For Which Generation? On Telos and Techne

 “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”  -Carl Jung

Six kids?!?  You must be SO BUSY!

It’s said with wonder, with a smile, and nodding knowingness.  Everyone’s busy, so I must be doubly, or triply, so with such a sizable family.  Despite every inclination to just leave it at that, I cannot seem to help my contradictory self.  “I’m really not.  We live an intentionally slower-paced life with few outside commitments.”  This does not compute generally with whomever I’m making small talk.  But, it’s okay, they have to run anyways; busy day ahead!

I learned a new word the other day as I read You Are What You Love by James Smith:  telos.  A Greek noun, it means an end, purpose, or goal; an ultimate aim.  He writes convincingly that our telos affects everything, even if it’s not what we think it is.  What do we really aim at? What do we really love?  We may think that we’d love to have a beautiful and healthy body, but our true telos may have more to do with the tasty pleasure of eating donuts and the comfort of sedentary habits.

I wondered; what do I love?  What am I aiming my life towards?  And what is my techne (another Greek word, meaning our rational method in accomplishing our aim) for getting there?  And why is the techne that is assumed to be universal a breathless and harried busyness?  What telos requires such haste and incessant activity?

A baby is born and the parents begin to dutifully schedule portrait sessions, play dates, and provide heaps of stimulating “educational” toys.  There’s childcare to arrange, and baby is bundled up and ready for the day before the sun rises.  Life is a series of being dropped off and picked up, shuttled about from car seat to stroller to car seat to bed.  As toddlerhood approaches the parents feel this unsettling pressure; will their child be ready for preschool?  Which preschool is best?  Maybe a parent will pick up another job to pay tuition at a promising one.  This is only the beginning, but the telos is in full swing, the techne chugging along doggedly.  The comforting thing is that everyone else looks just as frantic, just as hurried, just as worried.  Until one attempts to commiserate with an odd duck like me, that is.

As the child enters elementary school he will be shuttled from school to after school care, to music lessons, to sports practices, to youth events at church, to karate, to dance, etc.  I know many families who only eat dinner together about once a week due to various activities that keep them orbiting the home, landing at different intervals for a hurried snack and a change of uniform.  Saturdays and Sundays are not exempt from this quick, packed lifestyle.  The two most common words associated with this time of life when I speak with my peers are “busy” and “stress”.  What is the end, the telos, of all this hustle?

A well-rounded adolescent, with success in one or many specializations, be they academic, musical, or sports-related, and a promising list of accomplishments to be listed on college applications?  Perhaps.  I think the telos reaches further as soon as they get accepted to a college; that they’ll pick an impressive major (or double major preferably); that they’ll graduate with honors, that they’ll land a lucrative and fulfilling job, that they’ll meet an equally impressive mate, and that they then can start a family.  Having that baby, then the parents can bring their telos to bear on that child; schedule the portraits, buy the Baby Einstein books, get the ball rolling towards laudable success.

This telos demands an incredible amount of busyness.  Such investment in the success of our offspring has never before been seen in history.  Family life has become bewilderingly child-centric, parents giving up their own interests and pursuits as they struggle just to meet the demands of their childrens’ schedules.  Is the cost worth it?  If you’re not willing to pay the price, can your children still have a chance at a successful life?  And what of your own life?  Can it be enjoyed or is it too laid upon the altar of busyness?  Are we always to be simply enduring the present in order to achieve the future?

This brings me back to my techne:  slow, unhurried, thoroughly enjoyed life, each day, each hour, for its own sake, aiming towards holiness in the long run by faithfulness and growth in the everyday.  Though I cannot guarantee the future success of my children (however one may define that), I can give us the space and time to enjoy life right now; splashing in today’s rain puddles, examining this year’s butterflies and roses, going on long walks and feeling this day’s fresh air filling our lungs.  Savoring bites of food, starting the day slowly with cuddles, spending a good half hour staring at my newborn’s tiny pink face, and taking my older children out for one-on-one dates where we linger over ethnic foods and connect deeply; these are my techne for not missing the moments that can’t be put off until later, for not missing the now.

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for spurts of busyness; right before an opening night of a play, or a championship game, or helping with charitable events.  Feeling a bit breathless and harried is appropriate for such; it’s a special time given special energy; it can be exhilarating, but to live every single day that way?  I’d argue that such effort shoots right past its own aim, its own telos; it hurries right past the life it meant to live so well.

So I ask, for whom is this offering of hustling, bustling, hurry?  For which generation?  It seems we are rushed about all our lives so that we can raise children whom we rush about so that they can raise children whom they can rush about.  Is this life?  When are we allowed to actually enjoy it?  On a yearly vacation, packed with activity itself?  When we retire and our bodies which we’ve neglected through inattention to them are ailing and out of shape?

