Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: The Appendices

I like to learn something new every day.  Today, I learned that there are two plural possible for the word "appendix" in the English language - and that the one with the "c" is more commonly used when describing added materials at the end of books.    For the title of the post, I originally entered "appendixes" which didn't look entirely right - but I couldn't explain why either.  I think most of my confusion came from the fact I'm certain I've ran into both spellings before but seen the "x" version more frequently due to my science education background.

The Maxwells end their self-help book "Making Great Conversationalists" with three appendices.  Appendix A is a list of questions to teach kids to ask other children.  Appendix B is a list of questions for children to ask adults.  Appendix C is Steven and Terri's testimony about becoming Christians.   There is a LOT of overlap in the questions from Appendices A and B from earlier chapters so I'm going to simply highlight the really, really, really bad ones.

I'm skipping Appendix C because a testimony about being saved written in first-person plural by two very straight-laced people is exactly as dull as it sounds.

Appendix A only had one new area that surprised me:

Vocations (for older children)

If you could spend your life doing any job, what would that be? Why?

What do you want to do in life?

Why do you feel God might be calling you to that? (pg. 206)

These questions are strangely open for the Maxwells. 

The Maxwells espouse that daughters should marry and raise children while sons should be small-business owners in areas that require no post-secondary education or training that can't be done at home.  Now, the Maxwells have failed to launch any of their daughters into their "adult" roles of wives and mothers and their sons have an equal track record of business failures as successes - but equally importantly, the Maxwells strongly believe in sheltering their kids from any ideas that might draw the kids to different paths or goals.    Did Steven and Teri Maxwell really want to risk little Mary, Anna or Sarah being told by a friend that she was going to be a teacher, a dancer, a doctor or a business owner when she grew up?  How awkward was it when Christopher was telling people that he really wanted to be a EMT or rescue pilot when Steven was working on crushing that dream through emotional manipulation?

See, resilience is a trait that extreme sheltering misses.  Kids who are exposed to a wide variety of ideas since childhood usually maintain basic levels of calm in the face of a new, foreign idea.   When I ran into kids or teens who espoused strict gender roles, my reaction was "That's odd and a bit disturbing" but it didn't really shake my core beliefs.   Keeping kids in a stripped-down, sterile intellectual environment where they are only ever exposed to the "correct" viewpoint leaves them highly vulnerable to throwing out their entire belief system when exposed to the broader world.

CP/QF people instinctively understand this because have terrible rates of converting and retaining believers.  That's why Christian Patriarchy has accepted Quiverfull beliefs so enthusiastically.  It's the only way of keeping their churches going.


Where are you going to be in a million years? Why?

Have you been saved? Would you tell me about it?

Do you read your Bible everyday? What are you reading now? Anything special you can remember from recent readings?

What person from the Bible would you most like to have a conversation with? Why? (207-208)

The first question messed with my brain.  Assuming that people believe that God and heaven exist outside of the physical universe that means that time ceases to exist after death.  It's kind of like asking "what color is a transparent object?"   Maybe that confusion is the point; the CP/QF kid can swoop in with some tracts and high-falutin salvation spiel while the other person is trying to figure out what the question means.

Please do not ask people for their salvation stories.  The fall before I met my husband I went with my best friend and her mom to a "Harvest Festival" in a local rural community.  At this point in my life, I was a confirmed urban or blue-collar suburban resident - but I did think that the pole barn that we were setting up various dishes we brought seemed suspiciously clean.  There were no oil stains on the floor.  There was no lingering smell of rotting vegetation or animal dung. 

Turns out that the "Harvest Festival" was a two-part gig. 

The first half was a tasty potluck and social event only marred by a daft, intrusive game where we got signatures from people.  Normally, I like games like that - but I could not ask anyone "Were you saved after age 30?" or "Are you a single person over the age of 25?"  Admittedly, I didn't have to ask the second question since my bestie and I simply signed for each other - but I signed that for a lot of people by simply saying "I fit number 18 if you've still got that open."   The process was weird - but not nearly as weird as watching a guy who thought he could recite the Gettysburg Address panic or when the enthusiastic announcer recommended that the single people over the age of 25 look around for potential marriage partners out of the other singles there.  I felt a bit better when I happily yelled back to the announcer that all of the single people there were ladies - so they must have been in favor of homosexual marriage, yes?  In hindsight, the ten or so people in charge of the party spent most of the night wandering around telling their salvation stories to anyone who would listen while the 90 or so locals avoided them like the plague.

Second half of the night was a play put on by the local youth group about how great it is to die as a teenager when you are saved.   Um....no.   Just say no.

I learned an important lesson that night - when locals leave a party en masse, follow them.  The locals knew about the crappy salvation pitch after dinner and made a hasty escape.  I also learned that hearing salvation stories is so unpopular that only hosting a meat-heavy potluck can get new blood on your property.

