May 01, 2015

Top Ten Weird Buck Adventures

We have a rule in our house.  When someone says the word “adventure,” then someone else must repeat the word, but as a whisper.  This is the reverence with which we treat new and unusual experiences.  It can be as simple as turning down a road we’ve never been down or trying the strangest snowcone flavor on the menu. 

From nearly the moment we met, my wife and I have lived by the principle that new experiences, or “adventures” (::whispered:: “adventures”), are the stuff of joy. Nothing is too strange, too dumb, or too cheesy.  In fact, the dumber and/or weirder the experience, the better.   


Here's a video with some pics to give you an idea of what we're all about.  

Weird from Dan Buck on Vimeo.

And for some explanation of some of those... 

The 10 Weirdest Buck Adventures

Towing and Recovery Museum
10.  The Towing and Recovery Museum – This is a thing.  There is a place in Chattanooga that holds the towing industry in esteem usually reserved for policemen, firemen, and revolutionary war heroes. 
I always thought they were mostly the guys who make your car go away when you’re illegally parked, but after an hour in this tribute to the men and women of the towing and recovery industry, I see things differently. 

9. Epic Nerf Gun Battle – In our former home, when we were all packed up and ready to move out, we had nearly 3000 square feet and many boxes to use as bunkers. So we found four nerf guns and fought until we were exhausted. 

8. Terrible movies – Rachel Anne and I have tried to catalog some of the awful films we’ve seen together.  Some of the highlights include Invasion of the Bee Girls, Nazis at the Center of the Universe, and Two-Headed Shark Attack.  It’s not that unique of a thing to do, but our appreciation of the awful as an opportunity for fun probably holds the key to our enjoyment of life.

Our family chalkboard
7.  The chalkboard – When we moved into our new home, my wife repurposed a large decorative
mirror by painting it with chalkboard paint.  We quite organically began a tradition where we take turns adding to a collective masterpiece. As you might imagine with two boys ages 11-13, most of the drawings include a character who is farting.  And I pretend I don’t think it’s funny.  But it totally is.  Every time.

6. The world’s largest ten commandments – This was a road trip to “Field of the Woods” a religious retreat center about 45 minutes from us.  The highlight of the campus is a hillside recreation of the ten commandments created with white stone laid on a grassy slope.  Each letter is roughly 4-5 feet in height.  It’s a sight to behold.

5. Trivia as Blonde Prussian Siblings – Back when we were dating we got on a kick where we spoke in Russian-esque accents which we decided were “Prussian”. We found some blonde wigs (which my self-professed weird wife had in a closet) and we went to compete in bar trivia speaking only in our Prussian accents and referred to each other as Juergen and Ute.  Our team name was Mother Prussia. We came in third.

4. Supersized Ears of Corn – While travelling home from a raod trip to Michigan we used our favorite phone app called “Roadside America” to discover that we were close to a field full of ears of corn.  No, not a cornfield.  A field of six foot, concrete ears of corn.  We had to make a stop.




3. Styrofoam Cup Museum – In a town North of Atlanta, there’s a place called Car City, USA.  It’s a sprawling junk-yard/art exhibit that an eccentric but kindly man has created on his property.  Dozens of cars over miles of trails are arranged, painted and overgrown with trees and wildlife.  However, one of the best parts of the stop is in the large building at the front of the lot.  Car City is across the street from a tasty little eatery where all the drinks are served in white Styrofoam cups.  The owner of Car City started to eat there daily and making each cup a work of art, with a pen, or pencil etching elaborate patterns and landscapes. Apparently, he kept ALL of them and has them on display.  Thousands of cups.  All decorated, elaborately and skillfully.  It’s wonderfully weird. 

Noah's Ark Exhibit (St. Mary's, OH)
2.  Things Swallowed Museum (Noah’s Ark) – Another road trip diversion. This is an exhibit at a regional museum in St. Mary’s, OH.Apparently, there was a doctor who found he was often dislodging or retrieving odd items from townspeople who had swallowed the unswallowable.  For some strange reason, he kept those items.  And for an even stranger reason, they are now on display in this museum. 

