American holiday that celebrates the coming together of family and friends in an attitude of gratitude, open to all regardless of religious or cultural background, with little emphasis on consumerism except for over-consumption of turkey and pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“The law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value in Western society from the earliest of times,” Justice Bauman wrote.

11.24.2011 9:45 AM

OTTAWA — British Columbia’s highest court ruled Wednesday that Canada’s 121-year-old criminal law banning polygamy is constitutional.

The ruling stemmed from a failed prosecution in 2009 of two leaders of a breakaway Mormon sect in British Columbia and might have implications for followers of other religions that allow polygamy. In a 335-page decision that followed 42 days of hearings, Robert J. Bauman, the court’s chief justice, found that women in polygamous relationships faced higher rates of domestic, physical and sexual abuse, died younger and were more prone to mental illnesses. Children from those marriages, he said, were more likely to be abused and neglected, less likely to perform well at school and often suffered from emotional and behavioral problems.

“The law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value in Western society from the earliest of times,” Justice Bauman wrote. “It seeks to protect against the many harms which are reasonably apprehended to arise out of the practice of polygamy.” more

How old do you think a child should be to ride a train alone?

11.23.2011 6:18 PM

“Amtrak Bans 12-Year-Old Unaccompanied Child Riders”

Go Prudence

11.23.2011 5:52 PM

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I are in our 30s, have been married for more than a decade, and have one child. My husband is smart and successful. He’s fun-loving, outgoing, supportive of my career, incredibly helpful around the house, generous, enjoys taking me shopping, and is generally an all-out nice guy. However, he often bores me intellectually. While I love Fellini, he loves The Transporter movies. I read for pleasure, he watches TV shows or works out. It depresses me. I have discussed this issue with him, and he does try to talk to me about things he thinks will interest me, such as history, but it doesn’t work due to his shallow grasp of most subjects. His mother left when he was in kindergarten and he got a horrible stepmother, so he was wounded emotionally. I find brains and confidence wild turn-ons, but unfortunately I don’t get that with him. My husband does have magnificent prowess in bed and a great sense of humor. I always had boyfriends who were well-read and my dad was a keen intellect, so I love to discuss physics or geopolitics over dinner. But with my husband all I get is mundane talk. I feel trapped. What should I do?


Dear Confused,

Every married woman can sympathize with your plight. Your husband overcame a terrible childhood to become an attentive, kind, helpful, loving, successful, funny man. Also, he’s a dynamo in bed. But he knows nothing about neutrinos or the Maastricht Treaty. Of course you want to trade him in! You say because your husband likes The Transporter while you’d rather watch La Dolce Vita, you feel trapped and depressed. But if you think transporting yourself to the dating scene will lead to your own “sweet life,” then you’re not quite the brain you think you are. The job of your spouse is not to provide you a romance-novel version of life. You and your husband connect in so many ways, but he’s not intellectually inclined. So fulfill that part of your life by joining a club or a group devoted to issues that intrigue you. And when you’re having stimulating talks with men at your foreign affairs club, don’t have an affair. I bet had you been married to an egghead for more than a decade, you’d be fantasizing about a guy who’s just a genius in the sack. If you can’t rethink your attitude and come to appreciate what you have, and instead decide to blow up your family to pursue your fantasies, be comforted knowing a man like your husband won’t be single for long.

Dear God, why did I subscribe to Parenting magazine?

11.22.2011 8:47 PM

The current issue of Parenting magazine, December/January 2012, features “director of print content, strategy and design” Ana Connery’s thoughts on, whatever:

Something pretty amazing happened at my son, Javier’s, sixth birthday party last weekend. My ex-husband was there. So were my parents, who drove four hours to join us. My boyfriend put up streamers and “Happy Birthday” signs. Then we all sat down to dinner together.

There was pizza, cake, and a bevy of unspoken words. Sure, it was awkward, but that slowly dissipated. We toasted Jav, talked about his new Wii (the ex and I went in on it together), and explored my neighbor’s latest antics. By the end, there was even laughter rolling down the table.

