Self-Esteem, Six Year Olds, and David Virtue

June 12, 2006

My six-year-old son had some kind of self-esteem crisis last night.

We had just watched the movie "Garfield" and in it, Garfield the cat invites his friend/sibling Otis the dog to share a chair.  As soon as Otis jumps up to share the chair, Garfield pushes Otis out of it onto the floor, an action that gives Garfield not a little delight.  Otis, not being the brightest animal in the world, accepts Garfield's invititation over and over again to come back into the chair, only to be pushed back onto the floor over and over again, until the screen fades to black.

Now what do you think my six-year old did as soon as he saw this?  Well, of course he invited his sister onto the chair, and promptly pushed her off– an action that made both of them laugh.  And– not because she shares Otis' low intelligence but instead because it made her laugh– she climbed right back up in the chair and did it again and again.  So, of course, after a few times, she inevitably fell off the wrong way, bumped something the wrong way, and cried a little bit.  I told my son, in what I'm sure was not a very nice voice, that pushing people off chairs wasn't a very good thing to do.

The response was really remarkable.  He ran upstairs screaming, "Nobody cares about me!" He went in his room, slammed his door, and waited for me, knowing, I hope, that I would come after him.

Now, I'm still a little taken back by this strong reaction, and I'll have to do some more digging as to why this strong reaction came from such a minor incident.  It could be all the pressures of the impending move, it could be that he is six- for boys a very vulnerable time emotionally, it could be that he had a bad day, or it could be a sign of a more serious self-esteem problem.  Now I hope and pray that it isn't that, and since he is otherwise happy, healthy, has lots of friends, enjoys sports, and all that jazz, I'm not too terribly concerned about it but will keep my eye on it.

But I did go into his room, and talked to him about it.  And I reassured him.  He said nobody cared about him, nobody liked him, he didn't get to do anything he wanted, and all the things that I think 6 year olds reason are true when they don't get what they want.  I reassured him that I do love him, and that his other dad loves him, and that his sister loves him, and I started naming all the other people in his life that love him until he got bored with that exercise.  Then I started naming all the reasons I love him; his humor, his intelligence, his creativity, his laughter, his willingness to help, his kindness; until he got bored with that exercise.  I spent probably about 30 minutes refueling his self-esteem, because it seemed to be running a little bit low.

I did that for him for several reasons.  I did it primarily because he needed it.  I did it also because I love him.  I did it also because it is my responsibility to him as his parent to ensure that he gets the emotional nourishment that he needs as he grows.

And, while during this entire discussion he had been withdrawn, whiny, crying, and generally baby-ish, about 30 seconds after I gave him a pat on the back and said essentially "the pity party is over" he was up and back to his normal smiling, laughing, playing, cheerful self.

Now my job is to make sure that he gets a little extra attention as we go through the next few weeks, ensuring that I don't get so preoccupied with move activities that I forget how important it is to play with him and his sister, or to just sit with them, or whatever.  The relationships come first.  Everything else is second.

With all that as background, I jump to the church.  I think about my posting here, and how much resistance there is to the idea that we are good at our core.  I believe the church has failed us in realizing this potential.  When we fall- when we realize that we have accidentally or purposefully "pushed someone off the chair," the church has historically encouraged us to go to our room and sit by ourselves.  I'd say it has even encouraged us to go to the places in our mind that my son was going – that we are bad, unworthy, unlovable.  What we need from the church instead is that warm, supportive voice.  That loving parental voice- the voice Jesus used when he said to love God and love your neighbor- the voice that says you ARE loved, you ARE good, you CAN make it, you CAN do good, pick yourself up, get off the floor, dust yourself off, and get back out there- back out into community, back out with relationships, back out testing and trying yourself out again.

That is the church at its best.  That is the church living into its full potential.

Too often, though, we are tempted.  The church is full of people who are themselves pushing people off of chairs.  These are the ones who cannot distinguish between justice- the needed correction of the ones in the world who seek to do others ill-will; and self-righteousness- those who seek to correct others even though the acts of those they seek to correct has no impact on their lives.

