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

 

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Peace in the Family?

I’ve been thinking a lot about child-parent relationships lately – mainly because I’m already trying to develop one with my own little girl. (A few months left before a face-to-face visit, but I’m already making sure to spend time with her nearly every night, talking to her, playing her music, and giving her some rubs. My wife’s not sure how to feel about the whole thing, but she’s being a good sport while I talk to her tummy.)

Not only has my own child’s impending birth got me thinking, but a passage in Romans got me thinking as well. See, Paul and I used to never get along. Growing up, my understanding of Paul was limited – I saw him as an angry grump who decided to switch to a Greek mindset once the Jewish community had ousted him enough times. I saw his trips to the synagogues in each town as more of a “let’s get this over with” deal. And because of that, the way I read his work was through a primarily Greek mindset – using philosophies built on Plato and Aristotle via the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. Recently, though, I have had a rather profound “duh” moment when I had an author (NT Wright) point out that Paul remained strikingly Jewish throughout his life and writings. Suddenly, I realized I need more insight into that line of thinking, and so I undertook a journey through the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and began listening to Rabbis to get a better grasp of how Jews view the Torah. And, fellow Christians, we’ve been missing so much!

Anyway, back to Paul, in chapter 5, he speaks about how we now have peace with God – a relationship… a parent-child relationship. In the previous chapter, he talked about how faith is the basis of Covenant membership now and how Abraham had been given covenant membership before his circumcision and the giving of the law. So now, the whole world is eligible for covenant membership based on faith – in trusting God who sent Jesus and raised him from the dead. And on that basis of being called “in the right” we have peace with God, a reconciled relationship.

The idea of reconciliation of family is a theme that runs deep in Jewish thought, and especially the Torah and Prophets. In Genesis, we see four sets of brothers, who become increasingly reconciled, but never reach the point of complete peace: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. Joseph and his brothers come the closest, but his brothers still remain on edge in case Joseph decides to revoke his kindness and pay them back. The Prophets continually use the metaphor of family reconciliation to talk about the time when God will forgive the idolatry of His people and heal the relationship between them. Both of these threads tie up nicely in the person of Jesus who made that peace possible through his own faithfulness in Israel’s place.

Sigmund Freud’s lesser known theories include one that the source of all conflict is sibling rivalry – that each child is vying for resources, particularly parental love and affection. Children may perceive parental love as a limited resource, rather than the unceasing fountain that it often is.

As I’ve wondered, I reach this point: how will I make sure my children understand that love will never run out? How do I give them each the affection they need to keep them convinced of their status of peace in the family?

How does your love model God’s to your kids? How do your priorities show your kids that love?

Waiting on Expecting

There are a few things that a person needs to have to work with kids: a deep love for children, infectious curiosity, an encouraging heart, and abiding patience. I would also suggest that perhaps a smidgen of insanity never hurts, but too much insanity leads to enjoying middle and high school age students. (Sorry, for those that aren’t familiar, Children’s and Youth ministers have inside jokes about who’s more responsible and which group is actually crazier.)

Anyway, our culture has very little patience for waiting. Most of us pay an extra fee every year just to get free two-day shipping from Amazon. We’ve bought Keurig machines to give us nearly instantaneous coffee. And I have even seen some people get frustrated with a microwave being too slow. Regardless, instant gratification is in our culture and there is very little in the way of media to combat it. In fact, it may be getting worse. Before Netflix and Hulu, we would have to wait a whole week for a new episode of our favorite show, but now entire seasons are dropped at once and the binge can proceed with vigor!

Which brings us to just how many stories in the Bible are about waiting. Abraham and Sarah wait not only for their promised child, but also the promise of a permanent home, and land. Jacob and Rachel wait not only for a child, but for their permanent home as well, Jacob dying in a foreign land. Moses waits patiently for years for freedom and the promised land, and dies before reaching it. David waits for years to become king until the previous king, Saul, passes away. The prophets wait anxiously for God’s rescue and for Israel’s repentance. The exiles wait in sorrow for the return to Jerusalem, and then for the ultimate end of exile when God comes to rule. And now, in that same vein, Jesus’ followers are also now waiting in the now-and-not-yet of the Kingdom’s arrival when God will set everything right again.

