Plain update

I’m excited to report that an article I wrote was accepted for the April issue of Western Friend magazine. It’s called "Plain in the 21st Century," and it follows closely the outline of the talks I’ve given at SF Meeting, my FGC workshop last summer and the convergent Friends workshop this spring.

But even better than my article, I think, is the new Pendle Hill Pamphlet, “Finding the Taproot of Simplicity: A Movement Between Inner Knowledge and Outer Action” by Frances Irene Taber. It’s actually a reprint of an essay she wrote twenty years ago that first appeared in an anthology titled, Friends Face the World.

I had read little excerpts from this essay, and even quote from it in my own Plain Manifesto. I didn’t realize though how much my own thinking has grown to parallel Fran Taber’s writing. The whole thing is worth reading again and again.

At the end of Pendle Hill Pamphlets these days, there are a series of Questions for Discussion. I’d like to open this one for discussion here:

What difficulties sometimes arise for children when their parents decide to change their previous practices in favor of a more simplified lifestyle?

As in, beyond the no tv, no skipping meeting for worship to go to birthday parties, but otherwise fairly mainstream kind of simplified lifestyle we have now.

What if we really gave up all quasi-religious holiday celebrations? What if we really ate only a healthy diet? What if we got rid of our cars? Our cell phones? Our computers?

What if we didn't allow our children to read books that include fantasy violence? (Like the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings, for example) What if we started reading the Bible aloud before school?

What if we stopped saving money and gave all we have to the poor?

All of which I have considered at one point or another. Would my kids eventually admire my lack of hypocrisy or would they just hate me?

You know, Jesus never had kids. Maybe I've blown my chance at becoming a real disciple already.

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Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

What great queries. I'll have to sit with them, but one related question for me is how much I should consider the opinions of my 12 and 10 year olds. In major ways, my husband and I set the tone for the family and are teaching them values. On the other hand, a member of my meeting pointed out once on my blog that she sees listening to her daughter and honoring what her daughter wants as related to the Quaker practice of inclusive decision-making. I'm still thinking about this one and the boundary between us as parents--who sometimes do know best--and us as more like clerks of the family. But even as I write this I wonder how much of our lack of simplicity is really about what the kids want, and how much is about the stuff that I want (Give up my computer??!!). I was happy living without savings when I was twenty. As I inch toward fifty, my perspective is changing, and I shouldn't blame that on the kids.

4/16/2009 1:53 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

There's a Facebook group or two for recovering children of Quaker parents. There's some pretty funny commentary on there. It seems like they're equal parts admiring of, frustrated by and just plain perplexed their parents.

I've just always assumed that any kids I have will just have to deal with having crazy parents. At age five Theo seems to be just starting to realize things are different. He recently coined the word Convertible, which he says means "a Quaker who only drinks soy milk." He's buffered from the full effect by being home schooled (another oddity we're subjecting him too). Who knows what he'll think by the time he's the age of H. and S.

In many ways, my sons' lives were affected long before their birth by my decision to make employment decisions by leadings rather than career considerations (my eclectic resume has often felt like a dead weight in job interviews). Those pre-kid decisions have been much more limiting than any lifestyle change we could make and undo at whim. But I think we're all going to turn out some good kids.

4/16/2009 2:33 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Eileen, I think that one of the jobs of parents today is to give children a limited set of options to choose from. The head of our kids' school uses this example: "Do you want a bath or a shower tonight?" She also says that as our kids get older we move from a manager to a consultant role, and your kids are probably right on the edge of that shift.

I was discussing this post with my co-parent this evening and became more clear that this post is much more about me than about my children.

Martin - you're right. I don't know whether my kids realize we're so different yet, and maybe in a lot of ways we're not. We've been fortunate in my older son's choice of friends. Plus they know enough other Quaker kids to know they're not alone.

Almost nine years ago, we went to our first yearly meeting sessions. My older son was about two. I was hanging out with the preschoolers one afternoon playing in the water table. One little girl started complaining that she'd rather watch television. I said something grownupish like, "oh but you could do that any time, and this is so much fun." Another little girl, about four y.o. said "At my house we don't have a television." I nodded and said, "We don't either." Her eyes got big and she said, "I thought we were the only ones!" This is a big reason why I take my kids to quarterly and yearly meeting - so they'll know they're not the only ones.

