Wednesday, July 13, 2011
A Love That Multiplies: The Duggars new book
Regular readers of this blog know that I watch TLC's "19 Kids and Counting--" a reality show featuring the family of Jim-B0b and Michelle Duggar. I make some people very happy with my blog posts on this family and get flames from others. Such is life!! So, when I spotted a used copy of their new book so I could "buy used and save the difference," just like the Duggar's recommend I knew I'd have to review it here!
Like everything Duggar there is much to admire here: some good tips about listening to your children, listening to your spouse, spending time as a family, spending time in God's word, gathering together with other believers, living debt free, controlling your anger, modeling good behavior, drawing close in times of crisis, and looking for learning opportunities all around you.
A Season of Re-Runs:
This book, however, does have a few flaws that need examining. First: repeat, repeat, repeat! Much of this book is a virtual transcript of several recent episodes of "19 Kids and Counting" (or it's previous incarnations). If the reader has never seen an episode it might be new, but I doubt it. Like any politician, Jim-Bob "stays on message." You can find nearly everything in this book in other radio or podcast interviews, newspaper or magazine stories or blog posts.
Another big problem is that this book, when not repeating everything said in the past, is a public relations exercise. Nearly everything the Duggars have ever been criticized for on message boards, blogs, in the press--it all gets "answered" here. Don't expect any shocking answers! Jim-Bob stays on message.
Answering the Critics:
The Duggars acknowledge that Josie's birth put the biggest strain ever on their marriage. The demands of Mom being at the hospital with the baby, Dad trying to keep his real estate business and the rest of the family going in a new house with great limitations for their family, was tough. The endless strain, too, of the very real health problems Josie went thru and the never-ceasing demands of her 17 youngest brothers and sisters were very, very hard to cope with. They give all credit to God and to their strong faith in Him to see them through.
They also clear up misunderstandings about her medical bills. The Duggars HAVE health insurance. Ironically, Jim-Bob had been considering whether it was really worth the thousands of dollars per year to continue their coverage. Josie's birth took away those doubts--probably forever! He had to pay both the 2009 and 2010 deductibles. That's it.
Food: veggies and whole grains
In my previous posts, and in posts in other venues, I have often said that we only see on "19 Kids and Counting" what the editors want us to see. So, I wasn't at all surprised that food, one of the things for which the Duggars are constantly harped at, was a big deal in this book. No, they clearly don't exist only on Tater Tot Casserole and half-cooked Ramen noodles! There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book that demonstrate the "depth" of Duggar cuisine. Too bad the cookbook they recommend is only for sale on the ATI/IBLP website--I would have enjoyed trying it if it was widely available.
The Duggars are, by now, probably world famous for their love of pickles! They like canned veggies spritzed with vinegar as a quick snack as well as the normal fresh fruits, veggies that we all enjoy. I was pleased to see the Duggar kids, like my two, love lemons and limes just much as they do other fruits! For those who enjoy trying recipes with interesting ingredients there is an apple dumpling recipe made with Sprite or Mountain Dew!
It's hard to envision an ATI family NOT owning a Bosch universal mixer and the Duggars, apparently, make good use of theirs. They reprint in full, with recommendations on the types of wheat they like best, the recipe for making whole grain bread in the Bosch. While everyone criticizes so much of their diet, I HAVE noticed that we never see them piling on tray after tray of spongy white bread at Aldis. Instead they seem to always buy "decent" whole wheat bread from somewhere like Sam's or Costco. In this they are far ahead of many families. Apparently many of the Duggar kids, boys included, enjoy baking this bread. That's nice to hear.
While the Duggars have always maintained it's fine for their children to go to college, the route chosen thru an arrangement called "College Plus," suggests otherwise. College is not a a popular option--more like an occasional necessary evil, in most ATI families. "College Plus" is mostly a re-packaging of the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) added to life experience credits. Most colleges have limits to how many credits can be earned in this way. I believe, however, thru this book, the Duggars are preparing the way for one of their children, likely one of the big girls, to go to a "real" local college to finish a nursing degree.
ATI has a program called "Verity" which even provides an "on campus" version of a College-Plus-type approach to "college." Students go to one of the ATI centers in Indianapolis to study and then pass CLEP tests giving them a limited college-like experience of living in a dormitory and interacting with other students.....all of whom believe like them and come from families exactly like theirs. Certainly not typical of any college I've been associated with--including the Christian one! Still, it is an option that does lead to an accredited degree.
It's not surprising that both College Plus and Verity stress ideas dear to the Duggars--money and "protection" from the world. College Plus"[recognizes] the potential dangers, expense, and lack of efficiency in the traditional model for higher education." (webiste) "Verity helps students avoid the pitfalls of traditional college campuses such as non-Christian professors, secular humanism, and loose campus morals. (website).
