In Praise of The Kid

Today is a special day for me.  The Chicago Cubs pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training, which means it is now baseball season in my world.*  However, it’s also been a sad couple of days for many baseball fans: on Thursday, Gary Carter died, less than a year after his doctors discovered brain cancer.  I’ve been sad about this too.

*For most of you, baseball season will start when the actual season starts in April, or perhaps a few weeks before in late March, or perhaps sometime later in the year if you are not gripped by baseball.  To all of you, I say: you should try my way of doing things.  You see, not only does baseball season start now, but Spring has begun.  It’s a happy place.  Granted, our winter has been more like spring this year, but we’ll probably get one more big snow, and lots of you are going to be plunged back into the winter that never happened.  I’ll be enjoying Spring.  

Being sad about Carter’s passing surprised me a little.  He started his career playing for the Montreal Expos, a team that meant nothing to me*, and then he moved to the New York Mets, who were in the midst of a season of spiteful rivalry with my Cubs.

*Well, not nothing.  That’s what it meant to Bud Selig and Jeff Loria.  But not much, since I am a Cub fan, and didn’t spend much time thinking about the Expos.  I did always love their funky M logo. 

Gary Carter wasn’t the most unlikeable member of those Mets (that, of course, would be Doug Sisk) (Just kidding, Doug!), but disliking Mets was what we did.  As I’ve been thinking back to those years, my recollection is that the thing I disliked Gary Carter for most was his sincerity.  Almost anything you read about Gary Carter will talk about his joy at playing, and that was annoying (as an opposing fan).  But that was pretty much it – the man was happy to be a baseball player, he seemed completely sincere about it, and he was really good at it. I look back at that now, and I’m reminded one thing: I had some dumb ideas as a kid.  I suppose we all did (or do, for the many teens who just love to read what I write – hi, young adults!).  Dislike someone because of their sincerity and joy?  I’d rather now celebrate him for those same things.

The Beautiful Wound

I’ve been reminded repeatedly this week that we were made for community.  However, the kind of community we need most in our current circumstance (that is, living imperfect lives in an imperfect world) is the kind of community most of us are least likely to seek out or embrace when it is offered to us.  We need the friendship and fellow-traveling of people who are willing to tell us what we really need: where our blind spots are, and just how much danger lurks in them, and how we can change.

I’ve been in so many situations in the past 5 days where that sort of community was needed that there are at least a handful of people who might read this and say “He’s talking about me!  How dare he!”  I’m not talking about you; I’m talking about us.  Because I need that community as much as you do.  I need someone I trust to actually want the best for me who is also able to tell me where I’m accepting less than the best, and how it’s impacting all of us.  I need to know that person is going to keep loving me, even if I don’t change right away, even if I can’t change right away.  I need to know that person loves me unconditionally.

If we’re doing it right, the church is supposed to be that sort of community.  I hope you have that kind of community in your life.

Hope Touches Us

I think the most difficult aspect of living with a chronic condition is maintaining hope.  As a pastor, I have been a fellow traveler with many people through illnesses and conditions that had no prospect for improvement, and watched them confront that reality.  As a father of two sons on the autism spectrum I have been on a journey of discovering from the inside what it is to live with a situation that changes, but does not resolve.  If hope is desiring something with an expectation of attainment or arrival, chronic illnesses or conditions that we will carry to the end of our days would seem to crush hope.  For hope to have any weight against such a force, it must have a quality or substance which is beyond what we measure in the world of time and matter.  This idea forms a kind of lens through which I have seen much of what I observe or experience for many years now.  It is through that lens that I found the new television show “Touch” to be so disappointing.

I have been trying to write about this for more than a week, since Fox premiered “Touch”, featuring Kiefer Sutherland.  When the show was first promoted, it was about a kid with autism and his dad, but by the time the show got to air, there was a clear attempt to back away from that idea (in the pilot, there is a scene where a social worker refers to the boy having autism, and the father responds that there are several labels that have been applied to Jake, but none of them quite fit).  Instead, the premise is that the boy has a special gift which enables him to understand and interact with numbers in a way that few can.  This gift allows him to see connections between people that are invisible to the rest of us, according to the show’s “guru” (played by Danny Glover), who seems to be an apostle of new-agey pseudo-science.

I was prepared to hate this show.  In fact, the first promo I saw on television seemed so trite and simplistic I began to cry with anger.  I told my wife I was sure I was going to hate this show, and that I was going to use this and other venues to make that plain.  As the show drew closer, I read whatever I could find about it.  Then, I watched the show, and realized it wasn’t what I expected it to be.

Which is not to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  I was actually even more disappointed than I expected to be.  A week’s worth of reflection on it has helped me to see that hope is at the center of much of my disappointment and dissatisfaction.

