How to Influence Your Kids When They Keep Getting Smarter and You Keep Getting Dumber

Quote Intro

My kids think I’m stupid.

I knew this day would come.  I mean, I used to be that smartass kid myself.

I thought that I knew everything about everything because my age (almost) ended with -teen.  I thought I had the answers to life’s hard questions despite hardly having lived at all.  I thought my parents, who paid for everything and provided everything and fixed everything, were the least smart people on the entire planet.  And I had evidence.  I mean, I got straight A’s in middle school.  What could they possibly know that I didn’t?

(And then when I moved out, they studied really hard and became GENIUSES almost overnight!  I’m not sure why they waited so long . . . )

So now my kids are the ones rolling their eyes when I offer advice, sighing with distrust at everything I say.  How could my knowledge of unclogging a toilet or writing a check compare to their knowledge of sports stats and texting slang?  Seriously.

Yes, my kids think I’m stupid.

But here is something I have noticed.

They think Abraham Lincoln was smart.
They think Michael Jordan is smart.
They think the Beastie Boys are smart.
They think Dr. Seuss was smart.
They think Benjamin Franklin was smart.
They think John Cena is smart.
They think Yoda is smart.
They think Steven Spielberg is smart.
They think Albert Einstein was REALLY smart.
And they think Lebron James is a genius.

Basically, they think everyone is smart except me.

But here’s what they don’t understand: I AM smart.  I’m so smart that I can make them think I’m dumb while I’m outsmarting them.  I’m smart enough to realize that I can trick them into learning the values I want to teach them by teaching those values through someone else they trust.  Like Doc Brown from Back to the Future or Beverly from The Goldbergs.

Dumb parents everywhere, listen up.  Let me share with you my little secret – the Quote of the Day.

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Every morning, before my kids head off to school, I scour the Internet for a quotation that feels right for the day.  Sometimes it shares deep wisdom about life, friendship, hard work, perseverance, love, joy, faith, or success.  Sometimes it’s funny.  Sometimes it is a line from a movie we just watched or from a favorite television show.  Every once in a while it is a Bible verse, and sometimes it specifically applies to something that is happening that day, like if my kids need encouragement for a test or a track meet.  The quotation for the day is quickly recorded on two post-it notes, three if I want to be reminded of it later myself, and stuffed into lunch boxes before the kids dash out the door.  If one of my kiddos is buying lunch, then I stick the post-it somewhere in a folder or book for them to find later in the day.

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I know what you’re thinking.  Her kids don’t read those things.  They probably toss them in the cafeteria trash can or hide them under an apple or granola bar so that no one else will see.  How embarrassing.

WRONG.

How do I know this?  Because whenever I forget to pack one, they ALWAYS tell me.

Sometimes we talk about them over dinner.  Sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes their friends ask to see them at lunch.  Sometimes my kids reflect on them on their own.  Sometimes I stick them on the refrigerator as a reminder, and sometimes we discuss them when we unpack their lunchboxes after school.  Sometimes I see one from several weeks ago tucked into a folder or marking a page in a book. Cha ching.  If they read it more than once before tossing it, that’s even better.

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I hope that sometimes those words of wisdom, not from their stupid mom but from someone brilliant, like Charles Barkley or Will Ferrell, change their day.  I hope that enough of those carefully chosen words over all the days and all the weeks and all the months of school will help to shape their lives.

Remember the days when you could stuff a sweet note into your child’s lunchbox, and he would treasure that little scrap of paper love all afternoon?  Once you hit the tweens, those days are over.  But don’t be fooled, moms and dads.  Your kids still appreciate your influence.  They still want to know that they are loved, even as their growing independence pulls them farther and farther away.

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They want your attention; they just don’t want a lipstick kiss from their mother on a heart-shaped napkin anymore.

Because, well, moms are dumb.

But it’s okay, mom.  You’ve got backup.  Because Homer Simpson is really, really smart.

