Are cellphones the new cigarettes? And is my shallowness showing?

By loving providence, we live in a time when information and communication are available to us in such  abundance, it is nearly impossible to stand apart ….without our  lives,  our time and relationships, and our quiet moments being effected by new technologies and the temptations they offer.  Part of the reason we can’t stand apart from it all is because it’s everywhere, and the other part is  because these technologies are so fabulously fun and interesting and cool and amazing and informative.

Maureen Dowd wrote an article at the NY Times on the topic of cell phone use and the health risks it brings, and attempts at legislating controls to keep cell phones safer.  She mentions the incessant use of  cellphones by  teens,  followed by  the disturbing data you have perhaps already read elsewhere about the increased likelihood for tumors in these kids.  A 400 fold increase.  That should get our attention!

And then, putting it into historical perspective:

“The great cosmic joke would be to find out definitively that the advances we thought were blessings — from the hormones women pump into their bodies all their lives to the fancy phones people wait in line for all night — are really time bombs.”

Every generation seems to have it’s beloved new fad which turns out to be a carcinogen once the studies are done.
My own grandmother was given X-rays, while pregnant in 1944, and was thankful for that new technology.    The thought of it makes you shudder, right?
My grandfather was given cases of free cigarettes to help him pass the hours in the trenches in France during WWI.  Not a new technology, but certainly a beloved new fad.
And back in the early ’80s, most of my friends and  I went to the tanning bed about every other week.  Who does that now?

As far as cell phone use goes, it’s not a problem at my house.  I don’t really deserve to have a phone.  I only use it when I’m travelling without Jon.  Otherwise I never think about it.  I have left my phone behind while travelling, left it behind in a diaper bag, left it in the car, and never once missed it.   My cell actually went through the wash last week in the pocket of a tote bag or something.  I had not wondered where it was.   It’s dead now.

For my household, the piece of modern technology that we just can’t get enough of is lap-top computers.
My real addictive concern  is that I can hardly walk past my computer without checking e-mail or news blogs.  On days when we are all home all day long getting everyone educated, I have been known to  hand my lap-top over to one of the kids and ask them not to return it to me until late in the day.   This in lieu of self control.

I don’t worry that this e-mail, information  addiction of mine is going to cause cancer.   But I know for sure that it’s taken a toll on my ability to read printed material for a sustained amount of time and to keep my attention at a deep enough level that I have to sort of “resurface” from a good long spell in a book.  I find it much more difficult to “get lost” in a good book now.  I fear for my kids that they might not have  the same rich experiences that I treasure of being carried away by a fine piece of fiction.

I find that I have to be careful about the amount of time I am on the internet, and that I have to be sure that I spend more time with printed material than with computer images.

And just on this  topic of how internet use might have a degenerative effect upon the brain, here is a tantalizing paragraph from a USA Today review of  Nicholas Carr’s book What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows .

“The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just like it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.”

Carr cites numerous studies to delineate not only the impact on the brain, but also the alterations in brain biology that lead to the impact. It turns out the human brain is a shape shifter, the technical term being “neuroplasticity.” The phenomenon is not easy to explain, but Carr is adept at explaining with as little jargon as possible. “As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit.”

Here’s a link for some opinions on Carr’s book

I know also that computer and internet “busyness” has a not-so-lovely impact upon our time management skills.   While I am almost deliciously thankful for all that the internet has contributed to the education of my children, and to their ability to stay connected with friends and with the culture of which they are a part, there’s that dark side.   Every parent in North America knows what I’m talking about.   It’s the moment when you say “Where’s Johnny?” and some smaller sibling says “Oh, he’s still on his computer…..'”  And the grass is still not mowed….or whatever.

My point here is not that cell phones and lap-tops are bad.  (In fact, at this point I must confess that yesterday I finally bought myself an iPhone, which will be used less as a telephone…more as a GPS and e-mail checking device.)   But I do think that these cool tools and toys require a tremendous degree of self control and wisdom.  And even more so since there appears to be a slope down which many of us can easily slide into an unhealthy absorption with the images and the instantaneousness of internet and cell technology.

Here, again,  what Maureen Dowd had to say:

“We don’t yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We’re living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we’d probably keep typing.”

Which reminds me of a verse about another kind of obsessive behavior:

35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?”   Proverbs 23:35

So the key is that we must be wise in this area of our lives, just like we must be wise in all others.  Not that it’s simple, but there is hope and there is a promise.

“5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”    James 1:5

And we who are redeemed by the blood of Christ can stand up straight with a heart of thankfulness and remember this:

“1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”   Galatians 5:1

And we can read the warnings which are offered by those who see the danger.   If we are wise we will learn from them.

