Sunday, October 06, 2013

Christians and Discernment

I am a research assistant for a dental researcher.  While seeking to learn more about informatics and data mining, my boss said he was skeptical about data mining as he felt that people sometimes just 'punch in the numbers and believe anything that falls out the bottom'.

Now, librarians are all about using data properly, so this misconception struck me as important.  If we are using data 'science' and retrieving data and packaging it, we may expect that whatever we find is 'right' and true. However, data science does not work in isolation.  Mined data is not more intelligent that surveyed data just because it is mined and collected by intelligent systems, it still takes an intelligent brain ( or more importantly, a well trained brain) to assimilate that data and use it wisely.  If there are 'unscientific' people in research devouring data without the skills to digest and understand it, this is a real problem.  Intelligence is more than receiving, remembering and regurgitating data, it is critically assessing, analysing, questioning and applying data appropriately in a given context.

Bachelor students can be guilty of only learning 'whats on the exam', not learning for the sheer joy and enrichment of learning.  Learning to think takes more than attending lectures and reading course notes.  It takes an imaginative, innovative approach to the information they receive.

Christians, too, can be guilty of this failure.  1 Corinthians talks about wise and foolish people, intelligent people are frustrated by the gospel, its very simplicity and lunacy does not require great intelligence to understand - it is for everyone.

However the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is with every Christian, and it is the Christians' responsibility to wrestle with, analyse, enjoy and digest Christian teaching.  Acts says they 'devoted themselves to the apostles teaching'.  They could not wait to be together, to hear preaching, to discuss how to serve God in their lives, to share their griefs and joys.

The Bereans listened to the apsotle Paul's teaching and tested and analysed the scriptures to make sure that what Paul said made sense. They did not just give up their Jewish lifestyles, wholus bolus, at the first mention of Jesus.  They tested his claims against scriptures, and I imagine their joy in receiving Jesus was even greater as a result of it.

We can be guilty of going to church to 'have our batteries recharged' and sit in the pews, absorbing preaching into our cells like anenomies, instead of seeking out Christians afterwards to break down and digest the meal we give thanks for.  Some churches also unwittingly fall into a 'complacent acceptance is next to godliness' model where the preacher or elders are sensitive about feedback, criticism or challenge, rather than letting discussion be promoted by the teaching they provide.

Of course, we must also be wary of a congregation that continually complains about the kind of food they get dished up, like children who were hoping for pizza and got apricot chicken (again).  Yet turning a wary and fussy church member into a lover of vegetables will not be achieved through giving a double helping and refusing to explain what the funny looking green bits are.

I pray that church members grow in loving discernment and delectation of the gospel, all the better to share it boldly, being confident that it is so very good and worth enjoying again and again with everyone who will receive it.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Lovely Bones

'The Lovely Bones' by Alice Sebold has been on my list to read for some time.  I had read a review that intrigued me but I thought that it might also irritate or upset me so in the end I didn't make a big effort to find it.  Finding it in Shiploads for $3 made it less effort to pick it up than leave it on the shelf.

Caution SPOILERS.

Unwisely, I began this novel at around 8pm in the evening, I tried to start earlier, but my children can sniff out mummy enjoying something they cannot very quickly and I managed less than half a page from the afternoon.  Despite sensibly going to bed around 9:30, I was still unable to put it down until around 11, around which time the emotions stirred up by the story were still charging through me and sleep was unthinkable.

Despite my intentions for an early night, I got up and devoured the rest of the book, gulping it a little too fast to deliberate over the latter chapters, as at this stage I was eager to get a little sleep. Spectres of the well drawn characters hovered around my mind until I managed to cleanse them away by googling technical facts about the filming of the story by Peter Jackson.

Although the structure and narration is not necessarily unique stylistically, I found myself completely drawn in by the story of a young girl, raped and murdered and in a ghostly presence, watching her beloved family and despised murderer living out their lives over the next years. She watches somewhat dispassionately, although at times she mentions her love or hate, we see details of the murderer's history as mildly as we see our heroine's back story, building up to who she is, although more than the sum of her parts.

It is a philosophical novel, a secular, semi moralised meta comment on evil, justice and human nature.  It is a visceral and wistful exploration of sensations; of the emotions, mind and body.  As the title suggests, the novel is concerned with the fate of her body, her blood leaves its mark in places, traces of her bones mark her story, and a few meagre traces of the lively, imaginative and precious girl she was are discarded or treasured by her destroyer at his whim. As with Abel, what was happened cannot fade away, despite the murderer's cover up.  Her blood cries out from the ground. Is justice achieved? Where does she go?  How does the rest of the family's stories conclude?  Am I satisfied by the resolution?  What of God? Is He watching?

