Thanksgiving is coming! Grab the flak jackets!

I’m weird.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: I have about three news podcasts that I listen to on a daily basis – two American and one UK source for a worldwide perspective. I usually listen to these in the morning, and sometimes my little girl gets to listen along and we’ll have some discussions about what’s going on in the world. And by discussions I mean I try and simplify the topic at hand in such a way that a newborn can grasp. (For real, though, we all know she’s just getting language training at this point by learning speech patterns and the basics of English.) Anyway, one of these podcasts had an interview with a Senator I have a hard time understanding. (Nope, not gonna name names, or give that much info about it. Read into it what you like.) I looked down at the precious eyes of my baby girl and said, “And what we’re doing now is listening to someone we don’t completely agree with because that’s the kind of people we are.” And I sure do hope I model that behavior as much as I preach it.

That most American of holidays is approaching – Thanksgiving. We’re all already dreaming of turkey, ham, potatoes, sides, rolls, desserts, and the millions of pounds of butter that will be used over the course of that week. (What? You don’t celebrate for a whole week? Then I guess you aren’t very grateful, are you?) I also know that many people dread this holiday as a time when speech must be very guarded or arguments will explode. The only blessing I have for you is this: may your conversations have more civility than social media. I worry about how family gatherings or other physical social meetings may change in this culture of outrage, perpetual anger, and general frustration. I know I’ve found myself on more than one occasion keeping my trap shut to avoid any conflict. Instead, I listen. I try to hear what the other person is saying, to stop and really consider the words, their motivation, source, heart. Learning is one of my hobbies, and listening is the best way to learn, in my opinion.

I also enjoy having misconceptions busted. Sure, it’s jarring, but there’s a sense of fun and adventure when confronted by the truth. (And it bothers me that the word and concept of truth have become such a contentious issue.) I love the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. So I listen. I try hard to listen without judgment or creating my counter-argument. I may learn something and be able to better understand a topic, or at the very least the other side’s view.

This season throws us all into a lot of situations with people we may disagree with on a theological, political, philosophical, culinary, or some other basis. We should be willing to sit, break bread, and experience them. The experience may be joyful, or painful, but either way, be present – be welcoming.

When do you model acceptance of others, even without agreeing with them, to your kids? How do your family gatherings look: are they places of peace and active love, or are they places of anger and dissension? What steps could you take to prepare yourself to be better able to listen and welcome?

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So I Guess the Church Needs to Talk About Sexual Assault?

There are so many times in my life when I ask the question, “Do we really have to say this out loud?” I ask this when I have to remind a child that poking their injury will indeed continue to cause pain and they should probably stop. And now we apparently have to say, to grown men of all people, that sexual assault, rape, and pedophilia are not ok and have never been ok. I would say I have no words, but you all know that’d be a lie.

The news has really been dealing with the concept of sexual harassment and assault lately. The sad fact is that generations of women have grown up receiving warnings of the “big bad wolves” of the world, being told “it’s just the way things are” and “boys will be boys.” It’s a shame, really. As a man, my parents raised me to treat women with respect, as human beings, not as something to be handled with kid gloves. Sure, I was taught to hold open a door and do what I can to make them comfortable, but that also applied to how I was to treat men as well. I was taught the Philippians 2 method – consider others better than myself.

I have heard that many of these allegations are politically motivated. I would disagree and say that this is the first time that women have felt safe enough and believed enough to actually come forward with these things. Going through sexual assault brings with it a lot of shame and self-doubt, which makes talking about the experience difficult. And, previous to now, most women were told to sit down and be quiet and not  mess up some guy’s career or life. This year, however, from sheer number of allegations alone, several high-profile men’s actions were brought to light: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and more. Women finally have a society/culture they feel safer sharing their stories.

I would love to say that now that the process of outing these men has begun we can finally put all of this to rest and proclaim throughout the land that women will never have to deal with harassment and assault ever again; however, that would be naïve. It would also be naïve to think that there aren’t still men who will do whatever they want as long as they feel their power or cunning can shield them from repercussions. Women cannot be the only ones fighting this battle, defending themselves, decrying their persecutors with no one listening or taking them seriously until the overwhelming weight of multitudinous testimonies finally forces doubt aside by sheer volume.

