Tag Archives: children

Show up for your kids: Let go of your “helicopter God”

In a recent article for the NY Times Parenting section, Daniel Siegel, along with Tina Payne Bryson,  uncannily explored the gospel again. I’ve read Siegel’s books, seen him speak, and have often been surprised by how I resonate with his spiritual wavelength.

This time he is taking some loving swipes at how parents, especially people of means, are raising their children. The picture I lifted from the article shows the problem clearly, I think. He asks us to:

Take a moment and fast forward in your mind to a day in the future when your child, now an adult, looks back and talks about whether she felt truly seen and embraced by you. Maybe she’s talking to a spouse, a friend or a therapist — someone with whom she can be totally, brutally honest. Perhaps she’s saying, “My mom, she wasn’t perfect, but I always knew she loved me just as I was.” Or, “My dad really got me, and he was always in my corner, even when I did something wrong.” Would your child say something like that? Or would she end up talking about how her parents always wanted her to be something she wasn’t, or didn’t take the time to really understand her, or wanted her to act in ways that weren’t authentic in order to play a particular role in the family or come across a certain way?

Francesco Ciccolella, NY Times

The power of showing up

Of course, Siegel is going to say something brilliant that makes you wonder how you could have ever parented without him. For the most part, he thinks he can explain everything and make it all work reasonably well, even in territories as complex as the brain and your family system. But in this case, I think he is asking the right question,

Do our kids feel seen by us? Do they feel truly seen for who they are — not for who we’d like them to be, and not filtered through our own fears or desires?

I think the answer is probably, generally, “No.” And I doubt that when Siegel was thirty-two, and trucking kids to little league games and such, he was asking the right questions, either. Now that he is sixty-two, he has better questions than “How in the world are we going to get through this week?” Or “How are my children going to survive their next twenty years?”

He is trying to help us all with his new book, The Power of Showing Up. The main point is something you may already know:

Showing up means bringing your whole being — your attention and awareness — into this moment with your child. When we show up, we are mentally and emotionally present for our child right now….The idea is to approach parenting being present and aware in your interactions with your child — and to make repairs when that doesn’t happen.

As usual, I think he has a great idea. But, as usual, I think it would be even better if he had Jesus to make it happen.

Where does one get the power to show up?

The power of showing up is great if you have the power to show up. Doesn’t it seem a bit grandiose to suggest in a parenting section article that people should simply change their mind and show up? — they should bring their whole being — their attention and awareness — into this moment? Buddhists have suggested that philosophy for centuries and some great people have practiced it well. But most of us are having trouble with our “whole being,” not to mention “attention” and “awareness.”

His advice has a lot of merit, in my opinion. But he does not give a lot of help with where to find the power to follow his advice unless you happen to have it already. Helicopter parents may communicate a lot of their anxiety to their child because they feel powerless, not because they intend to exercise a lot of power. I think the reason most people hyper-parent is their fear of doing a bad job. Many people in the United States are driven by the fear of missing out or failing and they don’t want their kids to miss out or fail. They are hyper-responsible, since they believe whatever life is, it is up to them to get it and live it. Their world is a competition for scarce resources and everyone needs to be their best self to get what they need or want. Siegel has deeper things to say than that, but I think even he would say that is a realistic assessment of what drives people.

Those fears drive Christians too. A hyper-responsible worldview may drive you when you are parenting, even if you don’t admit it. You may want to believe that trusting God is a live option for your child, but, in fact, and in the schedule, life is all about preparing them to succeed in the world as it is, according to the stranglehold the “economy” has on most of us.

Our view of God matters when we parent

To be honest, most Christians have a “helicopter” God who is the main example for their helicopter parenting. For many, God is the hyper-parent who does not see them for who they are, but sees them for who they ought to be (and who they have never been). As a result, Siegel’s book will just add more pressure to “show up” properly. You may already know about this demand to “show up” and have not fulfilled it yet, either, just like all the other things you have not accomplished.

The power to show up will be a result of trusting God the Parent who showed up in Jesus and continues to show up Spirit to spirit. I’m not sure how much Siegel’s reparative idea will help unless parents are Parented by the God revealed in Jesus. We love because God first loved us, not just because we had a good idea and implemented it well.

Our view of God, our Parent: Father/Son/Holy Spirit in a loving family system, Jesus as our pioneering older brother, makes all the difference in the world when it comes to showing up. We show up for our children and have the spiritual and emotional depth they need because we experience God showing up for us in Jesus. If we show up as weak examples of God showing up, we still know that God will, personally, show up — and that is a lot better than whatever I might provide.

Image result for ron reagan atheist

Last week many of my friends were talking about Ron Reagan. The old atheist advertisements from the Freedom from Religion Foundation were rerunning during the Democratic Party debate. He notably signed off in them by saying he is not afraid of burning in hell.

His view of God is faulty. He got the message that God is the ultimate helicopter parent scrutinizing people and weighing how well they have matched up to the ideal set before them – an ideal of which they are well aware yet to which they are still not conforming. The people I talked to knew what he was talking about, since many of them have that God, or know people who do. I think Siegel has a similar “god” when he is giving his good advice.

