“…to develop a collective mindset…”

I change up the theme photos at the top of this blog site now and then. I like to focus on something or highlight some things.  I have shared photos of Seattle, Anchorage, the AlCan Highway, various saints, and photos from churches.  This new one is a photo of an oil painting, depicting a Russian family gathered around the dinner table. You can see the icon corner and there is a lovely saying, as well.  It speaks about the importance of the Christian family in our society:  “If the Church is a huge pillar of fire, then the Christian family is a small candle lit from that fire.” (Archimandrite Raphail Karelin).

There has been so much hoopla given over to the family and raising of children in recent months, especially in light of the violence in our streets and schools. Recently, a pundit on MSNBC said that we need to get over the idea that kids belong to their parents or their families and once we realize that we are all responsible for the children in this country, we will make more responsible decisions in the areas of education and healthcare.  She went on to say that we need to develop a collective mindset towards children, aka “the village” approach to parenting.  Now, as a parent, these words are a little troubling. I do agree that we all need to be invested in the children of this country, but I do not want a governmental entity telling me exactly how to do that.  Being in a Byzantine parish, where most of the families are not from this country, it has been interesting to watch them with their children.  They definitely kept an eye on each other’s children and if any of the adults disciplined a child, they responded well to that.  No one let anyone’s children get out of control.  In a Latin rite parish that we used to attend, it was similar to that, because we were all homeschoolers, and that is a different mindset than most American parents have developed.  When you homeschool, you take your children out of the governmental schooling system and you opt to educate them yourself.  Most of us also chose to educate our children in the ways of the faith on a more regular basis than just on Sundays and Holy Days. We are a little anti-governmental intrusion in our lives, and believe vociferously in our rights to parent as we deem best for our families, and are also staunch practitioners of our faith.

Choose words wiselyI think that when rhetoric gets a little out-of-hand, we all need to first and foremost, take a deep breath, then perhaps reflect on the person using the words, and think about where they are coming from.  I believe the pundit who spoke on MSNBC was speaking to issues of funding school programs and lamenting the fact that so many people are disinterested in what happens in our culture, even at the local School Board level.  I chose to educate my sons at home because there are things that I just do not agree with in our system.  And through the years, I have been so glad we opted to teach our children at home.

Have my children participated in the culture at large? Well, yes they have and still do.  We did not remove them from life, just from public education.  They still played Little League and even Ice Hockey.  They still had lots of friends and had some incredible experiences growing up; they just did not attend government-controlled education centers. Homeschooling does not cut you off from the world, you just choose to educate at home.  When we talk about developing a collective mindset when it comes to our children, and that children do not belong to their parents or their families, that’s when I get a little jumpy.  I love that this pundit wants to get more of the community involved.  We need to do something. The USA used to rank in the top 10 % of educational statistics worldwide.  We are now languishing somewhere in the 30th zone.  What happened?  I believe we forgot about the basics; you know, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  But that’s for another post!!

We can and should develop a concern for the children in our midst.  We should worry about drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll: there are poignant and important issues in our world today.  But we also need to care for our children and choose our words wisely, because there are so many children who have nothing to look forward to when they wake up in the mornings.  We are poorly educated, yes, but far more importantly, there are so many children who are poorly catechized in their faith.  In a state like Washington, where only 6% of the population is churched, we are failing miserably in this regard.  When you add to the missing faith life of children, their lack of education and poor job prospects, life can be depressing.  A famous young man, the son of a famous protestant preacher, committed suicide this week.  He is endemic of the culture pervading this country, and in that regard, we do need a more collective mindset.  For me, this means I need to share my family and my faith with every person, every child, I come in contact with.  We are asked to be godparents and we agree.  What does that mean? It means that I am theologically and morally responsible for that child – for their entire life – not just the baptism photo ops, party, and cake.  I am theologically and morally responsible.  How do I live out that responsibility? On my knees! (“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18).  I offer prayers for my godchildren; I interact with them; I share who I am with them.  I have a god daughter who is in her late 20s.  She came to spend Thanksgiving with us and I posted about it; it was wonderful spending time with her.  She asked me pointed questions when it came to men and her future, dating, living together, etc.  And I had to have that sort of talk with her that makes us sort of uncomfortable.  And you know what? She loved me even more for sticking to what I believe and for steering her in the right direction.  I was relieved and I was thankful that God helped me to live my faith for her and with her, affecting her life-choices in a positive way.

Each of us is responsible for each of our children; each of our god children.  The community at large is also our concern.  I still believe it is my right to raise my children, and educate them, in the way I believe is best for them.  Until they are 18, by law, they are mine.  So I think that erasing that line between collective mindset and personal responsibility is wrong.  But we also need to be aware of what is going on around us and to at least pay attention.  So many people think someone else will take care of it and so they do nothing to help; they don’t even get out and vote. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is just hunky-dory.

St Dorotheos of GazaWhen we care for our neighbor, we care for our own spiritual well-being.  Christ instructed us to love one another as I have loved you (John 34) and in doing that, He instructed us to develop a sort of collective mindset insofar as we care for the lives of those around us.  We do not diminish their right to live as they choose, nor do we judge them.  We simply love our neighbor, watch out for them, and “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40).

Elder Siluan