The church should really stand up and treat sexual misconduct like this with the seriousness it deserves. We should follow Jesus’ example, who believed women, relied on women for material support during his ministry, and took their side in disputes. (See John 8, the story of the women caught in adultery. I have always found it telling that she was caught, but the man was nowhere to be found, which showed the religious people’s priorities.) Jesus’ message was one that each person was to be seen as having value, as being worth our time, as being a creation and child of God. Even the lopsided equality we have now is due to the inherent value placed on each human being in Judeo-Christian theology: from Exodus’s and Deuteronomy’s commands to look after the weak, powerless and foreigner as well as the many protections for women, to Jesus’ treatment of women and the role of women in the early church.

We, as the church, should not tolerate this kind of treatment of women – the crown jewel of creation. (Artist’s final creations are considered the master work, and women were created last, the finest part of creation.) We should take women at their word when they claim harassment. (I am well aware of the “crying wolf” that is often cited here to counter allegations. Those cases should be handled on an individual basis, and not used as a way to discredit half the population. And ask yourself, how many people would be willing to wreck their reputation, job prospects, and bring shame on their family on the slim chance that someone believes them and acts against a perpetrator?) We, as the church, should take the lead in educating men on consent, common decency, and that sexual misconduct of this nature is a zero-tolerance situation. We should remind women that they have a right to say “no” to any unwanted contact, that they have a right to speak up and be believed, and that their personhood is not threatened by having suffered. Women should expect to be sheltered and protected by the church after dealing with abuse, assault, or harassment. We should neither give men the benefit of the doubt just because they’re men, nor doubt women because they’re women. As a society, we’ve known about this stuff for far too long without doing a single thing about it. As a church, we should feel great shame about the lack of attention we have given to women who have suffered and persevered under abuse, assault, and harassment. We should repent, and begin the hard work of honestly evaluating the way we as a church and society handle these cases, and more importantly how we treat fellow human beings who have dealt with the pain and shame that comes from these situations.

And, sure, we can have guidelines like the Billy Graham rule and other fences around these situations, and can follow proper protocol, but it boils down to a heart issue – especially in men. Jesus said that if we think just following rules will prevent sin, go ahead and cut off every limb and cut out every sensory organ, making yourself physically incapable of breaking any rules… and become the most black-hearted, sin riddled torso that ever lived. The heart/attitude is the root of action. Change the hearts, change the minds, and change the culture.

How do you talk to your kids about consent, sex, and how to treat others? Have you discussed with your kids what to do in situations where sexual harassment or assault happen? Have you thought about how to respond if someone confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you? Have you thought about how to respond if your child confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you?

Remember, how you talk about those who have survived abuse, assault, and harassment (alleged or otherwise) will decide whether or not your child feels safe talking to you about their own experiences. Will your child feel safe to talk in your home?

A Letter from a Newly Promoted Devil

(Just to be clear, the following letter fell into my possession through digital means. Whether it was sent erroneously or not, I’ll never know. The contents may be a little disturbing, but it seemed better to share than to keep to myself.)

Most Honorable Undersecretary Screwtape,

I must admit my surprise at being offered the position of Head of Human Family Degradation. I am most proud to know that my work has finally received some recognition after working tirelessly the past few decades on my pet projects while also handling normal tempt work. I do, however, understand that your work is well-renowned in the Lower Realms and I would like your advice on one or two proposals.

First, I have an underarching vision for my Department, which I hope will please you and our Ruler Below. Often times we must seek out our historical work and bring it to bear on these more modern times. Children, I believe, have for too long enjoyed personhood. It is my belief that by working to erode that personhood we can again place them in the category of “possessions” in the minds of their parents, thereby stripping them of any importance they might have in the life of the family, and especially in the church.

