Archives For Children

quote-well-the-themes-for-me-were-and-remain-sex-and-love-and-grief-and-death-the-things-that-make-us-thomas-lynch-116137I spent the day with a couple nervously standing vigil by their boy’s bedside in the PICU.

Their son, confirmed by me years ago, is only a few sizes and grades ahead of my eldest.

I can’t say much more than that, pastoral privilege and all.

What I can reveal:

Right after I left that family, I collected my youngest son, Gabriel.

We got in the car. Closed the doors. Buckled our seat belts (‘I beat you Daddy’).

I turned on the ignition. Looked in the rearview mirror at Gabriel behind me; he was wearing my faded UVA hat and smiling.

And I started to cry, suddenly feeling like I’d gotten into my car wearing someone else’s shoes.

Life is so infuriatingly fragile.

This isn’t something my boys have taught me.

My boys have no notion that while God may be good and gracious, life is seldom fair or forgiving.

It’s not a lesson my boys have taught me. It’s more like a lesson my job has taught me, a lesson I wasn’t in a position to learn until I had children. It’s more like now that I have skin in the game my vocation won’t let me forget just how fragile are my boys’ own skin and bones.

They’re here today…(down in the basement playing Legos, actually).

But tomorrow? The day after tomorrow?

I bring my work home with me.

I watch my boy turn his bike out the cul de sac for the first and I close my eyes to wait for the inevitable sound of screeching brakes.

I can’t drive by a car accident without imagining my own impending, parallel nightmare.

Standing in line at a roller coaster with my son, I can’t look at the twists and turns of the track without imagining my boy in the statistical margin for error.

Death is a big part of what I do.

The resurrection proclamation requires the dismal trade to precede it, make sense of it. 

If I punched a clock, several many hours of every year would be taken up by people mourning the sudden absence of someone who’d made their life whole.

I bring that absence home with me.

Or rather, like a nurse who comes home wearing a uniform with blood stains on it, that absence follows me home and there it gestates into something else: my own fear of absence.

Theirs.

And while if you caught me in a different mood I might say I’d prefer not to bring this part of my work home with me, it’s more true to admit that this near constant dread of their absence has woken me to something else, their presence in my life.

The sheer- as in flimsy- grace- as in unwarranted gift- of it.

Just like someone who doesn’t realize the pain of unbelief until they begin to believe, the fear of losing my boys calls out the greater joy of having them. 

Life is frageelay.

It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise. 

10687178_10152668205238879_7484344374239755611_nAt Hospitals?

Instead of for Schools?

Stanley Hauerwas often contrasts the loose, a la carte curriculum of most seminaries with the rigorous, defined expectations of medical schools. While seminary students can usually choose whichever courses resonate with them (pastoral care over theology), medical schools afford their students no such luxury.

Why the difference?

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Hauerwas attributes it to the fact that in modern America everyone rightly believes that a poorly trained physician could kill them.

But no one in America any longer thinks an inadequately trained priest might jeopardize their salvation.

Americans give lip service to God, but Death is the reality in which we wholly believe.

We believe in Death- fearfully so- and consequently we revere anyone who can extend Life.

We don’t really believe in God- we certainly don’t fear God- and consequently we devalue those people who form our character such that it’s sufficient for salvation.

I mention this because today is my boys’ first day of school.

I blinked.

And now my youngest, who still tries to scootch in between his mother and me every night, is in the 3rd grade. He knows his times tables and how to slide into second. My oldest is already in the 6th grade. This former AAP student can’t even help his current one with his math homework anymore.

Today is my boys’ first day of school and not until this moment has it ever occurred to me that I should pray for them.

For their studies. For their learning.

For their challenges.

For their wonder, joy and curiosity. rp_augustine.jpg

Today is their first day of school and not until today has it ever struck me that I should pray for their teachers and administrators whose vocation it is to apprentice them into wonder, joy and curiosity.

Today is the first day of school and it’s never occurred to me to pray for my kids and their teachers.

And I wonder if it’s because what Hauerwas says about the contrast between priests and doctors extends to the other vocations too?

Could we paraphrase Hauerwas and say:

‘in modern America everyone rightly believes that a poorly trained physician could kill them, but no one in America any longer thinks an inadequately trained priest teacher might jeopardize their children’s salvation?’

Is it the case we really believe in Death but not Salvation and so the formation of character necessary for our salvation, of which teachers play no small role, gets treated as inconsequential?

Or worse, believing in Death more than God, we treat teachers merely as the ones who can inculcate a certain set of skills in our children which will ultimately net them a certain degree or income in this Life.

What does it reveal about us and our fidelities that we pray so often at hospitals but so seldom for classrooms?

As a pastor, as you would well expect, I routinely go to hospital rooms, ER and Pre-Op units to pray with people before they face whatever procedure awaits them.

But no one has ever asked me to pray for their children’s year in school, their children’s teachers or the love of God and God’s creation they hope will be the result of their children’s education.

I’ve never even done it for my kids or their teachers. Until this morning.

A lot of ink and hot air gets spent every year debating the separation of Church and State and, most particularly, how it plays out in schools.

Hardly ever do Christians(!) acknowledge that sheer learning itself is a Christian discipline.

