Archive for November, 2008

Brownie Brainwashing- the Girls Scout kind, not the chocolate kind

My daughter is nine years old. She the youngest of our tribe, and the only girl. So, we’re doing a few things for the first time although it’s our fourth child.

This year she joined Girl Scouts. The boys didn’t like Boy Scouts. They said it was too much like school. But she seems to enjoy her time there. At least so far-she’s gone three times. And, technically, she’s a Brownie; somehow you have to be a little magical cleaning helper fairy when you’re to young to be an actual Girl Scout. And I have to pause a minute and say that I would really appreciate if she’d turn into a little magical cleaning helper fairy for a day or two!

The second meeting she attended was the Brownie Investiture Ceremony. I was required to attend. I was not happy about it.

I like to make up more telling names for things, so the “Investiture Ceremony” quickly became known at home as The Indoctrination. That name didn’t last long because the next one was so much better: Brownie Brainwashing.

On a Monday night at 6pm, we went to the meeting.  She skipped, I trudged. We went in the room and I was handed a pin and given the instruction to “pin your daughter when it’s time.” I sat down and joked with the Dad sitting next to me about the amount of blood we were supposed to draw and wondered how exactly I was supposed to know it was time. Other parents milled around trying to find seats. Younger siblings kept themselves entertained by annoying their parents. Then the lights dimmed and the Brainwashing commenced.

First the girls entered with battery operated candles unlit. They walked to one of the troop leaders who twisted the candle to the “on” position, then the ten or so girls stood in a line facing their parents. Frankly, after watching the line I completely understood the wisdom of the battery operated candle light. Too many girls would have either been in the local burn unit, or at best been at the local Supercuts. Then the indoctrinees recited a story, moving down the row from one to the next. I think there was a mix-up because we heard the same part of the story four or five times before we moved on. Maybe they just wanted us to be really clear on that section? At any rate, as soon as they finished the story each girl went up, the leader spun them around saying “Twist me turn me show me the elf. I looked in the water and saw myself” at which point our children would look into a mirror on the floor, and, I suppose, turn into some little housecleaning fairy-elf as the story suggested. Each child took a turn at that and, when they looked up from becoming an elf, it was time. For each of the girls, a parent magically appeared to pin them and affirm their newfound elfhood. Surprisingly, no one seemed creeped out by the idea that their child had just willingly turned herself into an elf.

After the pinning, the girls participated in what the leader called a “friendship circle” in which they told eachother one thing that happened during their week. When everyone was done the leader said a few words, then the group squeezed hands and was released into housecleaning fairy land

And after all the girls succumbed, they were rewarded with cake and punch.

And by the end, I was not nearly so skeptical or annoyed.  Let me explain why:

Every Sunday, I go to church. I arrive in a flurry of people sitting down, socializing and joking a little before the lights dim and the service starts. Then a few people file up front to say, sing or do something. Often I’m asked to repeat what they say, sing or do. I listen, sometimes to a story but more often to a sermon. Then, on the forst sunday of the month, I’m offered communion-a ceremony in which I get to participate individually, but among a larger group of people. Then, we sing again and the pastor says a few words. After which we share some coffee and doughnuts.

Sound familiar?

I made a  couple mental notes for myself about it.

One was that this ritual speaks to people-our liturgical service elements weren’t developed only by human ingenuity, but also with spiritual guidance. Unknowingly, the girls scout troop picked up and developed a ceremony out of several offered elements that echoed those same liturgical elements, even down to the order. As far as I know, none of the brownie troop leaders picked up a Sunday bulletin from our church and said, “Hey, here’s a great model for our brownie brainwashing ceremony.” Which qualifies that as a Creepy God Thing to me. There is something in the make up of people, at least those in my corner of the world, that connects with that particular kind of ceremony.

The second was about my own attitude, and, potentially it’s an attitude a few others may share. I don’t feel anything close to warm and fuzzy about institutional religion, but I love my church family. I went to Brownie Brainwashing with a lousy attitude about how institutions manipulate their members. I feel the same way about churches/denominations/religions, even though I’m involved in it. I think a lot of people may fear that same idea of mass manipulation happening in church. I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t happen; it does.

On the other hand, just by holding a lousy attitude toward the brownie thing, I’m seeing something in it that the leaders did not put there. The women responsible for that ceremony were going for a touching, inclusive event that the girls would remember. They made a rite of passage that had the power to create a bond between the members through the memories of a shared experience. They did it with honesty and caring for the girls. I think most local churches are coming from a similar place of honesty and good intentions, but those of us who fear and resent institutional manipulation don’t broaden our minds to accept that what is being offered has intrinsic value that goes beyond human. That the ritual itself, that thing that makes church feel most churchy, is the place where the most treasured parts of what draws a person to a spiritual life reside. We miss out on that because we see only the trappings, or are uncomfortable with the words, or the unfamiliarity. But the people who make up that church aren’t doing it to manipulate people, they’re doing it to create a space for God to connect with us and for us to connect with each other.