It is hard to make sure your children feel safe, seen, soothed and secure, as Siegel advises, unless you feel safe, seen, soothed and secure. I, personally, see no hope for myself feeling or offering those vital experiences to anyone unless I have a constant relationship with God who saves me, sees me, soothes me, and makes me feel secure in a world which constantly demands more of me than I have. So that is where I am starting again today, giving over to trusting my trustworthy Savior, rather than mostly trying to get good enough so I can trust myself. Then I can hope to show up.

In Palestine: It is good to be a child caring for children

Image result for uncle bobbie's

Donovan and I shared a pleasant hour at Uncle Bobbie’s in Germantown last week. As we were winding down, he brought up how Marc Lamont Hill, the founder of the restaurant, had been fired from his commentator role at CNN for using an “anti-Semitic” phrase in a speech he gave to the United Nations. He called for equal rights for Palestinians “from the river to the Sea.”

When we were in Palestine, I met so many West Bank residents and Israelis who think such rights are crucial for the future health of both Jews and Palestinians, I thought it was a settled part of the ongoing argument about what is next. But in the polarized atmosphere of the United States, Hill’s remarks were immediately characterized as a call for the eradication of Israel! As you can hear in the Al Jazeera report on the incident, most people thought he was just talking about all Palestinians — those who live in Israel or the West Bank, achieving rights equal to Israelis. Others saw the phrase as a line straight from the Hamas playbook.

Donovan and I had wandered into the minefield of Israeli fragility and aggression in our own country, where 27 states have already enacted legislation that targets anti-Israeli boycotts designed to pressure Israel for justice, and where federal legislation against the boycotts is pending. What’s more, the Christians seem to have chosen the side of the Jews (who they identify with the state of Israel) for once. Pat Robertson summed up the radical Evangelical theology that produces super-supporters of Israel who think their support is a matter of Bible-following holiness. That’s as far as I will wander into that.

I just want to pay attention to Palestinian children

I bring up Marc Lamont Hill stepping on one of the landmines spread around the perimeter of public opinion to protect Israel because we were discussing the explosion he experienced right after I had outlined the following exhortation. I would like us to pay attention to Palestinian children and the ongoing injustice Israel perpetrates as they  protect their nation’s right to exist, violate international law, illegally settle the West Bank, operate a police state and divide up the territory they occupy with an apartheid-like system. I would be speaking hysterically if I had not briefly experienced everything on that list in person — a giant wall always in the background snaking along various borders.

I don’t think Jesus followers need to gain the world’s power in order to effect perfect justice. Jesus will bring everything to right in the end. Besides, striving to be on the top so we can help people at the bottom seems to be the exact opposite of the Lord’s strategy. Like Jesus, i think we should accompany those at the bottom, identify with them and see the world through their eyes. We work for peace and justice from that vantage point.

So that brings me to the children of Palestine. MCC distributed an infographic about their situation. Here is part of it.

They have trauma stories

Jarrah, an 18-year-old Palestinian man, was 15 when he was arrested by Israeli soldiers. He says, “I used to go out with my friends to parties, but now when I reach the end of the street I remember what happened. And I come back. There is no feeling of safety.” The children are traumatized by the occupation and the constant threat of random Israeli arrest. Many of the Palestinians live in territory under military control, which does not have the same civil law structure as other places.

Each year Israel detains and prosecutes 500-700 Palestinian youth in the West Bank. Human rights organizations have documented the systematic mistreatment and abuse of these children, including torture, blindfolding and lack of access to legal counsel. These practices run counter to basic norms and protections within juvenile justice systems. (Like the U.S. government emulates Israel’s wall, it also mistreats detained children).

Obaida Akram Jawabra was detained and is afraid he will end up in prison again. One reason he is afraid is because to get to school he needs to cross Route 60. That highway is controlled by the Israeli military. Here is his story.

Here is another story from Al Jazeera about a sixteen-year-old who’s arrest was caught on video and went viral.

It is good to be a child caring for children

On April 30, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced a bill, H.R. 2407, to prohibit U.S. taxpayer funds from supporting the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. This important bill builds on similar legislation that was introduced in the last session of Congress. Do you know how to encourage your representative to sign on as a co-sponsor?

Jesus welcomed and blessed children, saying “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). We are called to care for the most vulnerable among us, including children. I would add that we are to BE the most vulnerable, just like Jesus emptied himself to become one with us in our sin and brokenness. That may always seem like a counterintuitive strategy to us. But the road to transformation is always a step toward the “least of these” as one of the poor, in fact or in spirit.

Background check debate: Stray guns and your child at the playdate

Maybe you missed it, as you (and probably your children) were discussing Jeff Bezos’ private parts and the amazing scandals piling up in Virginia.  Nevertheless, this past week the House of Representatives held its first hearing on gun violence in eight years.

The testimony at the hearing centered on a bill that would make it harder for a person to buy a gun without a thorough background check. Supporters pointed out that right now it’s ridiculously easy to get lethal weapons from an unlicensed seller who is not going to check to see if said purchaser might have a record of violence, stalking or involuntary commitment for mental illness. That fact should surprise and appall us, but by this time it probably doesn’t. By now, your kids might think everyone has a gun and feel strange if you don’t!