The questions about the Bible makes me wonder how many people who do honestly read the Bible blank out when asked about it.  On the flip side, I can talk fluently on my Bible readings - but I don't read the Bible every day.

I'd really like to visit with Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law.  I'm fascinated by the amount of intelligence and planning she used to get pregnant by Judah when Judah refused to do his duty to her by giving her his last surviving son in marriage.   Oh, wait.  Is this appropriate for children?  No - but most of the Bible isn't child-appropriate.

The remainder is from the appendix B - or question kids should ask of adults.  Personally, I survived by answering the adult's standard questions about my schooling and after-school activities then went on my merry way. 


Do you enjoy your work? Why? Why not?

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

Do you plan to continue with this job long-term? (pg. 208)

Let's not encourage burnt out adults to unload on kids about what they dislike about their jobs, ok?  I've always thought the "kids should interact with all ages without restraint or preference" theme in sheltered homeschooling to be bonkers - but I assumed that adults were still expected to filter their thoughts and experiences when around kids.   Similarly, the ability to filter out emotional content from adults' work experiences is a lot to ask of a teenager let alone a kid.  Teens learn through interactions with peers and overhearing adult conversations that sometimes people need to vent about negative experiences at work - but venting doesn't mean that the person's job is horrible or in trouble.  Kids don't have that kind of filter for experiences so listening to Steven Maxwell describe all of his horrible coworkers may scare kids or make them think Maxwell's job is hideous when more mature listeners would take the same story with a large grain of salt.


What is the most difficult thing you have ever had to do? (pg. 208)

People, do not ask this question of others! 

This strikes me as a question that a trained therapist in a solid relationship with a patient might ask cautiously due to concerns about the strength of emotions that could be unleashed.  Teaching children to ask this question of others is cruel in two respects.  The more obvious cruelty is towards the person asked the question.  No one deserves to have memories of having an animal put down, ending a long-term relationship, dealing with medical crises or being abused dragged up by a random kid.  It's especially insulting since the reason these questions are taught is because the kid's parents are too high-strung and controlling to let the kid watch TV, read books or participate in activities that most kids talk about freely.  Nope, they don't want their kid exposed to that - so it's ok instead to teach your kid to drag up memories of cutting off relatives who are addicted to drugs as a conversation starter!

The second cruelty is what happens when an adult with poor boundaries replies to a child who asked this question.  For example, if asked this question I would reply something like "My son was very sick when he was born and that was hard - but he's healthy now and I'm happy about that".   An honest although inappropriate response would be to describe what it was really like when my son coded in my arms.  Should I describe the horror of having your baby go from pink and wiggling to grey, unmoving and limp in less than a minute?  My mute desperation that I might be watching my baby die?  My terror that I may well go on breathing for decades after my son stopped breathing - and how could I survive that?  Should I tell a kid that I believe I aged 10 years in the two minutes from when his nurse called a code to when he was breathing again?   Do they need to know that I've spent hours working through the panic and helplessness I felt that day in therapy? 

Obviously, a kid - or even a teenager - doesn't need to know that.  Dropping my emotional burdens on a minor would be irresponsible - but so is teaching your kid to ask people extremely loaded questions.

We are done - DONE! - with this book!  My next review will be "Joyfully At Home" by Jasmine Baucham.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter 12 - Part Two

We had a lovely and quiet Thanksgiving this year! 

I've enjoyed large family gatherings from both my family and my husband's family, but since my son was born we've found it easier to stick to small family holidays.  My husband and I have stronger emotions this time of year around our son's birth, NICU stay and first year so we celebrated with our families of origin before Thanksgiving and just as our little family unit on Thanksgiving.

My son and I celebrated Black Friday by going to an indoor playscape at a local mall followed by lunch at the food court while my husband was working on fixing a condenser unit at a farm.  We had a blast.  Spawn was clambering all over small climbing obstacles while watching the kids who could walk, run or jump like they had superpowers.   He got so excited when I bought a slice of pizza to split that he made an elderly woman laugh as she watched him try to grab the pizza while I strapped him into a high chair.

I found myself laughing over the CP/QF stay-at-home daughter movement assumption that college makes you incapable of running a home.  In the last five days, I've dehydrated 24 pounds of potatoes as hash browns and slices that cost me a total of $5.97 thanks to pre-Thanksgiving sales.  I wrangled a 23 pound frozen turkey that cost $5.86 and managed to defrost it.  I prepped it by stuffing the cavities with chopped citrus fruits, rosemary and pepper.  Because I find it fun, I placed thin orange and lemon slices under the skin.  The turkey was marvelous - and I've got ~12 servings of breast meat and 24 servings of dark meats packed in broth in the freezer.  Oh, and when my son fell in love with a weighted toddler shopping cart at physical therapy, I made one at home using a $3.00 toddler wheelbarrow from a thrift store, 24 pounds of dumbbells I have and a quilted blanket to keep my son from playing with the dumbbells and crushing his fingers.