This book is not for those who are disturbed by explicitly violent content, I am not usually one who can tolerate such scenes, but the righteous anger at the event fuels the story and guides the reader, like a helpless detective, to watch the story as it plays out, praying and longing for justice.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

So, what are we here for anyway?

I've had this blog for a long time now.  It has undergone a few deaths and at least one resurrection after a drive-by slanging in my comments.  Now, about 10 years later I'm still not quite sure what my purpose in blogging here is.

I started blogging as a way of letting off steam, reflect on life, my work, study and personal insights.  Then I felt that this was inappropriate and that I lacked the emotional strength to cope with the criticism or feedback that goes with a public blog. Add to this that my life contained a fascination and interaction with many other people, whose private experiences were not mine to voice. This required a restraint and perpetually bitten tongue, that, given the lack of natural subtlety in my communication, took a lot of careful wording and was not particularly cathartic.

Then came Facebook and networked blogs and it seemed that, now a mum with kids and limited time, composing a soundbite was preferable to the time spent writing, proofreading and editing my work.  I felt that blogs still had a place in our more networked social lives, but my own had little to add to what was already out there.  After all, was I a Christian blogger?  a Mummy blogger?  A cooking  blogger or profound insight blogger? Well, at once all and none.  Did I have shiny photos or catchy posts with guests and funny drawings or videos?  Well I like to think I sometimes had the former, but seldom the latter.

Now I find myself, tired of the soundbite and longing for a chance to write and engage more, whether or not I know what my purpose in writing is.  Then I realise that this is my purpose, to reflect and clarify my thoughts as Christian, Ministry wife, Mum, Pragmatic Philosopher and reader of diverse books, articles, blogs, soundbites and more.

I am a librarian who wishes to order the internet more systematically, a ministry wife who needs to learn from raw experience to be a comfort, sounding board and nurturer.  A mum who is pretty stretched most of the time and needs a place to think beyond the next meal, nappy change or discipline of the next tantrum.  I am a philosopher of sorts, who wants to find the meaning in the twisted and interesting world I live in, a reader who needs to reflect on the many things I read.

If you read back over my archives, some have been destroyed and others may not make sense, that's because they are the unprocessed writings that need to a cleaner mind.  Sorry about the dirt.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Definitions: 'Cry Method'

This is a method of teaching a baby to fall asleep without the help of their parents.  'Cry' methods are usually aimed at avoiding 'sleep associations' like breastfeeding, cuddling, rocking or patting to sleep so that babies can 'self-settle'.  Some methods encourage leaving the room until the baby falls asleep, this is called 'extinction' ( not a nice connotation!).  Other methods are called 'controlled crying' 'controlled comforting' or 'crying to settle'.  These can vary from staying in the room talking to and touching the baby, staying in the room and avoiding eye contact, touch and speaking, or leaving the room for longer and longer intervals with brief comfort in the form of touch, verbal reassurance etc.  The baby is not picked up, fed or otherwise interacted with, Typically, the baby is fed, changed and made comfortable before the crying method is implemented.

'100 ways to Calm the crying'

So, on to Pinky McKay. I know this is probably not the best Pinky McKay book to really understand Pinky but as I have a 10 week old and a toddler I just grabbed the only one available at the library and scarpered.  I'm sure Pinky fans can tell me what is typical or not.

Pinky McKay falls into the 'attachment' end of the parenting spectrum, she describes herself as a former nurse and mother of five. She is very passionate about encouraging breastfeeding and what she calls 'gentle' parenting techniques. She runs her own sleep consultation practise, helping with lactation and sleep issues, so if you like her style, she offers consultations online and at her practise in Melbourne. She does a lot of writing, consulting etc, her website can tell you more.

'100 ways to calm the crying' is two things:

* A cry of the heart from parents who are struggling to care for babies that cry a lot.  A lot of personal family stories are interspersed between the advice and suggestions that Pinky offers. These are compelling and will resonate with parents in the same boat.

* A big hug and a pat on the back to any readers who are feeling unsupported in their 'no cry' methods, or depressed from the constant crying; or lacking confidence in their breastfeeding, settling or mothering in general

Pinky's compelling introduction describes a moment every mother probably experiences at least once and some far too often, the moment when your baby will not stop crying and you can't either- then you wonder helplessly, 'what can I do?'.

