Making My Mother Cry

The following post was written in February 2011.  As I type, Beth and I are about three weeks out from meeting our third child.  Rest assured, Children of the Heavenly Father will be sung at his baptism, and yes, I will probably cry again.


One of the lasting memories of my childhood was seeing my mother cry in church.  This was not for anything my brothers or I did, mind you (although I’m sure such moments did occur), but because of one particular melody that had (and has) the unique ability to turn an unflappable mother of four boys into a blubbering puddle of tears.

Children of the heavenly father
Safely in his bosom gather.
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.

It didn’t help matters that the song is one of the most omnipresent in all of Lutheran hymnody.  Even Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God isn’t as oft-repeated as this simple Swedish folk tune.  While Luther’s “battle hymn” is largely reserved for festival days like Reformation Sunday, Children of the Heavenly Father is used to mark every major milestone in a congregant’s life.  Be it baptism, confirmation, marriage, funeral—it is understood that such celebrations of life or remembrances of life past are to be accompanied by the hymn.

At our church, Children of the Heavenly Father was the official hymn sung at every baptism.  And living in a growing suburban neighborhood, we had a lot of baptisms.  When opening the bulletin, we recognized the hymn on sight (hymn number 474 in the old Lutheran Book of Worship), and would take no small joy in pointing it out to mom before the service started.  She would always vow that she wasn’t going to cry this time, but before the first verse was completed, there were always tears streaming down her face.  Dad kept a handkerchief in his church suit pocket, just in case there was a baptism scheduled for that Sunday.

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When Silence Is Not Golden

There are two truisms I’ve come to know as a parent.  First, you will spend a great amount of time hoping and praying that your kids learn to self-entertain, thus allowing you at least a modicum of time to accomplish the ever-growing list of parental responsibilities and duties.  Second, those very rare moments where your kids indeed do find a way to occupy themselves are the moments to be most feared.

Caleb and Grace (pre-shearing).  Photo courtesy Jennifer Hills.

Case in point: this past weekend was my weekend to tend the kids on my own.  (Beth works two twelve-hour shifts at the hospital every other Saturday and Sunday.)  Saturday was a particularly productive day—with children in tow, I had done some banking, some shopping, and some cleaning around the house.  We’d even managed to attend a pool party with friends—a particularly brave move on my part, considering that neither of my kids can swim, yet both are drawn to water like moths to a flame.

We returned home, and I began to prepare dinner.  Caleb, still amped up from the swimming excursion, was constantly underfoot, demanding attention and making food preparation difficult.  Grace, however, was strangely quiet, seemingly content to be playing at her craft table in the family room.

In retrospect, I should have taken this as a warning.  Grace’s general modus operandi is to announce every little thing she does, usually with the request, “Daddy, come see!”  But with Caleb’s clinginess and mom’s impending arrival, I decided to trust that she was entertaining herself in a proper fashion.

Big mistake.

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The Good Person

The following post is adapted from an earlier version originally appearing on the Prison Fellowship weblog (a/k/a: my day job). Give it a look!

“Everybody does it. … At least I’m not doing what they’re doing!”

The argument should sound juvenile to most adult listeners.  Indeed, if we haven’t heard our children make such a case, we can most certainly remember a time when we ourselves presented such a defense to our parents.  I can also remember, vividly, my father’s response: “You are not everyone else!  You are my son!”

While most “grown-ups” would avoid such argumentation, recent research would indicate that the desire to be graded on a sliding scale is deeply entrenched.

In a recent New York Times article, David Brooks describes what he calls the “Good Person Construct.”  For many generations, people in the West saw themselves as sinful beings, waging a daily battle against evil.  “But these days,” he says, “people are more likely to believe in their essential goodness. … They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory.”

Brooks references a new book by researcher Dan Ariely, entitled The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.  The book describes a number of experiments taken to test its subjects’ honesty.  In one test, Ariely placed cans of cola and plates of dollar bills in the common kitchens in college dormitories.  Students typically walked away with the sodas, but left the dollar bills.  His conclusion: students chose the soda over the money because taking the dollar bills felt too much like stealing.

In another test, Ariely had two colleagues – one sighted, one blind – take identical cab rides.  The cab drivers proved to be willing to take the “long route” with the sighted passenger, even though he would have been much more likely to detect the unnecessary distance.  Presumably, cheating the blind passenger would have made the drivers feel guilty.  Cheating the passenger who was not visually impaired?  Less so.

