Archives For Parenting

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In preaching, I work hard never to make myself the hero of a story. The rules of rhetoric require it. Even with those anecdotes where I did say or do the right, bold thing, I will instead labor to make myself sound like a d@#$, putting those right, bold words in to someone else’s mouth. I don’t want listeners to think I have a messiah complex and thus miss the message of the actual Messiah.

But that doesn’t mean someone else can’t flatter me in a sermon.

My friend, Taylor Mertins, recently shared a story about me and my family in his sermon on Exodus 2. While embarrassing, it was warmly intended and warmly received. You can check out his blog here, and here’s a post he wrote this summer for Tamed Cynic on what he learned during his first year of ministry.

Without permission, here it is:

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Can you imagine what was going through the mother’s mind when she placed her little son in the papyrus basket? Can you see her tears flowing down on to the boy who would change the course of history because she was forbidden to let him live?

Everything had changed in Egypt. Joseph had been sold into slavery but saved the Egyptian people by storing up food for the coming famine. He was widely respected and his people were held in safety because of his actions. But eventually a new king arose over Egypt and he did not know Joseph. He feared the Israelites, their power, and their numbers.

The Israelites quickly went from being a powerful force within another nation, to a group of subjugated slaves who feared for their lives. They were forced to work in hard service in every kind of field labor, they were oppressed and belittled, and their family lives were slowly brought into jeopardy. Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all the males born to Hebrew women, but when they resisted, he changed the decree so that “every boy that is born to the Hebrews shall be thrown into the Nile, but every girl shall live.

Once a prosperous and faithful people, the Israelites had lost everything. Yet, even in the times of greatest distress, people continue to live and press forward… A Levite man married a Levite woman and she conceived and bore a son. When he was born and she saw that he was good, she kept him hidden for three months. But a time came when she could no longer hide the child and she found herself making a basket to send her baby boy into the Nile.

Kneeling on the banks of the river, she kissed her son goodbye, placed him in the crude basket, and released him to the unknown. The boy’s sister, who was allowed to live in this new regime, sat along the dunes and watched her baby brother float down the river toward where a group of women we beginning to gather.

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Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket among the reeds, and when she opened it she saw the boy, and took pity on him. She recognized that he was one of the Hebrew boys but she was compelled to be compassionate toward him. The sister, with a stroke of genius, realized that she had the opportunity to save her brother and stepped forward from her hiding place to address the princess. “Shall I go and find a nurse from the Hebrew woman to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to the young slave, “Yes.” So the girl went and found her mother, the mother of the child she had just released into the Nile, and brought her to the princess. Pharaoh’s daughter charged her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages for doing so.” So the mother received back her own son and nursed him. However, when the child grew up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she adopted him as her son, and she called him Moses because “I drew him out of the water.”

This story about the birth and the childhood of Moses is one of the most familiar texts from the Old Testament. It has just the right amount of suspense, intrigue, serendipity, divine irony, human compassion, intervention, and it concludes with a happy ending. Moses’ birth has captivated faithful people for millennia and offers hope even amidst the most hopeless situations.

One of the greatest pastors I have ever known serves a new congregation in Northern Virginia. Jason Micheli has inspired countless Christians to envision a new life of faithfulness previously undiscovered. He played a pivotal role in my call to ministry, we have traveled on countless mission trips together, he presided over Lindsey’s and my wedding, but above all he is my friend.

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Jason and his wife Ali embody, for me, what a Christian relationship looks like. They support one another in their different ventures without overstepping their boundaries, they challenge each other to work for a better kingdom, and they believe in the Good News.

For a long time Jason and Ali knew that they wanted to adopt a child and they traveled to Guatemala when Gabriel was 15 months old to bring him home. As a young pastor and lawyer, Jason and Ali had busy schedules that were filled with numerous responsibilities that all dramatically changed the moment Gabriel entered their lives. They went from understanding and responding to the rhythms of one another to having a 15 month old living with them, a child who they were responsible for clothing, feeding, nurturing, and loving. I know that the first months must have been tough, but Ali and Jason are faithful people, they made mistakes and learned from them, they loved that precious child, and they continued to serve the needs of the community the entire time.