After all, as one of my old teachers at UVA, Robert Louis Wilken, writes:

“The Christian religion is…uncompromisingly moral (‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,’ said Jesus), but also unapologetically intellectual (be ready to give a ‘reason for the hope that is in you,’ in the words of 1 Peter).

Like all the major religions of the world, Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices and a moral code: it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history.”

The Resurrection of Jesus, Wilken says, is not only the central fact of Christian worship but also the ground of all Christian thinking “about God, about human beings, about the world and history.”

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It’s the Christian’s calling not just to worship Christ but to think about and interpret the world in light of Christ.

Math, science, literature, music: everything in Creation is bathed in the light of Christ.

Sure, it takes faith to see that light- the Church’s task-but it also takes a well-formed mind to understand and articulate it- our teachers task.

Education in this world is a matter of salvation because salvation is NOT escape from this world for heaven. Just as Jesus said to Zaccheus, salvation is something that starts now. It’s living fully, as fully human as Jesus lived, as creature of God in the creation of God.

Salvation is learning to live with joy and wonder and awe and passion and advocacy in this beautiful but broken world that God has graciously brought into existence and sustains at every moment of existence.

And learning Pi is surely as necessary to that awe and wonder as learning Trinity.

And so today, for the first time, with the same urgency I’d muster in the ER, I’m praying for my boys’ school year and the teachers et al who will make it possible.

Their salvation depends on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1258The following is a post I wrote for Practicing Families on ‘spiritual practices with our children.’

‘Thank you God for your love. Thank you for your kindness. You are good and gracious. Alleluia.’ 

Now imagine that sung in a faltering monotone and you get the gist of our every meal grace.

My soon-to-be sixth grader now contributes his unreliable, pubescent voice to the effort, meaning whenever he can make it to the last note sans cracked voice the song becomes its namesake: an act of grace. An underserved gift from the Almighty.

My boys are 8 and nearly 12 respectively and we’ve sung that grace for as long as the former could speak and the latter could speak English.

Sometimes they sing it without thinking. Sometimes they sing it without feeling, that is, because we’ve forced them. Sometimes they really sing it without thinking, as reflexively as put the knife on the right side of their plates. There have even been times when they sing with surprising thoughtfulness and sincerity.

In other words, my boys engage the practice of saying grace exactly like grown-ups do.

It’s become a habit in the best sense of the word, a practice which over time, through God’s grace, and in spite of ourselves, Thomas Aquinas says, can cultivate the chief of all virtues: charity.

But my point isn’t the practice of saying the grace. It’s where they- we- first learned it.

5 years ago my boys started helping with one of our homeless ministries in DC, Sunday Suppers. It’s an incredibly simple, Jesusy ministry. Make a large meal in the church kitchen along with brown bag lunches for the next day. Drive the food into DC near Capitol Street. Set up tables and chairs in a parking lot. Kick on some music (Marvin Gaye is best).  Invite the poor to come sit down and share dinner with us.

It’s not a ministry for the poor.

It’s a meal with them. As though we were all part of the same family.

It’s what I think of now when I hear that line from Luke about people coming from East and West and North and South to eat at table in the Kingdom of God. I think of the red, blue, green and yellow metro map that segments the district.

My boys learned the grace there, sitting across from a Chinese immigrant with lots plastic grocery bags and no English and a heavily tattooed, pierced homeless guy who wove grandiose conspiracy theories while the sun set in the shadow of the Capitol Building.

A lay person from my church taught the song.

We’ve been singing it since.

My boys have sung it too- with that same lay leader- as they’ve participated on our church’s mission teams to Guatemala, spending a week at a time in indigenous Mayan communities- serving along side grown-ups and teenagers from my church.

 

They’ve both been several times. They expect to go. It’s what they do.

More importantly, it’s how they’ve learned to do the faith.

Engaging hands-on, eye-to-eye, one-on-one with those the materially rich label ‘poor.’

Learning that our definitions of such things are all upside down in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Looking to find the face of Christ in the stranger.

Sure, my boys have had such opportunities because it comes with Daddy’s job and, initially at least, they participated precisely because it was my job. With nowhere else to go, they tagged along.

As with most gifts from God, the blessing of their participation has revealed itself only in hindsight and certainly does not reveal me as any sort of stellar parent with the sort of spiritual foresight that warrants my title (‘Reverend:’ one to be revered).

I didn’t intend the practice of engaging the poor to form my children’s faith, but I can with hindsight identify that it’s done just that.

A rock-solid observation from which I derive a few thus-and-so’s.

Too often in the Church we make the mistake of teaching our kids about the Word Made Flesh with nothing but words.

Coloring sheets, bible-based word finds, children’s sermons, Sunday School lessons, graphic-novel bibles and-horror- discussions.

Too often we don’t put flesh on all our words about the Word Made Flesh until our children are teenagers, at which point they’re no longer interested (and, truth be told, we’re more interested in them ‘serving’ the poor so they’ll come home ‘feeling grateful for their blessings’. Bleh).

The point is: too often by the time our children become youth we’ve bored them.

With all our words.

Or better put, our many words have made the Word boring with too many bible studies and too few bible do’s.

In too many ways, we ex-carnate the Word.

But the flesh is just as crucial as the words in knowing the Word Made Flesh.

The grace my boys sing is a means of grace not just for the words they sing but for the memories those words recall.

I’m a firm believer in spiritual practices and a poor practitioner of them, but I’m doing more than saving face when I point out how so many spiritual practices are words, words, words.

