Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Planted A Child

I was thinking about my son today as I tried to save my dying plants. Right now the man he will become is developing beneath the surface of his infancy. I imagine him putting down the first delicate roots that will deepen to sustain him through the droughts and storms of life.

My recent fitful attempts at gardening brought a disconcerting thought to mind: small early damage can doom a plant. I planted hydrangeas that withered in a late frost. At first they seemed to recover and even grow, but one by one they all died.

Today I was trying to save my shriveling plants from the sweltering heat of a Georgia summer drought. I was out of town so they didn't get any watering. Their new root systems weren't strong enough to reach the deep water like the big white oaks in the front yard. My vegetable garden is lost and many of the trees I planted were withering. I attempted to revive the little maple by the driveway with water, but I wonder if from now on it may always be stunted. Even a redwood I planted last Fall was visibly damaged.

I want my son to grow into a man like a redwood: immovable, deep, self-contained. They grow to become the world's tallest trees, but the little redwood in my back yard is nearly dead after a few weeks of drought.

Of course the principles of gardening are simple and well known. Babies are more complex. Conflicting theories abound on how not to damage their developing souls.

When I hear my baby cry what should I do? One theory tells me I must immediately go to him and comfort him. He will learn love, kindness, and trust from this, otherwise he would grow up cold, distant, unable to connect to another. Another theory tells me as long as he has recently been fed, cleaned, and loved I should let him cry. Self-soothing will develop self-control and patience. Immediately comforting every cry creates self-absorption and a false expectation that the world should always serve him.

The problem with babies is that their rooting takes place beneath the surface. They cannot tell us about their formation, nor will they recall it afterwards. All our theories about their developing souls are speculation, and the vast differences among children make clear patterns difficult to ascertain. Perhaps we flatter ourself to think we are influencing their formation at all. Perhaps they arrive with roots already so deep within the soil of themselves that they are hardier than any fitful weather of infancy.

I wonder if my abilities as a father will be any better than my gardening? I am certain within my love I am already making mistakes. I am reminded of Paul's words “I planted... but God gave the increase.” I can water, fertilize, prune, provide sunlight and shelter, but the life within a growing tree will remain a hidden mystery. It is the same with my son. He is not my own. I pray that God is good to him, and guides him with a steadier hand than my own.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Us Versus Them (politics with no thinking required)

The polarization of American politics has stifled any real progress or discussion. Respectful opposition has been replaced with demonization and name-calling. The free forum of the internet was supposed to liberate us from the hegemony of the two political parties. Instead we got more obnoxious partisan bickering.

Of course, Conservatives and Liberals have real differences worth discussing, but there is little or no discussion online. Political hatreds (such as the Right's vehement disgust toward the Clintons, the Left's similar distain for the Bushes, and various ad hominem attacks and name-calling directed at each party) have replaced political discourse.

No one even tries to understand political thoughts anymore, just label them. Once an idea has been labeled “Right” or “Left” you can reject or accept it based on your affiliations without even having to strain your mind to even give it any real consideration.

A blog like this that often ventures into politics but has no real Right/Left affiliation is an anomaly on the internet. Recently I read a review of my site on Stumble Upon (a social bookmarking site that allows people to vote on any website). The only written review of the site consists of one man giving the site a thumbs down and stating “The guy voted for Bush... not once but TWICE!”

While I did vote for Bush and do not regret it, any reading of the site should reveal that my positions are drastically different from Bush's. I imagine that this man had to do some significant exploration of the site to find my voting history since it is noted in passing on a post that doesn't get much traffic or or have outside links, but thinking about what he was reading didn't seem to be part of this web surfer's approach. I imagine this poor liberal scanning through ideas and posts without giving them any thought until he final found something that made sense. “Two votes for Bush! The writer must be Republican, an enemy. Bad site! Don't consider any of the ideas in these essays! Give it a bad review so no one else reads it either.” Interestingly this is the same site that a conservative acquaintance called me a “pinko commie” after reading.

The truth is I am neither a Conservative or Liberal, but I give a lot of thought to politics—both personal, local, and national. While there certainly are thoughtful people of all political persuasions the vast majority voters have no desire to think about what anyone else says. They only want to win arguments and elections for their side. Having friends who are sincere and intelligent Liberals and Conservatives as well as reading blogs and books from all sorts of political perspectives is what freed me from feeling the need to pick a side. Both sides are right and wrong on a great many things, so I defend what I believe is right and point out the wrongs I see. If most voters aren't open minded enough to even listen to someone outside their own group I fear we will never solve this nation's problems.