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mainDick Cheney could’ve spared himself a lot of historical ignominy had he opted to force prisoners to read Mark Driscoll’s ebook Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood rather than submit them to water-boarding.

The cumulative effect of Driscoll’s self-congratulatory screed has been to remind me of Robert DeNiro’s stepfather character in This Boy’s Life, the memoir/film by Tobias Wolf.

DeNiro’s abusive yet pathetically silly character, like Driscoll himself, haunted the Pacific Northwest.

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Chapter 6 of Driscoll’s ebook, ‘Instruction Followed by Correction,’ pretty much follows this theo-literary formula:

‘A wise and godly father SHOULD______________’ 

‘A wise and godly father MUST________________ ‘

Insert tenuous citation from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. 

I began reading this book to anticipate Father’s Day but Driscoll is such a boorish nag the book is better suited to Mother’s-in-Law Day.

The model of ‘biblical’ parenting prescribed by Driscoll presents a telling contrast to that other sacred text opening in theaters tomorrow, Man of Steel.

People who know me or read me will not be surprised that in the comic pantheon I prefer Batman, well tied with Hell Boy actually. Batman is dark and damaged. Cynicism leads him to vigilantism. The costume reveals his true self rather than masks it.

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Superman, on the other hand, has always been a bit too bright, too optimistic and Americana kitsch for me.

Except, I guess I should qualify that by saying I never really cared for Superman until I had kids.

Until I adopted kids, I should add.

My oldest boy, I should specify.

Most reflections (of a theological bent) on Superman focus on how Kal-El is a graphic, American Dream projection of our need to have a Christ-like Savior figure, one whose character is as pure as his powers are mighty. And sure, you can interpret Superman that way. I mean it’s not exactly subtle; Kal- El is a loose play on the Hebrew for ‘voice of God.’

But to read it only that way is, I think, to miss something else entirely.

Superman’s goodness, his kindness and gentleness, his (often unfounded) insistence on believing in the good inside people- all those attributes that led me to dismiss Superman when I was  a boy are exactly those things that give me hope now that I have boys.

Because those attributes of Clark Kent I found so bland and corny as a kid are attributes Clark acquired from Ma and Pa Kent.

His adoptive parents. article-kent-2

This is clear to anyone who’s read the Superman comics- and it’s what makes Superman Red Son, in which Clark’s spaceship crashes not in the Midwest but in the Soviet Union, so interesting.

Clark is the way he is, unfailingly kind (even to the point of naivete), gentle and good, not because he went to K-5 at the Fortress of Solitude Academy.

No, he is the way he is because that’s the example Ma and Pa Kent gave him as his parents.

Superman’s goodness is their goodness.

While Batman shows the life-long impact of tragedy striking a boy in one’s formative years, Superman, more so than any other comic superhero, demonstrates the power- the possibility- of nurture being just as formative in a child’s life as nature.

In the Church, we call that grace. It’s the good news behind Clark’s goodness. And it’s been the good news in our own family.

We adopted our oldest boy when he was a few days shy of his 5th birthday. His preceding years had given us every reason to expect that the proceeding years would be far from easy. Or happy.

The adoption world uses terms like ‘at risk’ and ‘special needs’ to name the possibility that whatever’s happened before this child crashed into your life likely cannot be undone by whatever love you nurture in him.

And often, sadly, that IS how the story turns out.

But I can give you at least two stories, one drawn in reds and blues and the other being told in flesh and blood, that turn out differently.

 

mainA friend recently suggested that reading Mark Driscoll is my guilty pleasure- he is, this friend observed, my Fifty Shades of Grey.

An apt analogy considering how, like Fifty Shades (I’m speculating here. It’s not that I’ve actually read it), Driscoll begins each chapter in a predictable, harmless way but before you know it you’re in the middle of something unholy that’s careening towards abuse and torture.

Even Hannibal Lector serves his victims dinner first.

Much in the same way, Chapter 5 of Pastor Dad comes with the title, ‘The Masculine Duty to Provide’ and begins with this sensitive, courting line:

‘It is dad who should be reading the bible with his kids, praying with them, and answering their questions- not just mom.’

But don’t be fooled.

Like the suitor of a torture-porn novel, this is just Driscoll’s way of hooking you so he can go on to his real interest of base objectification.  mark-driscoll

First, Driscoll cuffs women to his nostalgic rereading of scripture:

“Work is for a man an act of worship, just as his wife’s work is worshipful for her. this does not mean that it is a sin for a wife to work when a couple is first married, as they are getting ready to begin their family, or for a wife to make money on the side as a secondary priority while remaining at home with the children, or even for her to work once the children are grown if the motives are pure and her primary duties are not neglected.”

Ladies, don’t get your panties in a bunch because the only thing Driscoll is equal opportunity about is his reified gender roles. When it comes to gender stereotypes, Driscoll goes both ways:

“…there is no way anyone could read the bible and wind up with the silly notion that both the husband and the wife are to be providers and that daycares or relatives are supposed to raise the children of a christian couple. furthermore, it is completely impossible to read the bible and wind up with the inane idea that a christian father can be a stay-at-home dad while mom goes to work. anyone who thinks these things are acceptable is
by definition worldly.”

Inane?

Isn’t it more inane to impose your incredibly modern, incredibly Western notion of the nuclear family upon biblical texts that share no such presumption?

Isn’t it more inane to use scripture to privilege the Leave to Beaver ideal when a literal reading of much of scripture would mandate that Ward Cleaver enjoy the blessing of at least several Junes in his family?

But what’s the point of debating Driscoll? Like Fifty Shades, you don’t spend time with Mark for the thoughtful conversation. It’s the rough and tumble that his fans get off on. Take this role-playing experiment towards the end of his chapter in which Driscoll feigns a scene of domestic tranquility:

“One night while tucking my daughter Ashley into bed, I asked her, “what should a good daddy do?” Putting her finger on her chin to think, she said, “a daddy should make a lot of money, a daddy should read his bible, a daddy should teach his kids, a daddy should love his kids, and a daddy should be silly and have lots of fun.”

Fifty-Shades-of-GreyThat’s as misleading as Fifty Shades’ innocuous dust jacket. Just a normal Daddy-Daughter exchange you think at first, but before you know it you’re wondering ‘Wait, did his daughter just say a daddy’s first job is to make money?’

A lot of money even.

After reading that I asked my own boys (7 and 10) the same question, and I got this answer:

‘A good daddy loves his kids, teaches them things, teaches them about Jesus, farts (Gabriel) and buys us toys (Gabriel again).’

Maybe that’s not a Chicken Soup type answer but it’s real. Making lots of money would never cross their minds as a response.

So either Mark Driscoll is full of crap about that conversation, which would be sad to put such words in his daughter’s mouth.

Or, Mark is telling the truth and the first thing that struck his daughter about a father’s role is making LOTS of money.

While my boys included cracks about farting and toys, they also reflexively said something about Jesus. And that’s no small point of comparison when it comes to Driscoll’s Pastor Dad.

There’s nothing in it about Jesus.

Where I’d say my primary goal as a father is to nurture my boys into bearing the image of Christ to benefit the world, Mark argues its to provide- financially- for his children.

He calls his book Pastor Dad but in the ways that count there’s nothing really distinctively Christian about his book.

It just reads like a Dad, circa 1951, giving his son fatherly advice with a little scripture thrown in for gravitas.

What’s more, this and the previous chapters of Pastor Dad rely almost exclusively on quotations from Proverbs- a collection of pithy, koans of wisdom that have no context and are ripe for misuse.

When he doesn’t cite Proverbs, he defers to other Wisdom literature.

Fine. But thus far I’ve not come across a single reference to the Gospel stories. Nothing about Jesus- other than how a godly father’s job is to rear his children in the belief that Jesus died for their sin.