As Pinky's book is a response to many families and others like them that she has worked with, she covers a lot of ideas and points, each running into the other, more or less systematically.  First, she makes a point of trying to remove the stigma of crying.  Our culture doesn't like it when babies cry and it can be difficult for mothers whose babies cry a lot, especially when they are trying to do normal things like get milk and bread or do phone banking. She explains that babies have limited communication and crying ALWAYS means something. It can be :

* Emotional ( lonely, overtired, frustrated and releasing stress)
* Environmental ( lights too bright, too many people, too noisy)
* Developmental ( constant change in baby's brain, body etc can cause upheaval=crying)
* Temperament ( baby could be sensitive, high needs ( quotes Dr Sears here)

Pinky goes on to say, like Ferber, that comforting will not spoil your child, however, she dislikes the term controlled crying and parent directed methods as she believes that people who practise these methods believe a baby is manipulating through their crying, rather than communicating.  This may be a fair cop if controlled crying methods fail to listen to the cry rather than counting minutes.

Pinky then talks about what it's like for a baby in the womb and why a baby loves darkness, warmth, movement and continuous noise.  She talks about how easy it is to overstimulate a young baby as this world is just too full of light and different experiences. She gives an excellent tip that I have filed away - when your baby eyes get too wide or conversely the baby suddenly falls asleep at a time when they would not usually, they may be overloaded and its time to take them to a quiet place.  Babywise also talks about this kind of neurological shutdown as a kind of coping mechanism.  This shutdown is a protection for babies, but a baby whose eyes are bugging out of its head with excitement has probably lost this ability and needs a cuddle in a quiet room, stat!

She outlines ways to comfort a baby, no surprises here,
*sucking ( breast, fingers, dummies if you don't mind weaning later etc)
*slings are great to keep babies warm and close to heartbeat
*natural fibres like cotton don't irritate skin
* bath is relaxing
* alternative therapies can help - osteopathy, chiropractry, aromatherapy

As I said, Pinky's ideas run together a bit and it's hard to cover them all in a summary/review without getting too wordy - but Pinky says something I wish every breastfeeding mum would hear - not to worry too much about baby's weight as long as they ARE gaining weight, having 8 wet/pooey nappies a day and seem alert and happy. Percentile charts can be stressful, especially if you have produced a petite baby - which a lot of more petite ladies do.  The pressure to bottle feed when babies are lower on the percentile chart may be unhelpful as it can stress out mums and also reduce milk supply leading to unplanned weaning.  However Pinky also gives some tips about how to bond if you ARE happy to bottle feed.

Bedtime rituals are all good and she makes a point of saying feeding a baby to sleep is not the unforgivable sin it is made out to be, but also gives a technique for weaning off feeding to sleep if it becomes the only way your baby can re-settle, this is cool. She suggests gentle ways to help baby sleep all night like feeding more in the day, doing a dream feed etc.

A chapter on settling techniques yields no surprises either, walk, rock, sling, drive baby - white noise, music, sing, pat baby etc - except one I had not heard of which was to ride an exercise bike with baby in a sling or carrier...Hmmmm, I wonder if they would let me do that at my gym!

Pinky's chapter on coping or not coping is very raw and talks about the range of unfortunately normal emotions that go with the very stressful situation of having a baby that cries a lot. There are many stories from parents in this chapter. If you feel like this then this book will probably make you weep.

Another strength of this book is that Pinky clearly has experience with families of crying babies who also have a toddler, and the painful emotions mothers can experience because of the guilt of not being able to play with their toddler or older child.  She suggests having a special play corner for feeding and crying times.
She also suggests asking for help, expert and otherwise, but also warns that some expert help can advocate methods that you are uncomfortable with, so don't let them tell you how to parent. Example of an MBU experience where a mother was reduced to tears by a 'cry' method.

My one criticism of Pinky's book is that it is quite defensive.  I understand it is a manual for parents who have been encouraged to try 'cry' methods and that these have clearly been unsuccessful and painful for the parents.  I also understand that the parents have insensitively been told ( by family, experts or 'them') not to feed their baby to sleep or cuddle their baby when they are crying and that was deeply traumatic for them.  However, I still think there is a place for 'cry'methods in a loving home provided baby's needs ( emotional too!) are met, but then, I don't have a baby that cries alot and feeding to sleep doesn't work on my baby either!

But more of that in subsequent posts, Pinky clearly has a message that parents need.  Be confident!
Be positive! Parent how you want to and if problems arise from feeding to sleep/rocking etc, they can be changed so just enjoy your baby as much as you can, and the crying will stop one day.