But college ruined me :-P

Thankfully, we can discuss how the Maxwells have ruined conversations forever thanks to the last two dialogues in Chapter 12 of Steven and Teri Maxwell's book "Making Great Conversationalists".  The first conversation is all about how much more effective the business pitches of teenage sons can be when they are well-spoken.  I'll save you the teenage pitch which is for the same lawn mowing service run by the Maxwell sons. The kid explains that his bid is lower because he walks to the houses; presumably that means that the homeowners are providing the equipment and fuel which means the quote might not be as low as it seems - but I digress.  The rest of the conversation is between his neighbor and the teenager:
The woman takes the flyer and says,"As a matter of fact, I have been worrying about our yard this year. My husband had a heart attack a month ago, and he has been put on limited activity. I was getting ready to call a lawn mowing service, but I was concerned about what they would charge since we are on a fixed income."

"Wow," Matthew responds. "That must have been very difficult to have your husband have a heart attack. What a blessing that he is still alive. I will pray for his complete recovery and for the needs you have while he still isn't feeling well. I would be happy to give you an estimate to see if it would work within your budget."

"Yes. Thank you. An estimate would be great. Thank you for praying, too. We need all the prayers we can get," the lady concludes. (pg 189)

Let's see.  We have a teenager who lives at home while being homeschooled.  Presumably, he is earning money for some future goal - not an immediate need.   If he was my kid,  he would have know that the correct answer to "Family in medical crisis with limited income needs a skill I can do" is "Ma'am, I can mow your lawn for free if you purchase the gas.  If I do a good job, I'd appreciate being able to use you as a reference for future customers."  Boom.  You are offering a reasonable service while explaining how the set-up benefits the budding business owner, too.

The summer my son came home from the hospital we were so busy managing his medical needs on top of having a newborn that we did not have time mow our lawn.  I am extremely grateful to a local teenager who took over mowing our lawn from spring until August when I could do it again. 

I hope that this is what the Maxwells would do in real life - but the book simply concentrates on how much more business a well-spoken teen can get than a hesitant one.

The next quote is about how much easier talking with your teenage daughter is when she's a good conversationalist.  In the bad conversation, April's mom asks what April's doing in school and gets a non-answer.  April's mom follows up by asking April if she's practicing the piano and has written a letter to her grandmother.  April pretty much grunts a non-response at which point April's mom gives up.  Personally, I blame April's mom for half of the bad conversation; teenagers do better with highly specific questions like "How did that project in history turn out?".  I get that homeschooling mom can be very busy and lose track of who is doing what - but I found the fact that April's mom seemed lost about what April was doing unsettling.  Ideally, a teenager who is being homeschooled can work independently most of the time, but the teacher of that subject still needs to be checking in at least weekly to be sure that the teen is making adequate progress and not completely lost. 

After using the Maxwell's methods, April and her mom have an absolutely delightful conversation that leads to April independently realizing that she's morally required to write Grandma a letter and practice the piano.   Honestly, I'd prefer the previous conversation for my kid. What I enjoyed most about this conversation is the carefully revised history of Amy Carmichael that the Maxwells use to avoid implying that women should do anything outside of their immediate family:

"I was reading a wonderful missionary biography about Amy Carmichael. She was an amazing woman of God. Did you know she has an accident and spent many years bedridden?" April replies.

"I think I remember reading that about her."

"Even when she was in bed, she ministered to the children who lived at her home, and she also did a lot of writing. I would love to have a heart for the Lord like she did."

"How do you think you would get a heart for the Lord like that, April?"

"I am sure it is by reading my Bible and then doing what it tells me to do. Amy Carmichael didn't complain about her pain and being bedridden even though she frequently prayed and asked the Lord to give her mobility until she died. I know there is a verse in Philippians that says we shouldn't complain. She probably read that verse and decided she would trust in the Lord even when it wasn't the way she wanted it to be. What do you think, Mom?" (pgs. 190-191)

The Amy Carmichael of the Maxwell's retelling is the perfect heroine for stay-at-home daughters.  She is trapped in her own home, unable to leave until forces beyond her control intervene to change her life.  This Amy Carmichael simply has to endure silently and happily until freedom comes. 

Thankfully, the real Amy Carmichael lived a very different life.   She was born into a family that valued service towards the less fortunate.  Ms. Carmichael worked with poor girls who worked in mills from her late teens until her early twenties.  After a few false starts due to ill health, she settled in India where she founded an orphanage and training school for poor girls involved in prostitution.  She adopted Indian clothing and expected Europeans who worked at her institution to do the same.    The fall that left her bedridden happened when she was 64 which means she had spent around 40 years in active service in India prior to becoming an invalid.  Ms. Carmichael remained in India for the rest of her life writing and publishing books to raise funds to help poor Indian children.