But there’s nothing here about Jesus as the 2nd Adam, a model or pattern for what it means to be human.

Surprisingly, a book ostensibly about fatherhood reveals the fatal deficiencies in Driscoll’s Neo-Calvinism.

Calvinism’s singular focus on justification by faith (which itself focuses exclusively on the death of Jesus) just has no other use for Jesus.

Like torture porn itself, once you get past the shock factor of Driscoll’s theology, you realize it’s pretty thin stuff indeed.

 

 

 

mainI’ve been marking the time up to Father’s Let’s Baptize Consumerism by Idealizing the Family Day by reading Mark Driscoll’s new ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights on Fatherhood.

On previous occasions, I’ve duly and honestly noted that, for me, Mark Driscoll is right up there with Joel Osteen, Bob Saget and Joseph Goebbels. While I’ve been accused from time to time of gross exaggeration, crass generalization and conceited dismissals of contrary views, I’m like a kid with sidewalk chalk to Driscoll’s Picasso.

A master of the arresting tweet and jaw-droppingly false assertions, Driscoll’s a one-man meme-maker with his straight-faced, ‘scriptural’ sermons about biblically-mandated BJ’s and liberal Christians’ limp-wristed,wimpy versions of Jesus.

While I get gripes from the bishop’s office for making a joke about Jesus farting, Driscoll gets ecclesial kudos and book deals for things that make George Carlin seem like Mr Rogers.

Despite the gag reflex Driscoll provokes in the back of my throat, I promised to read his book in a spirit of Christ-centered detente because lessons can be learned even from enemies. Right? mark-driscoll

First lesson learned- and a good one for fathers to pass on:

One should be wary of making promises they can’t keep.

Driscoll’s chapter 5, ‘The Masculine Duty to Provide,’ is like spilling Maker’s Mark are all over a recovering alcoholic. But today instead of ridiculing Driscoll with a glee that will be enjoyed only by me and a few others, I thought I would offer something more thoughtful.

And more Christian.

282568_150937788316009_5326304_nA friend and neighbor, Chad Pecknold, is a theologian at CUA and has a post at Ethika Politika, contemplating fatherhood. I believe this is the argument that Driscoll (if he had the conscience of the average citizen and the IQ of a mole rat) is attempting to make in much his book:

I am haunted by an even deeper crisis that must at least exacerbate, and may even be a root cause of the fatherhood crisis: a loss of an embodied faith and an embodied understanding of God as Father.  As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, it is not from human fathers that we understand what it means for God to be Father, but it is from the revelation of God as Father that our understanding of fatherhood is elevated and perfected.  Is it so impossible to think that a modern vision of God as Deus Absconditus has, inversely, defected and devolved our understanding of fatherhood?

In Charles Taylor’s extravagantly illustrated account of why it has become difficult to believe in God, A Secular Age, he calls the Reformation a “disenchantment engine.”  Martin Luther had famously rejected every attempt of human reason to know God.  Despite the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who said that the invisible God could be known by the things that were made, Luther stressed the unknowability of God through things made.  The god of the philosophers is always a fabricated God of our own making.   Since only God can reveal God, Luther severed the ancient dynamic between Athens and Jerusalem.

For many, the “disenchantment engine” at first made “optional” but then broke the relation between God and creation, as well as the complementary relation between faith and reason.  Sometimes this “break” is blamed on nominalism, the view that universals (invisible things) cannot really be known as anything other than fabricated relations between particular, visible, made things.  How did this happen?  For the nominalists that trained Luther, God’s intellect was unknowable. And since God’s will perfectly expressed his intellect, it was argued that his ways were inscrutable. This made it possible for later thinkers—against the backdrop of the Black Death and other natural disasters—to think about God’s actions in a capricious way.  Instead of understanding God’s actions as fitting the goodness of his nature (as Aquinas argued), it became possible to think of God as an inscrutable and unknowable sovereign, as one who does not necessarily act in accordance with his nature, but may act solely upon his mysterious will.  Fear of this inscrutable God made it easier for some thinkers to descend further into what Taylor calls “providential Deism.”

Taylor rightly sees in this descent to “providential Deism” the eclipse of transcendent purpose, the erasure of supernatural grace in an immanent frame, the denial of mystery, and the refusal of a participationist understanding of our relation to God. No longer are we humans called to become “partakers of the divine nature,” or elevated by grace to become adopted sons and daughters of God.  Now God has become the Deus Absconditus that has created the world and simultaneously orphaned it.  Taylor argues that these shifts, among many others, are responsible for why it is more difficult to believe in God now than it was prior to the Reformation.  These shifts have not only made it difficult to know God as Father, but have also made it difficult for us to recognize the nature of human fatherhood in anything other than the basically nominalist and voluntarist modes of providential Deism.  That is at least one of the important reasons why Locke’s view of fatherhood becomes possible, and why liberal cultures that slavishly follow this trajectory will continue to want to hide the fathers.  The antidote is the revelation of the Father’s love for the Son.

 

mainI’ve been reading Mark Driscoll’s new ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights on Fatherhood. It seemed a fitting thing to read this time of the year. We’re a week away from Father’s Home Depot Marketing Blitz Day.

Thus has it always been so. Here’s the skinny on the origins of Father’s Day:

Americans resisted the Father’s Day holiday during the first few decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up: they kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their adverts, and they eventually succeeded

I read that on Wikipedia so it must be true, or at the very least-as the stats bear out- it was written by men and is more accurate than the Encyclopedia Briwhatchimacallit.

Frankly, I don’t care that much about the crass materialism of Father’s Day since it means I will, in all likelihood, receive something from Williams Sonoma my wife would’ve otherwise forbid me from purchasing.

What does p&** me off is how these fake holidays got put on Sundays so that now God’s People are saddled with the expectations created by non-Christian holidays and must, in at least some tacit way, participate in the cultural lie that we all live in the United States of Pleasantville, do not have emotionally complicated families and that what God most wants from us is stable family units that will create a stable civic order.

But I digress.

mark-driscollBut the digression is not my fault. Chapter 4 of Driscoll’s book, Cultivating Kids, reads like he’s finger-pointing and shouting down someone (a liberal Christian woman or effete man, no doubt) on the other side of the room. It’s exhausting. I should’ve saved this book for Lent ’14.

In chapter 4, Driscoll cites as the Christian father’s sole duty as cultivating obedience in their children. Obeying your father is second only to obeying your Father in Driscoll’s assessment of the canon. So important is our children’s obedience that scripture- the Book of Leviticus- stipulates:

“If a child verbally curses or physically attacks a parent, they shall be put to death. Their blood is on their own head.”

We all know Leviticus has some doozies in it that make you wonder why the ancient Israelites needed such peculiar rules- I mean, were there a lot of people misusing their foreskin?

We all know the skinny on Leviticus, yet Driscoll actually cites this stipulation about infanticide with nostalgic fondness.

Who needs a timeout mat when you’ve got ritual killing waiting to play as a trump card?

Cultivating godly obedience in your children means a Christian father must make sure the Lord is glorified in all aspects of the child’s upbringing, Driscoll writes. Okay, I’ll not quibble with him there.

He goes on.

A godly father discern what’s best for his children, home-schooling or Christian schooling.

Or…?

Nope, not on the list provided by Rabbi Driscoll.

Because, as Mark Driscoll says in an assertion that makes Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann seem nuanced:

‘…public education was birthed by atheists such as John Dewey and Horace Mann.’

Didn’t you know?

And, says Driscoll:

if it wasn’t for Calvinists no one in America would likely be able to read right now.

I promised when starting this book that I would be charitable, open to receiving some insight from my enemy.

Yes, well chapter 4 is all goose-eggs and turds.