As we can see, there is a long tradition of waiting on the Lord. God takes the long view and has impeccable timing. He also often works in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Isaac is not the firstborn, but the youngest who inherits the Covenant blessing of family and land. Joseph and Benjamin are the youngest of Jacob’s children, but Joseph ends up saving the entire family by going through a waiting period of suffering. Moses is able to experience God’s faithfulness, and, for those of us who’ve read the Gospel accounts, stands in the Promised Land alongside Elijah the prophet and Jesus. David becomes a king whose kingdom is established forever. Israel does repent and returns to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and the walls.

At every stage the accounts end with a possibility, a new beginning. The story itself is still being written, still working out from those possibilities through those who are open to God’s presence and guidance.

And all of this gives me hope in my own waiting. Some of the first things my wife and I threw at each other while dating were the number of children and their names. (We were an odd couple, and still are. I won her over by being able to make tea in my dorm room and having a Tim Burton movie on standby. Mama always did call me special.) My wife and I knew we wanted kids, and we made sure we waited long enough to have put down some roots. But apparently we weren’t finished waiting. We haven’t received the blessing yet, but we are both hopeful. With each disappointment, each turn of an unfavorable diagnosis, we dig down a little deeper into God’s faithfulness. I hold onto the promises to Abraham, Isaac,  and Jacob, the blessings they received and God’s faithfulness to each. I know that my story hasn’t ended, and I can have hope by remembering God’s story.

Whatever you’re waiting on, hold fast to God’s faithfulness. Continue watching, because, your prayer may be answered in unexpected ways. A child might be dropped at your doorstep, or a foster child may enter your life. You may end up being called “mom” by young people you’ve influenced all over the world through the internet. And, yes, I’m using a lot of child talk here, but it applies across the board. What you expect and what God brings your way are often very different. You might do something crazy like fill out an application you expect to be rejected and find yourself on a plane to China. You just never know.

What are you waiting for? Are your eyes and mind open to what unexpected answer you might receive? Resurrection was unexpected, and still is, so that’s our bar for what to watch out for as we pray and wait!

Discussing Captain America News with Your Child

Yesterday the comic book world was treated to a startling piece of information in that Captain America has outed himself as a member of HYDRA. For those of you not gasping in incredulity, this one may take some explanation.

Before I begin, you may want to read this article, as I will use a few ideas from it to make a point or two. First, please be aware that this is a fairly standard money-grab, shock-jock tactic to sell a few more comic books as people rush to their local comic shop to see if the scuttlebutt is true. (The joke may be on Marvel and its writers, however, as there are many useful websites that divulge plot information and whole comics for free. Not that these are morally correct, but it does change the situation somewhat.) What this means is that Captain America will go back to being a bastion of justice and truth just as soon as this quarter’s earnings have come in. And that little analysis there brings me to my next point.

American cynicism has gotten out of hand. We have a very hard time believing anyone is decent, let alone good. How could Steve Rogers (Captain America) be so righteous and moral? Surely he’s got some deep, dark secret that disqualifies him from being a good man, right?

Well, that deep, dark secret this month is that Captain America has secretly been a HYDRA double agent all along. So what’s HYDRA? HYDRA (if you couldn’t tell from the reference to a gigantic monster or the fact that it’s all caps) is an evil organization that developed as an offshoot of the Nazi war machine during WWII, as written by Marvel comics. Yes, if you do the math correctly there, it does mean that Captain America is effectively a Nazi. If that doesn’t bother you just a little bit, it should.

So in a bigger picture look, the writers decided that in a world that is screaming for diversity in media and mercy for the refugee and helping those trapped in poverty Captain America, who traditionally fought to right these wrongs, should come out as a secret Nazi. Surely we can all see that our political situation is not the best. We can all see the unrest that has stemmed from poverty and a broken welfare system. We can all see that there are people in the world who are, in fact, choosing evil over good. We understand that our world needs fixing and is not in the best state.In that case, why would we decide that a fictional character designed to give hope should be striving against fixing the world and trying to destroy it.

As parents living in a world of superheroes, I don’t envy you having to discuss this issue (pun not intended) with your children. Hopefully this will all be some kind of ruse and this hero will be reinstated as the commiserate good guy. Until then, we have some soul-searching to do about how we raise this next generation. Do we want them to inherit this rampant cynicism, or would we rather them accept the world as it is and work to actively change it for the better?

