Thinking Out Loud

January 20, 2018

Strengthening Our Marriage versus Strengthening Our Kids

We have a Christian parenting conference happening in our town in April.

I couldn’t help but think how rare this is when compared to marriage conferences. Of course some of this has to do with what’s happening in Christian publishing.

For example, name a marriage author. You might be able to do so readily, but for those not familiar with the world of Christian books, let’s make it easier: Name a bestselling Christian book on marriage.

You may have listed:

  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  • His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley
  • The Love Dare by Stephen Kendrick
  • As Long as We Both Shall Live by Gary Smalley
  • Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat
  • Before You Say I Do by Norman Wright
  • Power of a Praying Wife/Husband by Stormie Omartian
  • Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud

Now do the same for parenting.

[Crickets]

The books exist, but naming top sellers is more challenging. Furthermore in the case where the books are part of a brand or a series, you almost intuitively know that for all its success, Power of a Praying Parent probably doesn’t do as well as the wife/husband titles; or that Boundaries with Teens or Boundaries with Kids doesn’t do as well as Boundaries in Marriage or Boundaries in Dating; at least not in my experience in the field.

The conferences feed off the success of the books.

Apparently we’re at least five times — or maybe even as high as ten times — more willing to pour into our marriage than we are to invest in our kids. Perhaps we’ll purchase Christian resources for them, but we don’t necessarily want to take the time to improve our parenting skills or learn from the stories of others.

Just because you can’t name the books or authors doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The online store at Focus on the Family is a great place to find out about parenting resources — as is their daily broadcast — and you can see the various categories of parenting helps at this link. (If you Google ‘Best Christian Parenting Books’ you’ll find other lists, but I refuse to link to people who are just shilling for Amazon. Try to buy local or from ministry organizations if at all possible.)

And just to save you asking, the conference speakers coming to our local community are Jim & Lynne Jackson, authors of Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart. I hope people will want to invest in their kids to the same degree they might had the church chosen to host a marriage conference that weekend. I have faith they will.


I realize that with the word discipline in the Jackson’s book title, some of you are probably thinking of a case of parenting advice gone bad that we covered here and here a few years back. Knowing the church sponsoring this, and knowing the publisher, you needn’t worry.

 

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January 2, 2018

“Dad, I’m gay”

Filed under: children, Christianity, Church, issues, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

What do you do when your son says, “I am gay?”  There’s a lot contained in that three word statement, certainly more than initially registers. A Christian friend experienced this several months ago and continues to wrestle with the implications. Recently, he asked to share this with readers here.


“Dad, I’m gay.”

When my son says “Dad, I am gay”, what he is saying is . . .

I had the courage to tell you something very important.

I have been trying to figure this all out for quite some time now.

I’m more likely to deal with depression than a straight child.

I’m more likely to have suicidal thoughts than a straight child.

I am more likely to be picked on or talked about than a straight child.

I would be arrested in certain parts of the world.

I would be put to death in certain parts of the world.

I’m not sure I will be accepted at church.

I’m not sure you will be accepted at church either depending on how you handle this.

Though I am your son, I am not just like you.

I am still your son, and in many ways, just like you.

I am still your child, but am not a child anymore.

I will want you to meet my boyfriend someday.

If I take a step of covenanting with a man to be faithful to him the rest of my life, many of your friends may tell you that you should not attend that celebration. My friends will not hesitate to be there for me.

You may not change your perspective on homosexuality, but I do expect you to be understanding of mine.

I want you to celebrate and have joy because of me, not merely tolerate me.

I know that you love Jesus and the Bible. I am also aware that you love me. You need to figure out what all that looks like.

December 17, 2017

Four Reasons Why CBS Wanted to Write Off the Peanuts Christmas Special

This year marked 52nd airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 52 years of the same show in an endless repeat. But according to a 2011 story (no longer online) in the National Review by Lee Habeeb, the show almost didn’t happen:

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy.

We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity.

“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’”

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn’t.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz’s team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children’s program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

The CBS executives saw what they had as, at best, a tax write-off.

I couldn’t help but think that actually parallels the original Christmas story in more ways than one.

John the Baptist was sure that Jesus was the Messiah on the day that Jesus stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized. But later, in the isolation of a jail cell, he wondered if he had backed that wrong horse. He thought he a flop on his hands.

Certainly there were people in the crowd who loved the miracles and the multiplication of the fish and bread that fed 5,000 men and countless women and children. But when he started turning his remarks to the “hard sayings” and spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the crowd thinned out considerably. Having seen other Messiah figures come and go, they figured that, once again, they had a flop on their hands.