But with the Word Made Flesh the words tend to be active verbs:

go, do, eat, welcome, embrace, forgive, feed.

Whatever else we count as spiritual practices, I think the list has got to start with the verbs the Word Made Flesh gives us.

And just count them in your bible- there’s more than enough verbs to keep your children busy for quite some time. It’s easy in fact. Make a meal. Set a table. Kick on some music (Marvin Gaye never fails). Find a sinner, a stranger, or a poor person- none of which are hard to locate. And welcome them to a feast.

As a parent, I get how families are often reluctant to expose their kids to more than they’re ready and as a pastor I get that engaging the poor isn’t always easy and seldom does it abide our sentimental expectations.

It’s risky. I get that. But I also know the risk that runs in the other direction is no less bothersome: the risk they’ll grow up thinking the Word Made Flesh has no skin and bones- the risk they’ll think Jesus is boring.

But a dude who gets murdered by an Empire is, by definition, NOT BORING.

Yeah, it’s risky, putting your kids in situations you doubt they’re ready or old enough for, but as someone who’s watched my boys, I know kids are ready for it.

At least, they’re ready to do the kind of stuff Jesus did rather than just read and hear and talk about it. Maybe that’s exactly what Jesus meant when he said the rest of us need to become like them.

Like children.

Maybe the spiritual practices of our children is one place Christians need to believe in re-incarnation.

 

 

This is from my friend Elaine Woods:

I’ve been a mother for 21 years.  I’ve celebrated 21 Mother’s Days.  If you look in my nightstand by my bed you’ll see the cards and notes from each of my four kids over the years. Some of them resemble squiggles of their younger years; recent cards are filled with creative, loving poems and thoughts.  Occasionally I’ll look through that drawer, and pull out a cherished treasure.  The other day I came across one that said,

 

Dear Mom,

I wish we did’t have to eat meet for dinner.

Love, Your Son.

 

Each card means so much to me. I’ve been blessed.

 

Every year my kids ask the same question, “What do you want for Mother’s Day?”  Now they know I’m a fan of Starbucks, massages, and chocolate, so they know any one of those will make me happy.  Yet still, they ask.

 

When I think about Mother’s Day this year, what I really want are two things.

 

First, I want my kids to know that I truly, unconditionally love them.  Really.  I love them with my whole being.  I will always be there for them.  Now this doesn’t mean I will give them anything they want or support any decision they make, but it does mean I will always have their best interest at heart.  Children don’t always understand this.  As mothers, we do.

 

When my kids get frustrated, mad, or angry at me for decisions I’m making, they are confusing love with getting what they want.  That’s okay.  If they ever get the chance to be parents someday, then they will understand.

 

Another thing I want is for my children is to serve and appreciate others. I know this sounds altruistic, but there are so many reasons why I want this for my children. Mainly because it will shape their character and mold them into loving, responsible adults.  They don’t understand that these characteristics will ultimately bring them the most success and joy in life, but I do.

 

If you ask them right now what they want out of life, they will probably say a great job, lots of money, a big house, and a dog.

 

As parents, we want to make our kids happy.  We love them, and have the power to instantaneously make them happy.  It’s easy to get sucked into buying our kids the latest toy or electronic. Just try to get out of Target without waiting in line while your child looks around and says, “Can I have that?”

 

As Director of Children’s Ministries, even I get caught up in ways to entertain and entice our children so they will want to come to church: Should I get inflatables?  What about a mini-carnival?  How much candy or treats should I serve?

 

While these are all good ideas and fun to do, we know what matters most is the character of our children. In church lingo, we call that spiritual formation.  Christian spiritual formation is a lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus. While today’s culture is telling our children that life is “all about me,” we can remind them that life is really “all about God.”

 

We can practice this daily. Teaching our children to serve and appreciate others begins when we first teach our children to say, “Please” and “Thank you.” Later, as they mature, we have them visit sick relatives, write thank you cards, share their things, volunteer in church, etc.  Let them be the ones to answer the question, “What needs to be done?”

 

The more they give to others, the more they will appreciate what is given to them.

 

I realize my Mother’s Day list won’t happen in one day, or even one year. Raising a child takes time. To me, motherhood is a celebration of life.  I’m thankful for the life my mother gave me, the life I see in my children, and the eternal life with our heavenly Father.

 

 

He Wants Hesed

Jason Micheli —  May 8, 2014 — 4 Comments

DESIGNI’ve been invited to write a monthly column for the website Practicing Families. It’s focus subtitle is ‘Real Faith, Real Life, Real Grace.’ In other words, how do normal families in the ‘normal’ world practice the faith in their homes and pass it on to their kids.

As someone who gets paid to be a Christian, I’m probably the last person who should be writing on this subject. Nonetheless, I’ll try. If you have any questions about or any experiences you’d like to share about ‘the spiritual life and kids’ I’d love to hear from you.

I encourage you to check out Practicing Families.

As a teaser of things to come, here’s a reflection I wrote about the grace-filled lesson I learned from picking my son up from school. If you like this, then check out my eBook: Jesus is like Gandalf & 9 Other Things My Boys Have Taught Me about God.

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A week or two ago I was late picking up my youngest son, Gabriel, from school. On my way to my car, I got waylaid by a tear-stained church member who proceeded needed to dump about 3 decades worth of marital anguish on me.