As Christians, we also have to accept that no human being is perfect and that we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. Maybe that’s the take away here. It’s a hard discussion to have, but your children understanding that human beings have flaws is a part of maturing.

Maybe the discussion includes making plans to apologize when we as adults make mistakes, instead of talking them away or brushing them off. Perhaps this upcoming generation will have a better grasp on what it means to be human in the realm of forgiveness and understanding.

Has this news about Captain America reached your child yet? How will you handle the discussion? Will you allow your child to continue rooting for superheroes? Will you wait this event out to see how the characters fair with time?

Fighting from the Low Ground

To fight from the low ground is to fight at a disadvantage. Having the higher ground means having a better view. Being higher means having gravity working for you and against your opponent. Would you prefer to start from the higher or lower ground?

Christians have gotten into  a bad habit over the past 1000 years. Ever since Christianity became part of an empire, we’ve been used to having enough power and authority to be able to leverage people into the kind of life we think they should live. That time is very swiftly drawing to a close. Christians are losing the high ground politically.

We’re coming to a time when legislation and power plays in politics will be harder to come by. What then, brothers and sisters, shall we do? We relearn how to function from the political disadvantage. We relearn the principles that Jesus laid out when he warned and encouraged his followers that in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.

Consider that Jesus, through his disciples, was capable of turning the Roman Empire upside down to the point where governors are having to write letters to the emperor to figure out how to handle these nutty Christians. What was the early Christians’ biggest sin in the eyes of the Roman Empire? They refused to take part in politics, which were tied to emperor worship. Because of this, they were labeled traitors and “atheists.” (I’ll continue when you finish chuckling over that point.)

How did Christianity spread so quickly? Well, besides the Spirit of God moving powerfully, persecution was the biggest mover. Persecution broke out in Jerusalem, so the Christians spread out into other cities. Then those cities got frustrated and drove the Christians on to even further-flung cities and villages. Even struggling from the disadvantage proved to be an advantage for God and his mission.

For a while, we as Christians have been struggling with how to use power. We like the phrases in Genesis “fill the earth and subdue it.” And, yet, we also see that our own sinfulness has made power a very dangerous weapon to wield.

Paul makes clear that God makes the wisdom of the world seem like foolishness, and that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Perhaps it’s about time we begin bringing up a generation who understands how to fight from a disadvantage.

We always bring up the Civil Rights movement when discussing power, weakness, and change. Even though many who held power resisted that movement, the quiet strength and disadvantage of the marchers and peaceful protesters was nearly unstoppable. Consider what Jesus could accomplish if we stopped depending on our own power and began acting out of our weak points so that God’s strength could be made perfect through us.

Does this mean raising a generation of weak men and women? Of course not. It takes an indomitable spirit and willingness to face danger and anger and power itself. It’s being Paul listing his suffering, it’s being Peter sitting in jail, it’s being Jesus shutting out the mocking by asking God to forgive his tormenters. These people aren’t weak, they’re strong, but their power isn’t one of violence and privilege. Instead theirs is a power of peace, determination, perseverance, and trust in a God bigger than the current suffering.

How do you and your family talk about change that needs to happen? When culture seems to be lashing back at Christians, how to you react? In what ways are you preparing your family to act boldly from the lower ground.

Righteously Disgusted

As a part of our Sunday Morning curriculum we have had a month discussing the character trait of perseverance. The whole month has been centered around people from the Bible who refused to give up when things got hard.

Don’t we all have a favorite person from the Bible who refused to give up, even when things looked absolutely bleak?

The reason I mention any of this was that our most recent lesson had three short stories, two of which ended with someone who refused to give up: a girl with dyslexia who read out loud in class despite her difficulty and a really lackluster soccer player who discovered his dream to be a coach instead of a player. These got the children excited and interested, they began engaging with me as I told these stories. And then we got to the middle story.

The middle story was about a young lad who had trouble tying his shoes. His dad bought him a fantastic pair of new shoes, but they had laces… And when I told the children that instead of practicing or working hard the kid gave up and never wore the shoes his dad bought him, the look of disgust and disbelief on their faces was surprising.