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**Maybe you want to pilot a Quote of the Day routine with your kids in the last quarter of the school year.  Let me help!  I included a few quotations above to get you started!  Watch the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page for more each week!  If doing this in the morning seems overwhelming to you, make them all on the weekend instead.  Five minutes and you are finished!**

 

 

Hidden Figures: Lessons on Hope and Courage

hidden-figures-poster

Hidden Figures tells the true story of three African American women working at NASA during the height of the space race between the United States and Russia.  The year is 1961, and while the country is united in a common goal to send a man to the moon, there is racial tension within NASA’s gates and civil unrest outside them.  The three women who propel the movie, Katherine Goble Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, have both brilliant minds and firecracker spirits.  Given the time period, they are considered “lucky” to work as computers (mathematicians) at such a respected government agency, but their experiences at NASA reveal that while technology is advancing at lightning speed in 1961, social progress is often excruciatingly slow.

I believe that every person has a valuable story, a unique life experience that unlocks the door to lessons that we may not have learned on our own, so I expected to appreciate this movie.  What I did not expect was that Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy would become my friends, that they would kick up their feet and make themselves at home in my head.  I didn’t expect that their voices would continue speaking to me long after the movie had ended, that they would unpack their suitcases and stay.

I did not expect this, but I don’t mind that they did.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from this movie, but PLEASE go and see it for yourself!  You can thank me for the recommendation later!

*CAUTION: Spoilers ahead!*

 

  1. Do not allow ANYONE to diminish your value.

Over and over and over again, the main characters in the movie are treated as second-class citizens because they are female and black at a time when both are considered inferior.  Even though Katherine’s ability to calculate complex mathematical equations is exceptional, she is repeatedly underestimated, and when her colleagues begin to recognize her extraordinary talent, she is still resented by men and women alike.  Likewise, Dorothy is not appreciated for her leadership, and Mary is discouraged from pursuing graduate classes in engineering despite both women being highly qualified.

But these ladies know that their value is not determined by what other people say or do or think.  They have a strong faith.  They have an impenetrable self-respect.  They have the love of their families.  And they have each other.

This is what gives Katherine the spunk to challenge the sexist attitude of the man she eventually marries and the courage to invite herself into highly classified meetings at NASA without proper clearance.

Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy know their value.  They do not allow anyone to dim their light, and neither should you.  Keep shining.

 

  1. You can be the first.

In one of the most compelling scenes in the movie, Mary Jackson petitions the court to allow her to attend graduate classes at night at a segregated high school.  This is her only option if she wants to become a NASA engineer.  In her plea, Mary reminds the judge of the “importance of being first,” in this case being the first to challenge social norms.  She asks him, “Out of all the cases you gonna hear today, which one is gonna matter a hundred years from now?  Which one is gonna make you the first?”

Being first matters.

But the movie also reveals that being first isn’t easy.  In Mary’s case, being first means going to court.  It means researching and pleading her case.  It means risking rejection and abuse.  Even when Mary is victorious and is granted permission to attend, being first means being unwelcome.  It means proving herself every single step along the way.

Even so, Mary shows us that there is something rewarding about winning an honorable and hard-fought battle.  And if you are the first to do something worth doing, you can rest assured that others won’t be far behind.

But they will never be first.

Because you were.

 

  1. If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Even though I was absorbed in the struggles of Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy, I couldn’t take my eyes off the white people on the screen.  I know that the actual events took place in 1961.  I know that social norms were very different at that time.  I know, on an academic level, about segregation and discrimination.    But I couldn’t stop watching the behavior of so many white characters and thinking, “How could you do that?”

How could you make Katherine use a separate coffee pot in the office?

How could you intentionally prevent her from having the information she needs to do her job?

How could you deny her recognition and shut the door in her face when she is a critical part of your team?

How could you?

On the way home from the movie, my sons asked some difficult questions.  What would we have been like, as people, if we had been raised at that time, in that place, and indoctrinated with those ideas of right and wrong?  The truth is that I don’t know.

But there are white people in the movie who stand out as exceptionally bright lights.  The brightest of those is John Glenn, who does not hesitate to greet all of the NASA employees, including the black women who have been sent to the side, with a handshake and a warm smile.  He is portrayed as exuberant, kind, respectful – and eager to acknowledge Katherine’s exceptional talent.  Another bright light is Karl Zielinski, a mission specialist who encourages Mary to pursue a career in engineering when she sees that as an impossible goal.

