Growing up, I adored my grandfather. He was probably the funniest man I ever knew, with a razor sharp wit, absurdism and satire running through his veins, and an imagination that seemed to know no bounds. His letters to me were mini-masterpieces of surreal satire, and he knew how to have fun, how to puncture pomposity, and how to provoke people to think. Yet he was, by today's standards, uneducated. He had left school at thirteen to work in a factory; he was a union man; he lived through the General Strike and the Depression; he knew what it was like to tramp the streets, looking for work but knowing there was no work to be found; and, a psychological victim of the British class system, he never came to see my mum play sport for her school lest he cause her embarrassment. I loved him dearly and when he died, it was as if my own world came to an end.
I hated the system that had treated my grandfather like dirt and kept him tugging his forelock at those whose only virtue was to have been born to wealthier familes; I hated the system that had worked him so hard and broken his health so that he could never really enjoy his retirement; and I hated the system that had made him believe all this was part of his proper place in the world and had even persuaded him that it would be less embarrassing for all if he did not come to the touchline to watch his daughter play sport for her school. Indeed, one of the reasons I wanted so desperately to get in to Cambridge was to show him, and myself, and the chinless public school (in the British sense) wonders who epitomized the system, that the system could be beaten, that someone from my family could push their way in to the very heart of the establishment by sheer hard work and natural talent, rather than by money, `breeding,' and possession of no chin and an old school tie. The day I was accepted, he told my mum that he could not believe that the family had risen from being nothing to being represented at Cambridge. But in my eyes we hadn't risen at all, we had simply made a necessary point: we could do it too; we could get to where `they' were. My grandfather was not nothing; he was -and still is -- one of the greatest men I have ever known. What could that great mind have done, if only it had been given the privilege and leisure of study?
Now, there's quite a contrast between the world in which my grandfather grew up and the world of today. By age fifteen, he had done two years of hard work; had he not done so, the result would have been simple - he would have starved. By age twenty, he knew what responsibility was; by age thirty he had spent over half his life in the workplace. Indeed, he did not become an adult when he married and had children; he had already been an adult since before he had really needed to shave.
Today is so different. If the poverty and hard work of my grandfather's era left men middle-aged at thirty, the ease and trivia of today's society seems to leave us trapped in a permanent Neverland where we all, like so many Peter (and Patty) Pans, live lives of eternal youth. Where my grandfather spent his day hard at work, trying - sometimes desperately - to make enough money to put bread on the table and shoes on his children's feet, today many have time to play X-Box and video games, or warble on and on incessantly in that narcissistic echo-chamber that is the blogosphere. The world of my grandfather was evil because it made him grow up too fast; the world of today is evil because it prevents many from ever growing up at all.
In some ways, today's world is the very antithesis of earlier ages. I always found sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings of children to be somewhat creepy: adult heads on tiny, immature bodies, as if the artists had no real concept of youth and childhood that allowed them to depict faces as such. Strange, isn't it, that the airbrushing techniques so often used in today's glossy magazines seem designed to have precisely the opposite effect: to place young heads on bodies that we know are much older. The concept of old age is perhaps slowly but surely being airbrushed out of representations in the popular media.
Numerous incidents over recent years have brought the sad effect of all this home to me. As a professor at university and seminary, I have had too many run-ins with students who act like five year olds and, when held to account, express all the pouting resentment that one comes to expect from a generation that demands respect but refuses to put in the time and effort to earn it. You see them on the blogs, screaming their abuse and demanding to be heard, carrying on their tirades long after the threshold of Godwin's Law and any semblance of decency or credibility has been passed for the umpteenth time. They have achieved nothing - but they demand that you respect them!
The inept Islamic suicide bombers in Britain are just the most extreme, pestiferous example of this immaturity: incompetent, spotty juveniles who make portentous suicide videos and then fail to blow anything up because they forgot their car keys, or bought the wrong ingredients for bomb making from the local store, or were amazed that putting in an order in for two-hundred bottles of peroxide aroused suspicion at the local hair salon who contacted the local police: `I see, madame, and can I assume that Mr Mohammed is not actually a natural blond.....?'. These thugs demand respect in the most extreme ways; but their behaviour inspires less horror than it does simple derision and mockery.