It was the kind of encounter that, even when you don’t actually enter the conversation, it’s tricky to make a clean exit:

‘I’m sorry you’re in the midst of an emotional and spiritual crisis, but, my, look at the time! I’ve got to run. Call my secretary and have her put you on my calendar for a more convenient time. In the meantime, I’ll pray for you. Bye!’ 

In truth, I was only a few minutes late. The crossing guard had just left his post. Teachers cars still filled the parking lot. A few parents lingered on the playground chatting.

I wasn’t that late. It was just a few minutes.

But to Gabriel those few minutes were everything.

Because up until that day he’d always been able to rely on me being exactly where he expected me: By the tree, next to the flag pole.

Before that day I’d always been steadfast.

And- I know I’m projecting now- but, seeing the scared, lonely expression on his face when I finally came for him, it reminded me of the first day we spent with him. It reminded me of our ‘Gotcha Day’ (which for him, at the time, was experienced as ‘Leftcha Day’) the Easter afternoon when baby Gabriel looked around for his foster mother only to discover she’d left while he was playing with these two strangers on the floor of the hotel lobby.

Here’s one of the things my kids have taught me.

You won’t read this in a What to Expect When You’re Expecting book. I doubt it’s been a featured theme on Super Nanny.

And, I admit, it sounds minimalist but I daresay any child of divorce- including this one- would beg to differ with you.

Here it goes:

80% of parenting is just showing up.

Being there.

Being there when they expect you.

Being there when they need you.

And being there even when they don’t think they need you.

Believe it or not, Hebrew has a word for this ‘I’ll meet you by the tree, next to the flag pole every day’ kind of love.

It’s called hesed.

It’s a love based in a covenantal relationship, hesed is a steadfast, rock-solid, I’ll-be-there-no-matter-what faithfulness that endures:

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken” Isaiah 54:10.

Hesed is the kind of love that persists beyond any sin or betrayal to mend brokenness and graciously extend forgiveness:

“No one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love (hesed).” (Lamentations 3:31-32)

Hesed, as any first semester Hebrew Bible student knows, is how God loves.

Like other Hebrew words, hesed is not simply a feeling. It’s an action. It intervenes on behalf of loved ones and comes to their rescue. It’s often translated as “mercy” or “loving-kindness.”

Those translations mask how hesed is meant to convey an unswerving, reliable loyalty in every instance.

Not just in the dramatic Exodus, Burning Bush moments.

Every moment. 

Hesed is love that can be counted on, day after day and year after year. It’s not about the thrill of romance, but the security of faithfulness. Hesed is the promise that

‘God’s steadfast love endures forever.’

Hesed is Jesus’ promise:

‘Behold I am with you always…’

I first learned the word hesed in college. I learned to decline the Hebrew in seminary.

But it wasn’t until I had kids that I really discovered what hesed means.

Before I had kids I worried that parenting meant always having the right answer, always knowing exactly what to do or say, constantly doing everything according to the books so that I would rear healthy, loving, secure, gifted children.

Now I know that not only was that naive, it was unnecessary.

Because if hesed means that God’s love clings to us steadfastly through every moment of every day, then that means no moment of every day is without grace.

There is no moment of any day, in other words, that isn’t made sacred.

Just by God showing up and being there.

With us.

And if that’s how God’s love works for us, then ditto for how our love works with our kids.

Something as mundane as meeting my boy by the tree next to the flagpole is as holy as Moses by the Burning Bush.

 

Got Church?

Jason Micheli —  January 27, 2014 — 4 Comments

This is from Elaine Woods:

Why do you go to church?

This was the question I asked my daughter yesterday afternoon while driving to piano lessons.

I thought for sure she would say, “Because you make me.”

Instead she replied, “Because I like to learn about Jesus.”

Taking a cue from my pause, she continued her thought,

“Mom, it’s like if you have a friend, you want to get to know all about them.”

As I thought about her answer, I realized how true her statement was. We not only learn about Jesus in church from scripture and sermons, but from the fellowship of members and guests; how we interact with each other.

Do we rush into worship?

Do we exit right after the service?

Spending time at coffee hour does more than give you a caffeine rush.  It allows time for multigenerational conversation: kids sharing with grandparents; mothers bonding with other mothers over family issues; teenagers joking with young kids.

Faith is about relationships.

When we feel connected to something, we feel a part of it and take ownership in it.

That’s when the Gospel comes alive.

People return to church week after week because of the people they will see there.  Knowing someone’s name and asking them about their week means so much.

You never know if coming to church is the highlight of someone’s week.  I remember years ago a friend was going through a difficult breakup.  The only thing that got her from week to week was knowing that on Sunday mornings, she would hear an inspiration message and feel connected to something bigger than herself.  She felt a part of God’s family when she worshipped.

One of my favorite parts of the week is Sunday morning.  You may think I’m just saying that because I work at a church, but I truly mean it from the heart.  I’m energized and uplifted when I interact with teachers, parents, kids, guests, and friends on Sunday morning.

I hear stories from parents on how their child actually wants to attend church again because of a Sunday school group.  I get to see the joy in a child’s face as they recognize their teacher and run up to give a hug.

I hear families planning their next weekend outing, or dads strategizing on how best to coach their child’s basketball game.

I’ve seen tears well up in the eyes of those singing or listening to a favorite song in worship.