Judas Iscariot was one of the original twelve, and no doubt entered into that select group with enthusiasm and optimism. But into the third year of apprenticeship with the this particular rabbi, dreams of political conquest and liberation from the Romans turned into disillusionment when the talk turned to a Messiah that would suffer and die. Like the parliamentarians of today who ‘cross the floor’ to join the other party, Judas figured he had a flop on his hands.

Time exonerated the decision and vision by Charles Shultz, and the events in Acts 2 showed the world that something new and exciting was beginning; that instead of a flop, the disciples had a hit on their hands.

And today, there are those who complain that the Christian faith and worldview is foolishness. They have a checklist of things that they would change about the Christ story. They think we have a flop on our hands.

But the ratings have yet to come out on that one. The ultimate scene in the play has yet to appear on stage. Stay tuned…

We do know how the above story ended, though:

To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

charlie-brown-christian-content-warnings

October 26, 2017

The Relevance of the Christian Narrative

Filed under: children, Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman who teaches a pre-school class on Sundays and wants the kids to learn The Lord’s Prayer, preferably as she learned it in the King James Version. While she’s not hardline KJV-only (unless she wasn’t playing her hand) she made the case that if kids can start learning a second language by age 3, they should have no problem with a variance on the English they already know.

I am in two minds on this. To her credit:

  • Bible memorization is at an all time low in many Evangelical churches. She’s committed to a worthy goal.
  • Call God “Thee” or referring to “Thou” is a reminder that God is transcendent or “wholly other.”
  • The KJV, with its unique voice, can be quite easily committed to memory.
  • Going off a single script means kids may choose a translation randomly; each learning something different.

And yet as I pondered this I had some other concerns:

  • The obvious one is that this is a prayer guide; Jesus clearly prefaced this with the caution to avoid repeating the same prayers over and over. (That does not preclude memorizing it however. It can be a helpful prayer in times of extreme stress when other words won’t come.)
  • The flowery and ornate language of the KJV simply isn’t how people communicate in today’s world; it detaches the words from the 21st Century.
  • The formality flies in the face of the warmth of the use of the opening Abba (Daddy) in the original language.

We wrestled with this for years. My own church was an early adopter of the seeker sensitive evangelism strategy at one of our three Sunday services. Debates usually went something like this, “Do we make the gospel relevant or communicate the relevance it already has?”

Of course, a generation raised on the KJV version of The Lord’s Prayer is not the generation that’s dropping, like flies, out of church. There are dones and nones in my cohort, but they are a distinct minority. While I still insist that it’s time to move on, that version served us well.

In the end, whether she uses the KJV, The Voice or anything in between; I hope she teaches the meaning behind the prayer; I hope the kids can take ownership of what it really means to pray for the advancement of God’s Kingdom agenda and the carrying out of his will; to petition him for daily provision; to confess the areas where we have missed the mark and seek his help in avoiding them in future. To affirm at the end that it’s all his.

But more important, I hope they don’t miss the intimacy and communion that Jesus intended for his disciples when he taught them what was then a very radical approach to prayer.

 

October 24, 2017

When Nones and Dones are More Closely Connected

Our friends offered to pay for dinner — a very nice treat in a newly opened restaurant where we both knew the owner from a previous venture she had sold — so the server was standing next to them as the machine processed their credit card.

Looking at me she asked, “Do you remember me?”

I focused my look at her and said, “You do look familiar. Where do I know you from?”

“You were my teacher in seventh grade.”

Ah, that. It’s easy for me to forget the one year I taught part-time at the Christian school. It seems like a whole lifetime ago.

But as soon as she said her name, and mentioned her mother, the other couple, who now attend the same church as her mom, rather dominated the conversation. It was clear from a comment she made that this young woman would not be attending church with her mom anytime soon.

Is she a “none” or a “done?”

I’m not sure, but she is a person whose life I was invested in — however briefly — many years ago and now here she was, up close and personal, and I saw the whole loss of someone to the body of Christ more acutely.

See…my kids are still in church on Sunday morning, and at this point, I don’t expect that to shift. They’ve set the trajectory of their lives, and barring catastrophic change, I think they intend to keep God in it. In the course of my work however I meet people who tell me stories of kids who lost interest in God, prayer, Bible reading, etc., but there is a difference: I didn’t know those kids when they were young.

The shepherd in me just wanted to grab this girl, enfold my arms around her — please don’t stop reading the sentence at that point (!) — and guide her safely and gently into the fold…

…This is to all those reading who have a son or a daughter who has wandered: I get it. Really, I got it before but now I have another name and face to add to the list of the many I’ve been aware of in this situation. I know with all your heart you just want to lead them back to Jesus and say, ‘Okay you two; sit down and talk.’