Also in this museum is a mechanized, glass-encased moving diorama that tells the story of Noah with various taxidermized birds.  When it starts up, there is music and narration as a birds enter the ark, two-by-two. Truly bizarre and glorious. 

1. Valentine’s Day – I was quite shocked this last Valentine’s Day to receive from my beloved a large red teddy bear in a scarf with a heart pattern.  It was a disturbingly normal gift from my wife.  I looked at her confused, almost a little hurt.  Then, with wide eyes, she handed me the scalpel (Pen knife).  Flipping the bear face down, I saw a scar with rough stitching that would’ve made Dr. Frankenstein proud.  So, I cut into it.  Inside, was… another bear.  And inside that… another, and another, and another.  Finally, I got to a strange figurine of a ferret holding a loving message addressed to me.  It was perfect.  She found a gift that required an adventure to get to it.  Albeit, a morbid one. 


Dressed for Lady Gwendolyn's Bleeding Hearts Ball
My gift to her was equally strange.  I told her that we’d be leaving in two and a half hours to head to Lady Gwendolyn's Bleeding Heart Ball.  It was an event hosted by the “Dark Princess Theatre” company at which a traditional New Orleans Funeral Celebration would be held.  And guests were encouraged to wear their best Goth, Steampunk, or Victorian garb.  It was fun to dress up and to see what people turned up. The event itself was terrible.  The program was neither funny or interesting, but with our attitude toward life, it would have been a success if it were good or bad.  Just for the sake of the Adventure! (::whisper:: adventure)

April 07, 2015

Limerick Apr 7th RESULTS // Apr 14th NEW TOPICS

Results of the April 7th contest are first, to see THIS week's contest (ending April 14th) scroll down .

RESULTS!


It was a fun week for our Limerick Contest. Interestingly, all but one of the seven entries were about the same topic.

 The topics were:
• Working for Disney (in honor of Jaclyn, who recently quit the Mouse) 
• Lame April Fool's pranks 
• Verisimilitude 

In a shocking turn of events, no one picked Verisimilitude. I had trouble believing it at first, but it had the appearance of truth. The overwhelming majority went with Working for Disney.

I have to give a couple of honorable mentions. First to Eli, who had this gem:  

There once was a Donald the Duck
Who took Minnie out in his truck
But things got too sticky
When he answered to Mickey
As for work, he is s*** out of luck.

Now, while I want this site to be family friendly, I have to acknowledge that limericks are traditionally quite ribald. (that's an awesome word meaning "naughty"). So, the fact that he placed three of the Fab Five (as they are referred to in the parks) in such a perfectly limerick-esque scenario makes him worthy of a nod.

The second honorable mention goes to Matthew O'Donnell, (whose status as a songwriter with Irish heritage may put him at a distinct advantage), with this little verse:

A comfortable cushion, it beckoned 
'twas the day before April the second 
When I planted my rear 
A rude noise all did hear 
Nary half of the laugh they had reckoned 

This was the only limerick to take on the topic "Lame Practical Jokes".  Not only is the rhyming impressive (Beckoned, second, reckoned) but he stuck precisely to the topic. And also, he used "nary". Well played, Matt.

And finally, our winner this week is Jaclyn!

Though aware I would scarcely be paid
And the "cult" was just short of kool-aid
I would never have went
If I'd known I'd have spent
All my free time with Thomas Kincaid

Her limerick references a part of her story that wasn't known to all. She recently endured the Disney College Program and her roommates were all dyed-in-the-wool Mickey Devotees and would spend their nights off putting together Thomas Kincaid puzzles. That's rough. If painting countless gazebos and country cottages made the artist drink himself to death, just imagine what doing a puzzle of them would do. Too soon?

Anyway, the limerick is an excellent self-effacing nod to a memory now chalked up to experience. Well-played. And as your reward... an unsanctioned conflation (and conflagration) of Thomas Kincaid and a Disney commodity. I give you: "This not the cottage we were looking for".


Congrats to our April 7th winner Jaclyn!


OUR NEXT CONTEST STARTS TODAY!! (Entries due April 14) 

As always, choose one or more of the following topics and submit up to two limericks in the comments on this post.  