Jason and Gabriel

A year and a half later, just when the new patterns of life were finally becoming second nature, a lawyer who helped them find Gabriel contacted them. There was another family in the area who had adopted a 5 year old Guatemalan boy named Alexander, but they no longer wanted him. The lawyer recognized that Jason and Ali had recently adopted a child but wanted to find out if they would adopt another. However, the lawyer explained that this 5 year-old was supposedly very difficult, his adoptive family was ready to get rid of him, and he didn’t speak any English. Jason and Ali had a choice: lift this child out of the Nile, or let him continue to float down the river?

The story of Moses’ adoption by the Egyptian princess is filled with irony:

Pharaoh chose the Nile as the place where all Hebrew boys would be killed, and it became the means of salvation for the baby Moses.

The unnamed Levite mother saves her precious baby boy by doing precisely what Pharaoh commanded her to do.

The daughters of the Hebrews are allowed to live, and they are the one who subvert the plans of the mighty Pharaoh.

A member of the royal family, the Pharaoh’s daughter, ignores his policy, and saves the life of the one who will free the Hebrew people and destroy the Egyptian dynasty.

The Egyptian princess listens to the advice of the baby’s sister, a young slave girl.

The mother gets paid to do exactly what she wants to do most of all.

The princess gives the baby boy a name and in so doing says more than she could possibly know. Moses, the one who draws out, will draw God’s people out of slavery and lead them to the Promised Land.

Divine Irony! God loves to use the weak and the least to achieve greatness and change the world. God believes in using the low and despised to shame the strong and the powerful. God, in scripture and in life, works through people who have no obvious power and strengthens them with his grace.

How fitting that God’s plan for the future and the safety of the Hebrew children rests squarely on the shoulders of a helpless baby boy, a child placed in a basket, an infant released into the unknown. How fitting that God promised to make Abraham, a childless man with a barren wife, a father of more nations than stars in the sky? How fitting that God chose to deliver Noah from the flood on an ark, and young Moses from death in a basket floating on a river? God inverts the expectations of the world and brings about new life and new opportunities through the most unlikely of people and situations.

Jason and Ali prayed and prayed about the five-year old Guatemalan boy named Alexander. What would happen to them if they brought him into their lives? Everything was finally getting settled with Gabriel and they believed they had their lives figured out. They had planned everything perfectly, yet they we now being asked about bring a completely unknown, and perhaps devastating, element into their lives.

What would you have done? If you knew that there was a child, even with an unknown disposition, that was being abandoned by his adoptive family how would you react? Would you respond with open arms?

Alexander is now 11, soon to turn 12, and is without a doubt one of the most mature and incredible human beings I have ever met. After Jason and Ali met him for the first time they knew that God was calling them to bring him into their family, to love him with all that they had, and they responded like the faithful people they are, with open arms.

Jason, Ali, Alexander, and Gabriel

When Alexander arrived at Jason and Ali’s home, he came with the clothes on his back and nothing else. A five year old Guatemalan boy with little English was dropped off at their home; I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like for him.Yet, Jason and Ali brought him into their family and they never looked back. 

In the beginning, they had to sleep with him in his bed night after night, in attempts to comfort him and let him know that they were never going to leave him. That no matter what he did, no matter how far he fell, there was nothing that would ever separate their love for him. For a child that had been passed from person to family to family, Alexander had no roots, he had little comfort, and he had not experienced love.

Jason and Ali stepped into his life just as Alexander stepped into theirs. Perhaps filled with fear about what the future would hold for their little family Jason and Ali’s faithfulness shines brilliantly through the life of a young man named Alexander who I believe can, and will, change the world.