Our actions influence people.  When we turn our heads and ignore the mistreatment of others, we are supporting that mistreatment, and we are encouraging other people to support it, too.  And when we choose to be a brighter light and chart a different course, like Glenn and Zielinski, our behavior is influential, as well.

It’s not a matter of whether we do or don’t want to influence others – because that is not our choice.  The choice is what kind of influence we will have.

 

  1. ASK FOR IT.

You are never, ever, ever going to get something that you don’t ask for, even if you deserve it.  It’s not going to happen if you don’t ask.  It just isn’t.

This idea is a recurring message throughout the film.  As Hidden Figures progresses, we see all three ladies ask (and work very hard) for what they want.  Katherine asks for more data, more access, and more respect.  Dorothy asks for a promotion.  Mary asks for the right to her education.  And even though they do not get what they ask for right away, they do eventually get all of those things in one way or another.

Asking does not guarantee that you will get exactly what you want when you want it.

But not asking does guarantee that you won’t.

 

  1. Protocol is important. Until it isn’t.

“Protocol” is a key word in the vernacular of NASA in 1961.  There is a strictly defined way to do almost everything, and, when there isn’t, the uncertainty sends the people who work there into a bit of a panic.  There is a sense that the same organization that is on the forefront of scientific advancement is so entrenched in tradition and bureaucracy that it can’t see the forest for the trees in terms of social progress.

In one tense conversation, Katherine’s colleague Paul Stafford, who is offended that Katherine has been asked to double check his work, prevents her from attending a meeting by saying, “There is no protocol for women attending.”

Katherine quickly replies, “There’s no protocol for a man circling the earth either, Sir.”

There is an interesting paradox in the movie between the very precise calculations that are necessary to ensure the astronauts’ safety and the flexibility that is also required to allow for scientific – and social – growth.

Rules are important, but rigidity is dangerous, and this applies to so many aspects of life.

 

  1. “You are the boss. You just have to act like one.”

When Katherine seeks permission to attend top-secret meetings so that she will have immediate access to the data that is critical to her job, she looks to her boss, Al Harrison, to override Paul Stafford, the head engineer, who wants to keep her out.

“Within these walls, who makes the rules?” Harrison asks.

“You, Sir,” Katherine answers.  “You are the boss.  You just have to act like one.  Sir.”

With that, Harrison decides to break protocol, and Katherine joins the men at the table.

Katherine’s quick wit reminds us that we often underestimate our own power to change things that aren’t working.  We may not be the Space Task Group director at NASA, like Harrison, but we are the bosses of a lot of things in our lives.

We just have to act like it.

 

  1. Open your eyes to the challenges of others.

Throughout the movie, Katherine maintains her composure despite difficult situations that would send most of us into a fit of rage today.  But when she is scolded by Harrison for taking too many breaks after running a half mile in high heels in the middle of a rainstorm to get to the colored restroom, she finally loses her cool.  Frustrated and soaking wet, she confronts Harrison in front of the entire office, asserting that she is tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.

This leads Harrison to bust up the signs assigning NASA bathrooms to one race or the other, and in a defining moment as the team works on their space mission he declares, “We all get there together, or we don’t get there at all.”

Harrison is portrayed as more open minded and empathetic than many other NASA supervisors, but the reality is that he did not “see” Katherine’s struggle until that struggle threatened to impact the success of the Friendship 7 mission, thus jeopardizing his own success and reputation.  Only then did Katherine’s plight become real to him, and then he became her ally and maybe even her friend.

But that does not negate the fact that she had been taking long breaks for a long time, and anyone with just a bit of common sense could have figured out that running across the campus to the colored bathroom was a ridiculous haul and a waste of her time, besides the fact that it was completely unfair and demoralizing.  But no one expressed concern.  Because it wasn’t their problem.

There are people all around us facing challenges that we choose not to see.

What would happen if we all started seeing them?

 

  1. Do what you love.

Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy tolerate a significant amount of disrespect just to do their jobs.  In the film, they choose to work in a field where women, particularly black women, are not really welcome.  They could probably pursue work in a less hostile environment, but they don’t.

The reason these women pursue these careers is because they have a passion that I will never understand – a passion for MATH.