That’s what He wants, too. 

Pray for her


Coincidentally, I wrote this on Sunday at C201:

If you have a son or a daughter; or a brother or sister; and they have wandered away from their faith because of sin, it’s really important to encourage them to continue to keep the dialog going between themselves and God, even in times of brokenness.

In that spirit, we want to be a church that welcomes people — all people — even if that means people caught in addictions, same-sex couples, people covered head to toe with tattoos.

September 30, 2017

Empty Nest Syndrome: Be Careful What You Wish For

Filed under: children, Christianity, family, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

A full year in and I can tell you that Empty Nest Syndrome isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We’re knocking around in this great big house and I’m realizing that those empty rooms are not going to be occupied anytime soon, with the possible exception of a Christmas visit, and for one of our two boys, even that is partly in doubt.

Everyone kept saying, “Oh! You’re going to have the house to yourself!” I’m not sure what they’re thinking we would do by ourselves that we hadn’t already figured out a way to do when the kids were here. Well maybe this one: Save on groceries.

But we had experienced an empty nest before. My wife did a great job of fostering independence in our children, and a Christian summer camp played a big part in that (at first weeks, then a month on junior staff, and then full summers.) Of course, so did being away at college. In a sense, our birds vacated the nest a long, long time ago.

That doesn’t make it any easier. It’s very empty now, if you buy the logic that an empty glass can suddenly become more empty; there are few scenarios that would render those bedrooms reoccupied.

The older is an hour away. The youngest is two hours away. I miss the activity. I miss the conversations. I miss the quality of togetherness that you can’t get from online correspondence. Maybe I just need a hug.

Or maybe this is part of a natural cycle and just when things are really quiet, suddenly the kids reappear with grandchildren in tow.

So far there’s been no sign of that.

So the nest is empty.

And please don’t add a comment containing the word “downsizing.” I’m not quite ready for that.

Photos: Ruth Wilkinson

November 21, 2016

Make Bethlehem Great Again

make-bethlehem-great-again

Every year my wife performs at a really cool thing they do in our part of the world where people take a 25-minute walk through the various stations or aspects of the Christmas story called The Bethlehem Walk. After entering, groups wait in a waiting area until their number is called and while there, they listen to live music with choirs, soloists and contemporary bands performing Christmas-themed music.

Lately I’ve been joining her on some of these excursions, and this year I played two songs, and backed her on two; she did the rest herself. While doing a very hurried sound check, I asked the people in the waiting room how many were there for the first time, and then said, “We’re gonna make Bethlehem great again.”

People liked that line. After that, my contribution to the evening went downhill.

But she did well. Here’s a sample of her songwriting.

 

July 31, 2016

Growing Up In a Social Media World

Quantifying your Popularity

We spent several hours in the car yesterday, and a Saturday morning program on CBC Radio totally rocked our world with this idea, for which the quote below is approximately how it was worded:

For the first time in history a child or teen can quantify their popularity.

This can’t be healthy. What does a parent say? It’s hard to argue with a number. It’s difficult not to compare numbers. Does this become the child’s measure of self-worth?

 

 

May 15, 2016

Open But Cautious

There’s a phrase that I think I first heard used in some Christian and Missionary Alliance settings about the gifts of The Holy Spirit: “Open, but cautious.” Simply put, it represents people who are open to Spirit-led expressions of faith and doctrine but with the caveat of keeping their eyes wide open (or perhaps having one eye on scripture).

While my wife and I don’t attend weekly worship in a Charismatic or Assemblies of God-type of setting, I would say I am very much onside doctrinally inasmuch as I (a) am not a cessationist1, (b) believe in the limitless power of God to do the things people count as impossible2, and (c) believe that the things of God should touch our emotions as well as our minds3.

That said, when info about this camp came across my Twitter feed last night, I found it disturbing:

Signs and Wonders Camp

As regular readers know, I’m a huge believer in summer camp ministry. Find a camp, make sure it’s affiliated with Christian Camping International or Christian Camp & Conference Association or your denomination; and then send the kids as soon as they’re able to be away from home for a few nights. (I even wrote recently about some long-term benefits to be gained, apart from the spiritual immersion value.)

I also recognize that in Children’s Ministry (or KidMin as its now often referred to) there needs to be a point in the curriculum where you emphasize the distinctives of your doctrine, and if your kids are being raised in a Charismatic church, you want them to both have an education and have experiences with different facets of that environment.

So, I like Pentecostals, like camping and like KidMin. So what’s the problem?

Open, but cautious.