Therefore, in the spirit of what Mark Driscoll seems incapable of expressing I will spend the rest of this day, which is a gift from God, with my boys, who are both gifts themselves.

Sabbath rest and then we’ll throw something in the smoker.

And if that doesn’t sound like a good idea to my boys, I guess I could always just stone them.

 

mainAgainst every natural and holy impulse within me, I’m marking this advent season before Father’s Hallmark Day by reading Mark Driscoll’s ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood.

As I’ve oft noted, Mark Driscoll is one of those people who calls to mind that piece of scripture from 2 Peter:

 The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

For my response to chapter 3 of Pastor Dad, “The Fruitful Vine,” I thought I would attempt what Driscoll almost always fails to bother with : consider a woman’s point of view. My wife, Ali.

So then, I offer you both my reactions to Driscoll’s screed as well my wife’s likely reactions to what she surely would have a stronger and more derogatory term than screed.

Driscoll begins the third chapter in the beginning of the bible, the book of Genesis, telling us that fatherhood and a “biblical family” are rooted in God’s command to Adam to be “fruitful and multiply.”

This means, Driscoll explains with breathtaking generalization, that “godly men desire to have children and that those children would have much fruit in their lives with God.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Does ‘fruitful and multiply’ really mean having children, or do we read that in to the text because State’s more ancient than Rome have always had a stake in encouraging families? Might it just as easily mean our lives are to be about more than ourselves, having a multiplying, pay it forward effect? Does this mean Jesus was also taking about us spawning when he said we’re branches on his vine that should bear fruit?

Ali’s Reaction:

Nice, so Genesis is just a two-party conversation between God and Adam with Eve off doing….what? Doesn’t matter I suppose…to Mark Driscoll. Why in the ________ does he assume God only gave the command to Adam?

Next, Mark Driscoll cites the ‘cleaving’ passage in Genesis 2 to argue that only after a young man has grown up, started a career, and learned to govern his own life “is he qualified to pursue a young woman through father…young men continue to live at home, freeloading off their parents as boys who can shave, while they have sex with girlfriends that they one day may shack up with, and use birth control to prevent pregnancy or abortion to murder their own child because fools see children as a burden and not a blessing.”

Jason’s Reaction:

Let’s just ignore the unalloyed way he just equated all abortion with murder as though there’s no ambiguity on the issue. This is a surprisingly biblical justification for getting married later in life, but I wonder how he feels about the way this rationale rubs against the other biblical notion of chastity outside of marriage?

Ali’s Reaction:

Kudos for Mark Driscoll smacking down boys who want to remain boys into their 30’s, playing XBox, being mommied by women who should be grandmas soon, all the while having their ‘friends with benefits’ or their ‘baby mommas.’

Of course, any prophetic wisdom aimed at men who want to remain boys is lost by the way Driscoll treats women as completely passive objects in the transaction he calls ‘courtship, marriage, and fatherhood.‘

Pursued?”

Really, does this mean women who pursue men can never have a ‘biblical marriage?‘ No doubt Driscoll would have an S word for such women and it wouldn’t be ‘scriptural.‘

“As a general rule, single men should aspire to to marriage and fatherhood, and if they do not there is something seriously wrong with them.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

So, according to Driscoll’s construal of manhood, Jesus is extremely queer- definitely in one sense of the word and possibly in that OTHER sense of it?

Ali’s Reaction:

Weren’t the first Christians ALL single? As a way of expressing their commitment to Christ and their conviction that the community was now their family?

Don’t Christians believe we spread by conversion and baptism? New Creation rather than procreation?

mark-driscollNext Driscoll says:

“When I met my wife, Grace, I adored her and soon asked her how she felt about children, because if she was not interested in being a wife and mother who desired to stay home and raise her children, I was not interested in pursuing a relationship with her and did not want to waste my time.”

Jason’s Reaction:

As I often tell couples, your relationship with your spouse- not your kids- is your first priority. You didn’t swear a covenant with your children; you did with your spouse. You and your spouse are meant to be visible sign of God’s love for us all. Children are the fruit of parabolic, married love; married love is not the means to the end that is children.

Ali’s Reaction:

‘Waste my time…?’ Jason and I met when we were 15 and have been together over half our lives. We had no idea what the future held back then and we were no more naive than couples who meet in their 20’s or 30’s or 40’s. Love- and life- happens. It’s that willingness to step out into an unknown future with someone (whether it means kids or not) that is Christlike and faithful not finding someone to mate with. Did he inspect her teeth and forelegs first before breeding with her?

MD says:

“I wanted to have children and be a father who was the sole economic provider so that my wife could stay home with the children…[a wife whose] children praise her because she is a wise bible teacher who spends her time working hard to build their home and bless their father.”

Jason’s Reaction:

Isn’t ‘sole economic provider’ a bit of an anachronism? The cliche of the husband bringing home the bacon doesn’t really match the biblical context of an agrarian (not capitalist, market-based) economy where said bacon was literally bacon and was literally brought ‘home’ from the field next to the house, a field in which you can be damn scripture sure the woman worked in as well (see: Ruth, Book of).

Ali’s Reaction:

I’d LOVE not to have to work but pastor’s don’t make enough to support a family in an economy with an evaporating middle class. Not to mention, I reserve the right to work should I want to work and I claim the possibility that God might call me to do so in some particular fashion. If not everyone has the same gift from the Spirit, then why/how would God call all women to be stay-at-home moms? Some dads are superbly fitted to be stay-at-home parents, and homes with 2 working parents aren’t de facto bad families.

And then there’s this:  A WIFE’S JOB IS TO BLESS THE….

fATHER?!!!?

As in, her man not her God?

WTF?

Driscoll then moves on to discuss in nuanced, sensitive fashion the influence parents can have on their impressionable, ever-watchful children:

“If a wife is a nag who disrespects her husband by chirping at him all the time, then the children in that home will follow her example and become fools who ruin their lives by similarly disobeying and dishonoring their dad.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Sigh.

Ali’s Reaction:

Nag?! %&^%&&&&^$^&&%$###%^&**^&((^$$##@#&**!

To buttress his claims about the devastating effects of nagging wives upon God’s good creation, Driscoll cites as evidence:

“…anyone doubting this descent would be well served to simply watch one of the innumerable popular sitcoms on television where the husband is an idiot and the wife trash-talks him in front of the children…” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Does anyone really think today’s sitcoms are anymore reflective of reality than Rob and Laura Petrie from the Dick Van Dyke Show? I wasn’t alive, but did married couples with children really sleep in twin beds and know absolutely no black people?

Ali’s Reaction:

Nag?! %&^%&&&&^$^&&%$###%^&**^&((^$$##@#&**!

Bravely though, Driscoll places culpability where it’s due:

“….whose responsibility is it? ultimately, it is men who are responsible because they chose their wives.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

It’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything but marry a great gal.

Ali’s Reaction:

‘Chose?’ Jason and I dated each other. We fell in love together. We decided to marry each other. It was mutual, just like our marriage.

Apparently Mark Driscoll chose his wife off a shelf at the mall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

help_my_unbelief-1This reflection on Doubt is from Elaine Woods, our Children’s Director: photo-300x3001

I woke up at 4am this morning thinking about the conversation I had with my daughter last night before bed.  She had just returned from dance class and was worrying about auditioning and being selected into a prestigious dance school in the fall.  She has worked hard all year in dance, and has even scheduled her summer break with intensive dance classes to improve her performance.

I told her how proud I was of her dedication to her passion, and how much she has improved over the year.

She responded how it’s still not good enough, especially when compared to ‘Stacy’ (one of her dance friends).

There will always be a ‘Stacy’ out there for comparison, I said.  Focus on the enjoyment dance brings to you, and how much you have learned.

I could still see her frustration, so I tried another tactic.

