Just Keep Swimming
My oldest son, James, turned 16 this week. He gave me his birthday list prior to the Boy Scout campout last weekend and it was an interesting list - mostly children's movies on DVD, with very explicit instructions about which version of the DVDs he wanted. There wasn't enough time to order the items for his birthday, and so we bought a few DVDs at Wal-Mart. When it came time for his birthday day, he had a lot of very generous money gifts from relatives in cards, and he even got a great card from some friends in St. Louis where the children had drawn him pictures inside the card. But boy was James grumpy. He doesn't understand very well about money and presents; it produces a lot of anxiety for him to spend money and for it to be gone, and yet this is the way presents work for 16 year olds - especially when that 16 year old has such specific requests. Also, since he was very young, it kills him to hear someone sing "Happy Birthday." I'll never forget the sweet little Lutheran school he attended early on in life and how they whispered the song to him one time in class. This all adds up to where Jame is pretty grumpy and surly on his birthday. Even after his great birthday dinner and presents opening, he was not feeling right. And then I took him to the movies.
On the way to the movies, he asked me how old he was in 2003. I realized he was asking because 2003 was the year Finding Nemo first came out. We did the math and found out he was seven. Amazing, because it doesn't seem like that long ago. The movie was wonderful. I haven't seen any of the new 3d children's movies and this was a great one to start because it is such a good movie and because the underwater subject matter was so good in this format. I had forgotten what a father and son movie it is and it was good to be sharing it with him. He loved it. When we came out of the movie theater he was so happy. And I let him get the biggest coke and popcorn they had since it was his birthday, and he was like a different person. Like he had been through some kind of sacrament; he was nice to his brothers when he came home, he was cooly making plans to order things from Amazon with his birthday money, and he was hugging his mom and saying sweet things.
In kids like James who are pretty far over on the autism spectrum, there is a lot of anxiety but I think it manifests in a lot of confusion and fear. For kids on the lighter end of the spectrum, I think that anxiety manifests in a lot of OCD tendencies and melancholy. I'm not sure which is harder to deal with on a daily basis, but James has been grumpy a lot lately and I've got to think how to get that same kind of relaxed James to show up more often without requiring 10 dollar 3-d movie tickets!
The Boy Scout campout was really good. Nathan and Charlie have now joined up officially and they are enjoying the meetings and the rank advancement. I think Nathan appreciates the fact that the things you learn in Boy Scouts are very practical and real - the kinds of things everyone used to know. The troop is a good one - I could tell right off the bat that they let the boys lead, and that's the key goal of scouting anyway. Watching from the other side, it is so amazing how much hard work it is for scoutmasters to guide the boys to do the right thing without actually telling them what to do. Mostly, it seems to involve a lot of socratic method. I had been observing this all weekend, and got my chance to finally practice it on Sunday morning. One of the patrols planned to have pancakes (they plan and buy provisions for their own meals). But the mix they chose required eggs and no one bought eggs. And so I said, "are there any substitutes for eggs in recipes?" And the boy thought "milk" and then I asked "is there already a quantity of milk in the recipe?" and he looked and said "oh yeah." And then someone suggested mayonnaise, and the kid was really not happy about that suggestion because he doesn't like mayonnaise. Another kid said "aw, you'll never taste it in a mix - it's in a lot of recipes." And then (and here's the 21st century magic) I offered to google the substitution and sure enough, it was readily available - 3 T of mayo for each egg. And the boys made the pancakes and they worked, and the batter was easy to work with, and now they know that cooking is not only magic, it is also a good bit of science too.
