Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Plumb Line

You know what's difficult about being a parent?

There are no doubt many, many difficult tasks we could list here:  refereeing sibling battles, cleaning up daily spills of bright red juice, stepping in a sticky spot on the floor made by a bright red juice spill, not losing your religion as you try to peel your fuzzy white sock out of the red sticky mess, removing stains from clothes, keeping up with the laundry, mating socks...I digress.

What I am finding difficult of late, as a parent and really, as an adult, is sifting and sorting through the vast amount of information that comes flooding into our home in any given five minutes of everyday.

It. is. overwhelming.

I just finished a book by Jacques Bonnet who has amassed a library of over 10,000 books in his lifetime. He wrote in his book that the internet has changed the landscape of book collecting since its creation many years ago and that his personal library would look very different if he'd had the internet as a resource during his years of gathering books.

"The problem," he rightly says, "in years to come will not be how to accumulate books in order to have them within reach, but to find one's way through the exponentially mass of publications."

One would think that a bookish person like me would cheer the ever-increasing volume of books available for the choosing and there is a part of my heart that does sing over all of the opportunity. The other part of my heart chimes doom when I think about parenting my children through the rising sea of information.

It's not simply a question of what is or is not appropriate for the ages and stages of the children. That would be an easy one to figure out...

" Sure no problem, just don't look at all those ads."

" Can you watch Phineas and Ferb? Hmmmm, it's on The Disney Channel and is aimed at young kids, sure."

"You want to read the latest Young Adult fiction displayed front and center in the kid's section of the bookstore, well it IS in the kid's section...go ahead."

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Sure, the shows on Disney are {for the most part?} fine for the kids, but, the real issue, whether you are 7 or 40, is whether it is the very best way for them to spend their time? Will watching Phineas and Ferb add quality to their day?

If I let my young teen read the latest novel aimed at him by publishers who sit in tall buildings in New York, will his brain be forever damaged if he comes up against an objectionable passage? Probably not, but should I allow him to fritter his time away with books that are "less than"? Do I throw "fluff" books at my reluctant readers just to get them into the habit of reading? Is that a good use of their mental energy? How much time does a four year old need to spend on in a morning, are those minutes adding value to her existence or merely adding peace to mine?

Add to that questions of authors/actors/sports figures/bloggers with a Christian vs. secular world view? It's daunting.

In his book, Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon reminds me, "You are a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences."

No pressure there! It's a heavy responsibility not only to look after one's own influencers but also to look after the influencers of four young lives who face a world of information just begging for their attention.

One of my favorite musicians, Andrew Peterson, is also an author and an excellent one. He has written a children's books series that has received the highest praise from many corners of the writing community. A parent of three children, Peterson has good words to share on being the gatekeeper of our kids' exposure.
It's always good to know a little about the author before letting your children read a book, and I'd prefer my children read books by Christians at first--that is, if the book is a good one. It's a load of fun being, in essence, the curator of your children's experience in literature and music, but it's also a big responsibility. Not only do I not want them reading books that convey falsehoods, I don't want them reading books that are poorly written. That's what makes {C.S.} Lewis' books such a gift. They tell the truth, and they're beautifully written for the most part. Start there. Let them get a good sense of truth and excellence. After that, they'll have a plumb line to measure the other stuff against. I'm probably more averse to a badly written book by a Christian than an excellent work by someone who isn't. (from an interview with Tabletalk Magazine October 2012)
A plumb line to measure the other stuff against... that's the phrase that rang my bell. That then is my job as a parent to set the plumb line and set it high enough and vibrant enough for my children to discern what they allow into their sphere of influence. I'm sure we'll all experience a book or a TV show or two that fall below the standards we are attempting to set, but my prayer is that we will be able to quickly realize what is "less than" and what is "worthy" of our fleeting time here on this earth.

Finally brothers whatever is true whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
~Philippians 4:8~

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