Monday, November 30, 2009

He knows if you've been bad or good

The season of Santa is upon us.

He's makin' a list...

What I am about to tell you will make me sound like a Scrooge-y countercultural extremist weirdo.

Checkin' it twice...

But of course, I'm no stranger to that title. And I'm OK with it.

Gonna find out who's naughty or nice...

My son grew up not believing in Santa Claus.

Yes, it's true. My husband and I, both red-blooded Americans and Christmas-celebrators from childhood, opted to raise our son without the myth that Santa brings the presents.

Matt never wrote a letter to Santa. We didn't take him to have his picture taken with the jolly old elf, nor did we decorate with Kris Kringle's red-suited image. We even stayed away from Santa-themed carols.

When Matt was old enough, we cautioned him against spoiling his classmates' belief in the big guy. We taught him about St. Nicholas, the historical figure upon whom Santa Claus is (very loosely) based. And we told him that Santa himself, along with his flying reindeer and sack of toys, is make-believe.

Why did we go to all that trouble, when going with the flow of the culture would have been so much easier?

Because truth is important.

He sees you when you're sleeping...

Even before I met my husband, I decided I wanted to raise any and all future children without benefit of the typical childhood myths — not just Santa Claus. My main reason was that I wanted to be able to look my kids in the eye and say, "I never lied to you."

He knows if you're awake...

And I figured if we taught our hypothetical children about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Jesus, and they gradually came to realize the first three members of that ensemble weren't real, what would they conclude about the fourth? And what would they conclude about their parents' honesty?

He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake!

(I had to do a little campaigning on this point. My husband is quite the traditionalist, with fond memories of his own Santa-believing years. Once Matt was at the age when his peers had stopped believing, we began enjoying a few Santa-themed traditions, but they're a little more neutral now than they were back when he was small. Less emotionally charged for everyone.)

Our son is now 24 years old. Yesterday, he thanked us for raising him without Santa. (He had just been to the mall earlier in the weekend. Thanksgiving weekend. Poor soul.)

His feelings about the issue were more passionate and well-reasoned than my own were when I was his age.

He pointed out how the Santa myth encourages greed, and getting more than giving.

More importantly, he went on, the idea of an omniscient being who brings rewards and punishments based on behavior flies in the face of the truth which Christian parents ought to be teaching their children.

I think Santa would be pleased.

~~~~~

I guess I'm not the only Christian parent who has struggled with this issue. Last Christmas, blogger William Pike wrote a great post about addressing the Santa question with his four-year-old son.

~~~~~

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day, or Who Is My Neighbor?

Today is Veterans' Day, a day set aside to honor and thank our U.S. veterans for their service.

I have several friends and relatives — including the man I married — who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

I'm sure you do, too. Please take a moment today to thank them.

Regardless whether they served in wartime or peace, in support roles or on the front lines, our servicemen and women are ready and willing to put themselves in harm's way.

But ready and willing doesn't necessarily mean prepared for everything.

Poster by Ilona Meagher
 You've probably heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — the phenomenon earlier generations called "shell shock." PTSD is a debilitating condition that can follow one's experience or observation of terrifying events — including natural disasters, violent attacks, serious accidents, and battle experiences.

Symptoms include reliving the trauma (nightmares or flashbacks), sleep problems, depression, emotional detachment, irritability, and difficulties on the event's anniversary.

People who struggle with PTSD report relationship difficulties, failed marriages, chronic unemployment and substance abuse at rates far higher than average. Their rates of attempted and completed suicides are also far higher than average.

~~~~~

Edited to add: I ran this post by a friend who's an Army chaplain. He made some important points about different levels of post-traumatic distress:

"I think that PTSD and other post-traumatic stress management are going to be keeping our chaplains busy for the next few years. I might emphasize that not all post-traumatic stress problems actually constitute the disorder we call PTSD. That's a medical diagnosis. You can have some of these symptoms without it being debilitating and without it constituting PTSD. I think that's a common misconception, that ALL soldiers who struggle with traumatic memories from war are suffering PTSD. About 30% of our soldiers suffer from some kind of Post Traumatic Stress, but only about 5% (if I remember rightly) actually qualify as suffering from PTSD. It's a distinction of number of symptoms or reactions and the severity of those reactions. Again, it can only be correctly diagnosed as 'PTSD' by a mental health professional."

My chaplain friend is right. With this and many other diagnoses, the DSM-IV-TR says symptoms must be sufficient to cause "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning." So a person struggling with some symptoms (or with less severe symptoms) can fail to meet the diagnostic criteria for full-blown PTSD, and still suffer fallout from a trauma.

~~~~~

In the recent Parade Magazine article Helping Soldiers Heal, former senator and wounded veteran Max Cleland encourages veterans to seek counseling if they are suffering.

Cleland's memoir Heart of a Patriot begins with an open letter to veterans, in which he describes PTSD from the inside:
Some of the deepest wounds we suffer may be inflicted without leaving so much as a scratch.... The soldier's lot is to be exposed to traumatic, life-threatening events — happenings that take us to places no bodies, minds, or souls should ever visit. It is a journey to the dark places of life — terror, fear, pain, death, wounding, loss, grief, despair, and hopelessness. We have been traumatized physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
As more veterans return from combat, the church needs to be willing to help them and their families cope with the effects of their memories of war. Christianity Today recently ran an article on some creative ways churches and Christian organizations are helping with this issue.

Two books that could prove helpful in ministry are The Combat Trauma Healing Manual: Christ-Centered Solutions for Combat Trauma and When War Comes Home: Christ-Centered Healing for Wives of Combat Veterans.

Maybe our best example for helping the wounded comes from Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan.

May we be as willing to go out of our way to help hurting vets.

~~~~~