Ironically, I find April and her mom's plan to "get a heart for the Lord" by reading the Bible and then applying the precepts to their lives insulting.  There's nothing wrong with writing letters to Grandma or practicing the piano - but the Bible is pretty consistent that Christians are required to help the poor, the widowed, the orphaned and the strangers around them.  Is it too much of a stretch for April to round up some friends and go play music at a local nursing home?

Excellent news: One post more and we are finished with this book!  Yay!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter 12 - Part One

Life continues well here in Michigan.  My Spawn-baby is almost two now!  The sudden onset of winter always reminds me of the days and weeks after he was born.  Man, those first few weeks were rough - but I have so many amazing memories, too.  Seeing his eyes unseal and open for the first time.  His left eye took 10 days longer to unseal than the right.  Holding him for the first time when he was 8 days old and feeling the Spawn-shaped hole in the middle of my heart fill in again.  Learning that he preferred to lay on my chest in a Superman position and drum his tiny fingers on my collar bones during skin-to-skin.  He was so tiny - when he'd grab my index finger his entire hand barely reached from one side to the other.  Seeing him move his eyes without moving his head at 30 weeks and realizing that he couldn't move his eyes in their socket before that.  Spawn was out of an isolette by 31 weeks gestation which we were told was surreal.  Turns out he's a little polar bear like I am.

 Right now, I'm listening him thump his crib upstairs - God only knows how he's doing it now - between giggles 90 minutes after we put him down to sleep.  He laughs a lot at night; we joke that his preferred stuffed animal Kitty-Kitty tells him jokes after sundown.  We find him cuddled up in the cutest ways with Kitty-Kitty.  My favorite is when he's sleeping in a face-down Superman position with Kitty-Kitty under his head or chest.  My husband calls that a visible explanation as to why we obeyed safe sleep guidelines rigorously when he was an infant.

The world is a mysterious place.  I'm happily raising my dear son while substitute teaching.  Sarah Maxwell, who is about six months younger than I am, is about to publish her 12th novel-length children's book.  I know my dreams have come true.  I hope she's living the life she dreams of, too.

We've made it to the last chapter in Teri and Steven Maxwell's self-help book "Making Great Conversationalists."  Near as I can tell, this chapter is about how good conversations can...convert people or at least build your personal business.  Maybe both.  It's not the most coherent theme - and with the Maxwells that's a low bar to miss.

The introduction was completely forgettable - but one section made me laugh:
We did a survey asking Christian families questions about conversation skills to try to determine exactly what people felt was important in a conversation and what made someone a great conversationalist. In that survey, one of the things we asked the respondents to do was to rate their conversation skills from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. The average was 7.5. That really surprised us, considering the difficulty we have in getting people to talk to us when we are at conferences. (pgs. 187-188)

My Master's degree research includes both a closed-ended survey with  opened-ended questions and a semi-structured interview with participants.  I'm relatively new at collecting information by surveys - but I can confidently say that the Maxwells are bonkers. 

There's nothing wrong with choosing the participants in a survey from a defined group of people - but it's best if every member of the group has a chance to participate.  Now, I guess it's ok if the Maxwells reached out to every person they knew through their conferences and/or ATI-based events - but if they skipped some people for any reason, the validity get shaky pretty fast. 

The Maxwells have never published this survey so we can't discuss the good and bad points of the survey design itself - but the fact that the Maxwells used an average on an ordinal data set that's probably very small and very nonparametric is not a good sign.  I really want to know the range and modes on that data set as well; I'm betting the data is highly skewed towards "I'm a good conversationalist" with very few people giving themselves low marks.   There are lots of ways the Maxwells could have corrected for that effect - but all of them do require spending a solid chunk of time reading books on survey design and statistical analysis before making the survey in the first place.

Maxwells' shock that the average was 7.5 tells me that the family didn't attempt to run the survey on a few sample people outside of their family before moving to a broader group.  Personally, I feel like that average is lower than I would have expected - but false modesty is more strongly rewarded in CP/QF land than it is in the rest of the US.   Plus....I doubt the Maxwells have been shy about their feelings about how crappy everyone else is at conversations.

In open-ended interviews, I am fascinated by the way people deal with cognitive dissonance.  As part of the interview, I present people with a series of facts that will shake a common understanding of how science works.  Some people discard their previous understanding.  Some people modify their previous understanding.  Some people double-down on the previous understanding by rejecting the facts. 

So far, no one I've interviewed has doubled-down as hard as the Maxwells did when confronted with the results of their surveys. 

Before the survey was dreamt up, the Maxwells found that people are not interested in talking to them at conferences.  The Maxwells told each other repeatedly what great conversationalists they are and decided to teach all the other weak conversationalists by writing a book.  They write a survey and tally the results.  Imagine the horror and confusion when the Maxwells realize that the people they meet at conferences self-assess their conversational skills as pretty good.   What does this mean?  Could this mean that the Maxwells are not seen charismatic in the CP/QF society?  Does this mean that the problem lies with the Maxwells rather than everyone else in their lives?  What does it mean if the Maxwell Family has a fundamental flaw visible to everyone else they know? 