Opponents of the bill clutched the Second Amendment and argued that the real reason we have so many deaths by gunfire is … well, take a guess at what they argued were the reasons: A) Guns, B) Bullets, C) Immigrants.

Matt Gaetz
Not a fan, but you need to see his face. Credit: Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Answer: All the above.

Representative Matt Gaetz [more/biased info on him], a Florida Republican read a short list of people who had been shot by undocumented immigrants. Then he said, “I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens. …Better background checks would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall, a barrier on the southern border may have, and that’s what we’re fighting for.” There are a lot of lawmakers prepared to say almost anything in their role as surrogates for the National Rifle Association. But it is still surprising that during this latest hearing the main gun advocate was from Florida.

Thousands of people took part in the March for Our Lives protest in Parkland, Fla., a month after the school shooting there a year ago. Credit: Saul Martinez for The New York Times

On Valentine’s Day we’ll observe the first anniversary of the Parkland High School shootings in which one student with a gun took the lives of 17 people. We just passed the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of 5 people in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport, which occurred six months after 49 people were shot to death at a nightclub in Orlando. And it was just a couple of weeks ago that a young man walked into a bank in Sebring, Fla., pulled out a pistol, forced 5 women to lay on the ground and shot each one in the back of the head. All these atrocities happened in Congressman Gaetz’ state. All the gunmen were native-born Americans.

The House bill I mentioned is unlikely to even get brought up in the Senate if it passes the House. But in 2017 the House and Senate did get together to revoke an Obama-era regulation that had made it harder for mentally ill people to purchase a gun.

We have terrible gun problems in this country not just because firearms are all over the place, but also because of the careless, and often stupid attitude so many people have toward them. This includes the Congress.  Their rejection of legislation of which the country overwhelmingly approves  helps perpetuate the attitude that guns are a casual part of everyday life, like your wallet or socks — something you wear when you go out to buy a loaf of bread, leave laying around the house and treat in general with less care and discretion than a light bulb.

This is the kind of thinking that gives us endless mayhem involving violent, semi-deranged young men who just grab one of the family guns and mow down five people in a bar. Toddlers who shoot themselves when they stumble across a gun that Dad or Grandpa left sitting on the bed, or find a rifle in the back seat of the car and accidentally kill Mom while she’s pulling into the preschool parking lot. We hear stories like that every day. I don’t think it is all due to caravans of immigrants coming to the border.

With all this, is my child safe to have a playdate?

Thus, one of the parents on our parents list asked what everyone does to make sure their children are safe on play dates. How does one bring up the question about how the parents of your kid’s friends deal with their guns? It is amazing this question must be asked, but we live where we live. Here is the original question:

“I’m wondering how you navigate that awkward “do you have guns? Are they safely locked up?” question when you’re arranging a playdate, etc. for your kids?  I feel like the easiest way to ask is just to put it out there with something like, “Hi, I’m _____. We’d love to have _____ over for a playdate. We don’t have any guns in the house. Do you?”  Hopefully, they’ll then feel free to respond.  Buuuuuut, what if they say yes?  Do you allow your kids to play at people’s houses who own guns and say they’re secured?  And if you don’t, then how do you tell them you don’t want your kid playing at their house?!  I think playdates are great for our kids and great for meeting new people, but I can’t seem to figure this out given our current world.  The end result for me is that I avoid setting anything up with people we don’t already know well, which feels like the opposite of what I want to be doing as I follow Jesus and try to “welcome the stranger.”


There was a lot more dialogue about this than there were answers on the parents list. But they were so useful, I decided to reprint them.  No names are attached, of course. If you want to be on the parents list, you can be. (I also added a hyperlink for Eddie the Eagle and left out what I thought was extraneous). Here they are:

1) I include this gun question along with questions about food allergies, pets (one of my kids has been bitten twice!), car seats, and other safety things I cover when doing a first play date with a family. Every parent I’ve asked this question has thanked me for asking it.

As for what do when I learn there is an unsecured firearm in the house, I don’t allow my kids to play there without me with them and I keep my kid in eyesight. I’m happy to meet up elsewhere or host the kids at my house instead.

2) I ask about guns when I’m trying to find out a little bit about how a family feels secure in their houses.  I ask about guns and pharmaceuticals (child proof caps?).  I’ve only had one person push back (and not much) about my guns question.  This may be because of where we live – not so many families are gun enthusiasts here in über-liberal West Philadelphia.  Every family I’ve asked these types of questions of has thanked me for asking them as well.

I’m always prepared to discuss why I think gun locks and gun safes are necessary when I ask these questions but the conversation has only gone that far one time.

