Who Needs Skeletons When You’ve Got Idols in Your Closet?

An odd story in Genesis revolves around Jacob leaving his relative Laban. Jacob has a large family now, at least 12 sons and assorted daughters, with two wives and two concubines. (Just because it’s in there doesn’t mean God approves.) Anyway, as they’re leaving, one of Jacob’s wives, Rachel, decides to grab her father’s idols for the road. I am still not entirely sure why, but she does, and hides them under the saddle on which she sat. Laban discovers the missing idols and becomes furious, shouting at Jacob. Jacob, frustrated, allows Laban to search all of his belongings. When Laban arrives at his daughter sitting on her animal, she uses her period as an excuse to avoid the search. Laban buys this excuse and forgives Jacob, reluctantly.

Now, aside from watching yet another woman get the upper hand on a man in Scripture, this story is one of many where God’s people are oddly enticed by the physical nature of idols. Even the name Israel can be taken to mean “God wrestles with” his people in order to bring them around to the proper relationship with Him. And, yet, despite all of the wrestling, we struggle with idols even today.

Moving over to Exodus, we notice a strange word that we see in the Exodus story that is often translated serve or service. It can also mean slavery, and in some cases worship. God commands Moses to go and retrieve His people so that they might return to the mountain and “serve” Him… or in another sense, so that they might “worship” Him. To serve something, to spend time on it, or, rather, to make time for something is to assign it priority. It’s ok to have priorities, such as: taking care of family, taking care of our bodies and minds, or spending time caring for the poor and those in need. These are good priorities. Even things like building, making, creating can be good priorities. The issue comes in the form of the command, “You shall not have any other gods before me.” When other concerns begin to take precedence over God, we need to begin asking ourselves whether or not we have begun collecting idols.

As someone who has spent time in the past collecting my own little cupboard of idols, I can say the process takes remarkably little effort and can often surprise me. I will realize, to my own dismay, that my mental and time cabinet looks suspiciously full, and when I open it up, I cannot seem to find God’s share of that space. Those are not particularly proud moments and require some repentance and clean-up on my own part.

Bringing this back to family, we are commanded by God to use every available moment to model following Him. (Deut 6:4-9) What kind of model do we show the children in our lives with the way we spend our time? Do other things crowd out prayer, Bible reading, sharing God’s blessings? Are their a glut of activities and a lack of rest or worship?

As parents and role models, we have an obligation to model a worshipful life. And, really, we will model worship whether we mean to or not, the biggest question is which God or gods are being worshiped. So as you go about your week, planning your schedules, is their intentional time spent with God? Does your schedule preach the gospel that Jesus is King? Can your kids understand who God is by the way your time is spent?

Not Sure How Much Dignity I Have Left

Recently I spent a week co-deaning at the beautiful Smoky Mountain Christian Camp in Coker Creek, Tennessee. The week was fantastic as I met new faces and celebrating seeing familiar ones again. Questioning my dignity may sound strange, but it all started with a slice of head cheese. For those of your unfamiliar with this particular culinary experience, Google it and find yourself confused as I am as to why this still exists. However, in order not to spoil any lunches, I will only go so far as to say I have not gagged while eating anything in a long while. I cannot say the experience was edifying, aside from the fact that our 3rd-4th graders raised nearly $400 to support children in need.

And then, after having lived inside of the camp bubble for a week, I return to discover that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union. I won’t comment on the consequences one way or the other except to say that I am currently trying to decide where I fall on the issue. Regardless, I began to hear some of the hateful speech coming from both sides of the aisle and I was reminded of our own situation in the United States.

Listening to a particularly insightful podcast by Dan Carlin (“Common Sense”) pointed out that in the United Kingdom, similar to the United States, there is a growing number of individuals who feel themselves being swept along by the culture and political elites. They are told that they are fine and everything will work out fine in the end if they just buck up and get back to the grindstone. And, yet, these people have, with each passing year, felt their dignity as human beings slip away as their own beliefs, opinions, and traditions become more and more vilified or considered obsolete by the mainstream culture. And, suddenly, they have decided that they are, like Twisted Sister, “not gonna take it anymore.”

But then I ran across and idea from a Jewish theologian and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel: dignity is tied to both our obligations and rights. I thought about this for a second and realized just how deep this sentence was. Consider that we have been in an argument of the dignity of human life for years now concerning the beginning and end of life. How many times do we hear someone bring up not only rights, but obligations? And what obligations could we be talking about?

