Don’t Trap Your Kids!

I’ve recently had some work done on the house we live in. It’s a cozy little place, and my wife and I are happy with it. That said, our back hallway had this lovely funhouse feature where the paneling on the walls was warped and bowed in various places creating a disconcertingly Tim Burton-esque feel to the house. We had it repaired, but it got me thinking about walls. (It’s a lame segue-way, I know, lay off.)

Walls are some of the oldest human inventions… or maybe natural inventions. Regardless, we’ve been huddled in cave walls, hut walls, house walls, and city walls for millennia as human beings. We take comfort in knowing there’s only a few ways in or out of a place. It certainly makes defending the fort easier. It’s funny, then, when Moses sends the spies into Canaan and they come back talking about the huge walls of the cities they saw, and the giant people in them. Compare this description to how the Canaanites are described later as having heard what God had done in Egypt and being terrified of the Israelites. Suddenly, the walls aren’t a sign of strength. Walls become a symbol of fear.

This was pointed out by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his “Inspired Parenting” series. (Honestly, there are some great points worth hearing.) He notes that his parents allowed him to come into contact with ideas and people that were outside of his normal sphere. His experience was that these encounters did not erode his faith, but instead encouraged his faith to grow, to flourish, as he became more aware of the beliefs he was beginning to own and the covenant that he lived with God.

Every child is different. It bears repeating. The things one child can view or hear and process will be completely different from another. Some children learn to spot sarcasm early, some still need a sign after they hit the age of adulthood. Some kids can handle darker storylines, because they know that good will triumph over evil. Some kids can handle violence because they know that what they’re watching is fake and that the only time to fight is self-defense. Some kids can handle the issue with Bambi’s mother and the forest fire, and others are traumatized later in life. (A story for another day.) I say all this before making my next point because you know your child and their limits.

Don’t trap your kids behind walls. Walls will always have leaks and your children will run into ideas that run counter to yours eventually. Walls keep things out, but also keep people in. (Keep in mind that sieges are horrific experiences.) Remember, it’s better to be equipped early than to run headlong into college (or even high school for that matter) with no body armor and having never really considered one’s own beliefs and worldview. No amount of TV screening, “net nanny” programs, or Amish living will protect your family from the world’s influence. What can help, though, are fences.

No, not white picket ones. But boundaries that allow your children the freedom to explore, question, and develop, but that keep them safe as they do so. There was an experiment done a few years back that noted that children playing in an area with no fence had trouble leaving the safety of their teacher, but felt free to play and explore when boundaries were set. Fences are often see-through, which means that the views beyond the fence are part of the conversation, but still outside the boundary. (Keep in mind that the teacher was always present in these experiments, which applies to your constant presence and supervision of this process.)

For example, I was not allowed to watch “Professional Wrestling” (also known as “wrastlin'” in our part of the country) while I was in elementary school. Here’s why – I would have imitated the fighting, because my parents had already observed this behavior after watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers. My parents often explained why I wasn’t allowed to watch, and later in life I realized I hadn’t missed much. Or take my wife’s upbringing. She wasn’t allowed to watch movies with witches or villains who were more interesting that the hero. Why? Well, my wife had (has?) a very active imagination and would have mimicked the witches and villains over the heroes or princesses. This boundary stood until she was old enough to really differentiate villains and heroes.

The boundaries for your family may be different than the boundaries for mine or someone else’s. Just don’t build walls. Be willing to field questions. Rabbi Sacks told a story of a mother who instead of asking what her child learned that day asked instead, “Did you ask a good question today?” Suddenly, the mother had a better idea of how her child was thinking and questioning rather than getting a pat response that her child’s mind was acting like a passive sponge. Encourage your kids to ask, to explore, to play with ideas. Accept that you won’t always have the “right” answer. Honestly, “I don’t know, let’s go look that up,” is an awfully exciting answer for a child. Suddenly, the two of you are on a quest for knowledge like the heroes in their favorite stories. What could be more fun? (I learned this response from my dad, who loves learning and searching for answers to questions. We’d often go on these searches, and still do.)