Some would call this scenario unconventional, perhaps whisper to friends that it’s “not the norm.” I say that’s bull. Who’s to say what’s normal anymore? TV’s top-rated family shows are chock-full of gay and single parents, biracial and adopted kids. (And that’s just Parenthood and Modern Family!) Women are in boardrooms by day and nurseries by night. Gay couples are marrying across America. Kids are conceived in laboratories—then placed in their moms’ bellies. Extraordinary families are becoming, well, ordinary.

Could my family dinner have happened four or five years ago, when my divorce was fresh? Probably not. But my ex and I have done a lot of work since then. We’ve built trust and found new ways to continue the friendship that first brought us together. Most of all, we’ve never, ever lost respect for one another. I’m proud of us. I’m proud of Jav. I’m proud of the new beau, who was open to the notion of breaking bread with my ex, and vice versa. These men have guts and huge hearts—how lucky is my kid to have men like them around him? (You, too, Grandpa!)

I’m very lucky. I married a great guy and had a great kid. Some messy stuff happened, and it didn’t work out. But we love our son, and despite the unspoken words, we wanted everyone there for his birthday. Because when you think about it, what is a family but the group of people who have your back, love you unconditionally, and are willing to be a little uncomfortable even if it means making you happy? Not even DNA can guarantee that.

Note to Ana: There’s not much “whispering” that it’s “not normal” anymore. Sorry, but nobody really cares you got divorced and are now sleeping with your boyfriend. Perhaps you do not realize this because you, unlike many of your Gen X peers, actually grew up with married parents (who are now willing to drive four hours to see you and their grandson).

Boyfriends will do all kinds of things, even hang “Happy Birthday” banners, when they are sleeping with you. Whether that same boyfriend will be around for the long haul and always “have the back” of your son is doubtful. It could happen, but it’s unlikely. What’s probably more certain is that it is quite a thrill for you to have two men you have slept with desire you enough to continue sitting at the same table with you and your parents. (To paraphrase Diane Lane’s character in Under the Tuscan Sun: “I still got it, I got it, I got it!”)

Conflating adoption, reproductive technologies, failed marriages, and live-in cohabiting relationships into one big brave new families portrait is sloppy. Each are different in their own way. Each represents, in its own way, a failure of a mother and father to stay together in marriage for the sake of each other and the baby. Adoption is a critically important complementary institution, one that strives to find families for children who lack them. But the existence of adoption, and certainly the other examples you mention, do not imply that your son is not missing something crucial. This tableau arranged around the table when he is only six is likely to look still more different when he is ten, and fifteen, and grown.

By the way, have you asked your son if he even wants to spend his birthday with his father, his mother, his mother’s boyfriend, and his grandparents?  (See “Divided Selves” in Between Two Worlds.) This momentary unity might delight you and satisfy your residual guilt. But, honestly, is all of this really the best thing for your child?

You go, girl

11.22.2011 3:43 PM

My google news alerts on various topics never fail to drop surprises into my inbox.

Today, on a yahoo message board, a mom asks whether she should split up her kids, ages 2 and 4, in the upcoming divorce because she’s exhausted and it would be more “fair.” Six responses to her, the first of which “admires” her “honesty” and suggests seeing if the children’s father or a grandparent could take physical custody because “You need some time to find yourself and who you are. That is real love.”

Is it still 1976?

Thoughts on Coping with Suicide, the Comfort of Water, and the Darkness of Advent

11.22.2011 2:46 PM

“Before us the thick dark current runs.  It talks up to us in a murmur become ceaseless and myriad, the yellow surface dimpled monstrously into fading swirls traveling along the surface for an instant, silent, impermanent and profoundly significant, as though just beneath the surface something huge and alive waked for a moment of lazy alertness out of and into a light slumber again.” (141, As I Lay Dying)

How do we face that which overwhelms us?