But it gets more disturbing than simply finding people in their twenties and thirties acting like spoiled children. Parents are becoming increasingly involved as well. With two sons in travel football (that's soccer to any American readers), I have stood on too many touchlines where parents act like frustrated two years olds as the game does not develop as they would like; and, again, as a professor, I have had unpleasant experiences with parents too. Being told by a parent that their child is `young and immature' works for my wife - she teaches at a church nursery, dealing with three year olds - but it wears a bit thin when the problem child is eighteen, nineteen, twenty....thirty.... And that this kind of stuff seems more common in the church than in the secular world is disturbing. It does not inspire much confidence about the future and, if anything, provides anecdotal confirmation to those who see religion in general and Christianity in particular, as a refuge for the emotionally retarded.
So what are we to do? I am tempted to say: return to the world of my grandfather! but that would be foolish. I hated that world for what it did to him. Yes, he grew up fast and took responsibility for himself and his family, but at what cost? Indeed, I hate that world as much as I despise the glib talk of `the dignity of manual labour' that drips from the lips of the chardonnay-sipping chatterati for whom manual labour is not scrubbing floors to make ends meet, as it was for my grandmother, but pruning the roses and putting out the recycle bin once a week -- no doubt full of empty bottles of Bolly and Krug.
The answer, then, is not a naïve, nostalgic hankering for a return to an era of poverty and cruel hardship. Rather it is surely obvious: we need to put aside childish things and start acting like adults. Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself. When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people - even the people to whom we are close - then something has gone badly wrong. The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth. My grandfather was lucky in this one thing: he did not have time to be immature because he did not have the surplus income that would have granted him that luxury. That is not to exalt the virtue of poverty - poverty is an evil - but it is to underscore the dangers that come with wealth in abundance.
Second, we need to stop idolizing our children. At twenty seven, I had a wife, a child, a Ph.D. and a monograph from Oxford University Press. I looked for all the world like an adult. Then I got myself into a bit of financial difficulty, to the tune of about two-hundred pounds, a small sum but not when you are at the bottom of the British academic payscale and a one-income family to boot. I phoned my father for help. He read me the riot act about financial irresponsibility, helped me get out of the immediate fix, and told me that he never, ever wanted me to call and tell him I was in such a fix again. He loved me but he did not idolize me; he knew it was time for me to stand on my own two feet. I loved my dad, but he scared the daylights out of me with that talk. Yet, looking back, that was one of the moments which was the making of me: look, son, you're big boy now; look after yourself and don't come crying to me every time you screw up. A sobering, critical moment in the relationship between father and son; but, in my dealings with others, it finds increasingly few parallels. Touch the child, even the one with the beard, the wisdom teeth, and the warm fuzzy memories of the time when New Kids On The Block were all the rage in High School, and you touch the sacred idol; you can expect the parents to come a-calling.
You are, of course, what you worship, as Psalm 115 reminds us, and thus, as long as we idolize our children and the culture of youth, we can expect to - well, be just like them: pouting, irresponsible, hormonal, unpleasant and, frankly, as creepy as those sixteenth century portraits of little children with adult faces. Trapped in Neverland with no hope of escape.
Gotta grow up or become what we worship! J
Friday, November 14, 2008
I read this incredible article by Carl Trueman, and thought it worthy of a post!!! Please take the time to read it.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Our boy Jed is at that age in life where he starts to get a little awkward and says and does some very funny things. This weekend he has been especially hyped. He has not stopped talking except for his 3 hour nap today, and he has been bouncing around, giggling and laughing. It's an adventure to say the least. Here is a few of the funny things he did tonight:
Mom, I can't hear Papa. I don't know what's wrong. Oh, the phone is upside down, that might be the problem.
Hey Mom, when do you think we can go to the junkyard. I bet we can get lots of cool stuff there.