Personally, I’m okay with a family who keeps guns in their house if they’re secured properly — especially if they’re hunting rifles and such.  Someone who keeps their guns in a safe understands that they’re machines for killing (people, game, whatever) and potentially incredibly dangerous.  Someone who keeps their gun “hidden” in their house so they can get them quickly if necessary is not dealing with reality and their worldview includes what is, to me, an unacceptable level of risk for my kids playing in their house.  There is probably a spectrum of people in between those examples but I’m really only okay with my kids playing in the houses of the folks on the first extreme.  If I meet parents of kids my sons make friends with who are of the “I keep my guns hidden in my house” variety, I plan to say something along the lines of “We’d love to have _____ over to our house but we’re just not comfortable with firearms in the house that aren’t secured so [my kids] won’t be able to come over to _____’s house.”  People who aren’t comfortable with that stance have their own stuff to work out — I’m okay with some tension between me and another parent if that helps keep my kids safer.

3) Our seminarian’s cohort, along with the pastors and the Leadership Team, wrote a teaching on guns and gun violence based on our discussion at our quarterly public meeting. It might be helpful for you as you consider this subject. You may have seen it before, but if not, you can find it on the Way of Jesus website here.

4) I hadn’t seen that summary from the cohort.  It’s wonderful.  This dialogue is making me think I might want to “struggle more” with this as our kids start to get into play dates at other kids homes.  I honestly hadn’t thought of it, nor to ask about other hazards.  Glad we are village parenting!

Image result for eddie the eagle nra gun

5) I think these are all good ideas to address the concern of kids, playdates and guns. To add another piece, talking to our kids about guns will be important, too. I grew up with a video called Eddie the Eagle [from the NRA},  which taught kids about gun safety. The whole thing is based around the question, what do you do if you see [find] a gun? And the answer, according to Eddie was: Stop, Don’t Touch, Leave the Area, Tell an Adult. I believe Eddie is still around as a friend of mine said they covered the topic, with Eddie the Eagle, at her son’s pre-school. This of course, isn’t going to address a philosophical or theological perspective with kids, but it does address the practical instance of encountering a gun, if for some reason it happens, even with the pre-playdate conversations.

6) I’m so glad that you brought up the importance of teaching our children about how to react in the presence of a firearm. Unfortunately, we have sensed the necessity of having this conversation with our kids from a very young age – three or four years old, I think (?). The first conversation may have happened after I witnessed a few kids playing with a handgun on my street. Also, when my dad was a child in the 1950s, his best friend was accidentally killed while playing with a loaded pistol.  He often shares concerns about gun safety with our family.

We’ve tried to have this talk in a less-worrying way that focuses more on being prepared, similar to learning about how to react in case of a fire. I know, however, that some kids do worry about being shot, especially if they participate in school lockdown drills, see certain things in visual media, or have had the misfortune of being in the presence of gun violence.  So… I think we also need to allow our children the space to express how they feel about all of this, and to practice good listening.  That may also help us to discern how to be more proactive.

It is important to talk about everything with each other and our kids, isn’t it!

I suppose we’ll have to talk a lot if everyone is going to have their privates exposed and their guns strewn around their privacy. Here is one last word from Jesus that might be comforting in the face of this troubling era. I like it in The Voice translation: “I have told you these things so that you will be whole and at peace. In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order” (John 16:33).

What will Wonder Woman do to the children?

Gwen and I went to see Wonder Woman — ALL of it.  I even sat through the credits at the end because they were just so beautifully done. I found it to be a lavishly and lovingly produced piece of art. I’d go see it again just to enjoy the production values. But it also contains a surprisingly compelling story. See what you think.

As you can tell from the trailer, the movie keeps getting bigger,  louder and more frenetic as is moves toward its conclusion. My lingering impression from the experience was, “This thing is HUGE!” As we watched the credits we were in awe. I said, “There must be 1000 names on this list!” There were actually over 1500, I found out, and that does not include the 5600 extras that were hired.

Wonder Woman came out on June 2 and has already grossed over $300 million dollars worldwide. That’s BIG. It may make way over $100 million dollars in profit.  Isn’t it amazing how we have gotten used to such large numbers attached to comic book movies? This one took about 12 years to write and 4 years to make. What does a ten year old do with all that hugeness that keeps beating down on him or her? What am I going to do with it? But, more important, what will Wonder Woman do to the children?

The movie is such a big idea crammed into a couple of hours. What does a child do with it all? Here are just a few of the themes: ancient myths,  being a god, problems with mom, leaving home, first love, losing your virginity, experiencing a new world, finding your power, sensing your destiny, losing your mate, confronting evil, being an alien. When a giant story beats down on you, what do you do with it?

Speak, Hear, See No Evil — Sonrise Ministries Uganda

I kind of wish we all blocked the appropriate sense, especially the children. Instead, I think the kids are swallowed. They adapt. They conform. They become acclimated and develop traits that allow them to survive in the presence of the machine.

The experience of Wonder Woman was such an overpowering noise! — part of the anti-silence in which we live.  We saw it on a very big screen and were surrounded by sound: thundering hooves, whizzing WW1 bullets, titanic explosions — by the end, too many explosions.  Maybe we are all used to such things by now. But we should probably notice that watching these movies could be another little dose of the PTSD that soldiers get in battle that dulls their senses and makes them anxious the rest of their lives (this has been studied). Some of these movies may be like taking your kid to work — in Afghanistan.