Someone in the previous post asked me why I changed my mind about Boy Scouts. The first answer is very practical - logistics. Living in St. Louis, a great city with great resources, was not very convenient. I learned to love it, but I'm remembering how when I first moved there how out-of-sorts I was. Anything you wanted to do required at least a 30 minute round trip. So a one hour scout meeting would become a two hour time commitment. The bad thing is that this ended up making us do less. The second answer is also partly practical - the boys were having trouble meeting kids at school. A lot of the kids from church were either home schooled or go to the local academy, and so scouts provided a way for them to meet kids in a smaller group. Now they know kids from their schools, from the academy, and from the local homeschooling community. It has really paid off in that respect. Finally, the main thing I worried about was the possibility of this being a corrupting influence on them. My own troop experience had many positives, but there were also a lot of negatives that came from kids who were exposed to a lot of foul stuff at home and who would bring this to scouts with them. There is such a difference in this generation that is kind of hard to articulate. They are more innocent or something. Maybe they are all neutered by the fluoride in the water and the GMO crops, who knows :) I grew up with kids who were a lot like Beavis and Butthead - ready to jump on every possible double entendre, obsessed with bathroom humor; no doubt I was just like that too. But I just don't detect that in the youth culture that the boys are in here. So maybe I'm just not aware of it; who knows. But for a group of kids who have so much exposure to vile stuff on the internet, it is kind of amazing that I'm not seeing it in their real world lives. One of the best unexpected benefits of scouting has been that I have been getting to know the other adult leaders, and there are such good guys there. I and the other assistants represent to the boys so many different, legitimate ways of being a man. If I were a single mother of boys, I would definitely find a really good troop that I could trust just so my boys would get exposure to a lot of different kinds of men. One of the hardest parts about being a boy is trying to figure out what kind of guy you are and what kind of man to be. You need good options - men who represent lots of strengths and weaknesses. An artsy boy needs to see a man in full who is artsy. An outdoorsy boy needs to see a man who would rather be outdoors but who still holds a day job. And all of the various types of boys need to see all the various types of men going about their lives and respecting each other. I think under the right circumstances that Boy Scouts can be a really helpful source of that kind of mentoring.
Church has continued to be interesting. It looks like we're getting closer to finding a pastor here, and that has everyone very excited. Insider Presbyterian alert. The rest of this paragraph might not be interesting to the general reader. I've been hearing a lot of the "Jesus + nothing = everything" kind of messages from the RUF set here, and while I think it is a powerful corrective to legalism, there's just something that doesn't sit right with me about it. I'm trying to figure out whether my instincts are right, and how to articulate what I'm feeling on these issues, but there is a lack of balance and its contours are getting a little clearer as I think through it. Sometimes an overbalanced response is helpful to correct a lack of balance, and so I really get that. But I'm not hearing the "other pole" yet, and so I'm a little worried. There was recently a young intern at a famous baptist church near D.C. who has become an atheist and in his parting shot - an open letter to the congregation - articulated two things--some rather sophomoric reasons for not believing in God, and a sketch of the Reformed faith that he no doubt intended to prove his Reformed bona fides. It was the description of the reformed faith that really unsettled me the most; it struck me as doing several things: treating Jesus as a "third-party" to salvation along with God and humans, and promoting a kind of nominalism about sin and salvation. There was an "either/or" quality to his points that reminded me of the way Francis Spira reasoned when he felt that he had committed the "unpardonable sin." Frankly, I could almost see how atheism would be a comfort after twisting in that construal of Christian theology. Reformed theology is richer than this, and I really hope that that we can do a course correction here before sending a lot of other people down the wrong trail.
Work has continued to be interesting, stretching me in a lot of ways, intellectually and interpersonally. Tech alert. The rest of this paragraph might not be interesting to general readers. I'm getting more comfortable with JAVA, and with my role as "software architect" which in some ways makes me feel like less of a programmer rather than more of a programmer. But I have tons of experience in developing web projects, so my instincts and experience combine to give me, almost always, the right questions to ask. JAVA is a strange world, and I understand why it exists, and I'm super grateful not to be working with Microsoft technology all the time. If it weren't for JAVA, that's almost assuredly what I'd have to be doing since most big enterprise applications are not written in PHP, even though they could be.
Gotta run. The Boy Scouts are parking cars today at the big football game. It is our main source of fundraising. Ann and I have a big todo list still for the house. Have a great Saturday.