While a current song is playing in the background,
Wow this sure is a good song...(a little later) boy, I sure wish I knew how to snap...(and later when singer says, are you ready) yeah, I'm ready!We love our boy. He is a ton of fun, and he makes us laugh a lot! Here's to 10 more years of it.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Danette and I just started reading Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. The main emphasis of the book is on formative training in the lives of children. Basically, the Tripps are calling parents to do the hard work of intentional and purposeful instruction in the lives of our kids. This purposeful formation must be centered around the Gospel, that is that Christ died the death we should have died and lived the life we should have lived to bring us to God. The big question of course then is how do you do this? And the answer is composed of two elements. You set up regular times of teaching and instruction for your kids, and you do it ‘as you go’ or as you walk through life together. This formative instruction will in end prove to be a deep well that children can draw from that leads to life. So, through this, Danette and I are going to attempt to weave regular instruction into our lives. Here are some of the ways we are hoping to do it, in truth we have done some of these things, the trick now is to develop greater consistency, while maximizing those teachable moments. Here goes:
First the intentional aspect of formative instruction: this is composed of regular times of family worship, daily prayer, the catechism and Scripture reading. Three to five times a week we want to gather as a family for worship. This usually begins with a Bible story from Scripture. A very important part of this is making sure you attach the smaller story to the larger story of Scripture. Too many times we read a story and try to make it stand alone without connecting it both to the historical context and the Scriptural context. What this leads to is great stories of valor and morality, but stories that we can never live up to. It produces Christians who try to slay giants, have great faith so they can accomplish all that they want to in this life or not fail when temptation comes like Jonah. And what is largely absent from this life - Jesus. Jesus is what makes Christianity, Christianity. He separates us from Islam and Judaism and any other religious way of life. The Scripture points to who He is and what He has done. After all Jesus explains the Bible to the disciples on the road to Emmaus this way, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Notice the word all - in all the Scriptures. The Scriptures are about Him. He is point. So we want to show the children how Abraham, Moses, the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, David, Solomon, the Prophets and the Exile all relate to Jesus. The story of God’s mission and our redemption is the main story Scripture tells and all the little stories point to this. So to do this, we read a story out of The Big Picture Story Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible. Both of these are incredibly well written, well illustrated and deeply theological, while at the same time packaged in a way that kids enjoy it and can grasp it. After the Bible time, we may sing two or three worship songs or tell God many things we are thankful for or what makes Him great. Danette and I aren’t musicians, although Danette sometimes thinks she is a great singer, harkening back to memories of singing with Great - Grandpa at church. Anyway, we use the ipod and sing some rich hymns or Sovereign Grace kids songs. All of these songs are full of Gospel truths. We finish with prayer. Each child prays for a friend or request, and Danette and I pray for each child and other friends and family.
A second formational thing we are doing is memorizing Bible verses and the Shorter Catechism. Our church, Trinity Harbor PCA, has given out a summer set of verses. The girls are learning Genesis 1:1 and Jed is learning Psalm 100:1 right now. We also learn the catechism and do a short devotion driving home the main points of the catechism each day. We do this in the morning, sometime. The catechism is a series of questions and answers that explain the basic tenets of this faith we believe and attempt to live out. The first question/answer set in the Shorter Catechism is this: Q: What is man’s primary purpose? A: Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. After we spend some time memorizing the question and answer, we then turn to the Bible portion which centers around things like this for example, how do you use something for its created purpose? After all we don’t use shoe polish to make our teeth white, that’s not it’s purpose. So, man is made for God. We are made to glorify Him and enjoy Him. When we live for things - toys, money, possessions, love, princesses, football or video games - we aren’t being used for our purpose. Anyway each teaching centers around this first question for a week, then we move on to question 2 with short devotions centered around this question and answer. This material is great and comes from Teaching Hearts and Training Minds.
A third aspect of this intentional formation is prayer in the morning and blessings at bed time. We put the kids to bed each night with a blessing from Desiring God Children’s Blessings - these are Scriptural prayers of blessing. We also pray for peace in the night and a Godward focus to the day in the morning. The kids always ask to be prayed for at night. I think this is part of their nightly stalling routine sometimes, and I often times find myself wanting to be lazy, but they don’t forget, and it is a good thing that they don’t. Judson loves being prayed for, when we put him in the crib he stays standing and says prah, prah...I then place my hand on his head and pray and bless him. It is pretty cute.
