Saturday, October 30, 2010

I'm Troubled By Halloween - Part 2

So just in case you didn't get enough of my ramblings in my post yesterday, let's revisit my troubles with Halloween. This time, I want to go to the other end of the spectrum. We talked enough about the events that trouble me due to their violence, their intensity, and their overt attempts at scaring people into going to church.

Now we go way over to the most family friendly of the Halloween activities....the Trunk or Treat. Again, this is an event most often sponsored by a church group, but in some cases, other community organizations have promoted such an activity. The focus of the activity, depending on who you listen to, is to "provide a safe family environment for trick or treaters" or to be an "excellent outreach event" for a church.

There is nothing scary about a Trunk or Treat. In fact, many of them even have costume guidelines to make sure that all the kids come dressed as a super hero or a fairy but not Dracula or a ghost. And that seems to be one key part of make a Halloween event that is not frightening.

I've got no problem with that. Little kids often need to avoid things that may seem frightening.

But this isn't really about the costume. I'm convinced, this is about sanitizing an event that seems a bit too non-Christian while segregating the church folks from the rest of their community. I mean, I know some people in the US live in neighborhoods that are just not safe. No one would go out and walk around at night. I get that. But I wonder if those are the places where Trunk or Treats are really taking place? Or does this mostly happen in nice middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods where the kids could safely trick or treat on well-lit sidewalks and among welcoming homes?

I also have no problem with a church or any other organization wanting to host their own activities as a form of building their own community. Certainly many groups have fall festivals, apple picking, trips to corn mazes, etc. Those are all excellent group activities.

But what happens when it becomes a way to exclude participation in their home neighborhood?

Many Trunk or Treaters aren't doing this as an extra fun event for their kids...they are doing as the ONLY event for their kids. They gather in a parking lot, pass out candy just to the kids who are members of their group, and then go home and keep the lights out on Halloween night....turning away all the other children in their community.

Is that really the kind of neighborhood we want? One where, in the guise of making Halloween safe, some of our most concerned parents actually turn away from their neighbors? If we want our sidewalks and neighborhoods to be safe on Halloween, shouldn't those concerned parents be the most visible presence walking about on that evening? Isn't that how we build a community and participating, by being active, by actually showing up? I'm just not sure how we help encourage a safe Halloween if people keep their kids home on that night and become unwelcoming to other kids.

We are fortunate to live in a large neighborhood with plenty of sidewalks, lots of street lights, and homes that will have their porch lights on. Some folks will just pass out the candy while others will enjoy decorating with jack-o-lanterns, a scarecrow or two, the occasional scary sound effects tape, and even one neighbor who annually erects an entire graveyard in his front yard, complete with friends who dress up and rise from the coffins to greet kids. And yes, they are very kid-friendly with lookouts to alert them so the scary-fun stuff happens with older kids (and the adults who enjoy dropping by!) while the non-scary-fun stuff happens with younger kids.

Our sidewalks will be crowded. People will drive in from surrounding areas where walking is quite as safe. Our porch light will be on. And we have plenty of 3 Musketeers, Pixie Stix, M&M's and Kit Kat bars for everyone. So feel free to drop by. We love seeing everyone in their well as those teenagers who drop by at the end of the night looking just a bit embarrassed by still hoping for a Reese's and enjoying a holiday that they don't want to ever outgrow.

We'll keep the light on for you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I'm Troubled By Halloween - Part 1

Let me set the record straight right up front. I love Halloween. I had fun as a kid, dressing in my costume and racing through the neighborhood gathering up the goodies. I had fun as a teenager going to Halloween parties. And I've had the most fun on Halloween as I walked through our neighborhood with our kids...holding their hand in the dark and then just holding the flashlight when they were too old to want to hold hands. I've prompted them to ring the bell and say "trick or treat". And of course, I prompted them to say "thank you" once the loot had been delivered. I've even participated in some Samhain rituals in pagan celebration of the season. So as you can see, I've got no intrinsic problem with the holiday.

But I am troubled by how it has been co-opted by groups for their own purposes. In the 90's we were treated to Hell Houses - church sponsored horror shows designed the scare the crap out of people with their interpretation of all the evils in the world such as abortion and drinking. Talk about taking the fun out of a haunted house...these folks knew just how to suck all the joy out of a holiday and turn it into a sledgehammer-to-the-head approach to winning people over to their view of Christianity.

Eventually, Hell Houses became a bit too gruesome and controversial so a newer, milder version of Hell Houses hit the scene. These new guided tours are known as Judgement House, a different dramatic presentation about the "truth of people's choices". In fact, Judgement House (the two "e's" are their idea, not mine) has been around since the early 80's, but seemed to really grow in popularity in the early part of this decade as Hell Houses faded from popularity.

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against religious groups sharing their beliefs and values. But the Hell House movement was extreme. However, it was not the most extreme horror show on this little tour.

Oh no, that honor goes to the Tribulation Trail. Located in the woods of southern Georgia, the Tribulation Trail is a 90-minute walk through the woods sponsored by the Mount Vernon Baptist Church. It bills itself as a "walk through drama portraying the end of times". What it really is, as reported by one participant, is an "intensely violent rendition of standard end-times scenarios". Six of the twelve scenes involve executions including a teenager watching his young sister beaten to death. Participants are "guided" from scene to scene by men and teenage boys carrying automatic rifles. Yet, the official website for the Tribulation Trail says it is fine for kids 10 years of age and older. And perhaps the most frightening thing of all...25,000 people a year buy tickets and take the walk and this year it is sold out.