And it’s okay.  I don’t need to understand it.

Because Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy inspire us to find our own passions, to find our own hidden gifts, and to pursue those with a vigor that is intensified, not diminished, by obstacles.

 

  1. Don’t lose your courage. Don’t lose your kindness.  Don’t lose your hope.

At the end of the movie, the audience in our theater burst into applause.  Typically, we applaud for people who are standing in front of us, people who can see and hear that recognition.  But in the movie theater, we clapped for people who would never know, the real Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy, and all of the other people whose astounding resilience has changed life for us all.  We applauded for the people who are more courageous and more daring than the rest of us.

And we clapped for the people who are still striving to reach what seem like impossible goals.

Hidden Figures shows us that people can and will continue to achieve the impossible.

Now we are watching to see who will be first.

 

*Hidden Figures was released by 20th Century Fox and is based on true events.  The book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly was the inspiration for the film.

 

 

 

 

How to Party Like It’s 1985

The year was 1981.

Ronald Reagan was President.

MTV had just been born, and so had Justin Timberlake.

The cool kids were playing Frogger at the arcade while their parents critiqued the 25-foot train on Princess Diana’s wedding gown.

Raiders of the Lost Arc was a box office hit, and Harrison Ford was a heartthrob.

Sunscreen and seatbelts were still underrated.

And these two cuties were in kindergarten.

Mary Kindergarten     Ryan Kindergarten

Now fast forward your VCR to 2016.  (Let me give you a minute.  Your VCR was slower than you probably remember.)  A few things have changed since 1981.  No one is pegging denim anymore, maybe because the jeans are too “skinny” these days.  Dark wash is cooler than acid wash now, and we aren’t all choking on AquaNet fumes anymore.

And those two kindergarteners?  Well, we’re turning 40, which is basically impossible, unless we fell into a time warp somewhere between our high school graduation in 1994 and today.  Otherwise, I just can’t explain how this happened.

This is a big year for my husband and me; we both turn 40, which is some kind of milestone in American culture, I guess, and we will celebrate our 100th wedding anniversary in June.  I say 100th anniversary because I like to measure marital bliss in “Hollywood years,” which means that every year of marriage is worth seven or eight, and also because on a bad day it sometimes feels like it’s actually been that long.  (I can say this because we have mostly good days – and because I know there are days when he would agree!)  In calendar years, though, we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this summer.  But, again, with that time warp we hit somewhere in the 90’s, I’m not sure how long it has actually been.  Maybe only four.

A few years ago, in a dreamy state disconnected from reality, I had hoped that we could do something really exciting to celebrate these occasions, like go on our first cruise or vacation in Mexico.  But my husband is so kind that he encourages me, the brainiac who was supposed to be highly successful in something that pays well, to follow my passions, like devoting hours to writing a blog that pays in only personal growth and satisfaction.  And since resorts in Mexico will not accept this as payment, I needed to find a less expensive way to celebrate his birthday.  (Note to self: Maybe stop blogging about the 80s and start writing travel reviews instead . . .  Cha ching!)

Seriously, though, I did want to make his 40th memorable while keeping affordable, too.  I started tossing around ideas, plans for a big party with all of our hometown friends and family and all of our friends nearby, and, frankly, it started to feel a bit overwhelming and not so low cost anymore.  I also realized that I was planning the party that I thought he should have, but not necessarily the party that my husband would actually want, so I decided to nix the element of surprise and just ask him.  The answer was not shocking since we have been married for 100 years.  He said, “Keep it small.  Really small.”

And I said, “THANK GOD!” under my breath as I exited the room.  Thank.  You.  Jesus.  Because small is much, much, much, much easier to do.

But let’s be clear; small doesn’t have to mean boring, and 40 doesn’t have to mean decorations that say “Rest In Peace.”  (Seriously?  Who is comfortable with that?)  And that takes us back to the 80s, because even though we were both born in 1976, that decade is a blur of diapers and formula for us.  But the 80s, well, EVERYONE born in 1976 remembers “Livin’ on a Prayer,” right?  Ferris Beuller’s Day Off?  Knight Rider?  Of course, they do!