There has been so much trash talk swapped between generations since the ancient times – even the Greek philosophers talked about the “wild and crazy” youth. But lately, the jibes have been turning from “wild and crazy” to “just plain lazy.” I wonder where that comes from.

The looks on these kids faces told me that giving up wasn’t even an option. The idea of someone just throwing up their hands in defeat stunned them into silence and then argument. “What do you mean he just gave up? That doesn’t make sense!” Kids don’t give up, it almost seems against their nature.

I wonder when many adults lost that sense of righteous disgust at giving up when things get hard? Where did the younger generation pick up a habit of “it’s no use?”

If you have a rebuttal for your particular instance, this may or may not apply to you. Or, maybe you should take a moment and think about where that rebuttal stems from and where your emotions are.

Giving up isn’t in human nature. God designed us to push forward and take one more step toward our goals. Jesus himself pushed through terrible pain and anguish because he could see the victory on the other side of the struggle. And maybe that’s the key. Maybe kids have a clearer vision of the possible victory and joy. Maybe their eyes haven’t been clouded by cynicism and apathy.

So as the kids learned yesterday, “When life gets hard, remember what Jesus did for you.”

What is the culture of perseverance at your house? How do you talk about difficult situations and which ones need perseverance and which ones need a brave refusal?

Pity the Fool

So I have been reading again…

The book in question is titled The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. And before your pull out your tinfoil hats, it’s not that kind of conspiracy. In fact, the book is more about the Sermon on the Mount than anything. Now before you replace your hat with a neck pillow, Jesus’ talks are often much more interesting than what passes for a sermon in your mind.

Willard also talks about prayer -especially the Lord’s Prayer. And one particular phrase has jumped out at me the past week. The phrase, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Willard makes the case that a more modern translation might say something along the lines of, “Have pity on me, as I have pity on others.”

At first, much like your reaction now, my thought was, “Pity? What need have I of pity?” (And yes, read that in your best English accent.) We certainly like the idea of mercy better. the word mercy, as Willard continues, often has a connotation in modern times of, “I just need a break. I’m no so bad.” However, in ye olden days, mercy was a plea of someone in the direst of straights, nearly at death, begging and sobbing for just a few more moments to bargain. So, nowadays, pity seems to be a better word.

But doesn’t it just grate against your mind? It did mine. It bothered me for a week… that is, until I put some thought into it and realized, “Oh, I am being a rather stubborn, prideful, pitiable creature right now, aren’t I?” And that’s when it hit me. It’s hard to forgive others when we don’t really feel like we need all that much forgiveness. When we’re of the mindset of, “Oh, God, just cut me a break here, I’m not all that bad,” everyone else’s failures and impositions on us suddenly look like egregious mortal sins of the highest caliber… even if they just happened to forget their blinker on I-75.

But things change when I put myself in a mindset of being pitiable. When I am receiving pity and forgiveness from God, I understand the magnitude of my own failures and mistakes. I realize the things I’m not forgiving myself for are because of my pride wanting to erase my own mistake without admitting it to anyone.

The story of the unmerciful servant springs to mind. (Matthew 18:23-35) For some reason, the first servant, despite his massive debt, felt himself entitled to that forgiveness, and was unable to show that same forgiveness because he may not have realized the sheer magnitude of pity shown on him. We look at that man and say, “How undignified and cruel!” Meanwhile, we often fail to notice that same behavior in our own lives.

Living in a state of pity allows us to stand in the love of God, aware of our state, but also acutely aware of the great, mighty, unquenchable fire of a love that God sustains us with. With that knowledge in hand, we can then begin to forgive others. We can admit our mistakes to others, to our kids, knowing that we are pitiable, but loved.

I have had to admit mistakes this week in regards to how I handled some situations. In doing so, I had to remember that God loves me regardless, and that he extends pity that extinguishes pride. I had to let go, admit my mistake, and begin working with others in order to create a better environment. Before, I wanted to blame others and get angry, but I realized that if things were going to heal, I would have to let go of all of that and accept things as they were and work to set them right.

Have you ever had to admit a mistake to a child, or even your own child? How did that feel? How did it affect your relationship? How could your family begin to create an environment where mistakes are shared, forgiven, and healed?