The show’s back and forth behavior about the boy’s condition is the first problem.  The previews of the show prepared me to expect the boy to be more of a plot device than an actual character – an update of the “magical negro” – and the indecision about if he has autism or not continues to feed that suspicion.  I read one interview (which I can no longer find) from show creator Tim Kring in which he said that the boy’s autism-like affect was a plot device to help make the story “timely” or “relevant”.  However, this interview with Sutherland suggests not only that the autism diagnosis hasn’t been dropped, but there will be a special effort to show autism in an authentic way.    Considering that his “autism” enabled him to see the future in the pilot episode, that’s going to be an uphill battle.  It is easy to imagine the contours of the boy’s “condition” conveniently matching the needs of future episodes again and again.  People (not people with autism, all people) deserve more respect and dignity than to be reduced to plot-moving devices by lazy writers.

Since it has been revealed that Kring has a son on the autism spectrum, I hoped he would understand that. Unfortunately, this is a man with a sketchy history when it comes to creating well-developed and consistent television characters.  As was the case with his last show “Heroes”, the early returns suggest that the story he wants to tell is the big thing, and the characters will fit into that story, coherently or not.

The story Kring wants to tell is the second, and larger, source of my vexation.  His story – his hope – is grounded in the notion that everything is connected in ways we cannot see and rarely discern.  The point of “Touch” seems to be to tweak reality (hence the boy’s pseudo-autism) to emphasize this notion of interconnectedness and purpose in a world that seems to be cruel, random and without meaning.  By telling a story with harrowing and heartbreaking notes which ultimately resolve into a coherent and hopeful chord revealing cosmic purpose, Kring is trying to give hope to the hopeless.  In fact, Sutherland referenced that hopeful thread in one of his interviews when he said “wouldn’t it be great if the world worked like that?”  The fact that it doesn’t – unless kids with autism actually are super-evolved inter-connectors – means that this is a hope that can’t last past the end of each episode.  It’s a fairy tale.

My family’s life is no fairy tale.  It is also not hopeless.  My sons are magnificent, and each of them is advanced in their own ways, and each of them finds it almost impossible to do things that virtually everyone else takes for granted.  Sometimes our life together is beautiful and laughter-filled and awe-inspiring.  Sometimes our life is ridiculously complicated, and after years of it still causes me to cry with frustration.  But through it all, I have hope, and it is grounded in this: Jesus is Lord.  Every time I try to tell you why that’s enough hope, my sentences fall apart, but it is true.  And when this life is over, Jesus will still be Lord.  And whatever we become, in this life and beyond, Jesus will still be Lord.  Our troubles may be chronic, but they are not eternal.  Thanks be to God.

Savoring

My dear wife is now in love with Pinterest.  I am still trying to spell it without having to look it up.  But, there was a neat idea there that she ran across this week: take a jar, and every time something happens that seems memorable, write it down and put it in the jar.  Then, at the end of the year, pour out the jar and savor all the stories on those scraps of paper.  I love this idea because I suspect that many of the things that we think at the time will be memorable will, in fact, normally get lost over time.  Writing them like that will preserve them, and they will bring fresh joy when you take time to reclaim them at the end of the year.

Like this story from yesterday: Zach loves Baby Einstein things – he loves the music, he loves playing with the hand puppets, he loves to carry around as many board books as he can so he can sit and read them when he wants.  But sometimes, he gets his facts a little messed up. Last night we were all riding in the car, and suddenly, in his sing-songy voice, Zach says “Baby Einstein: Who loves in the pond”.  We vaguely recognized this from one of the videos, but were also fairly sure that they actually say “who lives in the pond.”  So, I said, “Hey Zach, it’s who lives in the pond.”  “Baby Einstein: Who loves in the pond,” came back the reply, which caused Josh to break out into giggles.  Josh then tried the correction next, but Zach was still insistent that it is “who loves in the pond.”  These attempts to get Zach to change his tune went on and on, and each time, Zach responded with a steady, peaceful “Baby Einstein: Who loves in the pond.”  Eventually we quit trying, mainly because everyone was laughing too hard to talk.

Zach: 1, Everyone else: 0.

Update on a Great Dog

We needed to take Zach to the new school for the first three days, because the car service wasn’t going to be ready until Thursday.  So, today, Mom caved and let Gemini ride along to take Zach to school.

Gemini was, of course, ecstatic to ride in the car.

When they got to school, Gemini seems to have been a little confused that she wasn’t going in to school with Zach.  However, she also wowed the staff and other students just by being who she is, and apparently they were interested in Christy taking Gemini to the school some day to introduce her to the rest of the students. Which is, of course, when Gem will really turn on the charm, and probably convince them that they just have to have her at school!

Smart dog…