What is your biggest fear?  Not getting into the dance school?

Face that fear now.

Pretend you just found out you were not selected.

How do you feel?  How are you going to deal with this?

If you can work through the doubts and fears now, then you can relax and know you will be okay.

As parents, we want to impart all the words of wisdom we know to teach and protect our children.  Unfortunately, many of life’s lessons are learned through one’s own experience.

This got me thinking about doubt and faith.  How it’s okay to have doubts about our beliefs.

Don’t push it aside; bring it on.

As I told my daughter to face her biggest fear about dance, I think God wants us to face our fears about our faith, or lack of.

Accepting our doubt = Accepting our humanity = Celebrating being created by God.

God uses our humanity to make us whole again through Christ.

We were created to be with God forever.  God’s covenant was promised in Eden, proclaimed to Abraham, and fulfilled in Christ.

Use doubt as a springboard to dive further into your faith.

imagesAdvertising tells me that Father’s Day is fast approaching, that market scripted day of the year when I feel emasculated for desiring neither ties nor power tools.

In anticipation of this Father’s Day, I’ve chosen to do something against type. I’m reading a book about ‘Biblical F/fatherhood.’

Okay, it’s not completely against type. For one thing the book was free, a new ebook entitled ‘Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood.’ For another thing the book was written by Mark Driscoll, the rapid, hyper-Calvinist pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle.

You can read it here.

The size of Driscoll’s church, 10K plus on weekends, is an auspicious reminder that the line between discipleship and delusion is a fine one indeed. I once mentioned one of Mark Driscoll’s sermons to my wife, in which Driscoll argued that it’s the Christian wife’s ‘biblical duty’ to give her husband a BJ whenever he wanted it. Seriously. And I got a call from the bishop for making a fart joke. Ever since I mentioned that to my wife any mention of Mark Driscoll sends her into a rage.

mark-driscollTo some Mark Driscoll is this century’s Billy Graham. To other, sane-minded people he is a hipper iteration of Pat Robertson- albeit a Pat Robertson who was dropped on his head too many times as a kid.

Jesus himself said that the word is like seed scattered on all kinds of ground, rock, sand and soil. Truth can sometimes take root in the unlikeliest of places- isn’t that the offensive lesson of grace?

So while I fess up to the honest disclaimer that I think Mark Driscoll is a d*&^%$ bag (a revulsion grounded in both my love of Jesus and my neighbors of the opposite sex) I will also begrudgingly admit that Mark Driscoll sometimes knows what he’s doing.

He certainly knows how to get his thoughts retweeted. He obviously knows how to build a large, other-focused church, and maybe, just maybe, in this Knocked Up, extended adolescent culture there’s a missional need to knock the heads of some ‘godly men.’

All this is to say, I’m reading Pastor Dad prepared to scoff and deride but also willing to be surprised.

Chapter 1: The Good Life

Driscoll’s first chapter is just 2 paragraphs, really it’s only worthy of 1 paragraph if you abide by the traditional rules of the English language. The concision of his opening paragraph has less to do with minimalist art and more to do with not allowing any ambiguity to enter what is his massive, controversial contention:

‘before a man can be a good father, he has to be a good Christian.‘

For a father to know best he must first know his Eternal Father.

Only good Christians can be good fathers, Driscoll contends. And a good Christian, he argues, is one who ‘realizes that God is his Father.’

Driscoll premises all this on the words of the Psalmist (David) that the good life for a man is to be blessed by God, a blessing that takes the form of worshipping God and caring for your family.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs worth of words, but already Pastor Dad is like Whack a Mole, provoking me with the dilemma of which target to strike first.

To go after the suggestion that only good Christians can be good fathers seems too easy. We all, I suspect, know good fathers who are not good Christians or even if they’re Christian they’re not ‘good’ Christians. Even if we don’t know any such people, I daresay we all know some good Christians who are not in any way good fathers. That Christians perform no better as parents or spouses is as well-documented as it is lamentable.

To go after Driscoll for extrapolating a rather large and incendiary contention from a Psalm (a poem written NOT by God but TO God) seems both a flimsy foundation and a misuse of the author’s intent. It’s like reading Catcher in the Rye and coming away with ‘principles’ for how teenagers should respect their elders and authority.

To go after Driscoll for basing this all on a patriarchal hierarchy that sets up a self-serving analogy between fathers and God is ground others have well trod before me.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs in so I’ll withhold judgment, but my first reaction is to rub against Driscoll’s view of and use of scripture. The Bible, as Richard Hays likes to quip, is about God. It’s about Jesus Christ and what God has done and is doing in the world.

To pilfer scripture for ‘principles’ for anything- parenting, marriage, success, happiness, serenity- is to profoundly misuse scripture even while appearing more ‘scriptural.’

Scripture DOES echo from beginning to end that our life is gift, that creation is what happens when God’s love pours out and that in the fullness of time God poured himself out completely, first in to Jesus Christ and ultimately upon a Cross.

It doesn’t make for an easy verse X of passage Y says Z therefore fathers should… principle, but it’s the most faithful approach, I think, to anything resembling ‘biblical’ parenthood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20130521_TORNADO-slide-HIJ2-hpLargeI know it will come as a surprise to those who’ve been privy to my choice of children’s sermon  subject matter over the years. Still, believe it or not, I try to exercise some discretion when it comes to exposing my boys to the darkness and suffering in the world.

As I’ve noted here before, my boys expend countless hours debating whether or not, say, Gandalf could contend with Jesus in a no-magic-allowed cage match (Jesus).

And so I’m reluctant to puncture their innocence by pointing out that sometimes it seems as though God is less reliable in this world than the Man of Steel.

Case in point, Oklahoma.

I didn’t get to the NPR dial quick enough and the story was unaccompanied by the ‘this could be disturbing to children’ warning.

They heard all about the tornado and the damage and the kids.

And the kids.

And then they asked me questions, each one like they were tabulating God’s cosmic justice on an abacus and seeming surprised at the sum.

I had no idea how to navigate the if/then questions. If God….then…why…?

Related here’s a piece from the NY Times by Bill Franzen about talking to your kids about the darkness in the cosmos.

Avoiding any frank talks with your children about the dangers lurking “out there” in the universe is completely natural. Pointing out a full moon or the Big Dipper is way easier than telling your little Johnny flat-out that a single meteorite the size of his school bus would wipe out everything in the region, including us, and so all his crying now isn’t going to change that.

But as hard as it is to see your youngsters lose their innocence just like that, tiptoeing around the topic of scary stuff in our cosmos will only create worse problems. Better to be candid now, and simply weather little Johnny’s night terrors and his long phases of avoiding all friends and activities, than to hold back on the facts.

Sooner or later your little Susie is going to find out for herself about the inevitability of an asteroid slamming into Earth — probably through a “friend” or on the Internet. So shouldn’t news of our planet’s complete vulnerability come out of your mouth first? Take the initiative early on. That way you can at least reassure her that, as far as killer asteroids go, she’s much more likely to die on an amusement-park ride or at a fireworks display.

Recently I was lying on a blanket in the backyard between my 7-year-old twins, Mark and Missy. We were up way past bedtime, savoring a spectacularly starry night sky. I really got going about supernova explosions of massive stars and about how this results in tremendous gamma-ray bursts that can shoot deadly beams of intense radiation many light years through space, and how, if one ever reached the Earth, it would spell extinction for everyone. I avoided the temptation to sugarcoat things. The twins needed me to tell it like it is.

Well, Mark sobbed away hysterically while Missy asked one simple question: “Are we still gonna get a Christmas tree?”

“Sure we are,” I said, and told the kids they’d probably have Christmas trees for the rest of their lives. I emphasized that it could even take thousands of years for any gamma ray burst to zero in on Earth and so, no worries — we’d be long dead by then anyway. Eventually, maybe, they will take some comfort in that.

