Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What Miley Can Teach Us

Miley Cyrus photo: Miley Cyrus MileyCyrus1st1_zps1c751e36.png
Miley Cyrus. Photo Credit: Photobucket.
The last few days have seen a flurry of activity in the news, online, and in the blog world about Miley Cyrus and her performance at the VMA's. I won't link to any of that because you can find it if you're interested.  I have not seen the show nor the clips, but the descriptions some people gave and a few pictures I've seen are more than enough to both anger me and break my heart.

Forgive me for using a poor phrase, but some say I don't have a dog in the fight because I don't have any daughters of my own, nor do I have sons who would be caught up in that temptation. True. My son isn't "into" dating or even noticing girls for more than half a second. His world consists of food, sleeping, and music for the most part. I do however, have two young nieces growing up in this world and I know friends with daughters at this time. My concern isn't just for the young ladies I'm related to. I'm concerned about them all.

One post I read mentioned that parents who allow their children to watch MTV should expect some filth. That is a true statement, but filth has permeated more than just that arena. Magazines and ads geared toward teens and tweens encourage provocative dress. A movie I watched on Netflix recently about a coach who dared to try and teach his basketball team educational and personal responsibility showed a school dance scene that included a girl of 15, 16 years of age simulating a sex act with a boy. Some just call that "harmless dancing." And shows like Toddlers and Tiaras or a trip to the beach teach us that  risque and "mature" outfits are being pushed on the babies and the preschool set as well. Because little Dolly looks so "Cute!!!" in that little bikini with the ruffled bottom or the sequined strapless gown on the four year old with the 25 year old made up face.

 True, there is more to girls than the clothes covering her body or how she acts in public. But. While I think it's great (up to a point) that young ladies are taught that they are beautiful (they all are. Every. Last. One.) and they should be free to express themselves in the way they dress and how they conduct themselves in private as well as public, I think a huge piece of the puzzle is missing: Self Respect. And with it, Self Esteem.

Years ago, when Miley was a rising Disney star, her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, had concerns that his daughter not turn out like another Britney. Fast forward to the present. I do not know his reaction to his daughter's sex act onstage in front of the world (that's what it was, folks. Plain and simple). No one bothered mentioning him. Her mother however, stood up and applauded. Applauded! Had she been my daughter I would have stood up as well --and marched up onto the stage to yank the little princess backstage. I don't care that she's 20 years old now. And i would have wondered about myself: Did I teach her as well as I could have? Did I tell her "no" when she needed to hear it and stand firm on that no? And a million other questions. I'm not totally laying the blame on Miley's parents. Like most of us, I'm sure they did the best they could in teaching her and did what they thought was best. Hollywood, the rest of the media, and Miley herself have their share of responsibility as well.  And while the focus is on Ms. Cyrus lately, she isn't the only one who thinks that exploiting her own body is the way to get attention and sell music. Lady Gaga, Madonna, Katy Perry, and even Taylor Swift has abandoned her sweet, romantic persona for angry and sexy. 

So what are we as parents, aunts, mentors and friends supposed to do in order to combat this era of women being seen only as a thing to be used and tossed aside?

  • Pray. Pray for our children, both male and female, from the moment they are conceived and continually thereafter.
  • Take them to Church.  Raise them up in the church. Teach them from Day One about the love of God, and Jesus who died for all our sins. Fill them with the Word.
  • Be a Role Model.  If they see how important our Heavenly Father is to you, and how you handle yourself in and out of public, they will pay attention. On the other hand, if you say that Gaga's outfits are outlandish and yet your skirts are a little too tight or too short, they notice that as well. True they have to make up their own minds, but the more positive influence that kids and even young adults have in their lives, the harder it is for Satan and his Hollywood influence to poison them.
  • Teach them that self love does not equate to self degradation or the degradation of others. The world is teaching our girls that in short, they are nothing but a sex object. Or that they should be. Objects are things to be used and discarded when no longer deemed useful. We should be combating the very idea that girls need to show a lot of skin or act in a lascivious manner in order to be noticed and loved. Modesty in both dress and action should be lauded. Unfortunately, girls are taught that it's okay to have sex at a young age, and society praises them for it. When they do have sex, the boy gets what he wants and discards her for another conquest when he's tired of it or she gets pregnant. Once pregnant she must either decide to give the baby up for adoption, raise the baby herself (often but not always with the help of family) or she is convinced to abort the child. In each case, she must grow up all too quickly. Our boys should be taught as well that women are not to be treated as sex objects to be used and abused. Respect needs to be taught on both sides of that fence.
  • Tell them NO. And stick by that. It is not the end of the world if a child misses out on a party or an outfit or whatever. They will live. Even teens need boundaries. Will they continue to push them? Yup. Will they be defiant at times and do or buy what they want anyway? You bet. And hopefully you handle it, not by giving in, but through discussion, discipline, and consistency.
  • Educate them.  Not just ABCs and 1+1+2, although a good well rounded education in which they are taught how to think and reason for themselves and not just spitting back answers so that exams can be passed, is a very good thing to have. Teach them how to care for themselves. Teach the girls as well as the boys how to change a tire, how to do minor repairs around the house, how to find the North star. Teach them that they are very valuable, and that valuable things should not be given so cheaply.  Teach them that they should strive to be healthy, not skinny enough to fit society's standard of the day.  Teach them to honor God and to pursue their goals. Sadly this has to be the case, but also teach them that their are wolves out there who want nothing more than to hurt them in some way, and also teach them how to protect themselves from it. There are many sweet, loving, kind people out there, including men and boys, but girls need to know the signs of those who would only abuse them.
  • And finally, Be there for them.  If you are the parent, aunt, mentor, or other woman of authority, that is your first responsibility. Being their friend can be part of that, but they need a Mama first. Guide them. Teach them. Be available. I know it isn't easy sometimes, but find the balance between standing firm and being approachable so they can come to you to talk. About anything. Some conversations are going to be hard, for both of you, but this is very important to keep the lines of communication open.