What I specifically propose is to make them honored trophies, meant only for show, and very little for interacting. See, my goal is to shift parent’s perspectives to focus on their child as a point of pride and measure of their own self worth. In this regard, a child’s success or failure reflects entirely onto the parent. Parents will then seek every opportunity to improve their child, and discover their gifts and talents, not for the child’s sake, but to protect their own fragile pride. Parents will seek every chance and fill a child’s schedule with things that will improve their chances for college, work, schooling, etc. Many will even completely forego church meetings in order to seek the betterment of their child. (This does, in effect, also teach the child to not prioritize their relationship to God or the local church, which is in our favor.) Once the parent has thoroughly invested their entire being into the child, children then reach the teenage years and begin to exert their independence. This, I propose, is the crucial point where we subtly influence (the word “temptation” is so passe) the parent to work all the more to bring the child under the control of parental expectation. This way we begin to build a wall between child and parent so that every interaction is pain and frustration,  hopefully creating a bitterness that will continue on into the child’s adulthood. In the experimental phase, I was excited to watch several young adults leave their families, and the church altogether, over this built up resentment – and at that point nursing a grudge is something even our dumbest trainees can manage.

My plan is a more elegant way of stripping children of their personhood and choice than my predecessors who simply created a culture that lumped children in just above the slave population. (And I commend the work of the Human Chattel Department’s work in continuing slavery and the buying and selling of slaves while convincing society at large to congratulate itself on eradicating it.) Instead, the same status can be imbued to children by simply having parents view them as a means to prestige, instead of actual humans. (The later we can have humans recognize personhood in children creates more opportunities for simply exterminating that kind of joy, wonder, and innocence that reminds humans of our Enemy.)

Now, my next proposal, which I present to you in order to aid in your work. I do believe you pioneered the method of the slow descent to the Lower Realms. (Again, “hell” has become a dirty word in modern Christianity, and most don’t even understand the point of our efforts anymore.) I would recommend applying this particular method to the Church at large. Sure, there will be those blasted prophets who seek to remind the Church of her Lord, but most people choose to not listen anymore – and many don’t even think prophets exist in the modern world! I say make the Church comfortable. Give them a leader of government that pays them lip service and makes them feel safe. Give them cushy seats and the desire to set their own direction instead of listening to the Gospel. We’ve already seen many local congregations admirably developing the infernal virtues of bigotry, hatred, and ignorance – to great effect of continuing the oppressive systems you and your colleagues so deftly set up years ago. Once we’ve lured the church into a place of comfort, power, and complacency, again it is simple maintenance and a subtle shift in wording to maintain that state. Tickling itching ears and stuffing them when necessary is easy enough to accomplish for a moderately trained tempter.

Finally, the work done on nearly silencing half of the Church has been a master stroke that has lasted generations! I still cannot believe we have managed to keep women silent in the church for as long as we have! We can do better, though. We must have churches silence those who are young, or innovators, or evangelistic. Once we have beaten them down into sullen silence, we can continue the ongoing work of fracturing the congregations down more and more. And the beauty of the whole scenario is that we can make use of each person’s own sense of duty to God and personal righteousness to fuel all of the wickedness! They truly believe they are doing God’s will by whining, complaining, blackmailing the leadership with money, shouting angrily, disrupting the worship time (which whoever created a culture where worship happens only one hour a week must still be resting on those laurels), and angrily denouncing their fellow brothers and sisters!  At the moment, there are multiple generations all vying for attention – and we should let them all have it. Throw congregations into confusion about who needs what. While they’re focused squarely on how to do something with the members inside their walls, we can rest easy knowing that their focus surely isn’t on those who have never heard of Jesus. Instead, the leadership will be tied up in methods, while, as stated before, the congregation will feel no obligation to evangelize personally because they are comfortable and realize that anyone new will only change things more.

I know these proposals lack any real depth or detailed planning, but I did want to run them by such a distinguished official before beginning work in earnest on them. And I know some of them may not seem to fall under my jurisdiction, but the more we can fracture and disrupt churches the less important children will be and so families will not have the support that comes from belonging to a congregation.