I’ve also seen the faces of those exiting worship; shaking the pastor’s hand and thanking them for preaching, “as if you read my mind.”

When Jesus began his ministry, he didn’t do it alone.

He gathered 12 Apostles to minister with him. He was teaching us about fellowship, that is, a partnership; a bond with each other.

In ministering to and with the Apostles, Jesus was modeling to us what the church body should look like; Groups of people coming together, developing friendships, working together in the body of Christ, and then sharing their experiences with others.

We gather in church as a physical form of fellowship. As followers of Christ, we also experience fellowship when we gather spiritually in one mind and body worshipping our Lord.

Coming to church on Sunday mornings not only allows us to learn about Jesus, but we get to experience first hand what Christ meant by fellowship.

 

 

1231472_10201379536123104_1520633178_nOurs is a God who speaks creation into being, reveals more often through vowels and consonants than pillars of cloud and burning bushes.

Our scripture is mostly story form.

Our faith is narrative so it makes sense that our faith would be passed down narratively.

Here’s this reflection from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Minister:

I love a good story.  I’m entranced when someone tells an interesting story about what happened to them.  From the set up to the climatic conclusion, a good storyteller captures your full attention.

My grandmother loved to tell stories.  Whenever I would stop by and visit her, she seemed to always have something to say.  Whether it was about her garden or canning fruit, she made it sound interesting.  She spoke in a causal, relaxed tone; never seemed to be in a hurry.  I rarely felt that she was preaching to me or telling me what to do.  And yet, I learned from her.  To this day when I sew, I can hear my grandmother’s voice saying, “I like to make sure the inside seams are as pretty as the outside ones.”

With all the technology we use today, the art of storytelling is fading away.

No television, computer, ipad, or internet can replace the face to face, interaction of someone telling a story with gestures, facial expressions, and tone inflections.  It’s an active communication between two people.

As a parent, I try to monitor how much time my children spend using media.

I must admit though, it’s usually the first thing they want to do after school, homework, or activities.

It’s such a temptation.  And with our busy lifestyles, even parents succumb to going online far too often.

My daughters were recently getting ready for their Homecoming dance.  As we were talking together, they asked me about my high school years. They wanted to know if I had homecoming dances at my school, and if I attended any of them.  The conversation took a turn down memory lane for me as I shared about my high school dances and dates.  I even pulled out my old photo album; the kind where the photos stick to the white pages with the “magnetic” plastic covering.  I showed them the yellow stained pictures of me in my Gunne Sax dresses.  We laughed hysterically.  Afterwards they said, “Mom, I didn’t know any of this about you!”

What a wonderful opportunity we have as parents to share stories with our children.

No matter how many times they roll their eyes or poke fun, children are interested in their parents and want to get to know them.

Personalized stories can become a starting point for parents to share their faith.  Something as simple as sharing whether or not you attended worship as a child and what that looked like.

Family gatherings at holidays, weddings, or funerals are also an opportunity to discuss faith with your children.

Keep in mind the more detail you go into, the better chance that your child will relate to parts of your story. These stories do not have to be elegant or something that happened long ago.   If your faith is new to you, let your children know that. Their faith is still new to them, so they will enjoy knowing that they are not alone. As long as you are sharing about yourself, it will mean the world to them.

Stories brought to life are exciting.  Just look at the bible.  Stories of prophesy, murder, redemption, love, and forgiveness occur in the first book alone!

Sharing stories with our children allows them to see us as more than just “parents.”

They see us as people with our own experiences and feelings.

Inviting grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members to connect with our children through stories is invaluable.  Children will learn they are part of a larger, grander story than just their own.  Faith will become real to them as they see it through the eyes of family members.

Life is a gift from God.  We have the opportunity to share this gift with our children through stories.

 

 

 

 

 

1231472_10201379536123104_1520633178_nWe’re in the middle of a sermon series on Generosity and Simplicity. This is from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Minister:

Teaching children about generosity begins in the home.  Even children who are three years old can learn to give a toy to another child or to draw a picture for a sick friend.

The Lord tells us  

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”  Matthew 10:42

The most effective way to teach generosity to children is when parents model this behavior themselves.

Seeing first hand when parents give their time and money to schools, churches, families, and charities instills a behavior that children will model.

When children see their parents helping in Sunday school, serving the homeless, participating in worship, giving money in the offering collection, and helping a friend or family in need, they learn how to be generous.

They also learn by participating in the giving.

A few years ago, one of our neighbors had a house fire.  I didn’t know them, but I can only imagine the devastation they felt at losing most of their home.

Our family decided to replace some of the lost items.  It became our mission to find out the children’s favorite toys, where the teenager liked to shop for clothes, and what food the parents usually prepared.

We shopped together at the mall and grocery store, making it our task to find “just the right item” for each family member.  I remember the sparkle in my son’s eye when he found the perfect Spiderman toy and said, “Mommy, he will LOVE this!”

Later we made supper together and delivered the bags of food, clothing, and toys to the family.  My children were able to witness the joy on the faces of the family receiving the gifts, and the joy they felt at giving to others.  Afterwards, my son said, “Mommy, that was fun!  Can we do it again?”

I try and teach my children that generosity not only includes giving things to others, but also giving our heart to Jesus.  We have so much to be thankful for: our home, our family, our friends, and our church.  Generosity begins in the heart by giving our love and time to Jesus; getting to know Him and following His ways.