It’s hard trying to control your children’s feelings. Yesterday, when I told them about the chances of a huge comet someday crossing Earth’s path, they became very frightened indeed. But, to my credit, I let them know that it was perfectly normal to feel scared — I’m scared, too, I confessed — and gave them probably too many reassuring hugs. Then I microwaved popcorn and we watched “C.S.I.” together, and the twins’ questions turned refreshingly earthbound: What’s rigid mortis? Do kids ever have to get that life insurance? How do vultures know you’re dead and that you’re not just knocked out?And, What does sexy mean? (“Ask your mother next week” — I wimped out on that one.)

Honesty and directness are the best tools for ever so gently shattering your children’s assumption that our planet is a safe and secure place. And if this sometimes makes them feel that their lives on Earth are somehow less meaningful — hey, welcome to the club. But steer clear of the planetarium, unless it’s Laser Rock Night. Then by all means go, even if the homework isn’t done.

photo-300x300This is from Elaine Woods, our Director of Children’s Ministry so if you feel the following indicts you in any way, blame her.

Soccer, Lacrosse or Church?

A mom approached me the other morning explaining why her child couldn’t attend Sunday school or worship on Sunday mornings.  Her son has early soccer games followed by Lacrosse practice.

I smiled and said,

“I understand; it’s a tough balance.  I remember when my kids had conflicts.”

She added,

“The whole team will be let down if he isn’t there to do his part and help out,”

and

“If he doesn’t show up for practice, he won’t be allowed to play in future games.”

My first reaction to these comments was “exactly!”  These same reasons apply to attending church.  How is your child supposed to be part of the church family if they never show up?  How is your child supposed to know God’s Word and apply it to his life if he hasn’t learned it?

I guess what bothers me the most is the intensity that parents feel about their children’s extra-curricular activities.  It’s a “must” event fueled by competition and the need to have our children excel at everything.  Go big or go home.

I wish I could see this same drive when it comes to their children’s faith walk.  Attending church becomes something to do after sport games, family time, and sleepovers.

Attending worship or Sunday school on a regular basis not only teaches children Biblical lessons, it develops a routine that is easier to enforce.  Children rely on structure and repetition.

I understand this is a challenge for parents and for the church body as a whole in today’s society.  We have so many choices competing for our time.  Long gone is the “closed on Sunday” attitude.  Sunday becomes another day to fill up with activities.

As a church, we need to continue to come up with worship options for our diverse congregation’s schedules.

As parents, we need to keep our children’s faith development even more important than their extra-curricular activities.

How that is done varies from family to family.  Attending church on Saturday, Bible Studies during the week, family prayer time in the evening, or simply listening to Christian music are examples of how parents can keep Christ a priority in their child’s life; however, don’t neglect the importance of attending worship.

Here are some good reasons for children to attend worship from GenOn Ministries:

1. Children learn to pray, to speak to God from their heart, by being with adults who model prayer.
2. Children can experience a time to be silent and present to God; a time to talk to God and to listen to God.
3. Children can hear & feel the power of our love for God as they listen to the words and music of worship.
4. Children learn and experience God’s love in the fellowship within a faith community.
5. Children are introduced to music and dance that expresses the longings of our hearts, the laments of our lives, our praises to God.
6. Children hear the stories of God’s people, and begin to understand that those stories belong to them, too.

What do you think? What would you add to this list?

We are called to be faithful.  The rest is up to God.

 

Here’s the last installment of my top ten postings about what I’ve learned of the faith from my kids. You’ll have to click over to Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog to read it.

20130505-145948.jpg

gandalf

Someone leaving church Easter Sunday asked about my boys, musing ‘I bet you’ve learned all kinds of things about God from them.’

And that got me thinking.

Which got me writing: Top Ten Things My Kids Have Taught Me About God

#6: Jesus is like Gandalf

A few weeks ago my boys watched the first 5.5 hour installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. The movie seemed to last longer than Coldplay’s last album, but it did elicit a debate of almost ontological urgency:

Could Gandalf, the staff-wielding, death-conquering wizard of Middle Earth, defeat even Jesus, the sandal-wearing carpenter from Nazareth?

Begun as I pressed stop on the DVD player, the debate continued upstairs, occasionally interrupted by the gurgling and spitting of their toothbrushing.

On the one hand, Alexander noted, Gandalf defeated the whole Orc Army at Helm’s Deep- pronounced ‘Him’s Deep’ by X.

‘Yeah but…’ Gabriel countered with his Socratic logic, ‘Jesus DEFEATED (with emphasis on the -ed) the Devil AND came back from the dead.’

‘But God raised Jesus from the grave’ X replied, as though the better question in question was whether God could beat up Gandalf.

‘Duh, Jesus IS God.’

Omitting the therefore, Gabriel continued: ‘If Jesus is God, Jesus could beat up Gandalf, Ironman and Batman put together. Jesus is awesome.’

‘And he loves all of us’ X said, sidestepping his rhetorical defeat.

This is but one ‘for instance’ of a conversation thread that runs like a seam through our life together.

On some days, the discourse turns more speculative:

‘If Jesus was a tribute in the Hunger Games, do you think he would win…without killing any of the other tributes?

Or would he volunteer to die for them and defeat the whole HG system?’

On other days, the conversation turns on a casual observation:

‘Joseph is kinda like Alfred. He’s not Jesus’ real Father but he takes care of Jesus just like Alfred took care of Bruce Wayne.’

Maybe this is all a consequence of my boys having a preacher for a father. But I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s the predictable result of my having given each of them the Action Bible, a graphic novel version of scripture replete with square-jawed men and women with hefty…ahem…endowments.

It could be either but I tend to think it’s because they’re kids.

Jesus says in the Gospel that if we want to have any chance of comprehending, knowing or getting close to God then we need to become like little children. 

Usually we interpret that as meaning we need to become innocent like children are innocent. Unflinchingly kind as children are kind. 

Read: Naive. 

I think that’s patronizing. I also wonder if it’s wrong.

imagesTo the little children in my house, Jesus is just one freaking, kick-@#$ awesome dude.

He hangs out with the wrong people. He upsets the right people. He likes to party. He has magic powers. He takes all our cooties and puts them on himself. Bad guys are out to get him and even when they kill him and it looks like Jesus has lost…

HE COMES BACK.

BAM.

To my boys, Jesus is as contrary as Tony Stark. He’s as complicated as Bruce Wayne. He’s timeless in a Wolverine way and still, somehow, he’s as unremittingly kind as Superman.

Plus, there aren’t any love interests to mess up the plot.

In other words, he’s a superhero.

And superheroes, with the exception of the Flash, are never boring.

Yet BORING, God forgive us, is exactly what so many of us grown-ups make Jesus.

To my boys Jesus is on par in the interesting category with Nick Fury; meanwhile, most adults- to say nothing of most pastors- turn Jesus into a bland, bearded version of Bill Moyers, someone so nice and unoffensive it’s impossible to imagine why anyone would ever want to kill him. 

But here’s just one reason why people like us would want to kill someone like Jesus: 

Jesus says between you and me and my boys, the Kingdom of Heaven goes to them every time. 

superhero JCAnd Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

As a parent, I know full well that kids aren’t as innocent as we like to pretend, and anyone who’s spent time on a school bus or a playground knows they’re not automatically and reliably kind to everyone.

But tell any kid about a dude who walks on water, brings a little girl back to life and dropkicks death’s door and they’ll think that dude is awesome. 

Every time. 

So thanks to my kids, I now wonder if this is what Jesus meant about how we grown-ups need to change.

Because in my house, to “become like children” is to think Jesus is kick-&^% awesome.

So awesome, in fact, it would never occur to them that they should be hesitant, reluctant, or embarrassed to tell someone else about Jesus.