The Maxwell clan was presented with a fact that undermined what they believed about themselves - or in fancier terms - experienced cognitive dissonance.  They could have accepted the new belief by saying, "Huh.  Other people think they converse well.  Maybe there's a different reason people avoid talking to us at conferences."   They could have adapted their previous belief to something like "People think they converse well - but maybe in higher-stress environments like conferences they don't converse as well as they do in other settings. That's why we are so isolated at conferences" or even "People think they converse well - but they'd rank themselves lower if they realized how much they are missing out on by not conversing like the Maxwells do". (Notice that the adaption doesn't necessarily have to be true or grounded strongly in fact - the adaptation just needs to make both the model and the facts seem plausible enough for the person undergoing cognitive dissonance.)  The Maxwells decided, however, to discard the survey results in order to preserve their personal model of the world where not only do the Maxwells converse better than everyone else, but everyone else is waiting for the Maxwells to teach them how to converse better.

Really, the saddest bit is the fact that the Maxwells keep telling us that no one wants to talk to them at conferences.   I've never had that problem before as a conference attendee and certainly not as a presenter at a conference!   And the Maxwells have no plans to change anything about their lives - and that is the most depressing thing of all.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter Eleven - Part Two

I had an interesting week.  Two of my subbing positions were standard secondary classroom positions - nice kids, interesting enough lessons, but nothing much out of the ordinary.  The other two days I subbed in an SXI (severe multiple disabilities) classroom for 3-5th graders and as a gym teacher for K-5th graders at a regional EI (Emotional/Conduct disabilities) program.

 I had an absolute blast in both programs! 

The SXI classroom had six kids who each had a slew of goals for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, academics and living skills.  Two of the kids were working at speech and academic goals of 3-4 year olds while the rest were at goals between a few months to two years.  As I'm writing this, I realize this sounds rather grim on paper - but the kids had lots of fun during the day.  Each kid spent at least an hour a day integrated into a traditional classroom.  I worked with the most severely affected kid - and she loved having a third-grade buddy who would read her stories.  Her third-grade buddy was super-excited when I showed him that the other student could pick between two books if he held them about three feet apart.  Most of the day, the students were in a self-contained classroom within a 4th-5th grade building.  Students from that building would volunteer to take the students to play in the gym before school, eat lunch together and take the kids in wheelchairs for adventures during recess.  The biggest help was having a mass of helpers to keep track the one boy who was independently mobile.  He was the littlest kid in the class, showed the most skill at pre-planning escapes and was a fast and silent runner.  The only problem I had was that when chasing our little escape artist, I tripped over a PT mat, flew through the air and landed on the mats.  If all of me had hit the mats, I'd have forgotten the incident by now - but my right thumb landed between two mats.  The mats held my thumb in place while most of my body weight crashed down onto my thumb while my thumb twisted slightly.   I managed to sprain both of my thumb joints on that hand about two hours into the day.  This greatly messed with my ability to fasten the scads of belts and harnesses needed by the kids when they were in various adaptive devices.  Luckily, the kids were big enough that I could use my forearms as the main lifting points under their arms rather than hands/thumbs.

My day at the EI program was pretty much the same as every other gym class I've ever taught.  The youngest group of K-2 (who were mostly 2nd graders) enjoyed trying to shoot baskets and working at dribbling basketballs.  The oldest group of 5th graders took to shooting soccer balls and passing back and forth like future soccer phenoms.   The group of 3rd and 4th grade boys played more tag than I've played in years - and they were very careful to avoid touching my visibly bruised and taped right thumb.

I had a blast - and I feel kind of sad.  See, both programs had an insanely hard time recruiting subs and paraprofessionals.  I look at all the blogs of stay-at-home daughters who are young, unencumbered by needing to earn enough to live independently and bored out of their minds waiting at home for someone to marry them - and I wonder how much more enjoyable their lives would be if they filled one of those empty parapro positions in a local school.   Sure, sure - they wouldn't want to parapro in a "traditional school" since that would be turning their backs on homeschooling as the only way to Jesus - but working in a self-contained classroom with severely disabled kids is so clearly one of those Christian things to do that only a lunatic would object to that.  Plus, it's so very motherly; I joked that both days I pretty much did what I would normally do with my son - but for cash.

Seriously - what's a better preparation for being a wife and mother: writing occasional blogs / instagram posts / vanity-published books while mostly doing nothing at home OR helping kids learn the skills they need in day-to-day life?

This struck me as I was reviewing this chapter.  Steven and Teri Maxwell spend most of chapter 11 in "Making Great Conversationalists" explaining that the major goal of conversation is to convert random stranger to fundamental evangelical Christianity.  Now, I've never hidden my skepticism around the likelihood that these methods provide any long-lasting conversions to Christianity.  Reading this chapter failed to change my mind mainly because the following conversation feels so contrived:
Bob goes to church with his wife, but over time it has become obvious to Jim that Bob doesn't have a relationship with Jesus. Jim has been praying for Bob's salvation ever since he realize the Bob wasn't saved. Today appears to be the perfect time to share the gospel with Bob. After some small talk, Jim decides to take the plunge.