In the past few weeks I have been the relatively distant bystander to families and friends absorbing the devastation not only of death but of suicide: a teenager, a family in our neighborhood, a father, a stepsister.  The blunt force of suicide in a family story creates waves of pain, confusion, and deep sadness that I’m not convinced ever really abates.  The burden of that type of traumatic death is heavy and stunning for me as just a bystander to tragedy.  I cannot imagine how it feels to be the loved one who must now write a life story that includes this reality.

I never cease to be amazed at the ways that despair and hopelessness can convince a person that death is preferable to life.  In Faulker’s As I Lay Dying, the mother, who is dying, dies and travels an arduous journey to burial, only speaks for herself once.  Her story is told mainly by her children who mold who she was to what they needed her to be.  In the middle of the story, her children and husband decide to cross a flooded river which ends in multiple misfortunes.  As each person deals with the power of the water around them, Faulkner gives Addie her one and only chance to speak for herself and she reflects on her own relationship to water and to her children.  As I read her words, I know she is one who has known deep despair and hopelessness.

“In the afternoon when school was out and the last one had left with his dirty snuffling nose, instead of going home I would go down the hill to the spring where I could be quiet and hate them.  It would be quiet there then, with the water bubbling up and away and the sun slanting quiet in the trees and the quiet smelling of damp and rotting leaves and new earth; especially in the early spring, for it was worst then.

I could remember how my father would say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead for a long time.  And when I would have to look at them day after day each with his and her secret and selfish thought, and blood strange to each blood and strange to mine, and think that this was the only way I could get ready to stay dead.  I would hate my father for having ever planted me.” (169)

In one of the churches where we are conducting interviews for the Homeward Bound project they have posted fliers throughout the building with tips for how to cope with holiday and family stress.  The tips include such activities as taking deep breaths, leaving a crowd or party if your senses are overloaded and your anxiety rises, listening to music, and my favorite:

Water—Listen to it. Drink it.  Sit in it.

Despite living though hurricanes and floods where water’s collective power to destroy and drown, disfigure and devastate is in full display, water also offers a force for life and peace.  When in it, gravity loses its hold on our limbs, when drinking it, our cells become more robust and full of life, and when hearing it move, our heart rate calms and our eyes widen.  Water can invite us into a place of wonder and thanksgiving grounded in a spirit of deep humility.

As I sit today with the weight of suicide on my mind I am reminded of the season of the Advent.  A Christian season we are beginning now that invites us into darkness and asks us to imagine a world without knowing that God loves you, without knowing God as Emmanuel, a God who walks with you.  What despair we invite into our thoughts which makes clear why in so many advent hymns we cry out, “Come!”  When I served a church in Illinois one of the teenagers, Sam West, and I worked on an Advent song together, and I find myself singing it even now.  A song that taps into the yearning of the prophets of old and flips the well know hymn “Silent Night” on its ear and acknowledges that for so many the night is not silent.  The worries and demons and shame and hatreds of this life circle in in the night and it is then we pray fervently for silence.  To be still and know God, the God of love and peace.

“I long for a silent night,

I long for a holy night,

When the young will see signs

And the old will dream dreams

And love will reign as the power supreme,

And sleep will speak,

Sleep will speak to your heavenly peace.”

Reflections on Power

11.20.2011 3:21 PM

This morning I had the privilege of preaching at Grace Lutheran in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans.  My children love Grace because after Katrina they got to wear hard hats there.  Grace is situated beneath the 610 overpass and sustained 10 feet of water in its second story for weeks after the levees from Lake Ponchatrain were breached.  The whole place was gutted by the time my kids got to visit for a mission and planning meeting many months later, but the romance of hard hats in worship is hard for any 5 year old boy to deny.

Today’s text is the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25:31-46.  If you haven’t heard the Cake song, check it out—doesn’t really translate into a sermon but is catchy nonetheless. Read More