Sincerely Yours,

Molech, III

 

Four Ways to Use Halloween as a Christian Parent

Every year a debate ensues about whether or not good Christians should involve themselves with Halloween. “Isn’t it devil worship?” some cry. “It’s harmless fun,” shout others. Meanwhile, somebody else just got the last good candy bar and left nothing but tiny bags of candy corn in the treat bag. (Candy corn and circus peanuts, though, may have been created by the devil as a snare – unflavored sugar molded into unholy mockeries of their namesakes.) But can this seemingly creepy holiday be used for anything other than greed, cavities, and celebrating the darkness? I’d say, yes.

Coming to Grips with Mortality

In the affluent West, we often don’t consider the finality of life and our own looming mortality. Most of us could go weeks without having anyone we know die. Some areas of the world, though, watch death take their loved ones at a rapid pace. Our ancestors faced this reality on a regular basis, and they took whatever chance they coudl to host a raucous party. Why? Because winter was on the horizon and who knew if everyone would survive the season. Skulls and death have always been a motif of Halloween, and remind us, subtly, that we all must face death someday. Not to say that death is any friend to us, but death itself has been conquered. Christians have nothing to fear from death, and may even find some solace in laughing in its direction while stuffing another Snickers in our face. (I prefer Twix for my own chuckle session if anyone was wondering.) In fact, the Christian Calendar celebrates this period as a time to reflect on the Saints that lived exemplary lives in service to God and others. All Hallows Eve, a time to remember those who have gone before and the impact they made on our lives, a moment of prayer, of thanksgiving.

Pray While You Trick-or-Treat

Prayer? On Halloween? Of course! See, the act of going from house to house begging for treats has a long history. (Shorter in North America, but the UK has a longer history with this sort of celebration.) In those old celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve, the poor would often go by the houses of the rich and receive food in exchange for prayers. (On that note, if you’d like to bring me lunch, I’d be happy to dedicate some prayer time to you and your needs any day of the week.) So, what if you and your kids had a prayer ready to pray over each house you visit? Sure, it may take some extra time, and may fall through a few houses in as the excitement builds (or as kids start tiring,) but what a difference that might make for your kids and the families you pray over!

Costume Talks

What’s in a costume? (Hopefully some extra layers this year, it’s been CHILLY!) The costume tradition comes down to us from several directions, but one is the dressing up as saints to honor their memory. Sure, your kids probably won’t ask to dress as St. Nikolas or Athanasius, or Teresa of Avila, but what role models do your kids have in their lives? Whether fictional or real, is there someone your child looks up to and wants to embody that person’s character? Or if you’ve picked the costume already, ask your kid why she chose what she did? Why did that character stick out to him? (Or you can go straight Scriptural on everyone like my Youth Minister growing up who dressed in a burlap sack with the word “rice” painted on the front… You know, a “living sack-of-rice”[sacrifice].” Romans 12.1)

Making Memories

Halloween was always fun with my family. From my brother being dressed as a Hershey Kiss when he was little and being fascinated by the white tights that came with it, saying “Pretty legs,” (sorry, bro, still funny,) to the Harry Potter costume my mom scratched together before Harry Potter got huge and you could find licensed stuff everywhere, my family had fun figuring out what we’d be and spending time together. We’d often make it a big family gathering with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and some extras and have a party so we’d have something to do before and after trick or treating. The memories made on those occasions stick with me even now.

Halloween can be a great time with your kids. Be intentional with every holiday and chance to make memories. Sure, it can be a little creepy, and a little morbid. And some people do go a little overboard and spend a little too much time in the deep dark. Instead, let’s focus on the positives and make sure that we make the most of the time we have with our kids.

Oh, and eat candy. Lots of candy.

(Now I want a Twix… I wonder if Halloween candy’s on sale yet?)

Resistant, Stubborn, Pouty Evangelists

Reading through the Minor Prophets section will certainly give you some perspective on life. Some might see it as a lot of doom and gloom, but, remember, when God warns about coming punishment, there is always the implied, “You can always turn and this could be avoided.” Many times, though, people were set in their ways and refused to turn, to repent, and be saved the hassle of the coming trouble.