That would be as silly as being shy to tell your friends how cool Captain America is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

crucifixionA friend recently sent me this note, reflecting on the challenges and hardships that come to parents.

Sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, hearing the sound of heart monitoring devices, I wonder if this is the day I will see my son die.

It’s not clear what illegal street drugs he has taken, but it’s enough to warrant fear:

The kind of gut-wrenching fear and panic that every parent hopes never to feel.  As I remain calm on the outside, my mind is racing to ask the right medical questions, praying to God to save him, mentally double checking where my other children are, wondering how long I will be here and who will I call if he dies?

Parenting is not easy.  

Children don’t come with directions or manuals.

Although bookstores are packed with parenting suggestions, every child and situation is unique.  What works for one child, may not work for another.  Then there’s the whole nature vs. nurture thing.

What I have found is that most parents will face hardship at some point.  Whether it’s dealing with your child’s addictions, rebellion, physical or mental limitations, disappointments, or tragedies, you will encounter pain along the way.

The good news is that we have a loving, all-knowing, and comforting God who will pull us though.   We may not “feel” as if anyone is behind the scenes, directing the scenario so that it works out best, but rest assured, look at the cross: our God will use suffering as well as blessings for His glory.

Mentally have the discipline to believe God’s Word, even when your heart is broken and your emotions deceive you.  

This doesn’t mean that everything will turn out the way you want it.  But it does mean that our Lord and Savior, the one who will create a new heaven on earth, the one who loves us so much he gave his life for us, the one who reaches down when we are in the pit of pain and scoops us up into his arms, will show his mercy upon us.

Trust in the Lord.  Have faith.

These are so hard to do in a crisis.

As I wait for the medical reports to return, my son’s rapid breathing continues. His eyes open and close, searching for answers.  Our eyes meet.  I try to hide my anger, fear, and disappointment.  I tell him I love him.

Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.  Proverbs 30:5

Sticky-FaithMany of you like to point out- crank about- the thread of snarkiness that runs through my blog. Caveat Emptor: The blog’s called Tamed Cynic. What did you expect?

Nonetheless I’ve dutifully listened to these ministrations and decided to enlist the help of others who have a more compassionate and tender disposition than me.

photoElaine Woods is our Director of Children’s Ministries. Here’s some thoughts from her on the recent book, StickyFaith.

The book, StickyFaith, by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark, encourages young people to develop a faith that “sticks” to them as they mature and come face to face with the challenges of college and beyond.

Research shows that 40 – 50 percent of kids who graduate from a church or youth group fail to stick with their faith in college.

Loneliness and the search for friends seem to motivate the behavior of college students.

One of the key points of the book is that trusting God is a necessary discipline for sticky faith to develop. It’s more than doing “good works.”

The lifestyle of doing “good works” or external faith is not enough to sustain sticky faith.  It needs to come from within.

Faith that TRUSTS God understands that obedience is a response to that trust.  We don’t obey because of something we will get, we obey because we trust and love God to do what’s right for us.

The Greek word for faith is pisteuo.  In the New Testament, pisteuo can be translated as three different words: “faith,” “believe,” and “trust.”  So when you see the words faith and believe in the Bible, they come from pisteuo and can be translated as “trust.”

In the elementary years, it’s important to teach the foundation of our faith: obeying God’s word, forgiveness, prayer, and sin.

But as children mature, more emphasis is placed on a personal relationship with God.  Praying daily and listening to his words

God promises to change us from the inside out if we trust Him.  When you are changed from the inside out, all aspects of your life are affected:  your personal relationships, your job, and your habits.  It changes your mind, heart, and behavior.

Check out the book, StickyFaith.  It will give you ideas and suggestions to implement a lifelong faith with your children.  Keep in mind, however, that a person’s faith walk becomes his or her own.   We can’t do it for our children.

Thankfully, we have a God who sticks with us forever.

photoAs the Children’s Ministries Director, I often get asked the question:

“What is the best way to explain faith to my kids?”

My first thought is for parents to honestly tell their children what Jesus means to them and how His life has impacted theirs. After all, God is the ultimate example of how a parent (God) loves his children (us).

However, this may be more in-depth and complex than a child wants to hear. But I do think that raising your children in faith is more than reciting bedtime prayers, and/or occasionally attending church services. It involves seeing God in the world around us on a daily basis, and emulating His behavior while at the same time, understanding His grace and love.

One idea I’ve used at our dinner table is asking each family member:

“Where did you see God today?”

Answers can be as generic as “everywhere” or as detailed as “when a friend shared her sparkly blue pen with me today.” Every answer is okay. This activity not only gives attention to each family member separately, but it reinforces the idea of looking for God in our everyday lives. Even if the child answers “nowhere,” this still allows the process to occur.

Spending time reading the bible with your children will teach them about Jesus and how to model His actions. Stories and parables from the New Testament offer great examples of how to treat and love our neighbors. The Old Testament is filled with stories of patience and waiting for God’s direction. Start with a children’s bible, and read one page per night. These stories are usually illustrated with colorful pictures to enhance learning.

The most important part of raising children in the faith is consistency. Regularly read the bible, talk about faith, attend worship services, and pray with your child. The same amount of effort given to homework, sports practice, and music lessons, etc., should be given to your child’s Christian upbringing. What’s important to you will be important to your child

Explaining faith to your children is a beautiful way to grow in your own faith as well as share precious time with your children.

Our faith walk is a lifelong process that hopefully begins in the family and continues throughout our lives.

Myth_of_You_Complete_Me#1 Dust Jackets

Many engaged couples I meet have only vague goals for their marriage:

We want to be happy. We want to have a family. We want to be best friends.

That’s all well and good but how in the Hell do you measure goals that airy?

Likewise, I’ve met with many married couples who describe their marriage as ‘stagnant’ or ‘stuck.’

And you know why?

Because they have no idea where they’re trying to go.

You only put your car in Drive to head towards a destination. Otherwise you leave it in Park. Or Neutral. 

And if you’re not headed to any particular, specific destination, it’s not long before you’re wondering why you’re wasting your time sitting in a car that’s not moving. 

And it’s not long before you get annoyed with all the commotion the kids are making in the back seat.  

Theologians use the term ‘telos’ to describe human life. It’s Greek for ‘end.’ By it they mean that, having been made in God’s image, a life well-lived is one with a trajectory that points to and proceeds towards Christ and his Kingdom. Sin is literally something that gets our lives off track.

Just as our individual lives should have a specific trajectory so too should our marriages.

Husbands and wives should have specific, concrete goals for their marriage. Not only should couples have micro goals for each stage of their marriage, they should have macro goals for their marriage as a whole.

It’s just common sense. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can end up anywhere but there. And if you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, it’s very easy to get hung up on things that don’t matter and to compromise on things that do.

I tell engaged couples to imagine their married life as a story or memoir. As a book.

What do you want the dust jacket to say?

What do you want the summary of your story together to be?

And I tell them to be damn specific. I tell them I don’t want to hear something like ‘Dick and Jane were just so happy together because they loved each other so much.’ That’s usually what their first drafts will say.

I tell them they should choose, together, 3-5 things they want to accomplish in their marriage and weave that into dust jacket summary:

Dick and Jane built their dream house at X.

Dick and Jane traveled to Y.

Dick and Jane worked to make sure their relationship was always characterized by Z, that nothing ever changed blank about them. 

And, sure, those 3-5 things can change as life happens and things change, but you’ve got to be intentional about identifying what the new 3-5 things are when that happens. You’ve got to be intentional about what the rewrite on the dust jacket says now.

This isn’t about married people having a bucket list.

It’s about married people having a compass to steer by.

