Calling Jesus Names

Have you ever heard a racial slur come out of a child’s mouth? I haven’t heard one recently, but when you do, trust me, the event will stick in your mind. You’ll ask, “Where did they learn that? Do their parents talk that way? Do they know what that means?”

I’m not really sure where to start with this post. I had a really great weekend. I celebrated my Scottish heritage up at Maryville College for the Smoky Mountain Highland Games. I watched burly men toss rocks. I watched burly men toss huge telephone poles. I had a plate of haggis and mashed potatoes washed down with an Irn-Bru, which is still the weirdest drink I have ever thrown down my goozle. (If I had to describe the flavor it would be orange rind and bubblegum.) I listened to some old Irish and Scots folk songs and was blasted by a combined Pipe and Drum Corps playing Amazing Grace. I was happy, and full, and very, very warm. The warmth was from the dear sounds of ancestry… or maybe the 88 degree heat, not sure. I enjoyed celebrating a culture, but I know that not everyone can with as much open pride.

God created us in His image, which gets called the Imago Dei (Latin) in the pop Christian lingo right now. I have to hand Gen X and Millennials one big high five for bringing back early church fathers and mothers and incorporating more Latin and Greek into teaching and popular theology. As God’s images, we are designed to reflect God’s glory, authority, and love into the world around us and reflect Creation’s praise back to God. (I’ve tread this path before on this blog.) God encourages culture. In fact, read through the Hebrew Bible and New Testament and you’ll rarely find God or His prophets and apostles calling out the culture (food, clothing, artwork, language, etc.) Instead, you’ll see God calling His people and others to a right attitude of justice, mercy, care for the poor, proper worship of God, to repent and seek forgiveness while offering it to others.

So it pains me greatly when I hear God’s people who are supposed to praise God with their mouth and not slander their neighbor talk about “those people.” “Those people” often come tied to some pretty nasty assumptions, and are usually poor or have little power to affect the kind of change they need. “Those people” are listed in Matthew 25 as appearances of Jesus. See, “those people” need a cup of water, need a decent meal, need clothing and security, need a safe place to sleep, need a visitor in their prison cell or their hospital bed. When we as God’s people begin to dehumanize and speak about “those people” with anger derision, refusing to help or speak out, or allow the powerful to continually take advantage of them, we may just be speaking the words, “But, Lord, when did we see you thirsty, or hungry, or naked, or in prison?” And our own reckless words will condemn us.

I beg you to come with me on a nuanced journey. Let’s work this out. If you get uncomfortable, you can stop at any time… but you’ll have to face this at some point.

You are made in God’s image.

Your most hated co-worker is made in God’s image.

Your in-law that drives you nuts is made in God’s image.

Prisoners are made in God’s image.

Death-row inmates are made in God’s image.

Your pastor is made in God’s image.

The pastor you disagree with is made in God’s image.

The President is made in God’s image.

Immigrants are made in God’s image.

Migrants are made in God’s image.

The Ayatollah is made in God’s image.

Kim Jong Un is made in God’s image.

Police officers are made in God’s image.

Black Lives Matter members are made in God’s image.

Every person you fear might shake up your comfortable life and status quo is made in God’s image.

Are you uncomfortable? Do you see what God’s image does? It places us in an uncomfortable place where we share the exact same foundation with every single other human being who has ever lived and who ever will live. We are all made in God’s image.

The Benedictine monks had a practice of bowing to guests to their monasteries. They bowed in reverence to the presence of Christ in their guest. They recognized that welcoming someone and showing hospitality was welcoming the presence of Jesus into their midst.

We seem rather quick to draw lines that Jesus didn’t draw. Jesus, who defined his primary ministry as to His people, the Jews, still served the Roman Official, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Samaritan woman, and chastised his disciples when they threatened Samaria in their anger.

If we can look at another human being and see anything less than a human being, loved by the God who longs to show them mercy and love, maybe our eyes haven’t been made complete in Jesus’ image, yet. If we can hate and denigrate and name call and demean and ignore, maybe our hearts still need work until we’re made complete in Jesus. If we can look at the image of God and speak hate over it, aren’t we really speaking hate to the One who made them in the first place? Aren’t we throwing our voices in with the crowd shouting and mocking Him as He hung on the cross?

Who do you need to rethink? What groups have you denigrated? What kind of language do your kids hear when it comes to minorities, immigrants, or those that look or think differently than you? Do your children know anyone different than them?

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Keeping Off the Evil Eye, or Why I Haven’t Published a Blog in a While

Here I am!

I am still alive!

Not without some struggle and pain along the way. Short story to suffice, I’ve been struggling with some eye issues the past three weeks, which are now under control. Eye pain is one of those things that is hard to explain its severity if you have never experienced it firsthand. It truly is a thought-crushingly oppressive ache and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. After seeing five, yes five, doctors we finally have an answer(?) and things should start seeming normal again.

Something I have been challenged about through reading Scripture and a book called “Subversive Sabbath” by A.J. Swoboda is that Christianity has truly lost the concept of Sabbath. Swoboda points out that we hit hard 9 out of 10 Commandments, but tend to skip right over the idea of keeping a Sabbath holy. Notice, the Sabbath is holy to begin with, the issue is whether not we’re obedient enough to keep it that way.

Much like my oppressive eye pain, we’re all working under a system that requires us to put out much more than we get. Our American mindset scoffs at the idea of a day off, really. I’ve said it before, but I have heard so many people brag (including myself) about how many days we’ve worked at a stretch without a real rest. We’re bragging about living in Egypt, really. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus to the working men and women of his day. He welcomed them, and welcomes us, into a Sabbath rest of our own.