But the key is to throw out the sin.   Then we can hang on to the gift and use it wisely.
We need to  rightly identify  sinful habits in our own hearts, and  repent of those rather than blaming a technology for the damage we may be doing to ourselves.

Our Daughters will be Adorned Pillars

1 Deliver me and rescue me
from the hands of foreigners
whose mouths are full of lies,
whose right hands are deceitful.

12 Then our sons in their youth
will be like well-nurtured plants,
and our daughters will be like pillars
carved to adorn a palace.

Psalm 144: 11-12

I was reading along in Psalms, and here is this verse again about daughters being like pillars carved to adorn a palace.   It always slows me down, but I rarely stop over it and work out what it might mean.  But, today, I am stopping.

It’s such a contrast to what I see being promoted for daughters around me.  Nothing like what our daughters are being directed to become in magazines and film, by fashion and  often even by well meaning parents.

Seems like the whole world around us is preparing our daughters to be goofy and silly and perpetually sexually alluring, not just for their husbands one day in the future, but for every man on the horizon at all times.   There  are those who feel that, with this Barbie role model being so obviously undesirable, it might be best to raise our girls to be better men than the guys….and we push them hard into sports and academics and we encourage competition in all areas, on the field and off, in the classroom and out.  And then, when the girls mature into competitive backbiting women, we criticize them.   Because that’s not feminine.  These are strange days to be a girl, and strange days  to be raising girls!

One thing we can take from the passage in Psalms there  is that, in God’s view, it’s a blessing for  our daughters to be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.  So, I’m asking myself, what does it mean for my girls to be women of that sort?
I understand that pillars are there to hold the roof up, and in order to hold up a roof, they must be sturdy and of enduring quality.  So they need to be strong, and they need to be ready to do the good work that they were put in place to do.   Holding up a roof is not really glamorous work, but it sure is essential.   That sounds like my job…. unglamorous, and essential.

But I love the part that comes next, which is that these blessed girls are like pillars which are carved to adorn a palace. They are not only strong, and immovable, knowing their purpose and doing it tirelessly, they are doing it with style and grace.  I need to equip my girls for that kind of graceful practicality.

A marble pillar has its own  natural beauty which is revealed  by lots of polishing.  The stone mason has to look for the beauty in the marble so that it can be shown to its greatest advantage.   If the mason is always chipping away at the marble, trying to pick out every little spot which might be a blemish, he will destroy the beauty that’s there.
It is so easy for us moms to look at our girls and only see the little blemishes, and then to continually mention them.  And we think we’re being helpful, or at least we’re being better disciplinarians.

But as we do so, we are chipping away at our girls.

We do need to train them and give them good direction, to instruct them and polish them all day long.
We need to look for their strengths, go the extra mile to help them develop their gifts, and help them to see that godly character and obedience are where they are being called to stand up straight, be strong, and carry the loads which are given to them without complaint.

It’s really a great gift to me to see my girls growing up and becoming more lovely than me, and to realize that this is a real blessing of God.
He is making them lovely, stately pillars who are worthy of my own respect and admiration.

John Calvin and Persecution

“The LORD their God will save them on that day
as the flock of his people.
They will sparkle in his land
like jewels in a crown.”

Zechariah 9:16

“They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. [a] I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.”

Malachi 3:17

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.[a] Be shepherds of the church of God,[b] which he bought with his own blood.”

Acts 20:28

These passages describe God’s attitude towards His body, the church.

The Church is precious to God.  John Calvin wrote The Institutes of the Christian Religion for a body of people who were precious to God, but who were being  arrested, tortured, murdered in his homeland.  Calvin had left his home in France, and was living in exile in Switzerland.   After the  initial publication of The Institutes, it attracted the negative attention of church and governing authorities.
Calvin responded to this attention by writing a letter to King Francis I of France.  (And the reverence with which he addresses the king stands in such stark contrast to the casual lack of esteem we show towards governing authorities with whom we disagree, even on the most minor  points.)  Calvin, here with delicate and proper honor towards the king God has established over him, clearly and elegantly calls this king and his realm precisely what he sees them to be.

“I embrace the common cause of all believers, that of Christ Himself – a cause completely torn and trampled in your realm today, lying as it were, utterly forlorn, more through the tyranny of certain pharisees than with your approval.  Ungodly men have so far prevailed that Christ’s truth, even if it is not driven away scattered and destroyed, still lies hidden, buried and inglorious.”

It is hardly recognized or understood in the greater body of the Christian church today that this kind of evil went on in the name of Christ. That one group , claiming to speak and act for God, would behave in such a blatantly un-Biblical manner towards another group.  How can this happen?  And when and how will it happen again?

Wasn’t Monday a Holiday for Everyone?