Take for example the consumption of alcohol.  I know several conservative teetotaling Christians whom I have observed making judgements about others who do not abstain from drinking.  While alcohol can be an impediment for alcoholics, consumption of alcohol in and of itself does not make one an alcoholic.  The judgement of the consumption of alcohol in these terms is self-righteous.  It has no basis in the betterment of society.  At some point, there is a social good in awareness of the dangers of some alcohol awareness programs– drinking and driving, let's say, or awareness of the warning signs of alcoholism.  But to say that we should consume grape juice instead of wine at the communion table is an excess of self-righteousness, in my opinion.  Many "traditional moral values" fall into this category- drinking, dancing, cursing, and so on.

Contrast that with a true justice issue- say the war in Iraq.  Bush's conservative Christian following remained either largely silent or in agreement with Bush on this war when it began.  Thousands of innocent children of God have died.  Life has been lost.  This from the same group of people who claim that life is precious and that no life can be lost without judgement as a basis for their position on abortion.  This is a contradictory opinion.  This position holds that it is reasonable to kill in Iraq as "collateral damage" but is not reasonable to have loss of an embryo as a result of any but very limited circumstances.  I'm not arguing that abortion is a good thing- I'm only pointing out the contradiction.

And now I come to David Virtue.  For those of you who don't know him, you can read a little about him here.  One of my favorite blogs has been plagued by one of Virtue's followers, who has been obsessively posting filthy propaganda of Mr. Virtue's, based on a posting I'll give you in a minute.  First, I want to warn you, because I know that my grandmother reads this site sometimes– this link is not for the faint-hearted!  It contains some very vile and graphic descriptions, some very imaginative and fictitious ones at that.  But, if you have the stomach, here it is.

It just stands to reason for me that the debate about homosexuality is one of those self-righteous ones.  Not the ones about true Christian morals- it isn't an issue that affects how we treat each other, how we relate to one another– except if you are on the side of inclusion.  But the argument that excluding gays and lesbians from common life, that gays and lesbians should "learn to change" because their "behavior" is bad for them, is a little like the teetolaler saying that we shouldn't take wine with our communion wafer.  They construct false arguments, even going so far as David Virtue's warping of facts, trying deparately to construct an argument that somehow tries to classify my orientation as a "behavior" and then make that "behavior" sound relevant to them.

The end result of this article for me is that it appears that Mr. Virtue certainly has a lot more creative ideas about sex than I do.  I guess he thinks about it a lot more, or something.  How he could expect any reasonable person to make the leap of reason from his "statistics" about gay sexual conduct to gay men's health to God's "judgement" of homosexuality is the sign of a truly disturbed mind.  Let's leave his percentages alone for a moment- I've seen different actual numbers quoted on every site that I looked at in preparing for this post so I'll just assume they are bogus.

He fails to mention that some number- large or small (let's hope small)- of straight people participate in all of the acts he lists in his article.  He fails to mention that every single disease that affects gay men also affects straight people.  He fails to justify the God that "causes" AIDS in his mind with all of the people who have that dreadful disease and are not gay.

Of course, this is the height of self-righteousness.  This is the height of acting in the name of the "church" and trying to send people to their room to say "stay in there because you are bad" and "nobody loves you, not even God."

But we are done with that.  We know better.  We know that God is a God of love which passes all understanding.  God's love is bigger than we would like.  That means he even loves David Virtue, much to my chagrin right now, 'cause I'm trying real hard to see the Jesus in him and I'm not finding it.

God has moved us to the point in the good 'ol ECUSA where we do not have to send others to their figurative rooms in order to feel good about ourselves.  We can stand tall and proud, and ask others to stand tall and proud with us.  We can reach out to others who are having problems standing, and offer a hand.  We can lift up the least of these.  We can reach out in love.  We can raise up the oppressed.  We can feed the hungry.  We can cure the sick.  We can stop the violence.  We can live as Christ taught us.

Let's pray that the actions of ECUSA this week and next will reflect that vision.  That general convention will be an uplifting, forward movement of affirmation, of praise, of spirit.  That we will see the best in each other- even those who disagree with us.  That we will see the holy spirit hard at work as she shines forth the way she does when she works best- when we live together in our common life, in love, and in peace.

So let's stop pushing each other off of the chairs, and instead offer up a hand to help each other back up onto the chair, offering each other a seat together at the table.  Brother and sister, siblings, together, not necessarily enjoying every minute they spend together, but doing it anyway- because we are family.  We are one body- we will love one another as Christ loves us.


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