Like most ultra-conservative Christian families today, the Duggars don't "do" dating--except after they're married (i.e., "date night"). They prefer "Courtship"--as shown on "17 Kids and Counting" when Josh and Anna were courting. It's a highly supervised way of getting to know each other that mostly leads to marriage. Occasionally a courtship will be broken for a spiritual reason or similar. The Duggars stress "purity" and "not giving away pieces of your heart." They helpfully reproduce a composite list of what their four eldest daughters are looking for in possible suitors. None of it is far fetched and much of it is common sense. They just choose a much more parent-controlled approach to meeting a spouse. Which is fascinating because Jim-Bob and Michelle dated and seem to have a darned good marriage.
Kids Raising Kids:
Another place they seemed to be answering critics was child care. On tv we have seen, until the most recent season, mostly the four eldest girls running the house, cooking, taking care of the little kids. In the book, the Duggars go to great lengths to show the depth of Michelle's involvement with her children--especially homeschooling. (Did you know Michelle once worked as a substitute teacher in their local public schools? ) I feel strongly this is an area where we have seen mostly what the editors want us to see, but I also believe the girls have to do way, way too much.
Mr. Duggar, Senior's, funeral:
The Duggars were badly abused in the press for allowing his father to be filmed in such a fragile condition and then for allowing the preparations for his funeral, and parts of the service itself, to be shown on tv. I am among those who felt this was exploitation and nothing else. I saw the faces of his mother's friends coming to comfort her and how angry some were at the intrusion. This was wrong and nothing Jim-Bob writes about it showing their faith can change my opinion. This was wildly insensitive to his poor mother and to the extended family. No, Jim-Bob, sorry, this is not the same as showing Josh & Anna' s courtship and wedding. Yes, it's a natural part of life, but there are limits. Sorry, no pass on this one!
Overall, as regular viewer of their show and having read their earlier book, this new book was a major disappointment. When I saw in one episode, that Michelle was journaling about Josie's birth and struggles, I knew a book was coming. Sadly, this is not that book! There is good stuff if you are brand new to the Duggars. But what is most glaring is what is left out: the teachings of the Advanced Training Institute and Bill Gothard. You cannot tell me that the world-wide face of ATI, the Duggar Family of Arkansas, just "takes the good" and rejects the bad in ATI. No way, no how. Yet nowhere is there the "Umbrella of Authority" or father as the only one God speaks to or any of the other things taught in the Basic and Advanced Seminars or in other materials from the organization. No where do they mention the downright goofy teachings on names and health or some of the bizarre things in the Wisdom Booklets or health bulletins. What is presented are the few, very few, things that most mainstream Christians at least can agree to.
Their attempt to shrug off their Old Testament legalism for example is dismissed this way:
"As Christians we aren't bound by Old Testament law, but we've found that some of the practices laid down all those years ago by our biblical ancestors still have merit today." (p.18)
To me this is amazingly arrogant! So, what, Jesus died so you don't have to obey this stuff, but you think you know better??? Wow.
Are They Quiverfull?
Well, by their thinking NO. They are free to call themselves what they like, but for a family so focused on "operational definitions," I think they need to see that they meet ALL the criteria so I stand by my post "Are Jim-Bob & Michelle Duggar Quiverfull" which leads to the very obvious answer, "YES." So would anyone be who follows Gothard's teachings to the letter!
The good surprises:
I was touched to hear a few of the stories they shared in the book. One of the older boys calls home to tell Mom about the El Salvador trip and how he feels God calling him to be a missionary. That's sweet and, while I hope they asked him before they shared it, it does show us Michelle's connection to her kids. The Duggars have given their kids a life-changing education by taking them on these trips. I for one say it's money well spent. (For the record I also truly admire them for working to make adoption an easier and faster process in El Salvador. And, I fully support their work for charity--I do believe they are 100% sincere in this work and more families should follow their example to work for causes they believe in.)
I was almost crying reading about the prayer sessions the family held for Josie and Michelle. I can just picture all those kids tearfully praying for God to heal their mother and the new baby. No matter the reason, losing a mother is a life-altering tragedy to be prevented in most cases. The terror those kids had to have felt was very, very real when I read the story.
I laughed out loud and gave Josh an "at-a-boy" for buying up the clearance-rack Big Mouth Billy Bass toys! Read the story to find out more. The Duggars have certainly raised their kids to know who to earn a buck when they need it! That's something very few parents can be bothered to do today. I give Jim-Bob extremely high marks for the "efficient" ways he has found to support his family. Too many of us are too scared to leave a 40-hour a week job with benefits even though the outcome is not necessarily bad at all. His example gives courage to those wanting to be with their families more and to those who feel imprisoned by "jobs."
So to recap, they tell some interesting stories, give us information on their habits, etc., that aren't necessarily shown on tv, try to justify some less than great choices and soft-peddle the less-mainstream ideas of Bill Gothard's ATI and continue to model very, very close family life without discussion of whether or not their adult children do honestly choose the life they are living.