For one, we have an obligation to God. Form the moment of our creation, the command in Genesis is spoken to us as well: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” We are commanded to have a benevolent rule over the earth, being ultimately answerable to the King of Kings. As people of Jewish and Christian heritage the covenant at Sinai and the cross reaches forward to us as well, reminding us of the generational promises we made to God and God made to us.

We also have an obligation to others. The command “love your neighbor as yourself” is nothing more than a weak platitude if not lived out in the active concern and care for others. Lately, I have heard so many arguments for personal freedom and expression that I have despaired a little at the lack of discussion about obligation. Obligation is not always a bad thing, it spurs us to care for family, friends, and others. And just because we have obligations, it does not cheapen what we do to honor those obligations. I am obliged to show love to my wife, but does it cheapen those acts of love? Does it cheapen my affection for her to state that I also do my best to honor my commitment to the covenant we made with one another just over five years ago?

Dignity is not earned, it is inherited. It can be ignored or honored, but it can hardly be denied. Often, in response to our own dignity being ignored, we begin to ignore the dignity of others in order to gain even a false sense of our own dignity. I’m seeing this in the violence surrounding discussions on sexuality, immigration, welfare, and other deeply trying topics.

In our families, we should instill a basic sense of dignity: an understanding of individual obligations and rights. These are the things that make up our identity. An interesting philosophical thought is that I can only know myself in relationship with others, and that understanding is based on what is expected of us (obligation) and what we can expect from others (rights.)

How are you shaping your child’s understanding of human dignity? What obligations do you make sure to instill? What rights do you teach them to expect? How do you model a good balance of obligation and rights?

Dad’s Strength

Strength

My dad is one of the strongest men I know. His life was not easy, nor has it gotten much easier. Not once, though, did I ever hear him complain or moan about his life or the challenges he faced daily. Sure, he may have voiced frustration when something new came to call, but he took it in stride and worked to make the best of the situation.

In another essay, I discussed just how influential my father has been in teaching me to read, and therefore setting my life on a course where I can write this sort of thing. My father risked so much in teaching me to read, because he himself overcomes dyslexia every day. Not to say that he wakes up, wrestles it down into submission and then can go about his day without it. No, he wakes up each morning knowing that letters and numbers will, again, be twisted images transmitted to his mind in what seems like secret code. Despite this, he made sure my brother and I could read, facing down his challenge for the good of the both of us. I know he is proud of us, but I cannot imagine how much of his own pride he risked teaching us to read. And he continues to fight on, each day setting his vast intellect into whatever task is before him, wrestling each word into understanding and comprehension. Having to decipher his own mind’s signals may have even contributed to his skill as a codebreaker in the US Navy while he served.

I remember being in high school when my father discovered that yet another challenge had arisen to test him. He came home with the news that he was allergic to gluten. Understand, this was before it was a fad diet and everyone began going gluten-free in order to lose weight. No, my dad was honest-to-goodness allergic to the point where he had been taking heartburn and other medications for years without any idea of what caused his issues. At that point, he had a name for the cause, but the solution was a big change for our family.

No longer could my dad enjoy biscuits and gravy, or traditional fried chicken. He gave up pasta and bread, baking and battering. Suddenly, my dad, whose tastes were wide and constantly growing found themselves hemmed in by a single compound. Shortly thereafter, he also discovered a citric acid allergy which removed some of his favorite things: tomatoes, strawberries, and oranges among others. It was a challenge that included many failures in finding ways to fix foods that were healthy, filling, and gluten free in a world before mass-market gluten-free offerings in regular grocery stores. I still remember a particularly fateful country-style steak with soy flour gravy, that tasted a little too much like a burger with soy sauce gravy for our taste.

Over the years, though, he has developed many of his own recipes and methods of cooking that bring out flavors and smells that are just as good, if not better, than before. His creativity and constant study and searching led him to building a cuisine in and of itself in order to best enjoy life and food’s pleasures. And his tastes have changed, seeking out the bold and earthy flavors of things like goat cheese, lamb, Mediterranean cuisine, and rich sauces, which are all gluten-free now, of course.

My father also endured a rough childhood. I didn’t know how rough until very recently. I had heard many of the stories about he and his brother fighting over various issues, which is a part of any sibling relationship. However, he had never really described the abuse he had suffered at the hands of some of his family. He did have a few safe relatives that were kind and nurturing, but my father had a choice coming out of that background. When it came to my brother and I, he could have easily reverted to what he had seen growing up and continued that suffering, passing it on to the next generation. Instead, my father did everything he could to give my brother and I a safe home and a sense of safety around him. Because of the frustrations he had dealt with growing up, he did his best to make sure we could pursue our goals, dreams, and hobbies without fear of mockery. Ok, without painful mockery. As I have said before, sarcasm is my family’s love language, and we lovingly teased one another for different things, whether that be dad’s love of Sci-Fi (Star Trek and Doctor Who), mom’s love of shoes, Zach’s strange Alabama football obsession, or, well, most of my interests.