You have to have an agreed upon basis by which you’ll make decisions and set priorities as a couple. You have to be able to say as a married couple: ‘These are the 3-5 things we compromise on in our marriage.’

Because, the truth is, if you have those goals in your marriage upon which you won’t compromise, it’s less likely that other things will compromise your marriage.

So that’s it. That’s number the 1 thing I’ve learned about marriage.

You’ve got to know what you Dust Jacket says. 

For a marriage to be successful, you’ve got to know what you’re marriage is about. 

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_Me#2: What God Didn’t Give Adam

If you scratch at the surface of the doctrine of the Trinity what you learn underneath is that God didn’t create humankind because needed to create. Our existence doesn’t owe to some poverty, absence or need in God.

God wasn’t lonely.

As Father, Son and Holy Spirit God already is- and has been eternally so- a community of perfect love and friendship. The Trinity is, as the theologians say, a perpetual exchange of gift and grace.

So God didn’t create us because God needed someone to love.

And God didn’t need to be loved.

Rather God creates to express and share the love God already enjoys as Father, Son and Spirit.

As I illustrate for confirmands, God’s love within the Trinity is like a fountain of water that is so full it overflows and spills out all over the place. Creation, you and me and everyone else is like the water that spills out from God.

Now: if we’re made in the image of this God then it follows that we’re to love and (pro)create as this God does. We have children not because we need someone to love and not because we need someone to love us. We have children to express a love we already enjoy and share. With our spouse.

The love of our spouse is primary and foundational. 

The love of our spouse comes first. 

And it should always come first. Even when others come into our lives later on. 

This is a lesson I’ve learned by watching couples learn it the hard way. Too many husbands and wives, because their love for each is far from overflowing, turn to their children to give and receive the love they’re not giving to or receiving from their spouse. At best that’s unhealthy and at worst its idolatrous. And that’s not hyperbole. I see too many turn their children into idols because of a lack in their marriage. No different than the golden calf, we project onto our children a need they can’t possibly fill.

As I said in my sermon on Sunday: no child is big enough to fill what’s missing in their parent’s life.  And no kid should have to bear such a burden. They’ll only get crushed underneath your expectations. Because if you look to your children for validation, to fill an emptiness inside you, you’ll need them to be perfect. And when they’re not-because no child is- there will be conflict. 

When my wife and I began the adoption process for Gabriel, our son, we had to answer a battery of questions and go through several interviews assessing the health of our relationship, the depth of our faith and the strength of our self-image. Why?

To make sure we weren’t adopting a child because we needed to have a child to make us happy. I wish biological parents had to go through the same process.

Heard the wrong way this can sound harsh but its true: your primary commitment is to your spouse ‘til death do you part.

When God lamented Adam’s loneliness in the Garden, God didn’t give Adam a child.

God gave Adam a spouse.

The person to whom you’ve sworn vows is your spouse not your kids. If you’re a Christian, the only vows you make to your kids is at their baptism when you promise to raise them in such a way that they’ll share in the suffering, self-giving life of Christ.

You can’t cultivate a marriage, or even survive one, by loving your kids. However, you can raise loved, loving children by making a loving marriage your priority.

So that’s the #2 thing I’ve learned.

Marriage is about the person you’re married to. 

It’s got to be. 

If nothing else, do it for the kids. 

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_MeI’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.

 

#3: The Finish Line

In the Roman Catholic tradition, marriage is one of the Church’s seven sacraments. Husband and wife are right up there with bread and wine, and water.

 

A sacrament, in case you didn’t know, is what St Augustine defined as an outward, visible sign of inward, invisible grace.

 

During the Reformation, Protestants pushed redact the sacraments according to their principle of sola scriptura. For Protestants only those sign-acts which were clearly instituted by Christ in the scriptures count as sacraments. Jesus told us to baptize and he spent the night he was betrayed making himself our Passover.

He didn’t marry anybody.

Therefore, in the Protestant Church, marriage hasn’t been considered a sacrament.

It’s a covenant.

A covenant, in case you didn’t know, is the term the Bible uses to convey a promise.

A contract.

Sacrament vs. Covenant.

You may be wondering what difference it makes. Why quibble over arcane theological terms?

Here’s the deal.

Tragically, I know a lot of couples, whether they realize it or not, who have a ‘covenantal’ notion of marriage; namely, they think the goal of their marriage is to cross the finish line of life together. As long as they stay together ‘til death do us part’ then they’ve kept the covenant- they think. To divorce would be a breach of contract. 

And/or a sin.

Of course, people’s lives and marriages are more nuanced than this suggests. Nevertheless, there’s a truth in the generalization that I see all the time.

Thinking of marriage in contractual terms leads to couples who define ‘success’ in their marriage by staying married. By remaining together. By crossing the finish line. By holding their breath and pinching their noses until the clock runs out.

You can imagine the sorts of marriages this produces.

Homes where couples pass by each other as ghosts.

Words- or rather, tones of voice- you’d never give a stranger spoken without second’s thought.

Children playing proxy or needing to fill what’s missing.

Couples determined to stick together even though they couldn’t be further apart, convinced they’d have too much to lose in a divorce but not realizing something more important has already been lost.

A sacramental notion of marriage couldn’t be more different.

If marriage is a sacrament, if the purpose of marriage is for husband and wife to love each other in a way that makes visible the way Jesus loves us, then just keeping the contract and sticking it out does not count as success. Theologically, it doesn’t even really count as marriage anymore.

Here’s what it boils down to.

 

If you regularly treat your spouse in a way Jesus never would or if you allow yourself to be treated in a way Jesus would never treat you, then your marriage is a far cry from being a sacrament.

And if you or your spouse can no longer muster the interest or energy to recover the sacramentality of marriage then you probably shouldn’t be married. Just like water stripped of its baptismal context or bread and wine on a shopping rack instead of on an altar, your marriage no longer signifies what it was intended to do. It’s lost its purpose and thus its meaning. 

Sadly, that’s one of the things I’ve learned in life and in ministry. Some people shouldn’t stay together. Some marriages should come to an end. Because marriage is about so much more than crossing the finish line.

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_MeI’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.

 

#4: The Power of One

Married couples rarely come to my office when their marriage is in a good place.

That’s a shame because- let’s face it- it’s when neither spouse is hostile, defensive or bearing grudges that both of them are most likely to hear honest feedback. It’s only in the absence of threat that people are willing to change their habits and try out new skills.

Nonetheless, like an overweight 55 year old who waits until it feels like an elephant is standing on his chest to go in for a routine check-up, most couples wait until their marriage is about 5 calories away from quadruple bypass to seek counseling.

When couples wait that long, no matter the issues in their marriage, the conversation usually plays out the same way in my office. I feel like a referee at a tennis match, watching the accusations and hurt volleyed back and forth with neither willing to stop until someone declares the match in their favor.

Marriages can get like that, tit for tat, tit for tat, tit for tat. The resentment and recriminations build until you feel powerless NOT to respond. The hurt becomes habituated and before you know it the tit for tat just is your marital banter.

The Apostle Paul has verse about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians. Because it’s been used to endorse traditional- even oppressive- gender roles, it’s not a scripture that most Christians turn to anymore. But there IS wisdom in it.

Paul says that “husbands and wives should submit to one another…out of reverence for Christ.”

A lot of times couples stuck in the tit for tat will contend that they won’t change until the other changes. While that may sound like equity and justice in another context, in the context of a marriage it’s insanity. It’s mutually-assured destruction. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about Paul’s verse.

For marriages stuck in the tit for tat spiral, it only takes one to begin the process of change and healing. That is, for marriages experiencing strain and sadness, marriages bowing under the weight of bad habits, healing can begin with only one of the spouse’s buying in out of reverence for Christ. 

I’m not suggesting that a spouse should tolerate abuse to keep the marriage together.