The next important piece and probably more vital is the “as you go” type teaching. We see this as part of the command of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples” should be translated still as a command, but with the implication it is as you Go, you are to make disciples. As you walk through all thing various things in this life, make disciples. It isn’t some religious experience removed from life. Rather it is through the very basic things of life that you make disciples. No where else is this more regular than in the home and as you do the things you do as a family. This instruction should center on the Gospel and our need of grace, verses a more moral values behavior focused training. It is so easy to always threaten with rewards and punishments, while never teaching the heart. From where does evil come - the heart. Where does my kids and my first problem reside - inside. We do want to teach values, but values that are founded and established in and by Christ through the Spirit. So, when Jed says its hard to not get angry playing a video game or when Jadyn says I can’t clean up or Blakley says I don’t want to share, the answer isn’t necessarily in punishment, although it might help, and the answer isn’t, hey, you can do, just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and try. Rather we try to help them see that they need help to do anything and all things, and where does this help come? It comes from God. So we want them to pray and ask Jesus for the power and ability to do any of the above things. It is hard. In fact it is impossible...we need grace to empower us to do what is right. This grace comes from outside of us. It isn’t just sitting there waiting to be enacted by our effort. Rather it comes from Christ, and it is how we do anything good in this life. This instruction comes as you go, it comes at the pool, in the living room, at the mall or at the field. It sometimes involves scenarios. Like, Jed what if boys at school want to make fun of another boy, what do you do? Blakley, what do you do when you don’t want to share your new toys and a friend comes over? Things like this are a part of “as you go” instruction.
A last aspect of instruction comes through discipline. Tripp stresses that this cannot be the only time of instruction. Rather it is a part, but only a part of the instruction process. I am reminded of Doug Wilson’s great exhortation in his book Future Men, when he says we should view discipline with delight. This is a great time to teach and train. It is a gift according to the writer of Hebrews. What I realize is that I usually despise discipline, both the Lord’s of me and mine of my children. It is inconvenient. It is hard. But those whom the Lord loves He disciplines. This is also a great time to teach the Gospel. One of the great truths of the Gospel is penal substitutionary atonement. This doctrine states that Christ took our punishment, namely the wrath of God poured out on sin and sinners. He stood in our place and received what we should have received. Many times when I discipline, I will remind the children that this discipline is for their benefit, and I do it because I love them and then I will remind them that it is temporary and it ends, because of Jesus. You don’t have to receive the just punishment you deserve for sin. Punishment that lasts forever. You don’t have to, because of Jesus. He took your punishment. So, long after the sting fades, you will feel better, but through Jesus you can truly be forgiven and free forever.
Lastly, a couple of the incredible things I have been learning in all of this is one, how much the Gospel is for me as a parent. It is here in my failure and sin that I most cling to the promise of Christ found in the Gospel. He took the place for me and for my anger, laziness and frustration just as much for my kid’s quarrels, deceit and selfishness. Second, I have learned how faithful God is to grant wisdom when we ask and then seek, and both the asking and then the seeking are grace. They both are a gift. I sometimes ask for wisdom, but don’t seek it out. I ask, but don’t do the work of seeking. This week God has shown me how he blesses with wisdom when I seek and study. And both in both of these God gets the credit, because it is by grace that I ask and by grace that I am empowered to seek. I am hopeful that Danette and I can develop this type of instruction as a regular part of our lives, and that God will impart grace to us and our children through it.