I am here to apologize for missing my Monday post on John Calvin.  I am going to let this one go by until next Monday, and pretend that Monday June 7 was just one of those Monday holidays.  A Monday Blogging Holiday.

The past six days were a bit of a crazy blur around here.  My sweet mother was visiting for a month, and  as she grows more and more frail physically, I believe that travel and life with six kids, two dogs and a raccoon becomes more than she might need.  So, the short story on this is that we spent Sunday in the hospital and the days around Sunday getting her strong and ready to travel home.

As always, she flew out of Buffalo, and we overnighted there on Monday, since she had an early AM flight for Tuesday.
While driving along Transit Road, where the shopping is so magnificent, Mom saw that there was a Steinmart (an old favorite store of hers for clothing ) and she  perked right up, the old glow returned to her green eyes, and said “Oh, can we go?”

Having spent a week thinking of her as a delicate patient, I was pretty delighted at this sign of life and enthusiasm.  I slammed on breaks, U-turned and we were in the store.   She made a quick and profitable stop at Jones New York, and then made herself at home at  Steinmart.   Even when she’s ill, Mom’s always got an eye open for the perfect coordinate at the right price.  Oh, and she needed summer handbags, too.

Now, while she was in Steinmart having a lovely time, I took the opportunity to go to the parking lot and try to figure out why Maggie’s carseat was giving us trouble.  She had complained of it being too tight, and the belts were refusing to loosen up to give her a roomier fit.  So I pulled it out of the car in the parking lot and when I flipped it over, I found that something had eaten one of those most critical pieces of webbing…the central strap at the end of which all the buckles converge to keep her safely locked in.  And there was a little pile of wadded up, chewed up webbing clogging the device so that I couldn’t lengthen the strap.

I wasn’t at that moment able  to work through what it might mean that something is chewing on her carseat.  Like, are there mice in the van?  It’s more likely that we left the seat in the garage for a time, and mice found something yummy on the webbing there.
Anyhoo…….Being so thankful to have found the problem, I hollered at Mom in Steinmart that Maggie and I were going to pop over to Target to get a new carseat.
Leaving Mom blissfully wandering among the racks, we zipped through Target where I  threw the  pinkest booster seat ever made into the cart along with pair of Tinkerbell flip-flops (also for Maggie),  and some swim trunks for David.    Then back to get Mom, who was still not ready to leave the store.

Finally, Steinmart closed and we were able to take my mother with us and check in to our hotel.

So, how funny it was on Tuesday morning at 6am,  time to grab a quick breakfast and dash across the street to the airport.  I found Mom wrestling with what at first looked like a live alligator, then I realized it was her suitcase.  She had gotten so many adorable little items at Steinmart and Jones, that it took both of us with 35 lb Maggie sitting on the bag to get it closed and…finally… zipped.        You could not insert a piece of paper into that bag at that point.
Beaming victoriously and high fiving all around, I then noticed the pink plastic  mini-dishpan which contains all of her medication.  Woops!  The handbags and clothes were in the bag, but there was no room for those pesky little pills which may be keeping her alive.
But God is good and provides a way, often even when we are a little bit silly.  It just happens that while in Target,  had grabbed, on the fly as I raced toward the register, a medium sized green print bag to take home to Helen.  So I threw Mom’s prescriptions into that, and off we dashed to the airport.  Mom did comment, softly and sort of under her breath,  that the green didn’t go well with the brown and black she was wearing, but neither would the new summer handbags in her suitcase.

Isn’t she fun!!   I do love it about my mom that even in the face of illness and the limitations with which her stroke has left her, she still takes care to present herself beautifully and she still grabs a bit of life in whatever way she can.

Book club tonight

Book club has snuck up on me again.  Tonight we’re talking about Kafka’s The Trial and my own husband is leading the discussion.  By the look of things, he has prepared for this in just the  professorial manner one would expect from him.  I, on the other hand, have not even finished the book.

For those of you who have read about our book club dinners before, I think you’d agree that they are really the envy of book clubs everywhere.  My neighborhood is remarkably dense with gourmet cooks and wine connoisseurs, as well as people who disdain television and read voraciously.  American, French,  English and Canadian  chef/readers, and the conversation is always lively.  Tonight’s menu is “Hungarian with a Jewish twist”.  I am making Hot Hungarian Potato Salad, and there’s a mouth watering array of grilled meats, grilled vegetables, and for dessert, pastries which I cannot go near, but that’s OK.

So, I am not finishing the book right now, as I am using the time to write a blog post.  Poor time management?  Yes, probably.   But I also cannot find a quiet place to read anyplace on the piece of real-estate I call home.
People seem to like to hear about our ongoing hullaballoo, and so I will describe today’s episode here.