I do not claim to be a better parent than anyone; God knows and I know the limitations and deficiencies I bring to the table, and trust me when I say that I esteem the great love and care that undergird the frantic scheduling folks submit themselves to.  I seek only to sound a bit of an alarm, that we might miss life if we sprint through it.  We can’t go back and have these days again.

I’ll end with a poem that is of help to me in forming my telos, and thus also, my techne:

Song for a Fifth Child

Mother, O’ Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth.
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.
 
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
 
Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due,
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek – peekaboo.
 
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew,
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo.
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
 
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
~ Ruth Hulbert Hamilton
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The Welcome

IMG_1632Lunch was scrubbed off of the dining room table, and the long, shouty process of putting the toddlers down for their naps was in full swing.  I popped the banana-chocolate chip muffins into the oven and vacuumed the floors and rugs, tucking toys and spoons and socks and whatnots into my apron pocket while I worked.  Our rooms slowly relaxed into peaceable order and beauty (I cannot abide a tight and fussy beauty, but a gentle one I adore).  I did not present a perfection, but removed distracting static.  At its best, this preparation is a gift of love, at its worst a wild vanity parade.  Today was on the better side, so I had a calm heart.

I was to see two dear souls at three.  At two thirty the babies had all succumbed to sleep and I brewed some rich coffee and heaped the still-warm muffins in a wooden bowl, and arranged delicate sand tarts on a pewter dish.  Tea and coffee accruements were brought to the low, cozy coffee table in anticipation of warm conversations and refreshments, feet tucked under us on the plush sofas, hands wrapped around steaming mugs.  The hour ticked past three and I thought to check my messages; see if anything went awry.

I’d missed one from my friend; sadly they couldn’t come as transportation had fallen through.  I looked at the celebratory and cozy spread and mourned the loss of all the delightful catching-up and companionship it had anticipated facilitating.  What a grief to not see these dear friends!

Gladly, it has been my habit to “accept all things as from God’s hands”, so I promptly decided to keep the feast and give it as a gift to my children; to welcome them home from school as warmly as I’d hoped to welcome my friends.  Shamefully, their welcome is usually a quick hug and then a chore list and a harangue about the places they’ve decided to dump their backpacks and shoes and lunch boxes.  I rarely quiet myself enough at that hour of the day to truly be present to them, dinner preparation being in full swing.

They sat down around the coffee table in frank amazement at the deliciousness laid out for them.  Tea or coffee?  Their days’ events came out easily, without me fishing; one son smiled wide and declared that I was “the best mom”.  He truly felt welcomed, warmed, treasured.  I felt sad that this sort of thing was such a rarity; though, I give myself grace; my fly-about madly-cooking days are also works of love, just differently felt, differently received.  This was special.

I was reminded how essential it is to care for our loved ones not only in industriously tending to their physical needs, but sensitively to their emotional ones too.  To welcome not only guests, but the ones who live under this very roof.

 

Once, Twice

Pushing swings

One, two

My sons grinning and

The light falls spotty.

A lump rising in my throat

At the beauty and the swift passing

Of time, which always plunges ahead

Undisturbed by our own scrambling

Our yearning for it to slow a while

So we can breathe that flower in

Once, twice, once more.

We could rip the hands off of the clocks

All the clocks stripped bare of their ticking arms

And yet, still time would march

Undeterred

Seasons obeying, dropping leaves, dropping snow, dropping rain, throwing flowers up and out of the ground, inexorably forward.

I take my child’s face in my aging hands

I claim this moment before it hurries away

And kiss it once, twice

And once more.  IMG_4065

Leave Margins

_MG_4804 It’s the afternoon margin, that slice of time after the lunch dishes have been cleared away, the next load is humming in the wash, the babies are laid down to nap, and supper has yet to begin gathering momentum.  Coffee, online reading, a bit of whole grain crisp bread spread with a heavy layer of butter.  The indecisive light outside, not full-blast noon nor soft late afternoon, just a bit static.

My daughter stands behind me, plaiting my hair into braids and twists and buns of all imaginings.  To look at her makes me yelp inside and sort of tremble; I can see a woman staring back at me from her luminous blue eyes, a woman where the child still is.  She reads my words and says, “Oh my word, Mommy”.

I watched a documentary about tiny houses; the whole movement of people shedding their excess and moving into homes that fit on a pull-behind trailer, downsizing their lives to the bare minimum.  It was both refreshing in regards to our culture’s rampant materialism and acquisitiveness, and at the same time rather narcissistic and selfish; when your home only fits you, well, there’s no room for others.  It has no give, no margin.  I’ve read of minimalists who only have enough plates, cups, chairs in their home as there are people who dwell within it.  Hard to have anyone over for dinner.