I love 80s

Thus, our 80s party was born.  The ideas that we used were super simple, and we suggest that you modify them to fit your needs and throw an 80s party yourself, just for fun!

First, we needed an 80s atmosphere with fun decorations and bright colors.  As always, we were extremely busy, so I opted to buy some 80s décor from Party City rather than figure everything out on my own.  The prices were reasonable, and a little went a long way.  We also scoured the house and some boxes in the basement to find anything with an 80s vibe.  Movies, music, toys, cassette and VHS tapes, vintage t-shirts, old pictures – anything from the time period will add to the fun!

80s Window  Decorations

If you are throwing a birthday party, don’t forget some pics of the guest of honor!  The 80s clothes and hairstyles captured in those moments will provide plenty of entertainment for your guests, too.

Ryan Pic

You can also use some of the party supplies or favors to create focal points that become decorations themselves, like these glasses from Party City that we gave to the kids.

Future So Bright

Or these white gloves from Walmart, purchased for less than 25 cents a pair at the end of the season.  Michael Jackson was my FAVORITE back in the day, as proven by the creepy Michael Jackson doll my mom just found in the back of a closet.  (If you are even thinking about having an 80s party, go buy these NOW on clearance!  There is no legit 80s party without M.J.)

MJ Gloves

And then there was this bit of fun for the kids, and the kids at heart.  Now, if you are a purist, these candies weren’t introduced in the 80s, but, really, who cares?  I remember Pop Rocks as a special treat during my childhood, so these worked for us, and the kids loved the novelty of them.  Also, Pop Rocks were discontinued at one point in the 80s, possibly as a result of crazy rumors that they would cause a kid’s stomach to explode.  That is cool 80s trivia.  Read more about it here!

Pop Rocks

What to do for a cake?  My husband didn’t want a cake at all, but he asked for a big iced cookie instead.  Perfect – the shape of Pac-Man!  This dessert was made by my friend Laura at Sweet Treats by Laura, and it was so, SO good!

PacMan Cookie

Now that the decorations and treats were prepared, entertaining everyone was the priority.  Not a problem.  First, we asked everyone to dress in 80s fashion, and that alone provided plenty of entertainment.  I mean, when a friend comes dressed in the vintage New Kids in the Block memorabilia that she dug out of storage, you know you are going to have plenty to talk about!

New Kids

The kids dressed up, too, which was especially entertaining.  My son and one of his friends spent all afternoon making jerseys to look like Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues from the Charlotte Hornets.  They just needed fake mustaches and some shorty shorts to complete the 80s NBA look.  Their costumes were, like, totally radical, ya know?

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Our friends are generally happy to just sit around and chat, but an easy, fun alternative to entertain a small crowd is to play the game Catch Phrase Decades.  This provided a lot of laughs as we tried to get our teammates to correctly guess names, titles, and products from the 80s.  It was hilarious to see how much we did and didn’t remember from the past, and the game brought back many long-lost memories.   (What did Mr. Mister sing again?  Oh, yeah, THAT song!  Right!)

Catch Phrase 80s

Meanwhile, the kids were busy downstairs reliving our childhoods.  They played Pac-Man, and they didn’t even find it boring thanks to Adam Sandler’s Pixels.

PacMan Closeup

Great Scott!  They watched Back to the Future. 

Back to the Future

And, my favorite, they had a ball with an 80s photo booth.  This started with an inexpensive backdrop from Party City.  Then, we stocked a basket with 80s fashions – crazy bright hats, fake mustaches, white gloves, net gloves, a net shirt, gold and neon bling, sunglasses, a microphone, and inflatable instruments, all from Party City and Walmart.  The kids dressed up and took pictures all evening, and the photos are great keepsakes, too.

Photo Booth

Photo Booth Stuff

MJ Wannabe

Our small party was a big success, and it is something that we will remember for a long time.  After the party, we finished celebrating my husband’s birthday by giving him more than 40 cards from friends and family members who helped with this fantastic surprise.  It included notes from kids he has coached, a card from one of his own basketball coaches from the 80s, and messages from so many people who have been so important to us during different phases of our lives.  I am grateful to everyone who helped, and I still feel the need to apologize for sending group Facebook messages.  Those are just terrible.  Thanks for not unfriending me!