4/16/2009 11:37 PM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

I agree in part with Martin. (Fellow homeschooler for one thing...) Our kids are born into our lives, and while we can and should make reasonable accommodations for their unique personalities, we can only go so far while remaining true to our own convictions. We provide an example of integrity and honesty (or lack thereof) by how we honor our own convictions in our homes.

That said, one thing I learned growing up fundamentalist is that some things just have to come from the heart or they are meaningless (or worse). For this reason, I think we need to think hard before we require our children to adhere blindly to a conviction *we* hold. Some things fall under "household" rules: if you are a vegetarian for ethical reasons, you have a right to forbid meat products from your home. But should your children be asked to abstain from meat outside the home? Does their own level of conviction come into play? (I would argue yes, it does.) As a personal example, I have chosen not to forbid mock fighting (such as sword play or water guns) in my children's play. They have no sense that they are mimicking *real* violence, so to forbid it would seem arbitrary and punitive to them, and could result in a backlash against non-violence as a value. I still forbid graphically violent or sexualized video content because I think those would cause harm to them at this point in their development. But that's a rule based on my assessment of what contributes to their well-being, not on what I want them to like, dislike, believe in, or value. It gets complicated, because certainly I want them to value some things over others. I guess I think that should be a persuasive process -- something I share with them verbally and through my own actions -- rather than a coercive process that I hope will "take". Does that make sense?

Eileen also speaks the truth when she observes that we should resist the temptation to use our kids as an excuse not to fully align our own lives to our convictions.

4/16/2009 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Lisa H said...

The choices often come from my daughter more than me, and I try to live up to her desire to live in integrity with our values, and do whatever we can to save the planet from global warming. This involves things like reducing our purchases to what we actually need, and collecting grey water from the laundry to flush the toilet. Her challenges make me a better person. I've never found a real contradiction between being faithful to God and being present, engaged, and responsive as a parent. We do talk things through a LOT, which I admit is easier with an only child.

I've heard about a movie following four Amish teens during the period they are given to live out in the world, and then to choose whether to remain Amish or leave. Maybe that would shed some light as well.

4/17/2009 1:46 AM  
Blogger Hystery said...

I am rearing my children as pacifists but I am not separating them from the rich cultural/literary/artistic traditions that include descriptions and portrayals of violence. We are very clear on this point. However, my children are human and have therefore inherited the full range of human emotion and potential which includes the potential for violence. I need them to have the verbal and symbolic tools to be able to handle this potential using symbol rather than action.

4/19/2009 1:17 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Stephanie, I actually use your reasoning, but with a different answer. I forbid swords and gun play at my house, but not at other people's houses. And I'm pretty explicit why not at our house, using both the lines that those things in real life really hurt people and that they are against our Quaker values. I will instruct visiting kids about the same thing. But I don't make a big deal about it that they play Battleship or swords at their friends' houses. I wonder, will this lead to everyone wanting to play at the cool houses, not mine?

Hi Lisa, I haven't had much trouble yet either with my kids saying why can't we have X or Y? But they are not always appreciative of the decisions I make to take public transit instead of drive. I have decided to drive them to school most days rather than take BART, it's about the same price and there's a lot less whining. Is this just giving in and not living up to my convictions?

Hystery, how do you do it? Really, I wonder how can I teach my son pacifism when every minute of the day that he can, he's filling his mind with fantasy and science fiction books that usually come down to some grave threat that can only be averted by war and killing. (In the really progressive ones, girls can be killers too.) Which is a lack of imagination on the part of the authors, I think. But I haven't found a lot of other options where the hero is a hero without resorting to violence. Some of the Dinotopia books are good that way. Where are the books depicting an exciting non-violent resolution of conflict? With dramatic gestures of generosity and compassion and healing? Of bearing great suffering bravely and noble acts of chivalry and kindness? I want him to have the verbal and symbolic tools for those responses, not just to be rehearsing the violent destruction of dictators and villains. Earlier Friends, and some current religious groups, just forbid all those kinds of literature. Which I don't see as a good choice, but I haven't really found good alternatives either.

