Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why I Torture my Kids

My kids are not having a fun childhood.

I can only image how they must view their home experience in light of all their friends whose parents are much easier on them. Normal households probably don't require as much reading, as much work, as much discipline and as much thinking as ours does. Growing up in our house is likely not the pleasing experience that they hear about at school or from peers in other places. In my more reflective moments, I feel sorry for them.

My poor children... It seems their dad is never satisfied with how much they have read, how clean their room is, how fast they're growing up or how mature they act in public. I come home everyday and ask "What are you reading?" in a transparent attempt to make them 'bloom' sooner than I did. As the "patron saint of late bloomers," I know first hand the challenges accrued by an atrophied instinct to learn. There are so many ways in which I wish for my children a better path of development than I stumbled through. For this reason, I likely have an obsession with them learning at the front end, many lessons that I required life-pain to learn by now. It's unfair and, frankly, kinda mean.

However, as I examine the trajectory of culture, and the world as it was when I was their age, there appears fewer ambient voices calling for them to be strong people of character than there were when I was young. The moral compasses wielded by school teachers when I was in high school are virtually absent from my kids' experience. Television has degenerated as well, with shows extolling virtue and wisdom airing mainly during rerun marathons. It seems that parents have less help from the surrounding culture to grow children into responsible, strong and faithful adults than they did just a generation ago. This does not make it impossible to parent in today's American society, it just seems that to raise children as well as parents of yesteryear did, one must simply work harder than they did.

Working harder (and smarter) as a parent translates into being even more engaged in the church than parents a generation ago felt was necessary; to performing spiritual leadership in the home more than our parents did; to make the home more of a classroom; to being more attuned to children's needs and developmental stages; to taking even more advantage of the teachable moments to connect with kids around important principles. It simply requires greater commitment, competence and concentration from parents today to be as effective at developing the people in their home than was required of parents generations ago when the culture was more helpful. Some acknowledge this and retreat into the Christian subculture, avoiding as much contact with the outside world as possible. Our philosophy has, instead, been to simply take it to the next level so our children can "take the culture by storm."

Our decision has not been easy on our children though. They'd have likely had an easier existence had my wife and I simply resigned ourselves to developing average offspring. The temptation to revert to that is ever present. However, we've received reports that our philosophy is yielding promising results. Others that provide a positive report about our children only encourages us that all this hard work is having a positive effect. My poor children; this does not help them.

When I wake them up at 5:30 am twice a week for "morning PT" (physical training), they feel the full brunt of this philosophy. When we run a mile and a half on the dark, quiet streets I use that opportunity to share thoughts and principles of life with them. It's a special time of influence with them to offer fatherly insights while we struggle and sweat together. Moments like this are more difficult than most "reasonable" fathers might put their kids through; but we're not trying to produce children like most are. We are attempting to develop these children into adults that will be decidedly unlike most - with greater endurance, leadership instincts, character, wisdom and faith than their peers. Such times must seem like torture to my poor children. The average teenager would escape into an iPod to weather such moments of intensive interaction. However, we are not attempting to produce average teenagers either.

My poor children... I 'torture' them by assigning more reading than their school does. I 'torture' them by implementing strange family traditions that differ from the surrounding culture. I 'torture' them by giving all those 'pep talks' while running in the morning. I 'torture' them by helping them develop goals and aspirations that will require more work and excellence from them than perhaps they realize. I 'torture' them making them learn more, get stronger, think longer and mature faster than they would choose on their own.

My children are not having a fun childhood. They have a father that thinks they can grow up to be amazing people, and is working toward that end. I hope they one day make enough money to afford all the therapy. But if they don't need the therapy, hopefully they look back and think that while the childhood experience wasn't fun all the time... it was good.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Symbols Mean Things

When worshiping in symbol "rich" service, it behooves the worshiper to look around and take stock of the various images and objects surrounding them designed to inform and influence the worship event. Particularly in a liturgical setting, one should not take the various symbols for granted; on the contrary, it falls to the parishioner to learn of their meaning and have that lesson aid the religious experience. One such symbol was observed regularly some time ago when worshiping at a church where a local Bishop was also the church Rector. Thus, each Sunday saw that Bishop processing into the assembly at the beginning of the service, and then back out again at the conclusion.

Those that attend such a type of church do not need to be reminded of the impressive raiment donned by Bishops during the service. The robe, the mitre and the Shepherd's staff all combine to project the simultaneous images of authority and responsibility. However, if you don't fully know what you're looking at, as has been my case during the past year, they can appear "merely" impressive, not appreciating the meaning of the symbols. Recently, however, I developed a greater appreciation for at least one of those symbols: the Shepherd's crook.