We get this idea when we read Obadiah, who comes right before Jonah. Obadiah, besides being the shortest book in the Old Testament, also comes across as fairly harsh. There seems to be very little room to maneuver for the people on the receiving end of judgment. It would seem their hearts had become so enmeshed in their way of life that the possibility of repenting had all but disappeared. Which is where Jonah comes in to challenge that idea.

See, Jonah was called to preach judgment to the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, a historically notorious country for violence, cruelty, and harsh treatment of its own people and conquered peoples. Assyria had also been the nation to conquer and capture the northern kingdom of Israel – so Judah would be right to fear Assyria, especially later when Assyria showed up on their doorstep. Anyway, Jonah received his call and promptly “noped” right out to the coast to catch a boat to Tarshish. The Bible is almost comical in its threefold repetition of Jonah’s destination, as if to say, “No really, Jonah is dead-set on removing himself from this whole going to Nineveh thing, and don’t try to stop him.” There are times when people can choose to not go with God’s calling… this was not one of those times. God was not taking “no” for an answer.

So a storm comes up, some plot devices happen, and Jonah is tossed overboard and sits inside a sea creature for three days praying. While it is a lovely prayer, it is odd that the idea of an apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing never come up. It’s as if Jonah recognizes God’s power, but is continuing to hold his heart just out of reach of being softened or changed. God gives Jonah a second chance, and Jonah is vomited out onto shore. Vomited, ya’ll… Ugh.

Jonah walks the length of the city, and the entire city, nay the nation, begins fasting and mourning their behavior and repents. And, well, God relents. See, Jonah’s message wasn’t “turn or burn.” Jonah’s message was, “This place is gonna be toast in a month or so. Good luck!” The Ninevites turned on the off chance that God would relent – and God did.

So why tell this story? Well, there are groups here in America that you probably see as Ninevites: Republicans, Democrats, Northerners, Southerners, Liberals, Conservatives, etc. Are they in need of God’s love and message? Or do you really just want to watch them wallow in whatever destruction you see coming?

At the end of the story, Jonah was mad at God. He was angry because God had relented from allowing destruction to fall on the Ninevites. Jonah was angry at God’s character, revealed at Sinai and in Jesus: “For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.

How would you react if you found out your “enemies,” or those you see as doomed to destruction had received God’s forgiveness? What would you do if you found out your scope of God’s grace was too narrow? Would you pout like Jonah? Would you refuse to celebrate like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son?

I wonder sometimes if the American church, in particular, really wants to go out and reach the lost. I don’t wonder if it doesn’t secretly revel in its “special” status while watching the world continue on its path. I don’t wonder if that’s a similar attitude the Israelites held before the exile…

How does the way you speak about others model to your children the values of evangelism, grace, mercy, and forgiveness? How does your lifestyle set you apart from the world without removing you from the world? What may you need to repent of in order to extend grace to others?

Your Kid Is A Theologian

While I was praying the other day, I was struck with deeper meaning to a verse I had read over and over again, but something new rose out of the old. The verse was Genesis 1:27 “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This is going to come as a shocker, I know, but kids are made in God’s image, too. (I’ll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor.) It seems obvious, but what didn’t seem obvious to me was the implication that kids have the ability to teach us about God as much as we have the ability to teach them. (I would argue, though, that perhaps they have much more to teach us.)

My first example is an elementary-age girl in my children’s ministry, whom I will call Lana for the sake of safety. Lana is so full of love, energy, and enthusiasm, that she cannot help but throw her entire body at the objects of her love in a kind of linebacker-style tackle that, if you’re not ready, could easily knock a fully grown man to the ground. Her boundless love, and preferred method of showing it, reminded me of the story of the prodigal son, when the young man’s father runs at full tilt, crashing into his son with all the force of longing and love built up from sorrow and expectation. I expect God is like this whenever any of his children turn back to Him – smothering them in a love that has all the force of hurricane-strength winds.