"Bob, I used to go to church just like you, but there came a time when I realized heaven isn't just a matter of going to church. That was the best day of my life, and that is what I wanted to talk to you about. I'd like to share a few of the Ten Commandments with you and ask how you have done in keeping them. Bob, have you ever told a lie?"

"Sure I have, Jim. Hasn't everyone?"

" Bob, I have too, but that doesn't mean it is acceptable to God. God's law says," Thou shalt not bear false witness," which means to lie. If we have ever told a lie, we have broken one of God's commandments. Have you ever stolen anything, even a paperclip? (pg. 179)

Yup.  Every bit of that conversation feels so natural and realistic, doesn't it?   No, seriously, this reads like how the Maxwells' dream of conversations going instead of the normal response of people visibly trying to get out of a conversation that has turned awkward as hell without insulting the other person. 

Let's run over the weirder bits one by one. 

People inside CP/QF land - heck, evangelical Christians in general - must not realize how arrogant they sound when they decide that another person must not be a saved Christian in spite of the target attending a Christian church.   Here's a little hint: the idea of needing a personal relationship with Jesus that includes a deeply emotional moment where they realize how much of a sinner they are is a relatively recent construct in Christianity.  This idea popped up in a few different Protestant branches.  The older denominations including Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Coptic Churches along with the majority of Protestant denominations do not require moment of being born-again for salvation to occur.   The absence of born-again theology in the largest groups in Christianity doesn't mean that being born-again is a bad thing; the experience is clearly deeply moving and important for many Christians.  My issue comes when people decide that their salvation requirements trump the requirements of the church that a person belongs to.

Bob launches himself into "The Good Person Test" disseminated by Living Waters Ministry.  If you've never taken "The Good Person Test" the link above takes you to an entirely online version.  The Maxwells drag Jim through recognizing that he's a thief and a liar and stop before Bob attempts to convince Jim that Jim's an adulterer, a murderer and a blasphemer. 

There's a reason the Maxwells stopped there; the test falls apart hilariously over the next few steps in real life.  See, the test becomes super-creepy when a random person starts pressing in casual conversation to make the other person admit that they've looked at another person with lust.   The conversion-hound is forced to imply the other person is lying or change the meaning of "lust" to include "desire".  The Bible, of course, views desire as being natural and healthy.  Lust requires treating the other person as an object for the purpose of sexual pleasure only - and that's not a major issue for a lot of people.

Let's say the conversion-pusher gets through adultery and decides to try to convince the other person that the fact that they've been angry means they are a murder.  People who have read the Bible realize that the conversion-o-holic is really stretching Jesus' teachings to make that connection.  A more accepted understanding is that a person who allows anger to mutate into hatred and a desire for revenge is moving in a dangerous direction.  Jesus spends most of the Gospels being angry.  He's angry at his disciples for being prats, at various religious groups for being judgemental, at religious authorities in general and goes a bit bonkers on the money-changers at the temple.  Christians are allowed to feel anger when treated unjustly or when seeing others being treated unjustly.   Anger can be a motivating force - but it must not be allowed to change into hate. 

The blasphemy bit is relatively easy. 

Most of the time the conversion target will simply nod along while regretting letting this person into their life.   Added fun occurs, though, when the target refuses to play along.   One option is arguing about the meaning of the verses as I did above.  A more amusing option is to ask the conversion-eer if each of the statements about them is true since they've been saved.   Imagine if Jim - poor Jim who was expecting a social conversation with Bob - asked Bob if Bob has lied since he's been saved.  Bob, I assume, would say "no".  What if Jim pushed a bit?  After all, this entire test is a series of lies.  Bob lies when he says that his goal is to talk to Jim about what commandments Jim has disobeyed; Bob's goal is to convert Jim.   The Maxwells lie by omission all the time when it suits them.  The Maxwells set up a balloon animal and face-painting booth at the county fair every year to attract people to give out informational fliers to.  That's a pretty mundane and harmless activity - except that the Maxwells allow their daughters to paint images that the Maxwells view as improper for their own family to view.  The Maxwells teach that professional sports fandom is a one-way street to alcoholism, underemployment and marital discord - but they let Mary paint little Kansas City Royals logos on kids' faces in hopes the kids will pick up a tract.   That's a bit discordant, isn't it?

I hope someone calls Steven Maxwell on the hypocrisy of using this test when he dishonored his father and mother in "Preparing Sons....Families".   In that lovely book, Steven Maxwell blamed his dad for Steven Maxwell's teenage drinking.  Was his dad abusive?  Neglectful?  Absent from the home?  No, Steven Maxwell's dad let young Steven have a sip of his beer when Steven brought him one from the kitchen.   That's insanely disrespectful towards his father because I also had sips of alcohol as a kid....and didn't drink prior to turning 21.  Steven Maxwell didn't drink as a teenager because his father gave him sips of beer; he drank because he wanted to drink beer. 