This reductionism isn’t just applied to space and possessions, but to time as well.  Day-timers with fifteen minute increments exist for a reason, for a particular type of busy person who really does run that tight of a life.  These people are not the ones to call if your sitter doesn’t show or you need someone to talk to; your need wasn’t scheduled and would create havoc in their slim-fitted schedule.

Why is it that when I ask how someone is doing, most of the time their answer is some variant of “crazy busy”?  Why is the first thing a new acquaintance says to me, when they’ve learned I have five children, “Wow, you must be busy!”?

People are born and married, and live and die, in the midst of an uproar so frantic that you would think they would go mad of it.  -William Howells, 1907

And I think they are going mad of it.  And the madness, I think, is only covered up by the filling and subjugating of the ordinary snatches of times of silence and introspection that used to be plentiful for us (standing in line at the grocery store, driving in the car, walking, sitting in waiting rooms, getting our hair cut).  These are now triggers to reach for a smartphone, to fill that void ever-yawning and scary with mini bits of information, with noise and distraction.

I, mother of five, small business owner, blog writer, and housewife, am not busy.  Now, I work throughout the hours of the day; I am far from lazy, but I am not flying about here and there, running this way and that, driving all over the place taking my kids to scads of activities.  My life is full, not frenzied.  

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I submit some possible helps, if you find living life breathless and harried and margin-less isn’t your cup of tea:

1.  Avoid time-stuffing.  When you have unexpected waiting times (doctor’s running behind, the grocery store lines are long, the boss is late for a meeting, etc), instead of reaching for your phone, breathe.  Really.  Take big whopping inhalations and exhalations and think.  Daydream.

2.  Leave margin in each day and each week and each month.  Have a line you draw in the proverbial sand, such as:  (day)  No more work after eight o’clock.  (week)  No more than three evenings a week for kids’ extracurricular activities.  (month)  At least one hike, ice cream date, or other family outing.  For a day, that avoids chronic overworking, and sets aside time for hobbies that would otherwise fall prey to The List.  For a week, that leaves four nights of unhurried dinners and plenty of margin for inviting a family over to eat or just enjoying one another.  For a month, that ensures that those good intentions to do things together won’t be lost in the shuffle and hustle.

3.  Give up the idols, whatever they may be, that demand the sacrifice of your family’s time and energy in gross disproportion.  It is not normal, nor healthy, to lack regular dinners together, sitting down.

4.  Say “no” when a optional activity demands the sacrifice of something that is more important.

5.  Let your kids be kids.  Don’t make their summer “productive” or be tempted to stuff it full.  Don’t even, gasp, entertain them.  That’s not your job, that’s the job of their imaginations, and today’s kids are suffering from major atrophy of that God-gifted resource.

Not a comprehensive list, to be sure, but a beginning place.  Leave margin, oh dear one, slow down.  Enjoy.

On Tenderness

I had just unloaded my two little sons from the car into the shopping cart, Henrik all grins and Tobi all wide-eyed with the wonder of being outside.

“Shut the f— up!  GET IN THERE!”

A man was shouting at his child.  The rest of the words were indistinguishable, but the tone was all cruelty and rage.  The man menacingly leaned his whole body into the vehicle as he roared.  I imagined the child within cowering before his anger.  My mouth went dry.

I couldn’t see the child, five rows away as I was, but I saw the mother, nonchalantly climbing up into their pick-up’s bed to situate grocery bags.  This while the man raged and raged and I felt sick.  I froze in place, staring at them.

I knew there wasn’t anything I could do; most likely confronting the man would make things worse for the child, not better.  And I had my little boys with me and wasn’t sure what he was capable of doing to a stranger if that’s how he treated the ones he loved.

The woman caught me standing there, looking right at her.  For a brief moment our gazes locked, mine saying “This isn’t okay” and hers saying “Oh, someone is noticing this”.  She looked away and I walked with leaden feet into the store, praying, praying.

This is the second time in two days that I’ve heard men raging at children.  Tantrums are unpleasant in children; in adults they are disturbing and ugly.  Edison was with me yesterday as a man belittled and insulted a child with him, raising his voice, and eventually disciplining her right there in the store aisle, her wails echoing about.

Edison blushed fiercely, his mouth tightening in stress and fear.  I know, son, I know.

Every parent hollers, every parent loses their temper (I certainly do), but there is something I’m seeing that is blacker.  Parents are raging.  Why are they so angry?

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Sophia had I curled up on the sofa, her likely-dying hamster cupped within our hands.  She sobbed and sighed and her cheeks were flushed and her eyes swollen; all the love was in her face.  “It’s okay”, she whispered in a choked voice to her little Peanut, who rested uncharacteristically still.  We offered a tiny spoon of water, a fresh leaf of lettuce; the last bits of a good hamster life.