“[M]ost of us think we are pretty wonderful,” Brooks says.  “We can cheat a little and still keep that ‘good person’ identity.  Most people won’t cheat so much that it makes it harder to feel good about themselves.”

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Goldilocks and the Laws of Thermodynamics

Part of our family’s regular nighttime routine is to gather in our daughter’s bedroom and read a couple of stories before putting the kids down for the night.  Each kid gets to pick one (hopefully short) book to read, followed by a Bible story.  Then, it is off to Sleepy Land, usually with some really schmaltzy kids’ CD serving as a soundtrack.  (I tried once to put Grace to bed to the collected works of Charles Mingus, but she woke up the next morning wearing a beret and asking if I had any cigarettes, so I put the kibosh on that.)

One of the books that regularly makes it into the rotation is Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Now, I must admit that there are a number of things about this book that have always bothered me.*  First, what the heck is a little girl doing roaming a bear-infested woods by herself?  And what’s the deal with her just barging into the bears’ domicile without the appropriate welcome and making herself at home with their furniture and food?  Does she have no parents, or just very poor ones?  Or is this some kind of socialistic fairy tale where Goldilocks is representative of the proletariat, seeking the redistribution of the Bourgeois Bears’ ill-gotten commodities.  (In true Dave Barry fashion, I must point out at this juncture that “Bourgeois Bears” would be a great name for a rock band.)

Yes, all those points are disturbing, but there is something else—something vague and undefined—that always seemed to scrape uncomfortably against my subconscious.  Then, as I began reciting the story for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me what it was that was so irritating.

When the bears leave the house that ill-fated morning, they do so after having prepared three bowls of porridge—a large bowl for the similarly-proportioned Papa Bear, a middle-sized bowl for the Mama Bear, and wee little bowl for the offspring of these two.  When Goldilocks happens upon the Bears’ cottage, she notes that the large bowl of porridge is “tooooo hot.”  She then comments that the middle sized bowl is “tooooo cold.”  Finally, she finds Baby Bear’s bowl to be to her liking, and consumes it.

Obviously, this flies in the face of all we know from modern science about temperature transferal.  If one assumes that the porridge was served from a common source (and seriously, what Mama Bear would make an entirely separate pot of porridge for each family member?), then we can say that at the time of egress, each bowl of porridge was at roughly the same temperature.

Now, the story’s protagonist arrives.  The largest bowl, we are told, remains too hot to eat.  Based on this information, one could surmise that the next bowl in descending size would be somewhat cooler than the larger bowl, with the smallest bowl being the coolest of the three.  But no.  Somehow, the middle bowl is now the coolest of the three, with the smallest one being the optimal, median temperature.  This simply cannot be.

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Greetings, Cyberfriends!

[tap-tap] Testing . . . testing . . . one, two, three . . . is this thing on?

Hello, I’m Steve Rempe.  Welcome to my little corner of cyberspace.

I’m often asked, “Steve, why don’t you write more?” and, “Steve, do you have a blog page?” and, “Honey, did you leave the toilet seat up again?”  (Okay, the last one comes from my wife.)

My standard answers to such questions are, “I’m lazy,” “No, not yet,” and, “Yes, dear – I’m sorry.”

It has been a desire of mine to find a regular outlet to hone and strengthen my writing skills.  Like many, I have dreams of writing the great American novel, but it’s hard to find typewriters nowadays, and do you have any idea how much a room full of monkeys costs?  I decided that a better way to ease myself into the writing game is to give this whole blog thing a try.

Not wanting to disappoint my audience (both of you), I give you this, my initial foray into the blogosphere.  Here you will be subjected to my thoughts on any number of subjects of interest to me – and I would hope to you, too.

In other venues (e.g., Facebook), I have shied away from controversial subjects like politics and religion.  That will not be the case here.  Expect commentary on these and other matters that will encourage some, anger others, and probably confuse everyone.  You can also anticipate plenty of sports talk, music reviews, and pictures and stories about my progeny.

So, now that you’re here, please take your coat off, untie your shoes, grab a frosty beverage, and make yourself at home.  Just make sure to put a coaster under that soda – this is a classy joint.  Enjoy!  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a toilet seat to attend to. . . .

– Steve

P.S. Yes, there is a story that goes with my banner photo.  If you don’t know it, you probably haven’t known me for very long.  Stick around, I’m sure I’ll share it here eventually, as well as any number of old family stories my mother keeps hoping I’ll forget.