David, the oldest, is preparing to begin filming a movie shortly, and so we are in “pre-production” mode here.
Costumes are being drawn, sewn, dyed and (when we’re lucky) acquired from Value Village.  So we’ve spent some of the day realizing they need far more than they thought, and so the scramble for medieval clothing is now at high volume.  My sewing skills are fairly basic, but I can see now that they are about to be ramped up.  Groovy.  We went shopping, hunting, scavenging  and came home with a paltry amount of stuff and low spirits indeed.  On Tuesday, after I take my mom the the airport in Buffalo, I expect I will be hunting in shops down there.  Anybody know of a good medieval costume shop in Buffalo….I should mention this is a low budget film.

So, moving along, we arrived home a little bedraggled, we saw Daniel (who is not quite eight yrs old)  racing down the road with……yes, indeed…..he had a bottle of beer in his hand.  He dashed up to our neighbor Mark’s house.   I was looking around for somebody who might be able to tell me what was going on, when Dan reappeared at the side of the van where he breathlessly broke the magnificent news that he just bought Mark’s old  computer for the paltry sum of one cold beer and a hand tied fishing lure.
Now Daniel is busy upstairs rearranging the furniture in order to create the perfect spot for this gigantic piece of equipment.  This will be our tenth computer, by David’s count.   But the first one we got on a trade for a cold bottle of beer.

Overlapping the costumes and the computer there is Michael in the backyard building and now launching rockets.  This draws quite an ogling crowd, and I find myself calculating the cost of new windows whenever this kind of thing is happening.

And my mom has been here for several weeks, and our visit has been really nice, but I find that this she has been ill for much of her time here, as has become the expected routine.  My neighbor Brigitte’s 80 year old parents were just visiting from France, and her experience was similar to mine.  I so much appreciated her good moral support as we talked about the unexpected changes as we see our parents grow older.  In her delicious French accent she declared “Things are seldom as we might desire or expect.”    We had this chat while rockets were being launched toward her dining room windows.  She was completely unruffled, though her whippet was in a full scale panic.

And then, somebody said something like “Where’s Maggie” which set off an alarmed scramble for the 3yr old.

And here is where I found her.

All alone in Jon’s wood shop with the big loud power tools, she was trying to hammer nails into the headboard of the sleigh-bed Jon’s making.  By the time I had my camera in hand, corrections had been completed and she was on to the next thing, as you see.

Crazy stuff happens when I am not looking, so Kafka will not get finished by me today.    I do love to read Kafka though.  I feel so much at home in his crazy, stream of consciousness world so full of weird and wacky detail.

Something new at the blog

I had a dream last night that I was Googling around hunting to see if there was a more efficient duplicate of myself in a parallel universe whom I could summon via the internet, using my Visa card.   Something like that.
I was seated  on a pile of gravel in the backyard, surrounded by baby raccoons in trees who were flinging ceramic dishes and cans of Krylon paint at me.   And I was surprisingly relieved when the alarm went off at 5am.

The meaning of this dream is that my life is too full, and I need to just pull back a bit and focus on small and unglamorous things like pulling more weeds and spray-painting the lawn chairs, and I need to put the computer in a cupboard for a few days.
But before I do that,
IF I do that,
I have to just say Please Look At The Top Of This Page, and move your mouse up to the tab which says “Dinner”
…..and click there.
I am experimenting at building a food blog with some  cool women I know, and we are just getting it together today.
This project is just about ready for Prime Time, and if you have anything to add, please ADD IT.

A bit more Calvin

Here’s an article from Time Magazine’s series  “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now” about John Calvin’s continuing cultural impact  and how it’s being felt 500 years later.  It’s interesting to note that Time has a clearer understanding of Calvin’s teachings on God’s sovereignty than some Presbyterians have, at least as it’s lightly flitted over in this short article.

And, here also, at the Christian Reader, is a good review of Steven J. Lawson’s book, The Expository Genius of John Calvin. Calvin really has my attention  because I can see the urgent need for the generation that’s growing up now (that would be the generation my kids are in…)  to model Calvin in his rigorous study of scripture, his  understanding  of the times in which he lived,  his vision for   scriptural solutions to the problems before him, and his ability to communicate  brilliantly.

Here is an exerpt from Eric Rauch’s article:

“In an age of PowerPoint presentations and preaching to the felt needs of the congregation, the expository style of John Calvin needs to be recovered. Calvin believed that God knew best what His people should know, and he faithfully taught what God had to say: word-by-word, verse-by-verse. Topical sermons approach the Bible as a sort of encyclopedia of divine wisdom, often taking a pre-conceived conclusion TO the Bible looking for scriptural support. Lawson commends Calvin’s preaching method as a needed antidote to halt the modern church’s slide into secularism and irrelevance.”

This one is now on my list to find and read.