What better role model do we have than Jesus to teach our children about generosity?  He gave his time helping and healing others, his money, and eventually, his life.

Instilling a generous heart can occur at any age.

Children are no exception.

Teaching them to serve not only helps others, but develops and nurtures their relationship with Christ.

I’m blessed we have so many opportunities to be generous!  I look forward to the upcoming Christmas season and who my family will choose to serve next.

leperThis fall I’ve been leading a bible study through the Gospel of Mark, a small chunk at a time.

A few weeks ago we looked at 1.40-45:

‘A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “You could declare me clean, if you dare.” 

Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 

Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 

Snorting with indignation, Jesus dispatched him, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 

The big Gospel takeaway:

Mark makes a point of emphasizing- remember every last detail in Mark is important and intentional- Jesus touched the leper first before he healed him.

Where Jesus should’ve become contagious from leprosy, the leper becomes contagious with the love of Jesus.

The exchange here between the leper and Jesus symbolically illustrates how the order of power has been overturned: Jesus is infecting the status quo.

The symbolic, Kingdom-enacting power of this touch is easy to miss and hard to overestimate. When Jesus says the Kingdom is here among you, it’s in moments like this one.

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A former teacher of mine who always will be one of my theological Jedis, Dr Robert Dykstra, shares his own personal parallel to this Gospel in his book, Losers, Loners and Rebels: The Spiritual Struggles of Boys. m2Md4IhrnTDgSkyCO-I0KSA

No doubt, I resonate with it because like Dr Dykstra I too suffered this particular leprosy and shame, but, unlike him, I’ve never had the courage to share about it.

Here it is:

“By mid-adolescence, I had developed an unusually severe, almost textbook case of acne, though one mostly confined to areas on my back and chest and therefore mercifully hidden under my shirt from the gaze of others. I say ‘textbook case’ because of a conversation I had with a physician friend years later, at age 27, while working as a chaplain in a hospital.

As we talked one day, I happened to mention to my friend that if I ever were to develop a serious infection, I was sure there would be no antibiotics left to treat me because of a tolerance I had developed after so many years of taking them for acne as a youth.

She asked me which drugs I had taken, and as I went through the list and got to the last and, at the time, most potent, one called Dapsone, she casually remarked ‘Oh, the leprosy drug.’

I went to the Physicians’ Desk Reference, the drug bible, and looked up Dapsone, and there it was- the primary drug used to treat Hanson’s Disease, a contemporary form of leprosy. Acne was not even listed there among its possible indications, leading me to speculate about the desperation of my dermatologist.

Though I had suspected it since early childhood, at 27 a doctor confirmed I was indeed a leper.

Back when I was 16, I cringed one day when my minister casually touched my shoulder, because it hurt. He asked why I flinched. I didn’t respond.

He had a long memory however and days later asked if he could see my back. I told him no. He wanted to know why, but again I would not say. We played this game for a while, so great was my shame, until for some reason- perhaps sheer exhaustion but more likely an inner desire to be known- I relented.

We were together in church, in the sanctuary, of all places, when I lifted up my shirt for him. He told me he was sorry I had suffered this alone, that he was proud of me for letting me see, and that he thought it would help for me to see a doctor, which to that point I had not done.

Thus would begin my years of antibiotics and some tangible relief from an embodied source of shame.

Today, of course, a minister’s asking an adolescent to lift his shirt in church immediately raises eyebrows…

But this, I think,  would be the wrong lesson to draw. There is no question that healing for my own leprosy, not only in its most overt form as acne but in its more invidious expression as shame, began long before I took a single capsule of Tetracycline, the first of the drugs, and years before I took the final Dapsone, the last of them.

Rather, the great healing came in lifting my shirt before a sufficiently attentive, caring other, and especially in doing so in the safety of ‘my Father’s house.’

I found with graphic clarity in that particular space and action a God who was as concerned with my body as with my soul. I found acceptance, a sanctuary, for embodied shame.”

 

 

Daddy, You’re My Hero

Jason Micheli —  October 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

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Halloween is on our minds in the Micheli house, that Autumnal time when we panic over which candidates we’ll vote for in the coming election and, even more importantly, which comic book character we will dress up as.

Or, why dress up like a conventional character? You could create your own.

‘Daddy, you’re like a super-hero,’ my son said this morning.

‘You can run fast and you help people.’ Awww.

Maybe he’s on to something though…

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1231472_10201379536123104_1520633178_nThis is from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Director. That I willingly share this is proof I can rise above the cynicism. 

I like contemporary Christian music (CCM).  In fact, I love it.  I know some of you may scoff at this comment, but I also know that many of you hum along and even sing aloud to MercyMe, Third Day, and dare I say, Chris Tomlin’s songs.

I’m inspired by contemporary Christian music.  Whether I’m running, driving in my car, or enjoying my time at home, my mood always improves while listening to these songs.  Many lyrics are taken from scripture.  Other songs are written with themes of hope, comfort, and joy while at the same time offering praise and worship to God. While these musicians often sing about matters of truth and religious commitment, they also explore the breadth of the human condition.