I learned about the simplicity and effectiveness of prayer from a little girl named Michelle (again, name changed for safety.) Even at around 2 years old, she got the concept of praying. She would pick up her toy phone and say, “Hello God? Kissy, Alex, Baby Re-re. Bye.” (Let’s take a moment to collect ourselves after that level of depth and adorableness on display.) This little girl understands that God hears us – and that God cares about what we care about. We had so many people praying for us the week my daughter was born, but I was absolutely humbled by the prayers of this little one. Luke encourages us, often with pictures of nagging neighbors and widows, to continually pray and to not let things go. Regardless if I have the words to say, I know that even a two-year-old’s prayer can be more effective than hours of prepared words.

I see Jesus’ compassion in one of our young men, named Jeffrey. Jeffrey is the kind of kid who can be crazy, bold, and exude more energy than several kids his age at a time. And yet, I have seen him put others first in more than one occasion. I watched him help every other child obtain a candy bar before he attempted to reach his own. (I had taped them just out of jumping reach to get them to help one another, and he did so without prompting.) I’ve watched Jeffrey tip his own Easter egg basket to let eggs fall out behind him when he saw little ones show up late to our church Easter egg hunt. Paul, in Philippians, says that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself humble, taking on the very nature of a servant. He became obedient, even to death on the cross. Jeffrey reminds me, often, of what it means to show Jesus’ compassion, humility, and servanthood to others.

Finally, my daughter has taught me vulnerability. She depends on her mother and I for everything in life – safety, food, cleanliness (because diapers don’t change themselves.) Little Bit is a perfect example of how we live before God, vulnerable, dependent on Him for all of our needs – as we pray “give us today our daily bread.” Our dependence on God is no weakness, as the Israelites knew, and often forgot, but rather our greatest strength.

What have your kids taught you about God? I, for one, am looking forward to learning so much from my daughter as she continues to grow with each day.

On Celebrating A Divorce

This month, Christians all over the world, but especially in the West, will be remembering the Reformation which took place 500 years ago this month. Regardless of which side you find yourself on today, the Reformation (of the 1500s) continues to impact the way church is experienced for all Christians for good and bad. Roman Catholic believers will say that the Reformation created a rift that separated people from the One True Church, while Reformation congregations will be celebrating the birth of a movement.(Greek Orthodox will probably be rolling their eyes at the whole thing, having been the target of the first great Christian Schism.)  However, I find the Roman response to the whole thing more in line with Jesus’ personality – mourning a divorce within the church’s body.

Maybe divorce is the wrong term – it’s almost as if the church continues to cut parts of itself off to see if one part can do the role of the whole body. Suddenly, we’ve got a grotesque mental image of the body of Christ in pieces on an operating table, each part twitching ineffectively. I must be honest as say that the disunity and this mental image haunt me. Perhaps this feeling comes from growing up part of a movement within the church that began by valuing unity under Scripture. (Spoiler alert, it broke off and became it’s own thing separate from other Christian groups.)

I wonder what we Protestants have lost. I know that growing up, we rarely heard from the church fathers or mothers – even in passing. The word “saint” almost became a dirty word, a holdover from the “dark times,” or whatever we were supposed to consider them. Every once in a while Augustine would pop up, but only in regards to Calvinism. What about Origen, Athanasius, Iranaeus, Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, Hildegard of Bingen, and others? What are we supposed to do with nearly 1200 years of Christian history between the 4th Century and the 16th? These are questions I’ve had to consider over the past few years as I have begun digging into historic Christianity.

All of Christian history is full of people who seem to “get it” and also those who want to take advantage of it. There are those willing to give up power, and those willing to take it up. There are those willing to give generously, and those who want only to hoard. There are those who zealously guard orthodoxy, and those who don’t see the point.  All we need to is look at the way the apostles themselves reacted to Jesus to see that.

I do find beauty in the great variety of worship patterns (liturgies), locations, language, and ways of relating to God within the Christian Church. However, I do mourn our lack of unity. I mourn the good change that comes so slowly because the Church refuses at act as one body.

As we mark 500 years past the moment of decision – may we stop and consider where we find ourselves. May we stop and contemplate how the church can begin to come together again and work as one body, instead of each congregation or denomination acting like a finger twitching, separated from the rest of the body.