Be brave and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you. Don’t build walls. Set up fences that fit your family. Let the fences grow with your child.

What fences do you have for your family? What questions have you been asked? What does this say about your child? How can you encourage more questions and exploration in your child?

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Success Doesn’t Equal a Deal with the Devil

I’m starting to understand how highway truckers must feel retreading the same highways over and over again with very little changing with each pass. So, we are going to retread some familiar territory, with a slightly new twist today. (See this post and this one, for similar topics.)

So I did an internet search yesterday, and I’m finding myself starting to get sick with the number of Christian bloggers who feel it is their job to “protect” the flock from what they consider false or flagging teachers. Brothers, sisters, we have a society that is all to eager to bring the Church down, why are we giving it the satisfaction of watching us tear it down with our own hands?

For all of my harshness there, I can see the good intention underneath the knee-jerk reactions and misunderstandings. I’m sure many of these writers are truly looking out for the best for those that read their work. On the other hand, I don’t often see any of these writers reach out to the people they criticize to ask for any kind of further information or clarification.

One of these I recently read was this article by an author named Josh Buice on www.deliveredbygrace.com. He wrote clearly, and succinctly, on the topic at hand, and I admire his ability to communicate clearly and effectively. (If you want succinct, though, I have a hard time with that aspect of writing.)

Andy Stanley has been coming under fire lately for several statements that may not have been as clear as they were intended to be. I could write page after page on how often I’ve had to pause to clarify something I’ve said myself after watching the faces of friends and family wrinkle in confusion. Being able to say the phrase, “I’m sorry, that came out wrong. Let me try that again” or asking the question, “What did you hear me say just then?” are wonderful tools in any person’s communication box.

Stated Problem #1 – Andy Stanley Doesn’t do Verse-by-Verse

Now, personally, I prefer this method… However, I also understand that not everyone learns the same way I do. Andy Stanley’s goal is to make Jesus as accessible as possible, and sometimes that means not going through verse-by-verse, but rather focusing on the big topic or main story. Andy Stanley also talks about the idea of the “sticky thought.” He wants people who hear him speak to come away with one idea that they can put into practice the second they walk out the door. I’m ok with this. Jesus taught this way – using stories and illustrations that all focused on one point, but could be unpacked and delved into for even greater meaning.

Stated Problem #2 – Andy Stanley Designs Church for Unchurched People

Ok, real talk. If Jesus showed up at our churches with his friends, we might turn him away. We’d be able to smell cigarette smoke and wine on him from a party the night before (Matthew 9:9-13; 11:18-19) and maybe a few days of unwashed sweat and road dust. You’d take a look at his hard-living, sea-and-road-hardened followers and note thieves, revolutionaries, and a not a few fishy (pun) fellows with him. Not the dressed-up, showered, middle-to-upper class people we’d expect in a suburban church environment.

So, no, Andy Stanley doesn’t want to make church for church people. His goal is to get out there and get a hold of those people who are hurt by, scared of, or even hateful toward the church by giving them something they’ve never gotten – a warm welcome. There’s a phrase – I’m not sure who said it – that says, “Any system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting.” If you notice that a church isn’t having many baptisms and seems to attract people who are simply finding a new church – then that church may be designed to draw “church” people.

Jesus didn’t hang around the traditionally “religious” people, he hung around the sinners, drinkers, cussers, and morally confused. Are our churches a place where these kinds of people would feel safe, like they could re-orient and heal in the presence of Jesus?

Stated Problem # 3 – Andy Stanley Isn’t Hard on Homosexuality

See paragraph above. Also, if Andy Stanley prefers to handle this issue in a personal way, without blasting people with a sermon, he’s approaching the situation like Jesus did on occasion. Take John 8:2-11 for example, when Jesus doesn’t say anything to the adulterous woman until everyone has left, and then says, “Go, and sin no more.” As a church, we should see that picketing and shouting has done nothing but anger people we want to save. Sure, we have good intentions, we want people to see where they’re outside of God’s will, but when has anyone ever changed their mind and life by being shouted to deafness? Relationship and time are the tools to address deep seated issues. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted […],” is what Proverbs says. If we want change to happen, we have to begin at a personal level and not try to wage some kind of culture war.