According to the online version of the test, eventually the converter will lead the convert-mark through a theological awaking of their need for Jesus.   I've never made it to that part because I leave after pointing out that the other person's born-again moment didn't seem to make much of a difference if he or she is still a lying, murdering adulterer who is also saved. 

After getting "The Good Person" test out of their system, the Maxwells gush over "Roman's Road" (sic) as a method of conversion.  The Maxwells lost me as soon as they misspelled "Romans' Road" - the book of the Bible is the Letter to the Romans so the correct possessive form is either "Romans'" or perhaps "Romans's". 

Personally, I've got a soft spot in my heart for Romans' Road because some of the most fun I've had with former evangelicals is asking them to remember the verses in Romans' Road after trying to remember how many verses are in Romans' Road.  As a Catholic for whom Romans' Road is supposed to magically lead to born-again salvation, my experience is that even the most excited Romans' Roadie gets completely turned around and lost by about the third verse in.   I don't blame my roadie friends for that; the verses are taken from all over the Letter to the Romans so there's not a very good connectivity between them.  That lack of connectivity also makes it nearly impossible to finish if a person completely forgets a verse.  Since Romans' Road has five, eight or ten verses that need to be delivered in the correct order, I'm always amazed that anyone thinks that this is likely to end well.

Added bonus: getting out of a Romans' Road conversation is so easy! 

  • Option one: When the person is struggling through a verse, say "I don't think that's the right verse.  I'll catch you later." and run away.    
  • Option two: Wait until the person is visibly lost in the middle of a verse, get their attention and say, "Wait, I was just thinking about the previous verse, but I can't remember the exact words.  Can you tell me that one again?"  Then loop to option one.   Ok, it's a bit mean, but no one practices Romans' Road in reverse.   
  • Option three can be used if the person includes the chapter and verse and makes it to the third verse.  The first verse is from chapter 3 followed by a verse from chapter 6...then a verse from chapter 5. Remark on that fact then ask, "If this is such an integral part of the Letter to the Romans, why are the verses so scattered and so out of order?"  
  • Option four is for church members who listen to entire chunks of scripture at church each week including Catholics: When you get bored, interrupt the person and remind them that your church reads ALL of the Letter to the Romans yearly.  Follow up by asking how the person thinks the Romans' Road fits in the broader theme of the salvation of Christians through the salvation offered to the Jewish people found in the Letter to the Romans.
  • Option five - Romans' Road Drinking Game!  One drink of whatever you have handy for each awkward pause in a verse. Two drinks every time the person starts a verse over.   Three drinks if they realize the verse they are reciting is out of order.    Another drink for every less than smooth explanation of what the recited verse means.  One drink for every nervous gesture, tic or involuntary bodily reaction like sweating the other person shows.   Finish the drink when the other person gives up in exhaustion. This is a good option when you feel sympathy for the other person and want to seem engaged....but you know it's not going to end well.
So...you can spend a lot of time trying to teach your offspring hokey or misleading ways to convert random stranger or you could teach them the skills needed to genuinely help other people.  Use your time wisely.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter 11 - Part One

I apologize for the sporadic posting recently.   Life is good - and rather busy right now.   Because of the severe teacher shortage in my state, I've been subbing 4 days a week on top of multiple-medical appointments Tuesday with my son. 

Honestly, the added income has been nice. I know in CP/QF land the fact that I'm working outside of the house while my husband looks for more steady employment is supposed to end in affairs, divorce, wayward children and the complete collapse of Western Civilization - but this seems to be a tenable and fairly pleasant situation for us.   My husband misses having a consistent job - but I think he'll be settled into a new industry pretty soon.  I find working out of the house to be invigorating and allows me to enjoy the time I spend with my son more.  My husband is really good with our son - and he and Spawn are getting even closer as my husband is the primary caregiver more of the time than I am.

 My son is doing well across the board. Weekly PT has greatly increased his torso strength and I suspect he'll be walking independently in 3-6 months. His current goal is to get his physical therapist to admit that she's really a demon sent to torment him - which is deeply ironic since she'd go to the gates of Hell and back for him.  Toddlers may not be the best at judging people.   ( :-P )   He'll be having eye surgery in early December.  Patching and glasses have corrected his lazy eye a bit - but not enough, so his opthamologist will be performing outpatient eye surgery to loosen a muscle in each eye to correct his vision.   I'm amazed what a difference nearly 2 years makes; if he had needed surgery when he was tiny, I would have been a nervous wreck.  As the mother of a robust, thriving toddler, my main concern is that applying "eye ointment" for a week after the surgery sounds....gooey.  (I think my actual words were "Man, that's a skill I was hoping to wait for the next kid for.")