I didn’t say any of the “well, at least…” statements that comfort no one, never.  I haven’t learned much, but I’ve learned that.  I held my daughter and I held her dying hamster and we carried the pain together.  The pain of loving and losing.

I am not a perfect mother; I am well within the league of shouters and temper-losers, but I realized that why I was so disturbed by the man today was that he was not merely losing his temper, but he was abusing that child; lashing with full throttle fury.  Not just blowing off steam, but scorching, scathing, looking to damage.  How can such a little one endure all that fire?  How many children go to bed each night burned in their very souls by the violence of their parents’ words?

As I pushed my grocery cart, looking out the wide store window as the couple finished unloading their groceries, I prayed those words which come so quickly and seem to encompass all my flailing emotions, “Lord have mercy”.  And as I held my grieving daughter, the same words.  And for me also, the same.  That God would keep me always constrained by tenderness and mercy and love from exhibiting the same sickening ways I had witnessed.  And for the children, oh the children, so harmed.

And again I say, Lord have mercy.

Terrorism There and Here

I carried my sleeping baby upstairs, his warm cheek resting on my shoulder.  My heart was pierced by very sad news.  I looked at his crib, but instead carried him into our bed, tucking him close and warm against me.  I needed him near.

“A friend just got a text message from her brother asking her to shower him and his parish in prayer. He is part of a mission and ISIS has taken over the town they are in today. He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus. He said so far not one child has. And so far all have consequently been killed. But not the parents. The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own. They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families – even if it means their own deaths. He is very afraid, has no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have seen their children martyred. Yet he says he knows God has called him for some reason to be his voice and hands at this place at this time. Even so, he is begging prayers for his courage to live out his vocation in such dire circumstances. And like the children accept martyrdom if he is called to do so.”

Friends of friends, casting a net wide for prayer support yesterday.  I prayed, but it felt more like a groan, the words seemed so achingly small; all that came was “Lord, have mercy” and snatches of coherent petitions.  What do I pray for you, bereaved parents who’ve seen your children murdered in front of you?

“This came this morning… Just a few minutes ago I received the following text message on my phone from —- ——– who leads —————–. We then spoke briefly on the phone and I assured him that we would share this urgent prayer need with all of our contacts.

‘We lost the city of Queragosh (Qaraqosh). It fell to ISIS and they are beheading children systematically. This is the city we have been smuggling food too. ISIS has pushed back Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) and is within 10 minutes of where our —— team is working. Thousands more fled into the city of Erbil last night. The UN evacuated it’s staff in Erbil. Our team is unmoved and will stay. Prayer cover needed!'”

Dustin and I entwined our arms over sleeping Henrik, praying together for the people being targeted by ISIS, Christians and other faith minorities.  For those working in the regions affected.  Henrik slept on and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of world he would know in his days.

I prayed too for the terrorists.  It is no small thing to be a murderer of children; how deep the darkness in the soul to be able to do such!  I prayed for eyes opened and hearts of stone turned to flesh.  Though their crimes break my heart, I am also heartbroken for them; they will always be haunted by their violent deeds, and if ever they entertain the idea of disillusionment with their ideology, there will be those small faces before them, there will be that blood, and all of that horror.  There is plenty of motive to keep their hearts hard and their souls darkened.  The light reveals too much.

The news this morning revealed images of bombed sites in Syria.  There are always little children on the periphery, isn’t there?  Surveying these piles of cinderblock rubble?  It is always jarring for me to see them on the edges of aftermath.  I see you, little ones, and I pray for you; this isn’t the world as it should be.

Why is it that children are so often sacrificed on the altars of men?  From ancient times, when babies were burnt to death in sacrifice to Baal, to the Egyptians commanding that all the Hebrew boy babies be killed upon birth, we have seen the most vulnerable among us brutally killed by the most powerful.  WHY?

WHY???

WHY???

But isn’t the worst of it that it happens today, right here, in our modern, first world, United States of America?  In clean, sterile clinics with smiling “nurses” and assuring “doctors”?  (I put them in quotes because they violate their hippocratic oath to “do no harm”).  Children are decapitated, dismembered, here, on our proud and self-righteous soil, thousands, EVERY DAY.  Maybe not for a religious ideology, but often for a far weaker and more anemic one; convenience.  And so our indignation resounds hollow, doesn’t it?  Are we for life, or aren’t we?

People call the ISIS fighters monsters and call the abortionists compassionate.  When will we open our eyes and let the light reveal the horrors on our own soil?  The deliberate and cruel extermination of life most tender?  When will we see?

I pray for the ISIS fighters and the abortionists, and the mothers laying back and spreading their legs for their children to be killed, that eyes would fly open, that hearts would be illumined, and that the tide of blood, the blood of the innocents, would be halted.  Because one man’s, or woman’s, agenda should NEVER mean the death of a child.