TOPICS:
  1. The Dukes of Hazzard (in honor of the actor who played Roscoe P. Coltrane - he passed Tuesday)
  2. The coolest of Jesus's disciples
  3. Bad ideas for Broadway musical adaptations (example:  Scabies! The Musical)
Get limericking! 

April 02, 2015

The Return of DBuck's Limerick Contest

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls...

I present to you: 


That's right!  If you love wordplay, comedy, rhyming, or all things Irish, then this is the contest for you! Here's the way it works:

  1. Each week, I will post 3 topics of the week. 
  2. You will compose a limerick on any of the topics.  You may do as many as two per week.  
  3. I will judge the best ones and pick a winner (or two) and award a real fake prize. (Usually something amazing I've discovered on the interwebs.)
  4. Wash, Rinse, Repeat the next week. 
Fun, right?  

Let's get it kicked off shall we?

This week's topics are as follows: (write about one, or multiple topics.  Two limericks per entrant max.) 
  • Working for Disney (in honor of Jaclyn, who recently quit the Mouse)
  • Lame April Fool's pranks
  • Verisimilitude

Now, the magic is up to you.  If you would like to know more about limerick's here is a link to the Top Ten Limericks from the last time I did this contest.  

Happy Limericking,
DBuck

March 28, 2015

Don't bother "saving theatre"

You've heard the gloom and doom predictions about theatre, I'm sure. They usually sound like one of these:
  • The audiences are all older people, and when they die... no one will come.  
  • Movies are killing live theatre. 
  • The internet is killing theatre. 
  • It's the prices! 
  • People just don't have long enough attention spans.
Some of the above things have some truth to them, but I want to address this idea of "saving theatre."  I think it's misguided.  Me and the internet like lists so I'll make a bunch of vaguely outlandish claims and then support them with my experience or logic.  
(First let me make a distinction between what Broadway is/should be doing vs. nearly everywhere else. Broadway is a behemoth, high cost, high risk market, and what they're doing has little to do with what I'm talking about.  Broadway is largely (but not entirely) a tourist trap where only the shows that are known commodities and which have a very wide appeal will ever be successful.  I'm not really talking about those theatres.  They are in a trap of producing the Big Macs of theatre, and they can't really do much else.  It's not their fault. Blaming them for playing it safe would be like blaming a tight-rope walker for concentrating on balance.) 
1. Theatre doesn't need saving.   
During many periods in history, theatre was the popular form of entertainment.  It no longer is. Let it go.  The dominant form of entertainment will always be 1. the most convenient and 2. the broadest and least challenging thematically.  "Ease of access" and "lacking in substance" will always be the recipe for WIDE appeal.  Examples: McDonald's, Candy Crush, YouTube videos of cats in your FB feed.  It's right there, and it takes no investment of time, money, or thinking.  Theatre used to fill some of those needs, but it is no longer the easiest to access and it's rarely vapid in content.   
Happily, theatre doesn't have to be for the masses. Because things made for the masses are dumb and often bad for the masses.  I am suspicious of any work of art that everybody likes.  It usually means it's too easy to be profound, and too socially reiterative (read: the way things are now, is the way they should be).   
The truth is, theatre has found its place on the artistic landscape.  Poetry, dance, symphony orchestras, and studio art aren't trying to produce the next Marvel superhero movie, so why is theatre looking so hard to be something everybody likes?  Not everyone will love theatre and that's ok.   
Don't get me wrong, I have a considerable evangelical zeal for the art form.  I have spent most of my adult life introducing people to theatre and trying to get them to engage as audiences or artists.  I have just learned to stop bemoaning the fact that I dedicate countless hours to the production and promotion of a play, and most people would rather just watch Netflix.   
But theatre is not going anywhere.  It may not be as popular as it has been, the market may shrink, and there are certainly drawbacks for the artform as a result.  But history has shown us again and again that humanity longs to enflesh its beliefs, big questions, and demands for justice in a communal setting.   
2. The internet and cellphones are neither the destroyers or saviors of theatre.   