My father is a race car driver. He loves cars, and especially loves racing them. He has raced bikes, go-carts, R/C cars, quarter-scale, late models, stocks, modifieds, sprints, migets and soap box. If it has wheels and can be run, he will race it. Growing up he invited me into this world. I grew up at the track. Every Friday and Saturday night we found ourselves at the local dirt track. I can still smell the popcorn, the mud, the smoldering oil and burnt rubber. I can see the racing the oval rubbing my dust filled eyes. I hear the roar of the multitude of engines, and I still taste the dust. My dad involved me in all of it, and he had high hopes for me. I tried to ride and drive, but I was too scared, too timid for the speed and the edge required of a driver. I just didn’t love it like dad did and does. But if there was a love or at least a romantic impulse, a muffled desire or muted longing it was for this mystical race called Baja. My dad would speak of it, often but I never saw it, because it wasn’t on TV. I remember cheering for Rick Mears at Indy, but Ivan Stewart and the Baja, no visual moving pictures to inspire. I mean I saw snap shots in the racing magazines dad subscribed too, but that was it - only still pics. This left room for my imagination and my dreams. And I had the words of my dad. He would talk about this 1000 mile race that went all day and through the night.
It happened in Mexico - Baja, California. The men who drove in it had a dedication and drive that made the nascar and indy car drives quake in their comfortable seats. Sure those guys went faster, but it is kinda like the glory of the dragster verses nascar. Dragsters go fast, but only go for a few seconds, whereas the Indy car and the Nascar drivers go 500 miles. Well, at Baja they go fast, and they go long - 1000 miles - 15 to 20 plus hours. It is off-road, not pristine tracks with angled turns, rather it is a race with twists and turns, ups and downs, pits of dust and mud, cacti and 1000’s of loyal fans who line the dust-filled roads just a few feet off the course taking their lives in their own hands as they watch. It is staged over the course of a full day, and there is driving at night. There are no street lights and no pit roads with comfy RV’s. Only a few lights on a cab or helmet to guide. There are motorcycles, ATV’s, dune buggies, trucks, and VW bugs. The motorcycles are the fastest and the unmodified bugs are the slowest, but the event is marked not just by speed but also by those who finish. In fact there isn’t even huge prize money, no million dollar purses, and there isn’t any big-time trophies. What is there is glory. The glory that comes with enduring till the end in a grueling and challenging race that risks life and limb of both contestant and spectator. One racer called the race spiritual, mystical. Another says in one day you experience everything, great and terrible and it is how you deal with them at the end of the night - it’s like life.
I spent part of my night last night watching a documentary called, “Dust to Glory,” which documented this great race that is a microcosim of this thing called life. One such story is that of a driver named Mouse McCoy. McCoy is an accomplished motorcycle driver. He has driven motocross since a boy and has both left the thing he loved, abandoning it in burn-out only to return once again to the well, seeking joy and sustenance from it one more time. He and his team decided they would attempt to become the first motorcycle driver to ride the whole 1000 miles alone. You see Baja is a team race. It takes a dedicated team of mechanics, sponsors and spotters to get the drivers to cross that finish line, but it also takes multiple drivers. I mean seriously, I am exhausted after a 10 hour day of driving the comfy asphalt of the interstate in my smooth riding, air-conditioned, cruise-controled mini-van. Imagine a 1000 mile 15 plus hour day of physical beating, stress of racing, burden of taking your life in your hands so to speak at every turn and the pressure of the expectations of a team of friends, workers and sponsors who have put their livelihood into your effort. That makes for a pretty exhausting day. Well, Mouse starts early and halfway through is in like 10th place. He is mostly delirious, seriously he sounds half drunk through most of the commentary, but this is the stress and burden of the ride. He manages to make up 7 or so spots in the next 400 plus miles. He passes the 3rd place cycle and is only 60 miles from the finish line. His wrists are numb, his mind is loopy, his bike is battered and his team is amazed, but 60 miles out he wrecks. This is Baja. It can jump up and bite you at any moment and leave you shipwrecked on the side of road, beaten and bloody. Mouse has broken ribs, a separated shoulder, a broken bike (no lights- and it is the middle of the night), and is still as mentally exhausted as ever. Will he finish? Or will he be disqualified, out of the running? Well, another rider, comes by and discovers Mouse, while his team is frantically scouring the back roads of Mexico outside Ensenada hoping to find him alive and well. This rider stops helps Mouse back onto his bike and together with this rider’s lone light they ride to the finish. But they don’t just ride. They don’t coast it in. They could, right? I mean Mouse is broken. He deserves to take it easy. He will still be the first to finish the ride all by his lonesome. Nope these two ride driving over 100 mph, and race to the finish. One driver sacrificing for another to get him to the finish line, racing the both of them together all the way in. I mean you can’t write better poetry. And you can’t have a better parable of the Christian life, so to speak.