I know well the hectic schedule, the tyranny of the urgent. But even Jesus rested. We have clear indications in the Gospel accounts that Jesus took time to rest with friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus took time to head back to base, like when he returns to Capernaum. It’s really a kind of idolatry and arrogance to even consider that we could function longer, stronger, more determinedly than Jesus.

I could tell you why Sabbath is important all day, but if we are a people who can accept, “Be baptized,” and “Take, eat and remember me,” resting should be one of those things we do to signal to the world that we are different, that God’s order has come at last.

Some Sabbath suggestions:

Pick a day. As a minister, Sunday’s not really a choice for Sabbath. So my baby girl and I take ours on Thursday. We keep the TV off. We listen to stories and play. We go for a walk. It’s a day for me to turn off work world and simply be. Now, I’m not perfect and usually end up trying to do chores and what not, but each week I get a little better.

Say no. This is a dangerous one to say as a leader of volunteers. Say no if you need a Sabbath. Protect it as much as you can. People won’t understand at first if you say, “Hey, it’s my Sabbath and I have to say ‘no.'” They won’t understand until they try it themselves.

Invite your kids to Sabbath with you. Kids’ schedules are so busy. Parties, gymnastics, cheerleading, baseball, wrestling, you name it, your family probably has it on the schedule. What are you teaching your kids about good balance in life if your family never takes a day off? How do your kids begin to develop expectations of how life works if rest is never included?

Start small. Can’t turn off everything? Start with the TV, or the tablet, or maybe just your phone. Get outside for a few minutes. Whatever you decide, just start. Whatever intentional time you can devote to rest God will honor. Remember, Sabbath is holy because God made it, but it’s our choice to keep it or not.

No shame. Sabbath isn’t about guilt or shame. It’s about rest. Do what you can and let God transform your life.

The real question is: are you willing to trust God enough to let Him be God, or will you put yourself in His position and try to continue on pretending to be limitless? Which would you choose for your children?

Death and Grieving

Living in the wake of death is a difficult thing to do. Watching a body retire from this world is not an easy process. The reminders of that person’s life come in small ways. A missing car. An empty chair. A daily phone call that never comes. Little things here and there that add up to the now empty space where a mind, a heart, a soul once occupied. These things aren’t the person by any means, but normal is shattered.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. In the midst of excitement and movement as things seemed to be shifting, growing moving forward, we received several blows of the hammer of death. It’s a part of living – the dying, but no matter how many times I see it, it never becomes any easier to accept.

Kids feel this loss, too. We do worship responses which include written prayers praising God or asking Him for help, comfort, or wisdom. I read these because I want to see where our kids are, what questions they’re asking, what their prayer lives look like. I have seen so many that are dealing with loss and death. Sometimes they need to write, or draw, or play to deal with the complex emotions that come with experiencing loss. A new normal will need to be built, a different life continued.

Give kids the opportunity to grieve in their own way. Be vulnerable with them while allowing them to still feel safe. Say how you feel, let them know it’s ok to feel sad, or angry, or upset. Take time and let yourself and your family process.

May the God of peace grant you and your family rest, opportunities to process and strength to build the new normal.

3 Months In and I’m Messing Up My Kid!

If you’re anything like me, there are days when you look into the eyes of your precious bundle of joy and wonder, “Am I screwing you up permanently?” Sure, your question may sound a little different, but we’ve all had the thought as parents. I have had that thought often as I have discovered the one song that can calm my little girl down 99% of the time… which happens to be “Echame La Culpa” a Latin Pop single that currently in the top 20 of the Global charts. And in those moments when she is peaceful as the Latin rhythm, is ramping up into the hook I wonder, “Am I screwing you up?”

The short answer is probably not. Children are human beings, too, equipped with the ability to make choices that determine their own outcomes. Even the “best” parents have had their moments of conflict, indecision, and worry when their children make poor decisions. We can relax though, and lean into God’s grace and care. And pray really, really hard that God takes care of them.

See, in the time of Abraham, children were considered property until adulthood, when boys would become self-determining men… and women would still fight against being called property. (Not God’s design, but man’s.) Abraham would have expected Isaac (and Ishmael for that matter) to be under his sole authority and molding. God quickly disillusioned Abraham of that by allowing Ishmael to be sent away and asking for Isaac’s sacrifice. Suddenly, Abraham was faced with the reality that his children didn’t belong to him, but to God, their Creator. Suddenly, there was a bigger plan and much larger picture that Abraham was forced to look at and realize that God would have to work to accomplish it. And, I think, Abraham was better for facing that reality.

And if you read the Prophets, you realize that even God faces the reality that His children make poor decisions and have to face the consequences of them. Even through constant warnings and calls, Israel and Judah both chose to face the rod of Assyria and Babylon rather than turn back and choose to repent. We can find hope and empathy in God when we face those moments, too.

Parenting isn’t about winning a prize or raising the next Pulitzer winner or President. Parenting is an exercise in discipling a young life. A disciple is someone who is consistently moving towards Jesus – becoming more like Him. And if we can raise a child who becomes more like Jesus every day, that’s a win. It may not lead to the highest salary, or the greatest awards or accolades, but it will lead to a child growing into someone who becomes more like Jesus and calls others to do the same.

Cut yourself some slack. God is with you. Do what you can and let God handle the rest. You’re doing well. Be at peace.

What parts of your child’s development worry you most? When do you wonder if you’re “screwing your kids up?” What Bible passage gives you the peace and hope you need to continue each day? What’s the one thing you hope your child will have when they become an adult?

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?

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?)