If there is one thing I know about 40, it is that our experiences now are less about the experiences themselves and more about appreciating the people who experience them with us.  Our 80s party and the many birthday messages for my husband allowed us to reflect on all of those important relationships, past and present, for one totally tubular celebration.  What will I do to celebrate my 40th?  That’s still uncertain, but it doesn’t look like I will make it to Mexico.  If I am with the people I love, though, that won’t matter much at all.

40th Cards

Yes, I’m a Christan. No, I’m Not Like That.

snowflakes

Yesterday, my boys and I played a very small role in a very big project that involved three hundred volunteers from our church packing 60,000 meals for Haitians in need.  Each meal could feed a family of six, and we calculated that my little boys’ hands helped to pack somewhere around 1,500 meals.

As I looked around the room during our shift, with groups of eighteen people at twelve stations, many of whom had never met before, working in unison for the good of thousands of people we will never know, I thought about how generous and kind my Christian family is.  I thought about the people overseeing the project who had volunteered to be trained, to organize the supplies and the shipping, and to prepare to make the service project as efficient as possible.  I thought about their patience in letting our kids, who weren’t always as quick or as coordinated as the grownups, experience the rewards of service, too.  And I thought about how much I wish THIS were the stereotype of Christians that was accepted as reality.

Christians certainly aren’t the only group of people who are stereotyped, manipulated, and portrayed unfavorably, especially in political news, but if you are not a Christian, you may not realize just how ridiculous the caricatures of us really are.  It’s no wonder that people who have no experience with our faith have cool feelings toward religion if they spend any time watching the Christians in the news or if they listen to so many of our politicians talk.  The negative stereotypes are a barrier to meaningful relationships and relevant conversations between people who have much more in common than they don’t.  Plus, being misunderstood just plain hurts.  We’ve all been there before, right?

I certainly can’t speak on behalf of all Christians, but I can speak on behalf of the ones who are similar to me, and here are a few things that we want you to know about us.

  1. We are smart.

From what you have seen on television, you may think that we are religious because we just don’t know any better.  We are often portrayed as being foolish and gullible, sending our money off to any televangelist who claims God told him that he needs a personal jet with jewel-encrusted head rests to fulfill the great commission.  We are dismissed as uneducated people who are easily manipulated by right-wing politicians and who live in a bubble that shields us from the problems that everyone else in the world understands.

The truth is that God doesn’t care if we dropped out of high school or if we have a Ph.D.  The party is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bible) and open to all, and if you can’t BYOB, we’ve got you covered.

However, we are weary of the stereotype that Christians just aren’t very smart.  We are all kinds of people with all levels of education. We are doctors and lawyers and teachers and engineers.  We are tradespeople.  We are stay-at-home moms.  We are college graduates.  We are innovators and business owners.  We read books.  We watch the news.  We are interested in the events happening in the world around us.  We are seeking solutions to the same problems as everyone else.

We even believe that global warming is real.  We love science.

I know.  That one just blew your mind!

  1. We are not weird.

Okay, some of us are weird.  Some of us are really weird.  But we aren’t any weirder than the rest of the population, so please just let that stereotype die.  And, really, we think Jesus might have used the word “quirky” instead.

  1. You work and play and go to school with us, and you don’t even realize it.

When you first meet a Christian, she probably won’t be wearing a t-shirt that says, “I heart Jesus,” but kudos to her if she is.  Most likely, you will meet her diligently working in her cubicle at the office, not marching in a picket line or shouting Bible verses in front of the courthouse.  The truth is that most Christians don’t necessarily stand out in a crowd – at least not right away.  That’s because we enjoy many of the same things that you do.  We like social media and know about pop culture.  We follow sports and go to the movies and work out at the gym.  We love to have fun, and we know a good joke when we hear one.  Over time, I hope that the Christians you know will stand out because they are consistently generous and patient and kind.  I hope they model joy and compassion and grace.  I hope they apologize for their mistakes and exemplify Christian values.  But the idea that you know one when you see one, well, it just doesn’t work that way.