And out of the many, many setbacks my father dealt with over the course of his life, his strength and intelligence allowed him to grasp concepts easily. I saw him continually learning as I was growing up. Living at the farm, my dad took up vegetable gardening, and we ate food directly from the ground outside our home. And we attempted to have some cherry trees, but the beetles and birds got to the fruit before we did most years. I watched him learn to cook, studying astutely from the great chefs and food scientists of our age: Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless, and Christopher Kimball. I watched him pore over books about server maintenance and computer science as he began taking over more and more of the IT work for the family business. And my dad is certainly musical as well, maintaining his classical voice training while pairing it with a study of several other instruments, including guitar, mandolin, cello, and banjo. A story I heard about his musical talents includes him performing for the Secretary of the Navy, which is kind of a big deal.

My dad also deals with something we’ve called the Henderson curse. It’s a two-fold curse, and I am very sure that I have inherited it, along with the patience to keep moving. First, the curse states, “if you come to really enjoy something at a particular store or restaurant, they will discontinue it.” No, really, everyone in my family, including my wife, who married into it, has experienced this an inordinate amount of times. But watching my dad, I’ve learned to sigh in mourning, and then look through the menu again and try something new. The second part is, “if you are in a new area or someone new is in the car, you will turn around at least once.” Even with GPS. Even with someone familiar with the area. It really does not matter, we will turn around at least once. But, learning from my dad, we have all learned to laugh, check the map again, and pull out onto the, ready to face whatever comes our way. And, really, that goes for the rest of life, too.

Dad’s Advice

Advice

My dad gave advice. I would say good advice, though sometimes the advice did not come in the form of words. Sometimes my dad’s advice came in the way he lived his life and the way he interacted with others. He is, like me, a bit on the geeky/nerdy side of the spectrum. We enjoy learning, science fiction, history, and exploring the universe around us. We know facts about strange things that other people find odd, but we find endlessly fascinating. But, I know my dad can lift his end of a dresser and can load and unload a truck with the best of them. He can create a spectacular yard and maintain it with determination and willpower. But through everything I learned watching my dad, I learned that I could be myself.

I tried nearly everything, much like my dad. I tried sports – football and wrestling – before realizing that those activities were not for me. I enjoyed watching them, but not so much being in the middle of the crush of bodies. I took a leaf from my dad’s book and joined the band. He had played clarinet, and I stayed in the woodwind family, but I sprang for the saxophone. I enjoyed the slightly brassy, fairly brash sound of the saxophone, although I have come to appreciate the subtler mellow call of the clarinet. I followed in my dad’s footsteps when it came to marching band as well, doing a stint as a drum major. We would often jokingly comment on the fact that female drum majors tended to get better scores at competitions, which didn’t quite seem fair, since we didn’t look as good in tight pants or skirts. Regardless, finding my place in the band was finding a second home during middle and high school, and I am glad to share that history with my dad.

My dad also has a desire to make sure that my brother and I have a sustainable life. He started training me to save when I was very young and only receiving a few dollars a week allowance. Some would always go to offering, as thanks to God, and some would always go into savings. By the time I graduated high school, I had a fairly sizable savings cache. Later, dad advised me to begin saving for retirement. It sure does seem like a long way until that day (or maybe never) but I know my dad has my best interest in mind. He keeps tabs on stocks and the economy, that being his primary degree. I can remember most days walking into my dad’s office to see one of the economics channels on in the background while he worked on his computer.

My dad has modeled a life that is kind and giving, and I see that especially when he is around his two year olds. He helps to teach a small group of young ones every Sunday morning, and the way those little ones’ eyes light up when they see him shows me that his kindness continues to this day. I have the kind of dad who would drop everything to help us out or pick us up at midnight after a conference or band trip. He showed me what a life of service to others looks like, and I am doing my best to follow in his footsteps. And I follow in my dad’s footsteps because I know the he is following in Jesus’ footsteps, and that makes all the difference.

Dad’s Food

Food

If you have not guessed yet, food is a big deal to my family. For some people, vacations are about seeing the sights or experiencing some new culture. In a way, we agree, but for the most part we’re more interested in the food culture of a place and which restaurants we get to try.