We are in a race like the Baja 1000. The race is like life, and it is full of treachery, danger, adventure and intrigue. It is painful and frustrating. It is full of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, ecstasy and pain. We too ride alone but as a team. We need this team, depend on this team and in reality we race together. We too falter, fail, fumble and fall. We also race for glory. Now, we can take this parable to one extreme and make it rich with rugged American individualism. Right, every many must race alone and finish alone. It is all on you. We can even make it spiritual. Only your decision for Christ will last. Sound familiar. We only finish when we chose this day who we will serve. We can take it to another extreme of that of extreme dedication, hard work and determination. Right, we fight the elements of life and we work hard, do our best and we finish that race. It sounds Christian. We even add “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” meaning I can do it if I work hard, pray hard and just believe that I can do it. Christ name is attached, but Jesus is largely absents. We do this so well. We mix our metaphors and confuse our stories. We think that if we work hard enough or long enough or if we just keep getting up when knocked down then we will finish this race of life and God will look down and say, Well done faithful servant, and based on our meritorious, boy scoutish way, we will earn the Lord’s good favor by finishing strong, racing till the end, helping a brother out. To be certain there are glimmers of truth in these views, but the real parable is that of us staggering our way down the dusty road of life, trying and failing, fluttering and falting, dizzily wallowing about on the road. We are discombobulated like Mouse. We are broken down like Mouse. We are lost like Mouse, but then comes a lone rider who amazingly can finish the race alone, one who can make it all the way, and in reality He isn’t alone at all, in fact He is following every action of His Father and is being upheld by the Spirit. He is racing as a team, and amazingly He invites us in and by His finishing the race, by His record and by His sacrifice kinda like the rider who helped Mouse, in Him we are saved. In union with Him, we finish, because He finished. When He screamed those words on the cross, and when God vindicated Him by resurrecting Him from the grave, the race was won. We still race, all do, but in Him and only in Him do we finish. Not by attaching Him to our small stories, but by being united with Him and in Him to His work, do we finish. And through this union then, we are able to get up and finish, because He finished, not just as our example, but also as our actual advocate and finisher. And it is in union with Him that we race for the only glory that will last, glory not to us and our efforts, but glory to the only one who finishes, the only one who carries us, the one who lasts, the only one who is really worthy, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.
“Dust to Glory” concludes with the following quote, “1000 miles in 32 hours can be a lifetime in a blink, do they find glory? I couldn’t say, because the race never ends. But if they do it is in the dust and it won’t wash away.” The Scripture often speaks of us as dust, indicating how common we are, how dependent, and in truth our racing and striving do end, and as for glory, it can be had but only by being united to Christ, racing with HIm, through Him, by Him, in Him...for from Him, through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” You see He gets the glory, because He is worthy to receive it, and in union with Him we too share in this glory, this glory that we desperately seek is received only when it is given away to the only one who actually earned it.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Today, I celebrate my 13th wedding anniversary to this incredible woman. Danette is loyal. She is the first in my corner and the last one standing with me. Danette is a servant. She gives daily, hourly to our young family. She tirelessly picks up, cleans up, dresses up, mops up, lifts up, and looks up. Danette is fun. She loves to laugh and giggle. She sees funny little things we all do each day and she laughs with delight. Danette is merciful. She feels and hurts, she weeps with those who weep and laughs with those who laugh. Danette is organized. With a tight house, a tight budget and a tight calendar, she runs our home with efficiency and love. Danette is understanding. She willingly gave up some special days together while being thoughtful to the needs of our immediate and extended family. Danette is hot! Let's face it she truly is "one-hot mamma." I love you babe, and I am oh so thankful for these 13 years.