It's funny to me that many theatre people forget the words of Shakespeare: "There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so."  The internet falls into this category as well.   
There are those who bemoan its impact on the brains and attention spans of audiences. These are some of the doomsayers who think that there's no way we can make theatre work in a world where people want to check their phones every ten minutes.   
Then, on the other end of the spectrum are those who want to make theatre more like the internet to appeal to the digital generation.  I've seen productions that encourage people to Tweet about the production with a hashtag during the performance and they even project the tweets on a screen throughout the show.  And of course, smart theatre promoters have been able to utilize social media. 
I don't believe that smart phones and Facebook have made us dumber.  I believe that this generation has been brought up to read, process, and synthesize at a much more rapid rate that other generations.  Some would argue that they can't just sit down and read a book well, and that's true for some.  But the kind of "reading" people are doing today is just a different kind than that of the past.  Creators of theatre can certainly take this into consideration, but I think it's a mistake to think that all theatre now needs to feel like 140 character tweets, or 2-minute cat videos.   
As a side note, I think playwrights, directors, and designers will be wrestling for sometime with staging the internet.  It's not something we need to do to stay sexy, but it is necessary because the internet is a locus of culture.  People meet, fall in love, create and destroy on the internet.  We can't ignore it.  But staging it presents an interesting challenge.  I've seen some plays do this well, including dark play or stories for boys and Water by the Spoonful.  It will be interesting to see how future plays take it on.   
3.  It's okay if your audience is nearly dead, as long as your theatre isn't


I see a lot of people bemoaning theatres doing 50-year-old musicals and Neil Simon plays in an effort to get the blue-hair crowd.  And I understand the commercial necessities of producing plays that will fill seats.  The truth is, people just don't come to shows they don't know.  I am a HUGE fan of new work, and would dedicate my work entirely to it if I could. But a theatre without an audience isn't a theatre at all.
So, it's fine to do older plays occasionally, or plays that will appeal to an older audience sometimes, but it must always be ALIVE!  I simply mean, that doing Arsenic and Old Lace exactly as it has been done for the last 60 years might please your blue hairs (and it might not), but it will kill your theatre.  
We must never lose sight of what makes theatre unique and powerful.  We must never be reduced to doing a play that would be just as successful as a movie.  This has a lot to do with how we tell the story, staging, audience arrangement, etc.  How can we make the "aliveness" of the work, the urgency of live theatre, conspicuous and meaningful?  
The best plays, the ones I want to see and direct are the ones that demand to be live theatre.  I want people to walk out of performances I direct saying, "That HAD to be a live experience".  If you could video tape my play and get a pretty good idea of the experience, I have failed.  
Once audiences, new and old, come to trust the work of your company, they'll trust you enough to come see a newer or lesser-known work.
So, do "A Christmas Carol" if you must, but figure out how to make it something special for the people who decided to see your version. Or next Christmas you can bet they'll just watch it on Netflix.  
4.  Let there be theatre on Earth, and let it begin with me.   

For as many conversations as I've had about "the future of theatre" on a national or international scale, exactly zero of those conversations have been with the director of the NEA, or program directors for major theatres like the Steppenwolf or the Arena Stage.  So why are we playing armchair commander, when we are foot soldiers, at best?  Our job is to make theatre, support theatre, and see theatre (oh, and probably to bring our friends). Period.   
Nothing will transform people into theatre-lovers like them giving them the chance to love theatre.   
The future patrons of theatre are in middle schools, high schools, and universities right now.  And I'm not talking about those kids that are destined for the stage.  I'm talking about the DABBLERS!  Dabblers are the future.  I know lots of theatre educators and what I hope they are doing for the majority of kids is giving them the love of theatre. That's it.  Be infectious with your love of the thing.  People will go see a play as adults if they were in that show in middle school, or they read it in high school and loved it.  I know far too many theatre teachers who think they need to be tyrants in order to get hard work and good productions out of their unskilled casts.  I'd rather high schoolers do terrible productions and love theatre, then do great shows but be resentful about their treatment during rehearsals.  
So we need to teach people how awesome this thing is.  Here are a few tips on theatre evangelism:
  • One-on-one outreach works the best. Invite along a friend to a show, especially someone who doesn't consider themselves "a theatre person".  Guilt your friends and family into seeing the shows you are in.  
  • Kids get and enjoy more theatre than you think. Bring them to grown up plays, not just children's theatre.  Most people who love plays were exposed to them early on.
  • Be mindful of "Gateway" theatre.  Don't bring a staunch conservative to a showing of Hair. Don't bring a first time theatre person to a high minded, avant-garde work about suicide.  DO bring people to improv shows to get them exposed to live performance, then follow it up with a scripted comedy.  Then they might be ready for something heavier.  DO start people off with a very fun stuff, or straight-forward stories. Remember for most non-Theatre people STORY matters the absolute most.  If you have become fond of unresolved endings or non-linear plays, you might want to leave your "beginners" at home for those.  
  • Get involved in bad stuff.  No one was a brilliant playwright, director, or actor in their first production. We get better by doing it more, but if beginners keep having doors shut in their face, or being judged as poor quality, they will leave the artform defeated.  So help the local community theatre, give the aspiring playwright feedback on his script. And remember that you sucked once too.  
I'm certain there will be people who disagree with me on a lot of this.  And that's okay.  I have been fighting the fight for theatre for a long time, and these lessons are earned through some success and a lot of failure.  But there's a lot of wild speculation in there as well. Feel free to take me to task on those.  :)  