Contemporary Christian music began in the 1970’s as part of the Jesus movement; a mixture of 60’s rebellion with rock-n-roll rhythms.  As it became more popular, artist expanded the lyrics and added additional music styles such a pop and classic rock, and it developed into its own genre with songs about the love of God.  In the 1980’s CCM artists such DC Talk, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith found crossover success with their albums and took CCM to a whole new level.

Contemporary Christian music has now developed into a mainstream genre with lyrics and rhythms, which include, but are not limited to Gospel, Pop, Country, and Hip Hop, and Metal.

It also has become a major music ministry for Christians who feel the call to serve.

If you have never been to a contemporary Christian concert before, I highly recommend it.  It is a fabulous form of worship where people come together standing, singing, and listening to the message of Christ in a concert atmosphere through songs and stories.

People from different generations and backgrounds choose to attend, and the fellowship that occurs between virtual strangers is compelling.  You leave the concert feeling empowered with the Holy Spirit

Christian music reaches out to us on a level that we can understand and feel. It shows us that Jesus is still with us, even when we’re facing a crisis or celebrating our blessings. It keeps us on course with our faith.

Anything that allows us to ponder and explore our faith is beneficial.  For some of us, it is through music.  Others find reading books on faith and theology as a source of inspiration.

We are all uniquely created with different interests and personalities.

How God reaches out and communicates with us varies from person to person.

God will meet people where they are at and take them to the next level.

For those of you still uncertain, give it a try. Here’s a sample list of current CCM artists (random order):

MercyMe

Third Day

Big Daddy Weave

Crystal Lewis

Heather Williams

Mandisa

Casting Crowns

TobyMac

Selah

Matthew West

You: Conduits of Love

Jason Micheli —  September 12, 2013 — 2 Comments

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This is from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Minister.

Why is it that people at church are more comfortable talking to others about weddings, new babies or hairstyles but avoid asking them about their unemployment, divorce, or addiction?

Do you know that in your congregation you will find people who have lied, stolen things, or have had extra-marital affairs?

You will also find parents who’ve had to bury their children.

Just because people come to church doesn’t mean that sin and suffering aren’t a part of their life.

I find it ironic when people who don’t attend church expect those that do to be perfect.  It’s just the opposite.

Church should be a place where we can freely let our guard down as we grow and develop our faith.

If we truly are a “church family,” then we should act like a family.  Families accept and love each other regardless of differences or disappointments.  They share what’s happening in their lives, and provide bits of wisdom to help each other along the way.  But mainly, they are there for each other.  Whether they see each other every week, or perhaps take a few years off, families have a bond.

I understand it’s uncomfortable to talk to someone you barely know about personal issues.

But what about the person you have seen at church every week for the last few years?

Have you taken the time to get to know them?

Jesus came to earth to show us how to live.  His parables, miracles, and words were meant to guide us on our path of reconciliation with God.

It is only through Christ that we can accept God’s love and wisdom and thus, give it to others.

We become conduits of love.

Christ love flows into us, changes our hearts and minds, and prepares us to serve others.

If we try to do this on our own, our egos or insecurities get in the way.

This is what the future church should resemble.

A community of faith that forms followers of Christ, depends on fellowship with other Christians for support, accountability, and unity, and finds areas to serve and give back to the world.

It doesn’t care for worldly values, attitudes, or what the neighbors think.  It doesn’t exist to make you feel better.  It should change your thinking which in turn will change your behavior.

It will create Disciples of Christ.

 

 

 

photoWho wrote to Her Boys’ FB Girlfriends

You probably saw this letter that went viral recently written from some boys’ mother to their girlfriends on Facebook. Though I saw many uncritically ‘liking’ it, my wife’s reaction told me I wasn’t the only one who thought it another, if gentler, example of blaming girls/women for boys/men objectifying them.
If you didn’t see it, you should probably read it first. 

Dear Boys,

I thought I’d write you this FYI even though this is wildly premature.

You’re both still at the age when neither of you is sure how the internet works nor can you distinguish between Facebook and email.

The word ‘selfie’ probably strikes you as a good name for a stuffed animal or a Marvel villain, and the mere mention of GIRLS makes one of you blush and the other wrinkle your nose in embarrassed anger.

This may be premature, but perhaps not. After all, who you will be begins right now, with who we’re helping you to become. That’s a parent’s baptismal promise, to shape you so that your character is grounded in the character of Jesus.

God, I hope your Mom does a good job of it.

Just kidding.

What it means to have the character of Jesus, who was the perfect image of God, is to regard others as the exact image of God.

That means, boys, to see people as holy, as sacraments, and sacraments- as you’ll learn in confirmation- are examples of a whole lot more than what’s visible to the eye.

That means, boys, to treat people as (God’s) people.

And never as objects.

It means you never see only a person’s physical beauty, or notice only their lack of it- which I also hope you’ll learn is a terribly unbeautiful way to live.

Brass tacks time, boys:

If you see a pretty girl, in real life or on FB, and from that point on that’s all you can see in them or that’s all you can think of them…that’s YOUR fault boys NOT the girl’s fault.

I hold you responsible and I’m damn sure your Mother will too.

Sure, said girl made her choice when she dressed said way.

But you, boys, make your choices too.

You can choose to objectify others or you can choose to treat your neighbors as your self.

In truth, if you do grow up to objectify girls, boys, it’s our fault too, your Mom and me, for letting you be shaped by a culture that sexualizes everything for a $ and only sounding the alarm years later when we don’t like what its done to you.