No, I’m saying that love for Christ can motivate and empower a spouse to decide by themselves to act differently, to shed habits, to refuse to return the tit with a tat.

If being a Christian means thinking of yourself less and if being a Christian means turning the other cheek (again, don’t freak out on me- I don’t mean literally), then certainly being a Christian within your marriage means not having to be right all the time. Not having to win. Not having to respond to the tit. I mean tat.

One of the things I’ve learned about marriage, one of the things I’ve seen with my own eyes, is that, yes it takes 2 to make a marriage, but it only takes 1 to start the process of healing and change.

And sometimes just getting that process started is enough to change the dynamic and break the logjam in a relationship.

Sometimes.

Because of course, the math has a corollary.

 

It only takes 1 to prime the healing pump. 

But it also only takes 1 to end a marriage too. 

And therein lies one of the reasons I believe it’s important for couples to have- or be working towards- a shared faith. Because if ‘reverence for Christ’ isn’t a shared value, then it becomes harder, I think, for the 1 + 1 to forever be 2.

After all, without Christ I’m predisposed to worry most about, to protect, guard and defend the 1. As in, myself.

 

 

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nSomeone in church asked me this Sunday what it was like to be an adoptive parent.

Short answer: Great.

Most of the time (at least, I imagine) I don’t feel any different than any other parent. Most of the time (at least, we imagine) our family doesn’t perceive itself as being any different than any other family. We’ve got our traditions, jokes, quirks and stories. And, as both Moses and the Baptismal Font testify, adoption is the most normal way for God’s people to create a family.

But then there are the moments when one of them will ask about their birth mom or their birth family or the circumstances around their coming in to the world.

It’s often in those moments that the analogies turn to comic book heroes- how Superman, Batman, Spiderman all had adoptive parents and that ‘makes you special.’

That’s when we’re reminded that, just like in the comics, our story as a family also includes, however partial, the stories they brought with them to our family.

Kelley Nikondeha has a good reflection on being a birth mother:

Today my son asked me about his birth mother – again. Why couldn’t she keep him? When you adopt, you must be all kinds of strong, tender and honest.

Best we can tell she abandoned him roadside, only days old, umbilical cord still in tact. She wanted him to be found, why else wrap him in her bright African block fabric skirt? I imagine her watching from the bush, waiting for someone to carry him to a better life. Another Moses, drawn out of hardship and delivered into the hands of another woman who never expected to become a mother.

Most likely his birth mother existed in the underbelly of the local economy, making due in the clutches of extreme poverty. It amazes me that she had enough food to sustain his healthy growth. But feeding them both on the other side of labor proved too daunting. I see the fear in her eyes – if he stays with me, surely he’ll die. So she orphaned him to open the door to salvation, or so she prayed.

My son knows his story. It’s his, and I cannot keep it from him. He’s heard how he’s like Moses – drawn out from an early death, adopted into a new kind of family, living a bicultural life that is both good and hard.

Still his thoughts often drift to her. He’s concerned about her poverty. He dreams of finding her and rescuing her from her troubles. Like Moses, he has deliverance tendencies already.

But he also mourns her relinquishment. How can leaving be anything like loving? Why didn’t she give him a chance? It’s hard to believe that letting go can be love; that giving him up can be giving him life. At random times he slumps over with sadness, wondering why his birth mother left him.

And so he comes close and let’s me dry his tears with my fingertips. He asks again, why? He listens again to the story of a birth mother who loved him so much that she made the most brave, hard and loving choice a mother ever makes. She chose life for her son. Then he buries his dark curls into my chest, holding me and holding her at the same time.

When he looked up at me again, I reminded him that I, too, have a birth mother. He nods.

We are the company of the adopted, the ones who know love is letting go as much as coming together. We learn early that love can push us to make gut-wrenching choices. We discover soon that love’s redemptive surge runs the length of our body and shapes our soul. We know love is thicker than blood; allowing a birth mother to sever biological ties and an adoptive mother to nourish maternal ties all in the name of love and life.

We are attached to these unknown women. We share their genes, but know so little of their stories. They are (and are not) part of us. They haunt us adopted ones, some more than others. My birth mother has been a faint whisper to me. But for my son, she is a louder presence in his life. She hovers over his heart provoking questions, curiosities and even insecurities. And so we embrace her together.

Some nights we lay side by side on his bed in a room only lit by a lone night-light, we hold hands and pray for our birth mothers. We send blessings, we speak words of gratitude for their love, we pray for them to find peace wherever they are in the world. In the company of the adopted, we practice a love wide enough to include our birth mothers.

Click over to read.

Myth_of_You_Complete_Me#7: Love isn’t a Feeling

If love is a feeling, how in the world can you promise to love someone forever?

Of all the things in our lives our feelings are the part of us we have the least control over. You can’t promise to feel a certain feeling every day for the rest of your life. If love is a feeling- love for a friend, love for a husband or wife- if love is a feeling, it’s no wonder the odds are better than even that it won’t last.

When you turn to the New Testament, love isn’t just something you promise to another. It’s something you’re commanded to give another. When the lawyer asks Jesus for the key to it all, Jesus says: ‘Love the Lord completely and love your neighbor as yourself.’ The night Jesus washes his friends’ feet, Jesus tells them: ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you.’ And when the Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians he commands husbands to love their wives and wives to love their husbands.

Those are all imperatives.

Jesus doesn’t say like your neighbor. Jesus doesn’t say you should love one another. Paul doesn’t tell husbands and wives to try and love one another.

They’re imperatives. They’re commands.

Here’s the thing.

You can’t command a feeling. You can’t command an emotion. You can only command an action.

‘Love one another’ Jesus commands.

Jesus takes a word we use as a noun, and he makes it a verb. In scripture, love is an action first and a feeling second.

Which is the exact opposite of how the culture teaches us to think about love. We think of love as a noun, as a feeling, as something that happens to us like measles, something we fall into like a pool and out of like chair.

The culture teaches us to think of love as a noun, which means then we think that its our feelings of love that lead to acts of love. So if the feeling we felt for someone is no longer there, all too often we assume we must be with the wrong person. So all too often we give up and get out, looking to find that feeling with someone else. Or, even more often, you stay together but you don’t stay in love.

In 10 years of ministry I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve met who treat love as a noun, who’ve let the culture convince them that they must feel love first in order to give it. And that’s a recipe for a broken relationship, and, oddly enough, one we would never practice on our children- we do loving things for our children every day whether on a given day we feel like it or not.

Because when you think you must feel love first in order to give it, then when you don’t feel love towards the other you stop offering them loving acts. And of course the rub is the fewer loving actions you show someone else, the fewer loving feelings there will be between you.

In scripture, love is an action first and a feeling second. And I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Un-Romantic.I know that its a feeling that sparks a relationship, but the basis for an enduring relationship, the basis for a relationship that can last a lifetime is making love…a verb.

Love is something you do- even when you don’t feel like it.

That’s how Jesus can command us to love our enemies. Jesus can’t force us to feel a certain way about our enemies, but Jesus can command us to do concrete loving actions for our enemies knowing that those loving acts might eventually transform how we feel.

The key to having love as a noun in your life is making love a verb.

Jesus says: Where your treasure is that’s where you heart will be also. In other words, where you invest loving actions, loving feelings will follow. You do it and then you feel it.

So, in your relationship you may not feel tender but you act tender.

You may not feel sympathetic on a given day but, just as you would your son or daughter, you listen and show them your sympathy.

You may not feel patient and kind tomorrow evening but tomorrow evening what you do is muster up some patience and kindness.

You may not feel very forgiving the next time the two of you fight but forgiveness is exactly what you offer.

You can’t promise the feeling of love. That’s not the covenant. The covenant is that you promise the action of love every day. Love is something you do and you trust the doing to transform your feelings.