March 22, 2015

When "Almost, Maine" almost wasn't; a playwright asks WWJD

When I first joined the theatre faculty at Lee University I chose John Cariani’s (now very popular) Almost, Maine as the first play I would direct. 

It’s an alternately sweet, sad, and funny play about love.  About finding it, losing it, being surprised by it, and realizing when it’s passed you by.   The play is made up of several stand-alone vignettes featuring the various residents of a rural stretch of Maine.  Exactly the kind of play an audience of Lee Theatre production would enjoy.  Oh, and also there is a scene in the play where the people who find love both happen to be men. 

Lee is a Christian liberal arts university in a very conservative region.  So, I knew that we could only produce the play if we omitted that particular scene.  It’s sweet and, compared to virtually any other television or film depiction of gay relationships, it is very innocuous.  Still, doing the scene would be so controversial that the rest of the play would be overshadowed.  That’s a waste of a lot of time and energy on our part, if the audience doesn’t even notice the other 90% of the play. 

However, we knew it would be both immoral and illegal to cut the scene without the playwright’s permission. Unfortunately, I was running out of time, if I didn't get permission pretty quickly it would be back to the drawing board in finding an appropriate play for my first production at Lee. I got lucky and found the email address of the playwright, Mr. John Cariani. 



I largely expected a “no”. In fact, I probably would’ve said no had the tables been turned.  But instead, we received the following very gracious reply.

I want you to know how much I appreciated your e-mail. "They Fell" has been cut from the play so many times--and I have learned about the cut after the fact. So uncool. But your wonderful e-mail--made me feel so...respected! It meant so much. I appreciate your kind words about ALMOST, MAINE. And I really do feel for you and Catherine and Christine. I am so sorry you have to deal with stuff like this. It's so lousy.

So...my initial reaction to your request was NO WAY! But--when I thought about the lousy position you're in...well, I decided that saying NO WAY is just mean. Fighting hate with hate, kind of. And that's not cool. So I say--go for it. I don't want to be a hater. I think omitting "They Fell" makes ALMOST, MAINE a lamer play. But--I understand your position, and feel like the rest of the play should be heard! So...here's me granting you permission to do the play without "They Fell." With one caveat. I would like there to a note in the program from me. It's below.

October 2, 2010
Greensboro, North Carolina

Dear Audience Members,
Lee University's production of ALMOST, MAINE is not being performed in its entirety. One scene, called "They Fell," has been omitted. When I was initially approached about allowing ALMOST, MAINE to be performed without this scene, my response was, "Absolutely not." "They Fell" is a story of two people who literally fall in love. I think it is an interesting examination of love, of being true to your heart, and to yourself. To me, redacting the scene lessens the impact of ALMOST, MAINE as a whole.