I look over my precious collection of grandchildren and wonder what the machines will make them. We considered our plan for children as a church last Saturday. I watched Wonder Woman on Friday. It was quite a juxtaposition. I wonder if we will have enough community in Christ to counteract the 1500 people who rammed Wonder Woman into our consciousness and threaten to trample it into submission.

Prayer breaks the habit of always making the best deal.

A mother’s two-year-old wakes up at five when she was painting until midnight. How does she get out of bed and go love the little bundle of trouble instead of saying, “Why can’t he just wait until I’m rested?” Maybe, “I painted his room, why won’t he stay asleep?” Irrational, but almost automatic — I never get the deal I want, but I want it.

How do we learn to love when we’d rather make a deal?

I mean, how do we end up like Jesus — even like Jesus dying for us on the cross? Paul says Jesus was not only looking out for his own interests, but the interests of others — that was his attitude, his mindset, his way. How do I go His way instead of using my “superpowers” to get what I deserve?

What were the Lord’s “interests?” I know I will get up and care for the toddler, but what about my interests? Are they just not important until he is eighteen? In the Lord’s case, it was joy to complete his work and be his true self—that interested him. There was joy set before him as he returned to the dimension where he was free from sin and death—that’s something I can look forward to. But I am not Jesus. I don’t think we have the same interests as Jesus, specifically. But it is good to know that self-giving love does not ignore my interests. Jesus had interests, he was just “not only” looking out for them. He was not giving and always waiting for the other half of the deal to be realized — I give you give, I love you, you love me, I paint your bedroom, you are grateful and stay asleep, I do the right thing, and my life works out reciprocally.

Perhaps we are not THAT self-interested all the time. I think you realize the child is going to grow up. Don’t we all think a parent’s love is innately valuable, even if it is not valued this very moment? Even if I am not rewarded, I think it is rewarding to love my kids when they are displeasing. I can go with that.

But I really want to make a deal, not be good. I want to say, “Stay in bed until at least 7” and have that stick. I want to say, “Can’t you see I am painting your bedroom?” and have that be recognized. Can’t I ever love and be effectively loved in return?

I have experienced the kids, but I also have my own present troubles.

Lately I experienced the Brethren in Christ General Conference in Florida. I put my whole adult life into being a committed part of this denomination and worked to reflect its character and history in Circle of Hope. When I first joined up, many leaders called it a “brotherhood” and would not use the term “denomination” — even though their preferred term was sexist, it was still great. Now that it is being reformed into a new denomination without that character and free of its history, I have to decide how to love. The temptation is to dwell on: “Can’t I get what I wanted? Don’t we have an implicit deal? I put a lot into this and THIS is what I get?” You probably relate to that feeling.

The whole country is in turmoil right now because so-called black lives don’t matter as much as so-called white lives. I am sick of the bad deal enforced by the militarized police on a whole segment of society! A police officer killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop outside St. Paul not long ago. The deceased apparently had the “right to carry” that is so well-protected by the government. He apparently told the office that he had a gun. The officer apparently wanted ID. When he reached for his wallet for ID he was told to stop. He apparently did not stop fast enough and was shot. It is all on a Facebook livestream. Shouldn’t people expect the police to love them? They are all in uniform; can’t I expect them to uniformly serve and protect? Shouldn’t the police have a self-giving love that can do better than give orders, then enforce their bargain with a weapon? Wouldn’t a policeman rather die than kill someone? About 15% reportedly would. I’m in the street demanding a better deal — “I pay taxes, I vote, I follow the laws, now stop harassing and killing people!”

As I thought of all these things I realized I needed to pray.

For one thing, I need to pray so I can clear my mind and remember the attitude Jesus has when it comes to me. After all, I, in my own way, have often gotten up too early and screamed irrationally out of my need and I was also hard to comfort; but we got there. I was offered change and I wanted the “justice” of never needing to lose what I had “earned.” I pulled my gun and he did not kill me.

I need to pray every day so I can remember that I don’t really have the deal I want and my incessant grasping for it is not really getting me anywhere. I am legitimately needy. What I want is not wrong. I need comfort, reassurance, safety, etc. etc. It is no surprise I try to take matters into my own hands out of desperation: get angry, sulk, withdraw, shoot, disobey. People have often not wanted to make a deal with me because I don’t give what they want because I am too busy desperately getting what I want. If I don’t pray, things will just keep going as badly as they are going.

The one who breaks the deadly cycle is Jesus. He did it on the cross. He does it when I pray. When I pray I don’t just get a better idea about how to act, I receive the inspiration (the in-Spirit-ation) and power to love like He does; the Lord’s own Spirit becomes one with mine and we are back doing what Jesus does best, even when my mother or the memory of her is absent and I feel fundamentally in need of a better deal, even when my intimates don’t come through, even when my hard work does not pay off, even when the country is against me.