In an episcopal church structure, Bishops are the "shepherds" that delegate some of the pastor duties to the local rector (pastor). Nonetheless, regardless of how much local pastors perform some of the "pastoring," the Bishop apparently knows that responsibility for the "shepherding" falls to him. This was recently demonstrated to me in a powerful way when our church underwent an episode that held the potential to devolve into a tumultuous affair. However, in typical "shepherd" fashion, the Bishop came to offer personal assurance that all would be fine, that pastoral care goes on uninterrupted, and that the Lord is our Shepherd - therefore, we lack nothing (Psalm 23).

Symbols mean things. In this case, the symbol of a Bishop processing into a church service with the shepherd's staff reflects the reality of his responsibility, his responsiveness and the "shepherding" from the Lord offered by his office. I love that symbol. It reminds me that "the Lord is my Shepherd," and because of how the Lord sends us Bishops for pastoral care... "I lack nothing."

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Wounded make Good Warnings

We've all seen it on screen. Some may have even witnessed it first hand. Somehow the group of soldiers suspects a minefield is ahead, and express a collective hesitance and caution. Nevertheless, one among them (sometimes it's the "gung ho" leader) steps out boldly, showing no fear.

What follows is a flash of light...
the ear-splitting sound of the explosion...
the aerosol musk of vaporized flesh and blood...
the unnatural screaming...
and the mangled remains of a formerly proud comrade splayed out on the ground.

Some rush to aid the wounded soldier (if he's still alive). Some click their tongues and say, "We told you to watch out for mines." All see it as confirmation of the dangers that abound. Regardless of whether the wounded man survives, the enemy has effectively taken him out. If he survives, he will no longer be part of the mission. He'll be whisked away for emergency medical attention. Hopefully, he'll adapt well to civilian life, but he won't be back to the mission he was so committed to. Some wounds don't heal. Legs don't grow back. No prosthetic yet invented can reinstate a soldier whose body was shattered by a careless moment.

I am speaking, of course, regarding leaders in The Church.

The story is far, far too frequent. He knows the dangers. He's heard the warnings over and over again. He may have even witnessed a comrade "step on a mine" before, and the horrific carnage that ensued in the man's professional and personal life. Nevertheless, in a moment of dropping his guard down, off he trots out into a suspicious "field" without regard for the warning signs.

BOOM!!!!!

...and in a flash his career as a minister is over. The respect of his peers is vaporized. The trust of his wife and children is gone. His influence in the community vanishes. His credentials are empty. His degrees meaningless. His income cut off. His purpose jettisoned (for the foreseeable future). Those that loved him aren't certain whether to pity him for his weakness or hate him for his betrayal. They'll feel both strongly for quite a while. If he's a repentant Christian, just about the only thing you can say is going for him is that he'll go to Heaven when he dies.

Such is the plight of the Christian minister that succumbs to moral failure while leading in the Church - especially if that "failure" involves infidelity to his wife. The loyalty of the minister to his spouse is a picture of the loyalty of Christ to HIS "Bride" (The Church). If he punts his loyalty to her for a few moments of deceitful ecstasy, people who discover it understandably wonder how faithful they can expect God to be to them. "After all," they reason to themselves, "Where was God here? How could he let this happen?" Some may have their faith considerably shaken by the revelation that their minister has betrayed his spouse and them. The spiritually resilient, at best, will emerge from their pain with a new perspective on how much more faithful God is than man.

As for that once confident "soldier" that now has to adapt to civilian life... Hopefully the once effective minister will be able to make an adequate living selling used cars somewhere in the panhandle. As a Christian, he needs to humbly integrate into a new church somewhere far away, and take private satisfaction in being given the honor of cleaning the bathrooms. All sins are forgivable, but not all sins are reversible. When he submits to a new leader (that also knows his background), forgiveness will take the form of his opportunity to come to the rail, commune with Christ and His body, serving humbly when and where he is directed; but no more leading the charge. After having “blown himself apart” with careless presumption, he should not seek to lead anyone anywhere - and none should follow him.

I've now seen this scenario play out a couple of times with men that I have known. Hopefully, their wounds make for good warnings to me. Far from being the most exemplary "soldier," I've veered too close to the minefield before - spared by a caring buddy that yanked me back and shouted, "What the F@#% is the matter with you?! You wanna blown your legs off?! Pay attention, A**HOLE!!!" How embarrassing to know that among the two possible modes (1. vigilant and 2. careless), I've been one before because I wasn't being the other.

Nevertheless, the wounded make good warnings - for me and for all men.

BOOM!!!! There's goes our buddy. The guys trained in first aid try to help... But there's no getting around it - he's out of the game. We'll keep patrolling our area, watching our corners, knowing that HQ will send another one at some point - but he's done. Hope it works out for him "stateside." We'll remember him for a while... that is until be build new memories with the next leader we get. Everybody's on their guard now. We all walk lightly. Tex tells me that Mac can "smell" a minefield. He's got "point" tonight. We pay attention to him... close attention to him. The wounded make good warnings. Maybe that's a way to look at it. Sucks that Lt. Smith lost both legs like that, but maybe eight or nine of us won't lose ours because we saw it happen.