Initially, I was very angry that anyone would even consider cutting the scene. However, good decisions are never made in the heat of the moment. As I thought about the request, I realized that perhaps I was being intolerant, imposing my values on others. I was also making my decision from a place of anger and that's just no good. I'm a Christian, so I asked myself:  WWJD?  He'd probably allow the production so that at least part of the message of the play would be imparted. So, that's what I decided to do. "They Fell" was never written to inflame or offend, it was simply to tell a story--a love story-- and I don't think that is wrong. I hope that after you see this production of ALMOST, MAINE, you will seek out a copy of the full script and read "They Fell."

I hope you enjoy the show.

Sincerely,

John Cariani
"But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."--Matthew 5:44-45

If you think any of this is a bad idea, please let me know.
Thanks for your kind words and for doing what you do. Boy--theatre seems so important at places like Lee. Fight the fight!

With great respect,

John

[Joyful music] We were of course stunned.  We couldn’t believe his response.  When we went to our university’s administrators with his reply, they were thrilled!  They told us to go ahead and do the play and publish the playwright’s note in the program, but... to cut the Bible verse.  [Record scratch] They believed it was combative, and to be honest, I could see their point.  This was going to be difficult.  Now I had to write back to this man who has done a very selfless thing by considering our audience above his own written work, and ask if I could cut the BIBLE verse, of all things, from his letter. 

Most of my letter was very positive.  I thanked him for his permission and wrote about how excited I was about the instructive possibilities of this situation for our students and audiences.  And then I included this:

You asked me if I thought any of it was a bad idea.  And as you can tell from my gushing thus far, I think it's a very GOOD idea.  There's one thing I would like to mention.  You quote a Bible verse at the end of your program note.  And while I understand its appropriateness to the situation, I am concerned that some reading it might interpret words like "persecutors" and "unrighteous" as combative in this context.  I think anything that smacks of an "us" vs. "them" sentiment undoes all the good that can happen here.  I would recommend keeping the letter exactly like it is and either removing the verse or choosing another one.  I don't think you meant to say that Lee audiences are "the enemy", clearly you're talking about prejudice and hate.  But I wouldn't want anyone to think you're applying those labels onto the very people reading the note.

It was several days before I heard anything in response. I thought we had lost him. We’d asked too much.  I was reading other plays in case I had to do a last minute switch.  But finally, he replied with this: 

Well... I think this is all extraordinary. Can we talk? Call me: [his cell phone number omitted]. I am a little busy with my new play and can't properly respond to this in an e-mail--just don't have the time--because I have a deadline!  But--let's cut the Bible verse. That was a barb on my part. No need for it. Or any verse. I don't want to demonize--and that's what I was doing. No good. Good catch. So--the letter--without the verse. Perfect.

This dialogue is so great. Because it's a DIALOGUE! I bet you guys get screamed at all the time for asking to modify plays...and you're all Christians who believe in the power of theatre! And...I wish more playwrights would just revolt from within. Disguise their points a little more. And...I wish more theatre people in NYC believed in the power of God! And I'm not real "Goddy."

A few days later, I did call him and we had a great chat.  He told me how hard it was for him as a New York City playwright to deal seriously with faith in his plays. He wasn’t trying to write plays about Jesus, but he felt like no one would take any character seriously if he/she was a person of faith.  And as I shared some of the struggles we had at Lee, we realized we had inverse versions of the same problem.  I often struggled to serve art well in a world filled with religious people, and he often struggled to serve religion well in a world of artistic people. 

At the end of the conversation, I felt truly blest. In this dialogue, I encountered God.  I was blessed by the experience.  In this unexpected, respectful connection, I told Mr. Cariani that I sensed God's presence and he voiced a similar notion. I told him that I believe God exists and manifests himself most clearly in the spaces between people. And to put it simply, in our connection, God showed up.

I am in the connection business.  In my art, in my teaching, I strive to help people connect people.  Audiences to performers, students to playwrights, designers to directors, etc.  As I go forward I will strive to remember the humility of my friend, Mr. Cariani when I want to make those connections God-filled ones.

Ultimately, the play was produced and was a big crowd pleaser.  Best of all, our audiences, our cast and crew, and the director learned a lesson in grace from a playwright who thinks he's not real "Goddy".