So for the joy set before me and the joy of being my true self in a living relationship with God, I also endure my crosses. The bonus is, I manage to attach a lot better too when I am loving those needy people around me. I actually am less desperate. When that baby in the picture above realizes he is in mother’s arms, he’ll probably snuggle in, rest, connect, and take that big breath one does after they have cried their lungs out. My prayer is often like that; I have learned to look forward to the trusting moment when I give up, connect with God and realize I already have the best deal I could ever get.

Parenting as a community

Some people saw “parenting” in the title of my post and never got further than the title. They are not a parent at all, or not a parent of young children, so they are skipping this post because it is “not about me.” At some level, that’s OK, since we don’t have to be universally responsible for everything. But children are not just a subject, they are not merely an activity, they are members of the body of Christ.

Children are not of age to make a covenant, so they are not those kind of members of the body. But they are members by virtue, generally, of being present with their parents. As a result, they are the special charges we are all given to nurture into faith until they can make an adult decision to walk with Jesus with us. If you ignore them, or you don’t think they are watching you ignore them, you will not only miss your opportunity and shirk your responsibility to care, you may actually prove to be a detriment to their development. (Did you listen to Into the Woods last year?)

We are parenting as a community. One way or another, we will all be parenting when children are around in the church. This is how it should be. We are the family of God, after all. The church is either a great environment where everyone, children included, can be connected to God and form a secure attachment — or not. We want to be a church who…

  • encourages everyone to care for our weakest people: the children,
  • helps parents with their difficult and crucial ministry to their children,
  • helps parenting households in an individualized society to develop practical ways to share their burdens
  • opens doors for including new parents in the systems we come up with to share the load.

How are we doing with village parenting?

At recent meetings of Circle of Hope, we openly talked about how we are doing with nurturing this environment. For the most part, we thought we were doing pretty well. But we were criticized for letting children be invisible, and for letting parents get stuck in being isolated, as is often the society’s habit — since we are supposed to be self sufficient individuals, and, by extension, self-sufficient families.

Adults tend to go through our meetings looking for connections that please them and opportunities that satisfy a main question they ask of every circumstance: what’s in it for me? Advertisers have been appealing to this self-interest so relentlessly since they were born, that it is hard not to see it as a natural reaction. So they often look  over the heads of the children (which is easy to do, right?) assuming there is nothing down there for them. They miss that children not only have things to offer as people, if you listen to them like they are listening to you. What’s even better, caring for children develops the love of God in us. Caring for the vulnerable and enlightening the lost are the main activities that expand our hearts to receive more of the Holy Spirit and become our true selves. It never makes sense to overlook a child.

A few years ago we began talking about “village parenting.” Mainly we were talking about the parents getting together and living as the community they are in regard to their children. Parenting can be so hard for most of us that we need our extended birth family and our extending family in Christ to come alongside. Many people don’t have a birth family who is available, (or who they want to be involved and making they mess they made the first time), so their family in Christ is very important. Many children do not have a functioning family or a family in Christ, so we are a great place for them to learn to attach to people and to God when we invite them in. “Village parenting” is an important skill for everyone to learn. It takes a village to raise a child in Christ.

Hillary Clinton made the point about villages and children in her famous book. She got her image from an African proverb but we got our point from Acts 4:32-35. We rewrote that passage for parents and have been working on doing it ever since. This would be ideal:

All the parents were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that their personal resources for parenting were the only resources they had, but they shared with each other. With great power the parents continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in their families, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy parents or children among them. For from time to time those who had resources of time, materials, organizing and imagination shared them. The little they had individually became more in God’s hands, so that all the needs were attended to.

Even if you are not a parent, you’d want to get in on that, wouldn’t you?

God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. Last night Peter was telling us at BW that the Spirit is consistently delivering pure spiritual milk to us newborn babies who long for it. Following Jesus is all about family. A lot of people who may be insecurely attached to their own parents and who may not have a secure attachment to God as a result, like to make following Jesus into something they can control or do in their typically avoidant way. But Jesus redirects our outlook from our preoccupations and points back to the children, even the troubled child still unfinished in us or the newborn babe anxiously longing for spiritual milk. We need to be like a child ourselves, a loving, longing child of our loving, longing parent. When we are parenting as a community, all of us, not just the people with children, we are in step with God, who has made us with great instincts for love, which are often unleashed by those needy little people among us.

What does it take to make a church happen in your 20’s and 30’s?

Our church will be talking a lot about children for the next month or so. Not only do we love them, we know a lot of them. (They seem to be popping out all over like tulips). We want to strategize for raising them together.

Many people who have raised this generation of twentysomethings are second-guessing what they did. We can probably learn from them as we raise the next generation, since many of us are their children! A lot of Gen-Y/millennials (destructive labeling) seem a lot more helpless than expected, more than a few can’t work well enough or get along well enough to keep a job, and they expect a lot to be delivered into this very moment (like emotional delivery by drone). There may be reasons for this:

  • They may have been told they are special – for no reason. They didn’t display excellent character or skill, but were treated as if they had. Now they assume they are innately special and are frustrated if they have to prove it by doing something.
  • They may have been told to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant.
  • Their parents may have made their happiness a central goal. Now it’s difficult for them to generate happiness — the by-product of living a meaningful life.
  • They may have been given every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. (Mickey Goodman)

Surprisingly enough, at our last Imaginarium, when we asked the question, “What is God saying to us?” we started talking about the same things. We are the “young” people who are learning new traits from God and one another that allow us to serve our cause. And yes, we think we are special and at the same time doubt anyone who says someone or something is more special than someone or anything else. We are often bumping up against the reality that we actually have to do something to live up to our ideals. A lot of what we talked about matches the quotes above. Here’s my summary of our rich dialogue:

Being and building the church is often hard — trust God

In the great scheme of things, we can’t instantly change the world. We have to take small, first steps – which seem like no progress at all to many of us.