My father has always been a big proponent of eating healthy. He was always a great balance to my mother’s love of homey, Southern food. My dad found ways to balance flavor, nutrition, and hominess all in the same dish. I still remember his pot roasts, in particular with the potatoes and carrots mixed in.  My mother had issues with some of his taste in herbs, though, and would often request that “the green stuff” be left out. Regardless, my dad’s food was always healthy, nourishing, and dependable. See, my dad, and mom, were adamant about nightly family meals. I know it is difficult for many families to accomplish this, but I remember the act of sitting down and eating more than I do the food, sometimes. Those are good memories, and reminded me each meal that I had a group of people who loved me enough to take time and create a meal to share together.

My father has always loved Ethnic cuisines. I most often associate my dad with Mediterranean food – black olives, goat cheese, lamb, gyros, Taziki sauce. He loved those flavors, with their earthy boldness, much the same reason as he probably loved good Southern cornbread and pinto beans. I’ve come to associate those flavors and textures with home, with my dad. Every once in a while he’d make pinto beans, collard greens, and cornbread for supper. It has taken me years to finally love that combination, but sometimes I will sit bolt upright on the couch at 9 o’clock at night and declare that I will be making cornbread right then. And, yes, it is worth it every single time.

We also share a love of sushi. We discovered sushi right about the same time, if I recall correctly. Sometimes for lunch after church on Sundays we would drive by the Fresh Market and pick up some smaller things like sushi, bread, cheese, and meat to make a kind of smorgasbord at our dinner table at home. I enjoyed these little trips, and my dad and I began to sample to sushi. A particularly funny experience came when we went to Las Vegas for the western Optical Convention. We were exploring the area and found a sushi place that had a very low price, and so my father and I excitedly dragged my mother and brother along with us. My dad and I ordered some, as I recall, delicious rolls that had a great combination of flavors, spice, and texture, while my mom and brother looked on in disgust as we ingested raw fish. To this day, they still tell that story and how they left the restaurant early to find a ham sandwich or something recognizable.

My father is nothing if not consistent, and one of those points, beside family dinners, was breakfast. My father believed in sending us to school in the morning with a full belly so we could focus. Some days we would have cereal, others would be grits, or oatmeal with fruit, some days eggs and bacon or sausage. My father never let breakfast get old or boring. To this day, I get up and have at least a little something to make sure that I have energy and can focus in the morning. And his constancy may be the reason that breakfast, and breakfast food, remains my favorite type of meal.

My father gave me the gift of food and cooking. He gave me a passion to reach out and explore new flavors, to make mistakes in the kitchen, and to refine each dish until it became a masterpiece. The food may not have lasted, because we ate it, but the memories and the feeling of home that comes from a shared meal certainly did.

Dad

Dads get a bad rap when it comes to media today. Most fathers are depicted as abusive, or morons, with very few good role models left for men to follow. I guess many of those writers are producing pictures of fathers out of their own wounded experience not having a caring father. My Dad, on the other hand, bested so many difficulties to be a good father to my brother and I. Sure, we made life difficult for him sometimes, but there was never any question that he loved us. His intelligence, love for food, advice, and strength helped to turn me into the man I am today. And I am incredibly grateful.

Intelligence

I always knew my dad was smart. It wasn’t until much later in my life when he revealed that he possessed a genius level intellect. I cannot say I was surprised, because I got to watch the way that he could do nearly anything he set his mind to. I watched him take up gardening, cooking, musical instruments, and computer science as if they were just hobbies. I also watched him become proficient in each one of those complex tasks, all the while managing the house and two rather rambunctious kids.

One of my favorite stories of my dad with me comes very early in my life. He had a goal to make sure that every child in his care could read before they entered Kindergarten. So, my dad, busy with so much else in his life, made time to read to me every morning. My dad was always a morning person, which he passed along to me with reading itself. As he read to me, I began to be able to recognize words and develop my own reading ability. And one morning, I corrected him when he missed a word. It must have been a proud moment for him to realize that I had been learning all the while. He then let me do the reading, but still carved out time for it.

Did I mention how much my father focused on learning? He wanted to make sure that his children were well balanced and had a good base of knowledge to draw from in many different areas. He loves space, and even today, along with my cousin, will do his own research into the latest findings and deep space photographs to better understand the way our universe works. He found such beauty in the stars and planets, and I can still sense the wonder with which he explores the world that God created.

Growing up, we did not have an exorbitant amount of money. But we had enough for a few trips a year, and one of those trips, once I was old enough, was to the Huntsville Space Center. We would spend hours walking the exhibits and touring the rocket park. I would laugh and imagine myself on a space mission with my dad while we sat, crammed, in one of the capsules that brought the astronauts back to earth. Sure, the drive was long, but my dad knew that the time was worth giving. I still enjoy the memories of those retired machines that took human beings further than we had ever been before. And, in a way, I can understand that my dad was giving me one more connection to the rest of humanity – the wonder of space.