I imagine that for some time Jason and Ali believed that they, like Pharaoh’s daughter, had drawn Alexander out of the river of abandoned life. But I know that now when they look back, when they think about that fear of the unknown, they realize that Alexander was the one who drew them out of the water into new life. Divine Irony. 

In the story of Moses’ adoption out of the Nile, God is never mentioned. There are no divine moments when God appears on the clouds commanding his people to do something incredible, there are no decrees from a burning bush (not yet at least), and there are no examples of holy power coming from the heavens. Yet, God is the one working in and through the people to preserve Moses’ life and eventually the life of God’s people. God, like a divine conductor, orchestrates the music of life with changing movements and tempos that bring about transformation in the life of God’s people.

I believe that most of you, if not all of you, would take up a new and precious child into your lives. Whether you feel that you are too young, too old, too poor, too broken, you would accept that child into your family and raise it as your own. We are people of compassion, we are filled with such love that we can do incredible and beautiful things.

But it becomes that much harder when you look around and understand what we have become through baptism. Every child, youth, or adult, that it baptized into the body of Christ has been lifted out of the Nile of life into a new family. The people in the pews have truly become your brothers and sister in the faith through God’s powerful baptism. The Divine Irony is that we might feel we are called to save the people in church, when in fact they might be the ones called to save us. 

The story of Moses’ birth and childhood is beloved. It contains just enough power to elicit emotional responses from those of us lucky enough to know the narrative. It is a reminder of God’s grace and love through the powerful and the powerless. But above all it is a reminder that like a great and loving parent, Moses has been taken into the fold of God’s merciful love and grace. That we, through our baptisms and commitments to being disciples of Jesus Christ, have been brought out of the frightening waters of life into the adoptive love and care of God almighty. That we, though unsure of our future and plans, are known by the God of beginning and end.

Just as Jason and Ali held Alexander every evening, just as Pharaoh’s daughter cradled Moses in her arms, we have a God who loves us, who holds us close, and will never let us go. 

Amen.

 

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.

The Silver Lining of Prayer

Jason Micheli —  November 2, 2013 — 1 Comment

3300This is from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Minister.

 What is prayer?

Prayer simply means talking and listening to God.

A conversation.

We teach our children as young as three years old to bow their heads, close their eyes, fold their hands together, and pray. There’s no right or wrong way to pray; God always loves to hear from us.

As we mature, our prayers become more complex as we thank and praise God, ask for forgiveness, and petition for something for ourselves or on behalf of someone else.

We can pray aloud or silently.  Standing or kneeling.  Individually or collectively.

A few years ago I remember sitting in the pews with others at church as our pastor said, “Will you all pray with me?”  We bowed our heads and closed our eyes.

The prayer started out like others, graciously giving thanks and praise.  As our pastor continued praying, his tone became softer.

His voice almost cracked.

He was speaking from the heart; almost imploring God to remember and bless His creation.

The sanctuary became silent. He took his time with each, genuine word.

I was witnessing an intimate, pure, and holy conversation. The humility and sincerity in his voice was moving.

At that moment, I learned more about my pastor’s faith than any previous conversations I had with him.

Although he has a gift with words, what I heard that morning was faith, and the extent to which it impacts and shapes his character.

When we share our inner most thoughts with God, without hiding behind our masks of insecurity or pride, our soul is exposed.  We see ourselves for who we are, and perhaps, who we can become through Christ.  It’s a barometer of our faith journey.

Since God is all-knowing, the gift He gives us through prayer is self-realization.

He shines the light on our strengths and weaknesses.  We can never hide from the truth when we are walking with God.  His truth is revealed in our innocent, honest, and loving communication with Him.

The real silver lining of prayer occurs when we open our hearts to God and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal our truths and transform us.

God hears our prayers.  He answers them according to His timeline.  While we are waiting, He blesses us with the gift of discovery, both in Him and in ourselves.

 

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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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.”