One of us planted a tree in their back yard. Someone actually came into their yard, yanked up the tree and stole it! They had to figure out what to do with all their anger. They had bought the house, taken the step to plant something hopeful and now they had this irrational, cruel opposition. It was tempting to move out. Instead they managed to let it go and plant another tree.

stewingThe church has forces yanking on it every day. If it gets planted where anyone can see it, it might be  sitting duck for cruel opponents. We have to deal with that. The fact is, if it were easy to grow the church, that would probably mean we were doing it wrong. But easy is expected, nonetheless. The fact is, frustration might be good for us. We tend to think, “I don’t deserve this frustration. Look at how great we are!”  — sometimes we stew in that rather than acting in trust.

We need to risk being led by Jesus and leading people to Jesus. Even when we are ill, over-scheduled, or in the middle of chaos. We need to note how our distorted vision of our capability gets disrupted and take another step. We need to act on our few best ideas.  We need to admit that change = resistance — even our “second act” meets resistance although we all agree it needs to happen! We need to see that the domination system is likely to step on our sprout.

Encountering resistance to meaning is challenging — stay vulnerable

Happiness is not a commodity we can earn or deserve, really. It is a by product of living a meaningful life, a life for God, a life for others, a life for the common good, a life in line with with what we were given to be.

Nehemiah-wallOne of our leaders told the story of planting a tree in his sidewalk. He and the neighbors took a turn at sledging the sidewalk to bits. He saw it as undoing what true haters, the kind that paved his neighborhood a long time ago, have done. They got a tree in the ground. Two new people came to the cell meeting as a result. We are like Nehemiah and his allies re-building the wall around Jerusalem. The joy of the Lord is our strength. There is even joy in being able to suffer, able to sledge.

Unlike the domination system, we are killable. We are like sheep. We meet resistance with vulnerability.  A hospice worker talked about how vulnerable she feels whenever she enters a home where death is imminent. She has to let people know that if they trust her, she can do something. But it is not easy to trust, especially when the homeostasis is disrupted — as it so often is for us.

We obviously go through the same kind of resistance with God and others. Going through our internal resistance is much harder, even, than facing the outer. We do things in old ways and resist letting go of learned behavior.

The fact that it is bigger than just me is not always comforting — look farther than your reaction

Now it is time to relay the importance of waiting for the things we want, deferring to the wishes of others and surrendering personal desires in the pursuit of something bigger than “me.”

Our clean-up day T-shirts gave us a good example of doing something uncomfortable for the greater good. A surprising number of us are T-shirt resistant, even T-shirt phobic! If you grew up in a T-shirt-wearing youth group you may actually want to run from people on the street wearing matching shirts. They look like some kind of overbearing, coercive army.

One person told a story, however, about how he met his neighbor when he was working on his house. The neighbor wanted to know what his shirt was about, after a while of getting to know each other. He was kind of “trapped” into talking about something bigger than himself because he was wearing his earth shirt as a work shirt.

ghosts on grassAnother person said they wanted to be marked. They want to demonstrate solidarity. They want to be in the coalition. They thought our T-shirt redeemed bad T-shirts. We like the idea of adding a colorful part of the big story. We are not the beginning or the end, but we are happening.

Sometimes being part of something big can be really hard — like we might be like a tree that gets ripped out and transplanted. That can be good. But it is not comfortable. Multiplying a cell always feels something like that for someone — getting ripped up. One of us said it was like C.S. Lewis’ image of “spectres” becoming solid as they acclimated to heaven (in The Great Divorce). We might not even know what true comfort is until we obey the voice of God calling us into what is truest about ourselves and our place in the world.

We are God’s children. Perhaps we were ill-raised. But what a great parent we have to usher us into an improved adulthood in faith!

Children Nurture Us, Too.

When Circle of Hope first got going, it was devoted to loving the “next generation” and providing them a safe place to connect with Jesus. That is still the central focus of our mission. And the central population of unbelievers are still 19-35 year olds. We’ve done a good job. And many of you reading this are those very people for whom Jesus had us looking. Thanks for coming by.

The next generation birthing the next one

We quickly realized that the next generation of Jesus-followers was creating the next generation of the church. We are inventing something that may seem old to Jesus but is rather new to the megalopolis (and to Denver, it appears). What’s more, as we suspected from the beginning, if you get a bunch of 19-35 year old people together and they become Jesus-followers, many of them will likely marry and produce another form of the “next generation.” Our children are an increasing tribe who are remaking us day by day.