I’d like to propose a sensitivity from both inside the church regarding the fears and negativity those who aren’t involved in churches may bring to the table, and from those who have had difficulties embracing the Church to allow for the idea that the people in the church are just people who are trying to make some space for God without harming or dictating to anyone in the process. (and since I’m on both sides, I’m asking more of myself than anyone else)

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I’d vote for Santa Claus

I’ve avoided posting this til after the elections primarily because I wanted to have absolutely no actual influence in any way regarding the elections. That was my version of “the fine print” for this post.

There are six people in my household, arguably. Some would say there are seven, since my Mom is on her own now and spends most of her time with us. Of those seven people, three are of age to vote. The other four have more opinions than any one of-age voter could even think about coherently. However, they are dedicated to their opinions as anyone who actully voted, regardless of whether they have a reason for their particular opinions or not.

Each school we’re affliated with had a mock election and our kids really got into the process. It was kind of interesting to see them argue their points, or not with each other and the three adults in the house. The conversations went on for a few weeks prior to the election date and everyone actually enjoyed thinking about it without trying to force ideas on others in the family. Keep in mind, we’re talking about three adults, one teenager and children ages 11,10 and nine.

At the same time this was going on in my family, I received a series of emails that came from a Biblical reference but was, in fact, about the presidential race. When you marry Biblical reference and Presidential race in one sentence, it’s bound to be a turn for the worse. This one had something out of Revelation and it applied it to one candidate or the other. To be honest, as soon as I saw it was politically oriented, I deleted it. My political opinions are somewhat off the grid, so everything like that ends up in the trash. More on my grid position later.

This one email incited several more both for and against whatever the first one said, from people who are all close friends of mine and of each other. Because it was my friends speaking I read every one that came to my inbox. Only because they are my friends. And many of them were disappointingly trying to push everyone on their email list to a particular side, instead of respecting the different ideas espoused in each message. One writer even said something about knowing he shouldn’t respond but being unable to help himself. It was a great email about voting for your beliefs, and educating yourself the candidates. Until the last two sentences, it was fantastic-the guy’s a good writer and speaker. Then it came-the plug for a particular candidate. Ugh. Without that it was a great message. With it, the message was reduced to just another advertisment created to manipulate people to a “side”. (to his credit, when I mentioned to this particular friend that I do not like political email, he ceased sending any)

At the same time, people started knocking on our door to try to convince us to a.) vote….for their candidate, and to b.) tell them that we were voting for their candidate. One of these was a friend, and thank heavens I wasn’t home that day. The three adults in our household are all registered in different parties. Actually, one of us isn’t registered in a party at all, unless “Other” has become a party. (If so, let me know so I can change my voter registration!) So, we had people knocking on the door almost every day of the week leading up to November 4th. All were from the party my husband is registered with, and the final canvasser received this message: Because you are knocking on my door and interrupting my life, we will not be voting. We would have voted and we would have voted for your candidate but because you are not willing to let us make that decsion without your interference-a person we don’t know, and have no reason to trust-you have just lost your candidate two votes.”

 I have never participated in a vote because I do not believe the system is effective. I am allowed to belive that-I am not asking anyone to try to convince me otherwise. In doing so, you prove to me that I’m correct in my opinion. This year I almost caved in. I thought there was the potential for something different. I thought we were provided with some good, accurate information beyond the image and spin. I was wrong-not because of the election or the candidates but because of the way people have decided it is appropriate and necessary to try to force me to choose their way.

The seven people in my family, including four kids, handled the disparity of opinions, respect for personal beliefs, the victories and losses with more graciosness and consideration than any group of adults I’ve seen during this presidentail race or any other. After the winner became apparent, my family decided that really, the best candidate would have been Santa Claus, because he’s generous and honest and thinks of others. So, no matter who was rooting for whom, we found common ground and moved forward without any personal jabs or “I’m moving to Canada” commentary.

More fine print: I apologize to my friends for any hurt feelings this might cause. I know you feel strongly. I hope you’ll understand that I am aware I’m different from most people. I’m not writing this post to attack anyone but to reinforce that I am apolitical in the way a frog can be asexual. It simply doesn’t apply to me; no one tries to make a frog be a particular gender and it’s difficult for me to passively allow myself to be forced into political choices. I hope you’ll understand that. I love you.