Stated Problem # 4 -Andy Stanley Won’t Say, “The Bible Says…”

And I agree with him. I cannot tell you how much damage has been done by the phrase, “the Bible says.” Whenever I hear that phrase, my immediate thought is, “Does the Bible say that, or does this speaker say that?” I also go to this scene in Fiddler on the Roof. (Scroll to timestamp 2:32 for the long version or 5:16 for the punchline.)

I understand that there is always interpretation involved when speaking about the Bible, but all Andy Stanley is doing is giving his listeners the ability to go back and see if the Bible really does say that. How? Well, Andy Stanley, instead of saying, “the Bible says,” gets more specific, saying, “Philippians 2:3-4 says…” He’s not questioning the authority of the Bible so much as he is giving people the option to be like the Bereans and, “examine the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11b)

Stated Problem # 5 – Andy Stanely Questions the Bible’s Truthfulness

Ok, here’s one where it’s much harder to defend the quotation used from Stanley, but I’ll try to explain his reasoning, at the very least. Here’s the point: the Bible cannot mean something that it never meant originally. So, to use the Bible as a scientific textbook is to look at God’s Word in entirely the wrong way. There are also many places where we have had issues in translation or copying that have made life difficult as far as interpretations are concerned. (Just research the King James Version and its translation and copying errors, including one of the first printings that excluded “not” in “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”) Historical-Literary Criticism (which isn’t as bad as it sounds) helps to better understand the worldview and mindset of those who wrote down the words we have in the Bible, so that we can better understand what it means for us today. I could go into this deeper, but suffice to say, high-level biblical training does come in a variety of methods and practices, and it can be used to bolster belief, or crush it entirely. It would be beneficial for Christians to better understand the Bible: who wrote it, who read it, and the copying and transmission methods that got it from the original pens to our hands today.

Stated Problem # 6 – Andy Stanley Said Small Churches are Bad

See this post…

Stated Problem # 7 – Andy Stanley Wouldn’t Use the Bible as a Starting Point

If you read the original post, here again, Mr. Stanley’s phrasing is poor. What I hear Mr. Stanley trying to say is that immediately jumping into the “Roman Road” may not be the best method for convincing someone of the truth of Jesus’ Kingship. Stanley says something about there being thousands of Christians before the Bible – by which he probably means the New Testament, in which case he’d be correct. The Bible that Paul refers to in many of his letters would have been the Hebrew Bible, because the New Testament was written several years after the Resurrection. This means that the stories about Jesus and his resurrection would have been passed along by word of mouth until they were written down.

So, in effect, Paul, especially when speaking to Gentiles, who for the most part would have been unfamiliar with the Hebrew scriptures, would have begun with the idea of the resurrection. (Acts  17:16-31, for example) So many people in today’s world view the Bible as a book of rules and laws that would hamper their life and remove all joy and happiness. And looking at the way some Christians have used the Bible, I cannot blame them. So, maybe, taking a leaf out of Jesus’ playbook and announcing the Kingdom of God with stories and illustrations that lead back into the Bible and its great story of God working to right the world might be a good idea for some situations.

Tl;DR:

Maybe instead of just pointing out one another’s flaws, we should first contact that person in question (or at least PR people) and ask for clarification before writing our thinkpiece. Also, can we as a Church please avoid making broad sweeping generalizations about people and listen more?

To wrap up: words are so important. Words were a part of creation.  Jesus is called the Word, who began a new creation at the resurrection. We are a part of that new creation, being called onward and upward by the transformation and renewal of our minds. We are, in effect, messengers, ambassadors of a Kingdom that stretches backward and forward through time, and we serve the King that is above all. Why then are we seeking to bring down others? As the title suggests, sometimes success does not mean that someone has sold their soul to the devil, or to secular society. Perhaps, that person has been blessed with some manner of clear vision and the ability to make it a reality. But remember, to place any human being on a pedestal is a recipe for disappointment. So let’s work to support one another, offering personal correction  and clarification when it’s needed. And, really, we’ve all had a day when we said something the wrong way and managed to anger or disappoint someone.