Cast of Almost, Maine at Lee University - 2010


Let us love one another, for anyone that loves is borne of God and knows God. (no one asked me to cut this verse)



**Please note:  Anyone reading this article should not assume that Mr. Cariani would grant this permission to any such request.  I would not be willing to speak on his behalf regarding any special requests regarding his work. And you should contact the playwright or his agent. 

March 11, 2015

In defense of the The Fence (Tim Minchin)

In my last post  about talking to my kids about life's big questions, I mentioned how I've never been very comfortable with the simple answers.

It's because, I, like most of my generation, am suspicious of any narrative or explanation that seems to nicely categorize or compartmentalize life into easily digestible bites.  It's part of a wide spread reaction against binaries.  My generation and the one after me likes to challenge efforts to neatly organize the world into one group or another, and we're particularly fond of culture that examines the stuff that falls in between two categories or neither or both.  It's why you'll see so much art dedicated to the stories of people, ideas, or events that challenge binaries like:  truth vs fiction, memory vs. history, high art vs. low art, gay vs. straight, good vs. evil, etc...  

I don't say it nearly as well as this comedian/musician named Tim Minchin.  He's an eccentric, extremely intelligent, and clever guy. His lyrics can be inappropriate for younger ears, but this song is pretty mild in the language department.  You should give it a listen.  Here are the lyrics to the chorus:  
This is a song in defense of the fence
A little sing along, an anthem to ambivalence
The more you know, the harder you will find it
To make up your mind, it, doesn't really matter if you find
You can't see which grass is greener
Chances are it's neither, and either way it's easier
To see the difference, when you're sitting on the fence



March 10, 2015

Raising Christian thinkers - When kids ask the big questions

I have never been the type who likes simple answers.  I tend to think, if it seems simple, you're not looking closely enough.


I get nervous around people who:
  • have many very strong opinions
  • are certain about most things
  • don't ever admit to being wrong
  • never say "I don't know"
  • can sum up their thoughts on a subject with a bumper sticker
There are a lot of things I believe in, but many of those are "best guesses for now."  In the park of my worldview, there's almost no place to sit because I keep re-painting the benches.  

It sounds all romantic and open-minded until your own offspring start asking you big questions about the truths of life.  They want to understand why we go to church, and specifically why the kind of church we attend. They want to know what I think about world events, politics, social issues, etc.  Of course they do.  And when it's possible, I give the closest thing to a concrete answer I can give.  It usually starts with, "Well, I believe that..." and includes "but there are other really smart people who think differently." 

The stakes were raised when they became two-household kids.  When their birth mother and I divorced and both remarried, the families they were seeing on a weekly basis looked very different.  One house featured very conservative / Southern Baptist / traditional-Southern values, while the other held a progressive / not-so-Southern-Baptist worldview.  I imagine it was difficult for them to reconcile that both families could be "okay" or "doing it right".  My boys, especially my oldest, would ask questions trying to pit our views and behaviors against each other, trying to figure out which way he should behave.  But I have been careful not to take the bait.  I want them to understand there is room for wildly different approaches to faith and life within God's universe; that they don't have to choose which of us is "doing it right."  It's tempting to toss in the occasional "well, I prefer to do it this way..." or "well, I don't like that because..."  But they know what I believe from my choices.  

I could write them out a list of core beliefs of my faith and approach to life, but it's MORE important to me that they approach life as thinkers, testing worldviews against what they know to be true and against their experience in life. Test a person's beliefs against that person's actions.  Does it work? I often disagree with their birth mom's way of doing things, but if I bad-mouthed her or her ways,  they'd be right to dismiss my worldview as hypocritical.  If I can't show grace and tolerance, (which are at the heart of my worldview) why should they accept any of my ideas? They shouldn't.  

I guess what I MOST want to teach my boys is a posture.  A posture of humility, of thoughtfulness, and of compassion toward those who are different than us in their beliefs or actions.  

I'm sure they are frustrated when I don't give them the straightest answers on major issues, but I honestly believe that encouraging them to think and love their way toward truth will be immensely more valuable than to give them a platform of doctrines.  

They're entering their teen years now.  Come back in 8-10 years, I'll let you know how it worked out.