4/20/2009 1:54 AM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

Robin, I think your rule on violent play is reasonable. You are upholding what is valuable to you in your home. Our own conscience matters so much in our decisions. (Non-violence is one of my weakest areas of Quaker conviction, I have to admit.) There might be other areas where my conscience leads me to be more restrictive than you, even though we are working from the same basic beliefs.

4/20/2009 9:04 AM  
Blogger Hystery said...

How do I do it? It is hard. I don't mean to suggest that I am not deeply concerned about the level of violence in media that my children view. I don't let my kids play with guns. I make choices about material that I judge to use violent imagery in a way that is addictive or gratuitous. We live a non-violent lifestyle (vegetarian/vegan, fair-trade, etc.)and my kids play a role in making those decisions. I question their careless violent statements and do not allow expressions even like "shut up" or "I hate you." But I'm a student of religion studies. Mythology and its archetypes are important for my study and I see that they resonate for people everywhere. If you pay attention to history, even pacifists use violent imagery as they discuss their struggles. I could forbid games, videos, books, comics, and all violent role playing games and still the images would be in their thoughts and dreams.

If, as I believe, the archetypes of violence, battle, rage, jealousy, etc. are part and parcel of the human psyche and experience then curtailing access to images and descriptions will not eliminate the tendency. We are human. Violence is a part of our legacy. How do we keep it from being our future? That's the question.

I look to Mr. Rogers who tells us to talk about our feelings. It is not denial but consciousness of our feelings that prevents us from manifesting our inner pain and conflict into violence. This is the crux of the issue for me. My work in feminist theory makes me fear the unconscious and sublinal sources of violence in our culture. It is not discussions of battle that worry me so much as subtleties in language and behavior that value men over women, whites over people of color, technology over nature, control over "chaos." It is our inability to identify the Common Soul of all beings that results in violence.

So I allow my children to do what children do so well and what grown-ups have forgotten to do. My kids use art, song, and play to act out the human drama. To their ritualized and imaginative expressions, I add my lessons about pacifism, alternative problem solving, social justice, etc. In the end, I have faith that through the process of critical and empathetic thinking, and their raised consciousness about their own privileges and sorrows, they will be people of peace.

4/24/2009 10:31 AM  
Anonymous MJ said...

These queries are ones that my husband and I struggle with day in and day out. Since we are convinced Friends, and have very few Friends near us, we often feel isolated in our personal beliefs and how we raise our two boys, ages 5 and 6. We absolutely do not allow playing with guns, but we do allow some pretend fighting as long as it doesn't involve violent behavior....this enables us to have conversations with them that it's not fun to pretend that people are killed, etc. All of the other children in the neighborhood have toy guns and weapons coming out their ears, and my boys, quite honestly, don't even want to play with them because they are literally turned off by their behavior. The only real "complaint" that I have heard regarding our quirky Quakerism beliefs was from my oldest's kindergarten teacher (public school by the way). She called about some other matter, and mentioned that my son is worried about all of the people losing their jobs and homes, and that there's not enough food for many children in Africa, and he seems really concerned about this. I explained that that's a good thing, that we raise our children to be concerned with others and their well-being, and not to be self-centered. We, and other Friends, raise caring and concerned little citizens that have a real chance of changing the world, and I am so very proud of that! I even went on to say that he is our peacemaker, that he wants to make the world a better place, and she chuckled and said that it sounds great, and all was good. But raising children in a simplified lifestyle is always a challenge in this ever-so-modern world, yet also a fulfilling task because they are learning and making choices at a young age on how to handle situations and are aware of the struggles all throughout the world, and realize just how fortunate we are. They are thankful for the little that we have in our simplified world, and so are we as parents.

5/02/2009 8:37 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hystery and Stephanie, thanks for following up. It really helps me when people articulate what they're doing and when I try to spell out what I'm trying to do. More insight comes with each attempt.

MJ, it's just hard, no matter what. But we muddle along, and support each other as best we can (including right here in this comment box), and I firmly believe that one day my children will know that I did the best I could for them. I am less certain about what God thinks, but I hope for the best.

5/04/2009 12:30 AM  

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