  1. We care about people.

All people.  It doesn’t depend on your race or your gender or your age.  It doesn’t depend on your income or your appearance or your religion.  It doesn’t even depend on the decisions you have made in the past.  We are called to love one another.  Love is not the message that you hear when many politicians’ lips are moving, but it is the truth of our religion.

Ice Cream

  1. We want you to have freedom of religion, too.

Really, we do.  Your freedom of religion guarantees our freedom of religion.  We get that.

  1. We can and do look at both sides of an issue.

We not only enjoy a good debate, but we want to understand an opposing argument – and not just so that we can challenge it.  We want to understand the complexities of an issue.  We want to know how ideas affect different groups of people.  We can even be swayed to think differently about an issue once in a while.  We don’t have to “win” every argument.  Most importantly, we don’t have to agree with you to care about what you think.

  1. We are not perfect – and we know that.

The big idea of Christianity is that God extends us grace and forgiveness through his son.  If we thought we were perfect, then we wouldn’t need that, would we?  This one just doesn’t make any sense.

8. We aren’t judging you.

Really, we’re not.  We try to leave this to the big guy upstairs.  We have to figure out what we are cooking for dinner and when we can pick up the prescription at the pharmacy and who will take off work to wait for the repairman tomorrow and how to get two kids to basketball practice in two different places at the same time tonight.  We don’t have time for this.  Please stop worrying about it.

  1. We aren’t all Republicans.

We also do not trust people just because they say they are Christians or quote Bible verses.

And while we’re at it, we don’t all watch FOX News.

  1. We don’t understand the political obsession with “moral issues.”

Any issue that is up for political debate impacts people.  Any issue that impacts people is a moral issue to us.  That does not mean there are easy answers.  It just means that our morals should influence all of our decisions – both personal and political.  There aren’t just one or two moral issues.  There are lots of them.

  1. We are not perfect – and we know that.

That just seems worth repeating.

  1. We would love to share our faith with you, but we can be friends regardless.

Even Jesus did not exclusively spend time with Christian people.  We don’t either.

As Christians, political seasons are difficult because, like so many other groups of people, we often feel unfairly categorized and misunderstood.  We don’t like being characterized as immoral, anti-Christian, or not-Christian-enough if we lean toward the left on an issue, and we don’t like being portrayed as narrow-minded, uneducated schmucks if we lean toward the right.  We definitely don’t like being associated with any extremist who will dance for the camera and drive up the network’s ratings.

In reality, we are individuals, similar in some ways yet as different as two snowflakes tumbling from the sky, human beings with messy lives who are just trying to do the best that we can with the comfort of God’s grace when we fail.  If you feel overwhelmed or misunderstood, there is a good chance that we have some idea of where you are coming from.  Please do not judge us all by what you have seen on the news or even by your experiences in the past. You may be surprised by just how much we have in common – even if our religious views aren’t on that list.

Why All the Fuss About Making a Murderer?

Why the fuss

In the past few weeks, it is fair to say that Making a Murderer has become a national obsession.  News programs have been talking about it.  Celebrities have been tweeting about it.  Netflix has been loving the success of it.  And middle-aged moms like me have been folding laundry veeeerrrry sloooowwwwwly in order to squeeze a few more minutes out of our busy schedules to watch in horrified disbelief.  It really is good television, if good television means that you will send your kids to the basement to play video games a little longer just so that you can see what happens next.  Not that this happened at my house, but I’m just saying that I could understand if it did happen, somewhere.

I admit that I posted a couple of comments about the show on my own Facebook page, fueling interest among my friends, because Making a Murderer is the kind of documentary that you JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT.  And since my husband could not keep up with my break-neck pace in watching it last week, I wanted to find out which of my closest friends on social media were on top of it.  (I might note that Netflix and I hadn’t really bonded prior to this viewing experience, but it is a good place to find other interesting documentaries like Blackfish and Fed UpFortunately, most documentaries don’t require the ten-hour commitment that Making a Murderer does.)