I’m not sure; I would just rather it was an adventure camp, or a horsemanship camp; or if you must title it after the teaching theme, a discipleship camp or a Christian leadership camp. I’d rather pin the emphasis on the giver rather than the gifts. I would prefer to focus on the normal Christian life rather than the occasions where God breaks in with the supernatural. I also don’t want to raise expectations for kids about the whens, wheres, whys and hows of sign gifts that could lead to disappointment.

Maybe I’m just a lousy Charismatic. Maybe I’m not attuned enough to the language and culture of some of today’s popular doctrinal streams.

Hopefully I am a realistic Christian who still believes in the ability of God to do the impossible; but with the awareness that the thing that makes the exceptional the exceptional is that it doesn’t happen every day.  So parents, would you send your kid to Signs and Wonders camp?

Signs and Wonders IHOP


1 I have actually never owned a Cessna, nor do I have a pilot’s license. More seriously, I do not see the end of the apostolic age or the completion of the canon of scripture signalling the end of certain gifts.
2 This said, my faith can be as weak as the next guy’s in certain situations, not to mention a trademark Canadian pessimism that at times permeates my prayer life.
3 The things of God should touch our hearts and our emotions, but often they don’t. Spiritual complacency and apathy are always crouching at the door, and when a preacher tries to rev up an audience into emotional frenzy, I am often the first to want to shut down completely.

April 26, 2016

Camp Memories (2)

“This is Natalie. She has no English. She will learn, yes?”

With that, her mom left the registration desk and drove off leaving her little 11-year old girl in our care for six nights.

But we didn’t know the registration story until three days in.

Natalie (not her real name, at least I don’t think so) turned out to be a handful, but not in any hyperactive or disciplinary sense. Simply put the girl appeared to be a young nymphomaniac. She was very affectionate to the male sports instructors. She was very touchy-feely with some of the male counselors. She seemed to have no limits in rubbing against male senior staff members like a cat.

Not having the vocabulary to verbalize even the most basic things, she communicated physically. In ways that were inappropriate. In ways that suggested there was lot more to this than just a language barrier.

Today, we have the internet. Simple searches can reveal patterns. We know that sometimes a child that young has probably had their sexuality button switched on by abuse of some type. We talk about those things more freely. The internet, in many respects, makes everyone an expert on subjects that formerly have been left to the professionals.

middle school youth ministryBut flashback a few decades and those supports didn’t exist. In fact, it took several days for our assortment of instructors, counselors, kitchen crew, maintenance workers, and senior staff to combine their stories to form an overall picture of what had been happening at camp. People started comparing notes, and the anecdotal base grew rapidly.

Fortunately, this was an era where the staff, though very large, had a strong sense of morality and ethical integrity. These days, it seems that everywhere you turn there are stories of people in children’s ministry or youth ministry landing on the front pages of local newspapers. It would not surprise me to hear of camps hosting children like Natalie with totally different outcomes.

I got invited to the senior staff meeting. I mostly sat in silence except to say, “I’m not sure how she knows the difference between a 16-year old staff member and a 16-year old camper.” I went on to say, “I think we’re okay with our staff because they’ve been screened carefully, but don’t know that a camper might not take advantage of her.”

The meeting continued and eventually it was decided to quietly communicate the situation to the entire staff base — some 150 people — to make sure staff kept their eyes open; to make sure that any and all contact with male campers was being supervised.

Another half week later, Natalie got picked up and the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief as her mom’s car drove out the front entrance. In the ten minutes that followed I heard at least three people simply say, “It’s okay; she’s gone.”

I know this camp, and I know that in the intervening years there were probably a few more Natalies. I would wager to say that the number of kids who have been in abusive situations, even in seemingly-respectable upper-middle class homes is probably slowly increasing, and the number of adolescent and pre-adolescent kids acting out their sexuality is growing accordingly. But liability concerns dictate that camps, Christian and otherwise, make sure that staff at all levels are trained in negotiating various complex situations. For the most part, camp staff are doing the right thing.

For our camp staff, what was the issue here? Was the problem Natalie, or Natalie’s mom; the way she simply dropped her off and made a hasty exit off the property?

I went about 20 years and never thought about Natalie. But recently, as online reports about crises in youth ministry and children’s ministry seem to get darker and more frequent, she came back to mind, as my personal poster child for post-abuse. Sure, maybe some of it was hormonal, and I know that there are occurrences of kids acting out in this way simply because that’s how they’re wired, and I know that the lack of verbal communication messed up the dynamics that week; but despite that, I remain convinced that something in her past had triggered her precocious behavior, though our summer staff that year never knew what it was, and never will…


…On Saturday morning the kids leave and just hours later, you’re hosting a new batch of children, and dealing with different issues…

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