And then our house was hit by the plague.  There is some evil, evil cold going around that hit my husband hard and had me laid up for the better part of a week.  The little guy, however, seems to be getting over his bout with it in good time so we are very, very grateful for that.

And then I realized that I managed to erase the few thousand words of transcription I had done for the blog before the plague hit.   Turns out that while my transcription software is good there is no software good enough to handle Michigander accent complicated by stuffed-up nose.   Today is the first day my transcription equipment was reasonably accurate so I can start blogging again!  Hurray!

More good news: The end of this book rapidly approaches!

Chapter 11 of Steven and Teri Maxwell's work "Making Great Conversationalists" has a title of some kind - but it should be titled "How to Lose Friends and Isolate Yourself through Evangelizing Badly".   Here's the very beginning of the chapter where little Thomas approaches his grandmother with CP/QF created fear:

"Why, Thomas, you are way too young to be worried about anything. What is bothering you?" Grandma asks.

"I have been thinking about how Jesus saved me last month. I was so excited when I prayed and asked Jesus forgiveness and accepted him as my savior. I have Jesus living in my heart now. I haven't heard you talk about Jesus saving you, though. I am worried that you don't have Jesus as your savior and that you won't go to heaven when you die but will go to hell! Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I love you so much, and it scares me to think of you not being in heaven with daddy, mommy, Christie, and me. Grandma, are you saved?" (pg. 177)

Thomas should be doing normal little kid things like convincing Grandma that an extra chocolate chip cookie is critical for his optimal growth or trying to pet Grandma's ancient, ornery cat.   Being terrified that Grandma isn't going to be in heaven when she dies isn't normal.  It's certainly not healthy for Thomas.

This kind of fear-mongering-meets-childish-pleas-for-others-salvation places the adult in a super-uncomfortable situation.  What is Grandma supposed to do?  If Thomas was an adult, I'd pull out the Bible and read through Matthew 25:31-46 which is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  Once we've read that, I'd point out that on Judgement Day God seems to put no stock in how often a person talked about having Jesus in their heart but relied on whether they helped other people.  Because of that, I don't talk much about having Jesus in my heart but instead work on helping others.   Thomas, though, is a kid.  Am I supposed to tell him that his parents have mangled the Gospels beyond all understanding and are using him as a form of emotional manipulation? Am I supposed to flip the emotional manipulation around and ask him how he feels about the fact that I doubt his Mommy and Daddy are going to heaven - but there might be time to save Thomas and Christie if they get to work now?    See, I feel queasy and slimy at the idea of doing that - but the Maxwells encourage their followers to do the same things with their children.

I wonder how much of the "success" of cold-calling evangelical techniques is due to the fact that most people are far too polite to tell their neighbors or random strangers that their sudden impulse to "share the Gospel" is as obnoxious as if I tried to convince the Maxwells that they need to start watching Star Trek - right now!

 Here's a great example of why neighbors in Maxwell-land learn that no good deed goes unpunished:
When John was 14, we had a neighbor who was unsaved. The neighbor was retired school teacher who asked John to help him troubleshoot a problem with his lawn mower. While they were working, they talked. John was able to lead the discussion to spiritual things and eventually present the whole plan of Salvation. The neighbor rejected what John told him, preferring to remain agnostic, but he John knows he did with the Lord wanted him to do. (pg. 178)

The Maxwells are so oblivious to other people that it makes my eyes water.

Why did the retired school teacher ask John to troubleshoot a problem on his lawnmower? 

Teachers know people in the community and finding someone to fix a lawnmower is not hard so if the retired schoolteacher asked John to help him, we can safely assume there is a better reason than that the best choice was the local 14-year old.

 Most, if not all, of the Maxwell boys had lawn mowing businesses during their teenage-years; the Maxwells include daily schedules for Joseph and John with "mowing" time in "Managers of the Homes" and "Managers of their School".   Asking the neighbor's teenage kid to "help" you fix an issue you are pretty sure you know how to fix on a lawnmower would be a nice way to give them some more business while showing the kid a new skill.  Plus, teachers like to teach so an afternoon or two with a teenager fixing a mower is likely to be fun for the retired teacher as well.

How do the Maxwells repay him for this kind - and rather sweet - act?  They remind John that the guy is an agnostic and have John try one of the Maxwell traps to convince people that they should be saved. 

Ironically, as a retired teacher, I'm sure the Maxwell's neighbor has been a mark for salvation attempts before.   I had well-meaning students try and save me in alternative-ed so I'm assuming it happened to this guy, too.  Personally, I fell back on a very dry, detailed and dull explanation of the separation of church and state and how I choose to keep my religion (if any) out of the classroom to prevent undue influence on minor students.  The important part is to keep talking about minutia until the teen's eyes glaze over just a bit before changing the subject to the next task at hand.

In the next post, we'll see how the Maxwells think "The Good Person Test" and "Roman's Road" should be used - and yet they have no examples of anyone being converted by either test.