Sunday, August 25, 2013

neutrality or denial?

Here's an article I read this morning from Deutsche Welle (the article's in English):

In case you can't or don't want to read it, the gist is that in Berlin they are thinking about changing the name of the traditional Christmas market (Weihnachtsmärkte) to Winter festival (Winterfest). The reason is that they want to be more neutral and leave religion out of it so that the many people of different faiths (and no faith) can feel more welcome, or, as the article says, "providing an even playing field and promoting equality for those of every religion, as well as for non-believers."

It cites this kind of thing already being done in the U.S. (how we've "tried to achieve inclusion by promoting secularism"), and the author does not think it relates to an anti religious sentiment. However, I am not sure this is the case (in the U.S. or Europe). The author talks about walking down the streets of Berlin and seeing mosques, churches, temples, and other religious buildings all near one another. But those are all distinctly religious. Should they all become uniform buildings with no indication of the religious type they relate to so that everyone feels included (or not excluded)? Do non religious people feel left out because of all the religious buildings they see?

Secularization is an anti religious sentiment. That's what the word means, that's the point of secularization. This is not a post about whether secularization is good or bad, but let's be realistic about what we're doing with it. Changing the name of the Christmas market to Winter festival will not in itself make it not a Christmas market. It is this paragraph from the article I have particular problems with: 

"In the way Americans say 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas,' Kreuzberg is saying Winterfest to mean Christmas market. In countries as deeply Christian as both the US and Germany, the name of the holiday itself will continue to refer to the celebration of Jesus' birth, but the change of related terminology at least makes the festivities more inclusive."

Maybe the Christmas market has already taken a secular flair and the name change reflects that. But if it is still a Christmas market, still related to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, why can't it just be the Christmas market? I doubt they ask for your Christian identification before you can browse the market or enjoy the festivities (and they certainly shouldn't!). Inclusivity is allowing all the religions to have their own public celebrations, not taking them all away. Neutrality would be the same. Arguably, disallowing any religious sentiment favors the non-religious and is therefore no longer neutral. Neutrality would be allowing the gamut and favoring neither religion nor non-religion.

This is certainly a very complicated topic, and obviously agreement is hard to come by. The question of changing the Christmas market name is a case in point, not the point itself. Nobody is going to be included in everything (Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, etc etc etc). We are all too different to have everything fit our needs or desires, but that is how we can learn from one another. If we embraced these differences rather than denying them, we might actually feel more included overall, because we could be invited to ask questions and explore rather than being sent away empty handed. And sometimes it's okay to take your toys and go home when you want to, but that's different from letting no one play just because you are feeling untoward.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

living with children

So, I am staying with a friend in my homeless between moves interim, and she is married with two young children. I haven't spent much time with children in several years, really not since I finished college I suppose, and I am realizing that being a full fledged adult gives me an entirely new perspective on children. (I suppose living with them also creates a perspective different from just babysitting or spending an hour or two with them)
Anyway, some things I am seeing differently. Learning to negotiate one's own space, sharing space and things, and dealing with feelings, experiences, and emotions, is quite a task. A lot happens in life, and my abilities to regulate my emotions (more or less successfully) I often take for granted now.
Life is simpler, and at the same time it's still a lot to deal with. Milk or juice, Elmo or Pingu, which ball bounces best, and whether or not a bath or diaper change is really necessary are all very serious choices. And at the same time, the mind seems to be always working, taking in information, trying things out, figuring out what everything means and what consequences come with what actions. Watching the little guy poke things, drop things, throw things, pick up things, and otherwise explore is really fascinating.
At the same time, he also has personality and humor, and sometimes just likes to say no because he can. I had what I felt was a victorious moment when I bested him in a philosophical debate. It was time for supper, and his mom called them to come eat, and he stayed on the couch. I went over to him and said "Let's go eat," and he responded with a simple "No." (which is much cuter when he says it, but try to imagine that from a 20 month old) I said, "No? Don't you want to eat?" to which he again replied, "No." So I asked, "Why not?" He sat there for a short while, seemingly contemplating the question, and I can only suppose he couldn't come up with a good answer, because with no further ado he crawled off the couch and went to the bathroom to wash his hands.
Besides all the complicated parts of negotiating emotions and negative feedback and uncomfortable feelings, there is little more fun and contagious to listen to than little people laughing. It is often very simple things that make them laugh, such as funny faces or noises or even just playing along and throwing a ball, but get them laughing and I can't help but laugh too.
Raising children, I see most clearly now, is no small task, and makes for tired parents and a lot of randomness (I never know what I will find in the bathroom when I go to take a shower, or in the yard or living room when I get home from work), and at the same time is a powerful work, guiding the development of young minds, bodies, and souls. Amazing, really, and not something to be taken lightly.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

suggestions for direction

Hey all, here's the very beginning of a story. I'm looking for suggestions and plot ideas. Let me know what you think. Thanks! (poll the audience... why not?)

The cold naturally made her cry. It was getting dark and she hurried down the sidewalk, ready for a reprieve from the cold air and a chance to dry the cold tears. It was the middle of December, and there were bright wreaths and sparkling multi-colored lights on many of the houses, brightening the walk. She tried to take notice of these things, revel in the way the lights reflected off the snow and how crisp the neatly shoveled walks looked as they ran dark ribbons through the bright snow. The snow had a bluish tint from the darkening sky.
                She arrived at her ribbon sidewalk and followed it around the house to a back door. She let herself in and went up the stairs to her attic apartment. The stairs opened into a small kitchen, and she immediately filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove to heat. She set down a brown paper bag with the bagel she had picked up on the way home and went to put her bag down in the corner of her living room that was her work space. She went to hang her coat in the bedroom closet and pulled off her boots. She glanced quickly out the window in her bedroom and saw that it had started to snow again. She watched the flakes fall for a minute until she was pulled out of her reverie by the whistling kettle and hurried back to the kitchen.
                She pulled a mug from a cabinet and grabbed a package of hot chocolate from the box on the counter. She poured that in the mug and then filled it with hot water, stirring as she poured. She grabbed an orange from the basket on the counter and sat down at the kitchen table, pulling the bagel out of the paper bag. She took a bite, staring thoughtfully out the kitchen window. It was completely dark outside now, but the snow always made the night brighter, and the streetlights reflected off some of the snowflakes as they fell.
                She had not taken the time to pay attention to these things in a while.