I stated earlier that I was both angry and saddened at Miley's actions that night. And I still am. I'm both heartbroken and furious that this child thinks that the way to acceptance and popularity and adulthood is this type of behavior. I'm outraged and upset that the media and society at large thinks this is "liberating" for women and a good thing, and I'm disgusted that there are those who think it's better to let a child do what she wants than to "Judge." 
    I'm not naive enough to think that if everyone followed scripture and my suggestions the whole world will be rosy and happy and all young ladies will dress and act modestly and all young men will be respectful. There is a thing that we all possess, called "Free Will," given to us by our Creator. We can be taught what is good, what is noble, what is lovely, but we are able to choose for ourselves whether we do right or wrong. We seem to have gotten that lesson loud and clear here in this country. What I fear we've neglected is that with free will comes responsibility and consequence. Instead of consequence, we tend to hide our heads in the sand or pass the buck. And this is where we have failed young Miley and those who are heading down that same path.  
 It's not too late for Miley or all the others to be taught. Or maybe she was and just chose not to listen. I don't know. But its still not too late.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The (Not So Secret) LIfe of J

It's nearly 8 in the morning and I'm up and dressed. Bleary eyed, wanting to crawl back into bed, but I'm up. And J? That not so little turkey is back in bed for his morning nap. And I'm...writing. Because I can. And because my brain said forget it, honey, sleep ain't happening just yet.

I have no idea what time J woke up. The closest I can pinpoint it is between 3 and 5 AM. Unless my laptop is open, time means nothing to me in the dark hours of the morning. We do have a clock/radio but since no one needs to be up at a certain time in the morning, no one bothered to set it the last time a storm knocked the power out. But anyway.  Have I ever told you I'm a morning person? Yeah well, that only applies if "morning" begins at seven AM. 6:30 tops. Earlier than that and I'll look you straight in the eye and tell you it's night time.  The Hubs is a night owl. His work schedule is awesome for him because he's ready to go to bed right about the time I'm getting up to face the day. He usually stays up long enough for breakfast and for us to haggle over his wake up call. 

And J? J is a super night owl. He goes to bed anywhere between 9 and ten in the evening (later if we don't have melatonin in the house). You'd think this would be my cue to hit the sheets as well. Wrong! Well, I toddle off to bed about that time, but my nose is usually buried in a book, Pinterest, or a Murder, She Wrote rerun or two. That's my time to relax and enjoy. By midnight I'm fast asleep. If I'm lucky, so is J. And then... somewhere around three in the morning... J's internal alarm clock goes off and he's wide awake, bouncing off the walls declaring he's hungry (read:BORED!!)

My sleep fogged brain at this point barely registers anything. I open a blood shot eye and squint out the window. Still dark. That means night, folks. So I do what any good parent would do: holler "It's night time! Go to bed!" and pull the the covers over my shoulder and try to get back to sleep. 

Yeah, that lasts about five minutes. Ten if I'm lucky. For the next hour or so it's pretty much lather, rinse, repeat-- oh wait. It's more like bounce, shriek, loud holler, pull the covers up, repeat. It's a small house. His bedroom is right next to mine.  Eventually though, my brain sends signals to the rest of my body that I do in fact have movement in arms and legs --despite the three kitten pileup on my chest and arm. This same brain reminds me that during this back and forth exchange, J is anywhere but in bed. If we had a chandelier, especially one that could hold his weight, he'd be swinging on it. Seriously.
While I'm still fighting to remember I'm the Mama and responsible for Baby Bear, he's taking the first of many showers of the day; foraging for snacks in the cabinets (the fridge is locked 98% of the time at night so he can't get into that unless we forget); deciding that no one needs the lemon juice left out on the counter-- down the drain it goes.  So finally my brain gets this message to the rest of me and I'm up. I stumble into the kitchen, fix him a snack and we have a sleep deprived conversation. Eventually one of two things happens: he decides his nightly/early morning job is done and he goes back to bed, or Dad gets home from work and I slink off for an early morning nap. 