So someone explain this to me. When so many religious groups are wanting to avoid Halloween because it isn't safe or "kid friendly"...costumes are too scary...there is too much "evil" associated with is it that religious groups are also bringing us some of the most revolting moments of Halloween horror? Can these types of events really convert people? Or is it merely a faith-promoting tool for the believers?

I understand their purpose. I'm just very confused by their tactics. Confused and appalled. I'm very clear that these activities do not represent my values. And I'm clear that I don't believe this is what Halloween is all about...whether you believe in the spirituality of Samhain, Day of the Dead, or just want a good Snickers.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Old Dog Tries Some New Tricks

Way back when I started this blog, I wrote about transitions. Go ahead...check it out. I'll wait.

Welcome back! So that was four years ago. Today I turn 54. And I find myself working through a whole new set of transitions.

Not about being old. I've got no real problem with turning 54. Well, no problem other than the places that hurt that didn't use to hurt.

No, the real transitions this time are more about trying to find myself...or maybe explore a new the aftermath of so many changes in my life.

During these past 4 years, both my mom and my wife's mom passed away. We also had two other deaths in the family that were very hard on everyone. But not every transition was about death. We've also sent Son2 off to college. After struggling for 20 years raising this kid with asperger's syndrome, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, he is off on his own. We are still more involved than any parent of a more typical college kid, but still, he has moved out of the house and is being successful.

So good changes. Bad changes. Lots of changes.

Time for me to regroup. To look for new ways to focus on positive things. To get back to an exploration of spirituality. To try new things. To let go of trying to be the uber parent. To let go of sadness.

Lucky you. You get to come along for the ride. And one of the best ways for me to be spontaneous is to have a plan. Yeah, I know...but that's how I am. So you'll see a link to a second blog over there on the side. I'm taking a shot at one of those memes that so many others have tried. And maybe going down that road will help me find an adventure or two.

Suggestions for new adventures are always welcome. Just keep in mind that I hate heights.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Identity In 2010

I first put my toe in the shallow end of the Internet pool way back on October 21, 1994. That's when I set up an account on AOL and began exploring the Internet. And I remember that moment of panic when the prompt came up to create a Screen Name. A what?? I didn't know I would need a screen name. But the HELP section explained it to me. And it gave some precautions. So I felt I should choose something that didn't tell people exactly who I was.

After that, for years, we were all told to be somewhat anonymous online. Women shouldn't use a screen name that indicated they were female cause they would just be targeted for sex. Kids shouldn't reveal they were young or they would be targeted for sex. Somehow, middle aged white guys weren't being targeted for sex. Some of us were just a tad insulted. But we moved on...being anonymous online. Hiding behind screen names. I had a screen name for AOL...and so did my wife. I had a screen name for CompuServe (remember that one!?!). Of course, it was a different screen name than the AOL screen name cause the same one wasn't available on both services. But heck, being a whole bunch of anonymous people had advantages. Every time I wanted to hang out in certain user created chat rooms...well, we don't need to explore that part of my online history.

Point being, for years we were all a big secret.

And then things began to change. Integrity came with transparency. Being the real me made it possible to blog and do other things online as a professional. And as those professional uses of social media began to overlap with personal uses, there was more confusion between various aliases in some places with real names (or in my case, still clinging to the idea that some secrecy was the way to go), an initial and a name.

Then came facebook. Everyone suddenly felt the need to use their real names. Otherwise, how could those old college friends find you? Besides, facebook feels like a safe place...just people sharing photos of their kids, talking about the routine pieces of their lives, and touching base with old and new friends.

Now...what's a boy to do? My professional blog and professional twitter account identify me the same way. My name. My facebook account has my real name. But blogger...the place I've actually connected and talked with many people...I'm still a nickname. Sure, many of the folks who have talked with me via e-mail over the years know my real name now. But there is an odd disconnect between here and everywhere else. All my family and friends know me on facebook. Only two people that I actually know in real life know about my blog. But I don't write anything here that would offend them or upset them. And even if I did, I write what I really think. It isn't a big secret.

So at what point does pseudo-privacy and anonymity fade away and we all become clickable as the person that we really are?

What do YOU think? How do YOU handle it? Are YOU...really you?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Powerful Message

Please go check out Mrs. Chili's Letter to the Universe today. She speaks profoundly on behalf of so many who need support. And she links to some other sites that speak just as powerfully.

You rock Mrs. Chili!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

In our last episode...

Son2 continues to be in college.

Yeah, that fact alone is a bit surprising to us. I mean, we thought he could do it. On the other hand, we would not have been shocked if it had all come to an end by now.

There have been more major outings to islands. However, he continues to make friends and actively participate in social activities. The day came and went for Early Academic Reports. That's the time when the Learning Specialist would call the parents to let them know their kid was struggling (i.e. had some grade below a C). We got no call...just an e-mail saying he was doing fine. And at the end of their first four weeks this past Monday, he moved up a level.

Level? Yeah, every kid starts on Level 1. Based on a variety of achievements - good grades, passing room inspection, participating in social activities, etc, etc....they can move up to Level 2 after the first month. Level 2 means no more required daily study hall. Later curfew. Permission to join clubs for extracurricular activities, and things like that. If you don't move up at the end of the first four weeks, you get another opportunity every three weeks after that. Eventually, each kid tries to go all the way to Level 3 which gives them additional freedoms such as having a car on campus, etc.

So yep, Son2 is moving up, passing, participating. We are excited. We are proud. And we still hold our breath that each day will be one more day of success.

BTW...if you think the only thing I will ever write about again is Son2, you are wrong. Yet, you would be surprised just how much his energy still dominates our lives even when he lives on the other side of the state!