Batmeh V Supermeh (A movie Review)

I feel… conflicted about this movie from a personal standpoint. I feel like the actors did well with their roles and didn’t overact too much. (Except for Lex Luthor, who they turned into the Joker.) The special effects in this Wagner-esque saga were quite well done, even if the camera work looked like a middle-school film project. (Can we please be done with the shaky-cam trend, now, please?) And about an hour of the run time could have been cut and very little would have been lost.

Usual bits here: violence (punching and stabbing and shooting), bit of language, some sexuality (bathtub scene), and an overall dark and oppressive tone that might be a bit much for some kids.

So, the main conflict here advertised heavily in advance of Marvel’s Civil War film with a similar premise felt shoehorned and forced. Superman and Batman had very little reason to actually fight, even though their ideals differed… that’s kind of the point of having the two characters together. Anyway, I haven’t been the biggest fan of DCs latest trend of gritty re-imaginings of their characters turning them into sociopathic murderers to pad out the tension. I won’t tell you who “wins” the fight, but let’s say that by the time you’ve sat through the build up, you’ll find yourself mentally shouting, “What’s the point!?”

I think the real issue here is that the production company is trying to create a franchise similar to the Marvel films, but doesn’t quite know how to set up future movies without being confusing. Then again, DC comics is no stranger to confusion, having to restart its entire comic book line several times because its own fans and creators couldn’t keep up anymore.

So why even bring up this joyless, gritty, forced confrontation between two beloved heroes? Because there’s some deep thought from the writers/director that you should know about!

And by deep thought, I mean some philosophical pondering by the semi-insane Lex Luthor. Having been turned from the traditional presentation of put-together, self-made businessman with an ego the size of Asia, Luthor is now a wacky, loose-cannon inheritor of a technology company and a self-stated abuse victim. Why mention this? Abuse is serious business and it needs to be discussed. Often times it gets tossed around as a short-hand excuse as to why a character has so many moral or mental flaws. And here, it feels that way. There’s no nuance, there’s little struggle, and it gets a halfhearted mention during a standoff with Superman.

The thought that stuck with me is the idea that because of the abuse he suffered, “God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful.” And this is an idea that gets tossed around a lot in today’s society. If God is all-good and all-powerful, he’d straighten everything out and no one would ever have anything bad happen. Conversely, because bad stuff happens he either doesn’t care or cannot act.

And this is where the big sticking point is for your family if you watch this film. How do you discuss this? Does the Bible even talk about this?

Part of this movie centers around the idea that humans would begin assuming Superman is some kind of god or messiah-like figure. (Hard to miss with all of the Christ imagery the director throws around like party confetti.) We see scenes of people bowing, reverencing, and treating Superman as if he were a holy being. Luthor’s scheme then is to “prove that god can be killed or corrupted.”

The Bible is clear that bad things happen to everyone. Why? Each day we make choices, and if we’re honest, many of them end up hurting others. We can justify our actions, but it doesn’t change the fact that we hurt people. And if the way we purchase, speak, or act causes the suffering of others, can we then ask the question, “Why me?” God makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous – God shows love to those who follow him and those who don’t. (Matthew 5.43-45) We all have good days and we all have bad days. Life is tough and full of danger and pain, but also full of joy and love. To blame God for every problem we have is a little short-sighted and selfish.

God has worked, is working, and will work to set things right. At the moment all of creation waits, groaning in anticipation of the day when God renews the world. (Romans 8.20-25) God also often chooses to work through His people who have caught a passion for His mission. So when I hear, “Why doesn’t God do _______?” My first reaction is, “What are you doing about it? Maybe you’re the one to do it!”

Think about the kind of conversation you might have with your child as you watch movies together. Anticipate what questions they might have. Look for the moments where you see echoes of Jesus’ story to latch on to and use.

The Mysterious Case of Stale Crackers and Grape Juice (Theological Thursday)

As a Children’s minister, I get the privilege of helping children understand what it means to follow Jesus. It’s a joy, and can be overwhelming at times. Part of that job involves introducing kids to the practices that Christians have done for a couple of millennia now. And that awkward segue way leads us into the Lord’s Supper. (And also opens a large can of worms.)