Good morning, y'all. See you in an hour or two. Mama needs a nap.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Salt of the Earth, Or is the World Salting Me?

Admittedly, I don't get to "go to church" each week as I'd like to. Things like living too far away to ask for a ride, not yet renewing my drivers license, and my husband's schedule making him need sleep come in the way, as well as some other things that pop up now and then. But this past Sunday evening my family was in attendance. Because our minister was out of town due to a death in the family, one of the elders delivered the message. He spoke on being the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). While I am sad to say that I can't remember all of what Louis spoke about, one statement stuck with me: "I sometimes wonder if I'm just a good person who got wet" (referring to baptism). He mentioned that he reads his bible, teaches classes, and does some preaching, but he likes to do those things. It gave me pause. If an elder of the church struggles with Christianity and whether he is on the right path, then I'm not alone. Am I following Christ, or did I just get wet? I think it is entirely too easy to become complacent about our lives as Christians. At least, that is the case with me. How do I know if I am being the salt of the earth as Christ called us to be, or if the world is salting me?

The answer to that, at least in part, is reading the Word of God, earnest prayer, and careful self examination. But what I'd like to point out is a little bit of world creep that has found its way into the Church: Division.

We are to set ourselves apart to some extent while living in this world; to be in the the world but not of it (Romans 12:2). We see division in the world every day: racial, geographical, political stance. Even within the confines of political stances there is further division. The more divided people are, the more some like it. And it doesn't stop there. It's found its ways into the body of Christ. In speaking of a family who happens to be on television and mentioning that they are Christian, one sister sniffed, "Well, they're liberal Christians." 

Liberal Christians as opposed to conservative Christians. Does this mean that we don't hold the same basic beliefs? That we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? That Jesus was sent by God to live on this earth as an example and to die as a sacrifice for our sins? That in order to become a Christian I must repent and be baptized for the remission of my sins? And afterwards we are to continue striving to be more like Christ each day, continually learning, continually teaching? If we believe these basic facts from the bible, then there should be no division among us. 

I know that there are things that some of us wont agree on at the same time. I still consider myself a fairly young Christian and still have much to learn. But I do know that some things I think are okay may cause another to stumble, so if I know that a brother or sister considers my action or speech a stumbling block, I need to be careful of that around him or her. I also need to look more closely at what I am doing or saying. Sometimes its a matter of opinion, sometimes its a matter of teaching. In either case, if we separate ourselves from a person or group of persons without at least trying to communicate, we aren't being salt. 

What is salt after all? It's a preservative, it's a flavor enhancer. If it's sitting to the side in its own box or shaker, it's doing neither of these things and is at that point worthless.  Am I the salt of the earth, or am I simply a good person who got wet?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bertha Betternyou: Concerned Sister or Outright Gossip?

If you have ever listened to Ray Stevens' music from the 1980's, chances are you know who Bertha Betternyou is. Sadly, for many outside the church, Bertha is the go to gal when summoning an image of a typical Christian. Sister Bertha sits all prim and proper, can quote scripture all day long and knows the secrets of many around her. Turns out though, that Bertha has a few sins of her own.

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Photo credit: Photobucket

Do you remember the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (tax collector)? It's found in Luke 18:9-14. In short, both men went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee was boastful in his prayer: He wasn't like others, especially like that publican over there. He even reminded God and anyone who might be in earshot that he tithed, fasted, and otherwise outshone others. To put it bluntly, meet Bertha's Brother Benjamin. 

The publican, on the other hand, wouldn't even look up. Instead he smote his breast and said "Lord forgive me, a sinner."

The ultimate goal of a Christian is to become more Christlike. From the moment we obey the gospel and step out of the watery grave of baptism, we are a new person. From then on we continually try to walk in Jesus' foot steps and teach others along the way, by word and deed. Sometimes though, in our zeal to be Christlike, we look around at others... and become a little more like Bertha than we would really like to be. 

Brother Tom thinks its okay to have an occasional glass of wine. Sister Colleen and her kids use the curse word knock offs (dang, heck, crap, you get the picture). And did you see how short the Davies' daughter's skirt was? And with him a shepherd of the church! Honestly, you'd think they'd have taught that girl better.  Wait. Why are we discussing their sins or shortcomings as though we have none of our own? 
First of all, if any of us, and this includes me, has a concern about a brother or sister's behavior, words or whatever, we are instructed to go to the person privately and in love (Matthew 18:15-17). Those verses tell us exactly how we are to handle a problem, so why do so many of us think its our duty to discuss the situation with others first?

It shouldn't matter who the brother or sister is, whether he be an elder, or she the preacher's wife, or if the person happens to be a celebrity of sorts. I know if I am wrong, I want someone to come talk to me privately first. I may cry or otherwise get upset, but I will be okay with it. As well meaning as others are who are concerned, I can't make it to heaven on someone's coat tail. If it's my behavior that needs to change, I'm the one who needs to be spoken to first.  If you can't speak to me in person, write me a letter. In other words, we should be building up one another, not tearing each other down with our concern. I for one have to change this habit.