I, for one, love children, and I often spend significant portions of my week down on various floors with them. I am a fan of children. It is one of my great joys to have the opportunity to bless that portion of the next generation. I am also a big fan of parents who stay close to the mission field in the megalopolis rather than retreating to safer-seeming enclaves.

This year, our network devoted one of its five goals to children and their parents: Develop the capacity and vision for our Network Children’s Team. The Broad and Washington Stakeholders have already said they want to participate in efforts to create a common philosophy and a network plan that considers the unique factors in each congregation. The pastors have already begun to create the position of Network Children’s Coordinator and we have a token amount in the budget to sweeten that person’s service.

Organizing for children

Children becoming visible

Organizing for children is a risk. They are like the invisible man — once he is wrapped in the bandages and becomes see-able, people freak out. Children are generally invisible; at the PM I am often making sure they are not stepped on as they compete for chips. Some people notice how many of them there are and freak out! Many people in our young constituency did not move to Philadelphia to come to Sunday school, to be married or to deal with children! So we are be testing people’s sense of affinity when we expect them to love a child – and we do expect them to do that. When we test them, they might leave us for adults-only places they prefer. So treating children like they belong can make the mission harder, but we can develop the skills to bring it all together – at least that is what we hope.

Children are a visual aid

Making a case for children as valuable members of the community is not that hard, really, since we are all children of God and are called to come to God as children. If nothing else, children are a constant visual aid for our own development. If you don’t believe me, take it from Jesus:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child, whom he placed among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:1-5).

Actually, we might be depriving people of one of the things they need most, if we deprive them of children. Our adults-only Center City is probably not a healthy place for anyone if it is not a healthy place for children. If a person attempts to grow up by denying their childhood or denying the child they carry within, that is not going to work out, well. If we just see children as appendages to dominate and control rather than as people to relate to and love, then we are not only hurting them, but dwarfing ourselves. So, like many things that are good for people that they don’t like, children are an important element of developing into our true selves. So when we organize to nurture them, we are organizing for them to turn right around and nurture us, too.

Child, imagine fearlessly walking with God

I bought a best-selling children’s book the other day called Bubble Trouble. It has an intricate rhyme that entertains me. Upon first-reading, it proved to be a bit over Josiah’s head. He had trouble figuring out the plot. The first question upon turning a page, several times, was “Where is the baby’s mother?” We needed to establish that, because, I discovered, this was sort of a scary book about a baby who floats away in a bubble until the townfolk rescue him. When we were finished, Josiah’s first comment was, “I am too big for a bubble to take me,” followed by a hopeful look at my face.

How do we ever learn to deal with our fears? I am still learning. It helped that I had a grandmother who read to me. I got to experience some of the scary things about the big world while snuggled in her rocking chair. It also helped that I was sent to church as a little child to snuggle up with Jesus.

For some reason, a song that was 80 years old by the time my Sunday school teachers taught it to me as a child has kept rising to the surface lately. I think it has always helped me walk with God and resist fear.

Can a little child like me
Thank the Father fittingly?
Yes, oh yes! be good and true,
Faithful, kind, in all you do;
Love the Lord, and do your part;
Learn to say with all your heart,

Father, we thank Thee,
Father, we thank Thee,
Father in Heaven, we thank Thee.

If you want to hear it, try this link.

The fact that I, through some great blessing, retained that song through the onslaught of all the info that started piling up in my lifetime seems kind of miraculous. Every verse is a winner. They all take children seriously and respect them for who they are, according to their capacity. Each calls us to be honorable and good.  “Don’t be afraid! You can do it!” I think Monster’s Inc. is trying to do something like that. But there is an awful lot of plot that muddles up the teaching these days.

Mary Mapes Dodge

Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), who is buried up the road just south of Newark, included “Can a Little Child Like Me”  in her book Ba­by Days: A Se­lect­ion of Songs, Stor­ies, and Pic­tures, for Ve­ry Lit­tle Folks in 1877. It was a follow-up to her best seller Hans Brinker (which you can still enjoy on Disney reruns).

When people write about Mary Mapes Dodge, she receives the treatment so many Christians of her era receive these days. Her faith is extracted and her work is treated like she was not a Christian. She becomes one more purveyor of plot lines for the plot machines churning out material. But I am pretty sure that in her mind Jesus and Hans Brinker went together. Hans had learned to be like Jesus. She most likely hoped children would learn to love the Lord by sitting in a chair with her or singing her song in church. She had learned to face her own fears, along with her children, after her husband killed himself and left her a widow. Her faith fueled her second life as an author and editor.

You’ve probably got a child in your life somewhere. They are undoubtedly facing the same fears you are still facing. Take a good look at them and love them. It is better that they learn from you than they are left alone with their fears to extract whatever random thing they latch on to from the tsunami of info that keeps washing over them, and which will keep flooding them the rest of their days, no doubt.

I think my meditation today should center on retrieving the good things God has given me via all the good people who loved and spoke for him throughout my childhood – and thank him. The visions we shared in various rocking chairs and song times during my baby days opened my mind and heart to imagine fearlessly walking with God.