Every week, at our church, I get to watch some faces look puzzled (even after the explanation) as the adults and some children pick up a broken piece of matzah and a tiny cup of grape juice and eat and drink them. If the look on their faces is any indication, their thought must be, “What do I have to do to get that snack? Doesn’t seem like much.” And as a snack, they’re absolutely right – it’s not going to tide anyone over until lunch. So why do it?

Easy. Jesus said so.

Oh… you wanted more than that? Well, if you insist. Honestly, we could just leave it there if you’re not too invested. All right then. But, remember, you insisted.

(What follows is as impartial an explanation as I can give. I can’t hit every point, and this won’t make everyone happy. I have been as fair as possible. If you have questions, contact me. I am also aware of my biases, and they’ll probably be apparent.)

So, in the beginning (not that far back, we’ll be in Acts, not Genesis) early Christians followed the oral tradition by meeting regularly to share a meal together. (Acts 2.42-47) These meals were a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. A remembrance of his death, for sure, but also an honest, fellowship-filled meal. No, really, Paul’s whole diatribe on the subject included a few lines on not getting drunk at the meal. (1 Cor 11.17-22 and following)

As time progressed, theology shifted and the Lord’s Supper was lifted from the meal context and placed in the context of the worship service. (This happened between the 2nd and 4th Centuries.) It was viewed as having taken on the nature of a renewal of Jesus sacrifice, and a bigger focus was placed upon the phrase in the gospel accounts, “This is my body.”

From that time on, the Lord’s Supper was known more regularly as the Eucharist (“thanksgiving.”) Each Sunday, the believers would gather, a priest would bless the elements (called the “host”) and the gathering believed at that moment there was something more to the bread and wine – it now was a place where heaven and earth met and Jesus’ presence was somehow there in the elements.

Later, we got a name for this happening: transubstantiation. Using Greek philosophical thought, Thomas Aquinas (arguably one of the greatest Christian thinkers) developed an explanation of how the bread and wine could still look like wine, but also be the actual body and blood of Jesus. (Short version: everything has physical attributes – accident, and a spiritual reality – substance. So, in the blessing, the substance [read spiritual reality] changed but the accident [physical properties] didn’t. It looked, smelled, and tasted the same, but was in a spiritual sense different.)

Some Reformers had different thoughts on the matter; notably Zwingli, who saw sharing the bread and wine as a moment where Jesus was spiritually present with the believers, not necessarily in the elements. Meaning, the bread and wine were symbols and were not transformed in any way. Rather, the moment when the believers shared together was transformed into a holy moment by the presence of Jesus with the spiritual family. Calvin differed slightly, taking a stance that included some kind of real presence, but that the action of sharing Communion allowed the believers to experience presently a moment of future heavenly joy, peace, and love. Many believers belonging to groups stemming from the Reformed tradition often share in Communion a few times per year in order to give it proper reverence.

Later movements (including the Stone-Campbell Movement) kept the elements, but returned to the ancient practice of weekly sharing of the Lord’s Supper.

So, long story short (for those of you who wanted a quick answer) Christians used to have a full-blown meal. For several reasons, the bread and wine was separated from the meal and became apart of the worship service. Many years later (depending on your church’s beliefs) you share communion/Eucharist together with other believers knowing that, in some way, Jesus is present while it happens.

Most traditions do require baptism before taking communion. Reasons differ, but there is an element of belief and commitment to Jesus that does need to be present. Because it is a remembrance and a future-looking action, we both remember Jesus’ death and resurrection and our own baptism, as well as looking forward to the resurrection and renewing of all things to come.

Now, as for stale crackers – that may just be that some of those crackers are held over from week to week.

Have you had a discussion with your children about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? Regardless of your tradition or church’s belief, you can have a discussions and explain how your church family believes and approaches this central moment of worship.

(For those of you that are interested, my sources, in no particular order are:

The Story of Christianity Volume 2 by Justo  L. Gonzalez

Reconstructing Early Christian Worship by Paul Bradshaw)