My dad was not above using every resource at his disposal for education, either, even television. I bemoan today’s lack of shows like those I had in my childhood; however, I am also well aware that nostalgia often covers up a wealth of sins, such as Power Rangers. My dad would record Power Rangers every day for me to watch when I got home from school and did my homework. He was thoughtful like that. (Seriously, recording back then meant finding a blank or used VHS tape and manually hitting the record button. It took dedication for that sort of thing.) He always showed his love through acts of service, forever on the lookout for that one thing he could do that day to make our day better. And, no, Power Rangers was not the educational bit. Actually, he also took the time to record and watch The Magic School Bus with me. The adventures of Ms. Frizzle and her class through different scientific scenarios fired my imagination and helped me to understand how the world worked. But it meant even more to know that my dad was sitting with me, enjoying the same show and ready to talk about whatever discoveries I had made.

He also worked with me when science projects came around as I grew. If there happened to be some scientific endeavor, my dad was ready to help me. I remember several science kits that he helped me to put together and run the included experiments.

I have continued the habit of study my dad gave me. I spend some time nearly every day to study in my field or one I am interested in. I have found numerous podcasts to keep up on the latest research and findings on everything from politics, world events, and food science. Curiosity is said to have killed the cat, but I know it is one of the things that keeps my dad going, and one gift he gave to me.

Edgar Allen Poe’s Warning to the Modern Church

I’ve been thinking lately, no it didn’t hurt, thank you very much. I did, though, stumble across an old memory, and old story that I had all but forgotten: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” And, on considering the story’s theme, realized that the man was once again proven a genius. (All though, the application I am about to apply may not have crossed his mind… in fact, I am 99% sure it didn’t.)

Here’s a link to the short story before I spoil the ending.

The story, if you haven’t read it or it’s been a while, takes place in a marvelous villa during a spectacular costume ball. Only the wealthiest, most fashionable individuals have been invited, and all seem to be debauching themselves in order to forget something. Tension looms over the party as something dreadful is going on outside the estate’s walls. And, in a dread moment of realization, the guests all discover that the death they were hiding from and partying to forget has found its way into their midst and doomed them all.

The themes rolling around here are that of the Black Death, or bubonic plague, that struck Europe during the Middle Ages, as well as the idea of quarantine and its effectiveness. Perhaps Poe was also taking some pot shots and the rich and famous for running from the poverty and pain outside of their cushioned halls. Poe was no stranger to disease taking loved ones from him, and this story, to me, is one of his most terrifying. In a way, this story is less supernatural, and more realistic as the enemy is disease itself.

So what’s the warning to the church? Ask yourself, on which side of the estate’s walls do you see yourself? Are you one of the poor masses affected by the disease, or one of the rich huddling inside a quarantine zone for safety?

I will say that many Christians, for the past several hundred years, have behaved like the rich hiding from disease. I think this is why Christians have created the term “Culture War” and began treating secular culture like a disease. The problem with disease, though, is it tends to grow and expand without treatment.

Instead of engaging the culture, creating relationships and inroads into the lives of those creating media and directing minds, many Christians are content to build walls and create their own culture. This seemed to have worked for a while, but suddenly many are realizing that the ideas they wished to avoid and hold at bay have begun cropping up inside the walls of the church. The Church is now wrestling with the ideas of homosexuality, gender fluidity, bathrooms, and protecting their beliefs often with the reactive response of those surprised to find their opponent is their own family.

Many of these issues are why I took up a keyboard and began this blog. If we, as followers of Jesus and parents, are unwilling to look culture clearly in the face and deal with it, who will?  Believing that problems will resolve themselves or that we have no responsibility creates the current situation.

What to do, though? Shout and holler? Boycotts? Protests? Picketing? Hate mail? Death threats?

Or do we, as people who love God and see others as His beloved creations and children, begin reaching out and building relationships? Do we speak firmly, gently to those near to us in order to remind them of a higher calling, a higher demand on their lives than money, sexuality, power, anger, etc.? Do we, embracing the life of Jesus, put ourselves on the line by going into territory outside the church to claim that territory for the Kingdom?

Anger and vitriol rarely create lasting, welcome change. Kindness, courage, and forgiveness do. Yes, Christians may have to give things up before things get better. But greater love has no one than this, than a person who lays down his life for his friends.

Let us set down our party attire and fancy dishes, put on our scrubs and get on with the vital work of tending to the wounded, sick, and oppressed in our lives.