So what is this Making a Murderer about, anyway?  In short, a man was once convicted of a crime that he did not commit, serving 18 years in prison before DNA evidence proved his innocence.  Not long after his release, he was arrested for the murder of a photographer who had last been seen on his property.  The documentary follows his defense team through their preparation for trial and their presentation of evidence.  It also reveals details about the investigation into his teenaged nephew’s alleged involvement in the murder of this woman.  The documentary raises questions about whether the county, feeling embarrassed by their mishandling of the first case in which this defendant was wrongfully imprisoned, might have bent the rules, so to speak, in order to guarantee a victory for the prosecution in his murder trial and thereby vindicate themselves for their previous mistakes.

Since the docuseries has become so popular, rebuttals to the story shared by the filmmakers are also popping up and spreading like wildfire.  I have listened to part of Rebutting a Murderer by Dan O’Donnell (available on iHeartRadio), and I have also read this rebuttal on The Huffington Post.  The rebuttals share the other side of the story, details from the prosecution’s perspective, some of which were excluded from Making a Murderer, and many of which point to the defendant’s guilt.  They paint a picture of the accused as a volatile and dangerous man who clearly deserves to be in prison.

And maybe he does.

But in the fuss over whether or not the documentary is biased (and it is), I think we are missing the point.  The bigger conversation here.  The reason why a mom like me could not turn off the television while I was cooking pasta fagioli because I had to see how the story would unfold.

It’s not that I see the man at the center of this controversy as a model of good citizenship.  It’s not even that I’m convinced of his innocence.  It’s that he used the same criminal justice system that I may have to use someday, and, WOW, a lot of things went very wrong there.

Sure, there are people with a chip on their shoulder who ignored the bias and watched Making a Murderer for confirmation that the justice system is a mess.  Yes, there are others who viewed it who think they are legal experts because they have a season of Law and Order saved on the DVR.  But most viewers are smarter than that.  They noticed that the prosecution, for the most part, wasn’t talking directly to the filmmakers like the defense was.  They knew that they were hearing more in defense of the defendant than in support of the prosecution.  They know good, honest, selfless people who work as police officers, attorneys, and judges, and they support those people when others don’t.  And they still aren’t sure exactly what really happened in this case.

But that doesn’t make the documentary any less fascinating.

The primary argument of the rebuttals seems to be that the defendant is much more dangerous than the man that the docuseries presents him to be, and that may be true.  However, the filmmakers DO share some details about the defendant that reveal questionable ethics.  A police report shows that he once threw a cat in a fire, for goodness sake.  He wrote angry, threatening letters to his wife from prison.  And those things are IN the documentary.  In fact, they led me to having a conversation with my own children (who did not watch the documentary, so please don’t panic) about how difficult it is to prove your innocence when you have developed a reputation in the community for creating trouble.  (It seemed like a teachable moment.)  The reality is that knowing what I know from the documentary alone, I wouldn’t trust this guy.  But the bigger question raised by the documentary is not about him.  The bigger question is, who CAN you trust?

Because I want to believe that police and investigators always follow every reasonable lead in an investigation.

Because I want to believe that anyone with a conflict of interests is smart enough to remove themselves from any involvement that might jeopardize the truth from being heard and believed in a case.

Because I want to believe that a public defender would do his best for every defendant and work for the good of his own client.

Because I want to believe that there are protocols for working with juveniles with intellectual challenges so that they are treated fairly during an investigation.

Because I want to believe that the goal of the justice system is to find the truth rather than to close a case without certainty.

And, honestly, I still believe that most of these ideas are true – most of the time.  I still believe in and support all of the honest police officers, and hard-working attorneys, and selfless judges who face very difficult decisions every day.  But this guy did go to prison for 18 years for a crime that he didn’t commit, so sometimes there are flaws in our system.  Why is it wrong to ask questions about how we, as a society, can fix that?

The documentary also raises interesting points about what is and what isn’t admissible during a trial, what prosecutors can say publicly before a trial, how financial resources may impact the quality of legal representation, and how personalities can be more influential than facts when a jury deliberates.  These are issues that most of us don’t think about much.

Unless we are on trial.

The real reason that we are squirming uncomfortably in the safety and comfort of our living rooms while watching Making a Murderer is only loosely tied to whether or not we believe this particular defendant is being honest.  The reason our stomachs are in knots is because we aren’t 100% sure that we could prove OURSELVES innocent if we were falsely accused of a crime.

And if that isn’t scary and worthy of a discussion, I’m not sure what is.