But I don’t think that will happen to you boys.

Some parents excuse their boys’ demeaning girls by demeaning boys, treating boys as though they were no more than talking animals, slaves to impulses and emotions.

I think I’ll give you boys more credit, which also means I’m giving you responsibility.

You can treat girls as they should be treated.

But let’s be realistic, sometimes you won’t. You’ll have impulses, thoughts, desires…and THAT’S OKAY. It’s natural. It’s part of being human. It’s not any girl’s fault and it’s not yours either. It’s not dirty or bad or unholy.

Jesus (God) was human, don’t forget, so there’s nothing that can run through your head that didn’t run through his. And so there’s nothing you need to be ashamed of.

When you hit puberty, boys, you’ll realize to what an extent that’s Gospel.

Good News.

While we’re on this track, boys, let me just say that, like other parents, your Mother and I certainly hope you’ll ‘wait’ for that perfect girl (and if it’s not a girl that’s fine too, but that’s an FYI for another day).

Always remember, though, if you do wait you’re no better than anyone else and no worthier of my love.

Or God’s.

And if you don’t wait, you and your other whomever is no less beautiful to me. Or God. Parents who suggest anything to the contrary are on some ugly, unGospely footing.

Finally, boys, let me ask a favor of you.

If, in the years ahead, a girl friend of yours ever posts a ‘selfie’ on Facebook, please don’t let me pontificate to you or judge your friend.

And please don’t let me use faith-based innuendo or pious-sounding (but still very sexist) double standards to imply that your friends are slutty. Even if our culture’s still not beyond that, Jesus was.

Just remind me, boys, that you’re still just children. Figuring life out.

And if your friends do post ‘selfies’ I hope you’ll never let me get so self-important (your Mother will probably help) that I feel empowered to shame your friends or lecture their parents via social media (it’s their job, after all, not mine to tell their kids what not to post) or think that complete strangers on the internet should read my parenting advice.

Love,

Dad

PS: If I do ever lecture your girlfriends about what they wear in FB pics, please remind me to take down any shirtless pictures I have online of my own kids.

photoThis is from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Minister.

This past weekend I drove my son to college to begin his fall classes as a freshman.  As I gave my son a hug from his dorm room and said good bye until Thanksgiving, I noticed as small leather book on his desk.

Curious as to what it was, I asked him.  He said it was a Bible given to him, with a warm encouraging note on the inside cover, from his Catechism teacher.  I was surprised.

He’d only been on campus a few hours, yet this was unpacked even before any family photos.

I thought of our and the programs we offer our youth and children; how important is it to teach basic Christian principles and the stories in which we learn to our young ones, and then develop their faith as they mature.

My son left home for college with a character and a foundation learned in no small part from his participation in the life of the church.

Beginning at 3 years old until high school, we provide opportunities for kids to understand and love Jesus through Sunday school classes, worship, youth groups, and mission work.

Kick-off Sunday is this Sunday, September 8th

Bring your kids, and encourage them to participate in one of our programs.

With your help, what they learn and experience will not be forgotten.

 

Parents: Echoing Back

Jason Micheli —  August 23, 2013 — 1 Comment

luthersockeLike I do every August, I’m busy preparing for the kick-off of our year long confirmation program for 6th graders and our nascent year long catechism for graduating seniors. Throw in there plans for a class on Mark I’ll be teaching.

Meanwhile our youth and children directors are getting ready for their years and the hundreds of kids who will come through the doors after Labor Day.

Throw in all the admin time such time requires.

And here’s the bitter, ironic but abiding reality:

NONE OF WHAT WE DO MATTERS

NONE OF IT MATTERS

NO SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS, CONFIRMATION RETREAT, YOUTH GROUP SESSION CAN MAKE YOUR KID A CHRISTIAN IF NOTHING WE DO WITH THEM AT CHURCH IS ECHOED BACK AT HOME.

WHERE THEY SPEND 98% OF THEIR LIVES.

Martin Luther, the Reformation theologian who spent his whole life embroiled in matters involving the institutional church, was convinced that Christian formation actually happened in the home not in the Church. It happened in the family.

If ever the People of God are to flourish, Luther believed, if ever people will be capable of believing in God’s love it will be because of what happens in the home, in the family, and not in the Church. For Luther, teaching about God’s love had less to do with the official words of the Church and more to do with the love shared in the home.

Luther called it ‘echoing back.’

It’s the kind of teaching that happens in families- around dinner tables and shared struggles, in conversations and in ordinary moments.

Echoing back: it’s where the words of scripture and the words Church are made visible in the lives of the people who love us. In other words, our ability to understand Christ’s love for us depends on whether we see that love, experience that love, through the lives of those who love us.

According to Luther, the words of the Church alone can’t do it because God invites us not just into believing in him but into a way of life. And for a way of life, we need more than words; we need guides, mentors, friends.

If it’s true that the laos have abdicated the ministry to the cleros, it’s also true in too many cases that families have abdicated Christianity to the Church, leaving it to pastors and badly paid staff to Christianize (or at least inoculate them against the corroding effects of secularism) them.

The one bright side is that if kids and youth don’t grow up in homes where the Church’s message is echoed back by their families, then they’re still ripe and vulnerable to an anti-family, fight-the-Man-renegade like Jesus of Nazareth.

 

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”