Creeds are not Chex Mix. (Creeds for Newbies, Episode 4)

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When asked what I think of the trendy rewriting of creeds in progressive liturgical churches, I usually respond in the words of imminent theologian Ron Burgundy: “That’s just dumb.”

Creeds are not Chex Mix. You know, the party snack that you pick through taking out the morsels you like. But we don’t high-grade out what we like of God and leave the rest in the bowl. A Luby’s Cafeteria may make for a nice all-you-can-eat Sunday afternoon lunch, but picking and choosing a faith of our own creation is narcissistic and foolish. Not to mention a risky way to live one’s life. The old joke, “God created us in his image and we returned the favor,” comes to mind.

The creeds were written by the early and undivided church as summaries of the faith. They have been vetted by universal acceptance of the entire church, both through time and across geography. When Vincent of Lerins wrote in the 500’s,  “What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all,” he was referring to the faith bounded by the Nicene Creed. The impulse to re-write the creed to make it more relevant is, at best, misguided. The creed is not ours to futz with. (By the way, someone rewriting a creed is almost certainly a baby boomer.) Seriously, stop rewriting creeds.

Passing the Baton

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …” (I Cor 15:3-4)

Our role is to explain not to change “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3) The creed is the universal. Beyond that is adiaphora (things indifferent) - perhaps helpful. Perhaps important. Just not mandatory for recognizing a “like” faith. So we do not change the core. We pass it on, handing the baton of faith to the next generation.

Passing the Baton

When it comes to the substance of the faith, there are two extremes: Fundamentalism and Universalism. Fundamentalism elevates the “you may” to “you must”—tithing, homeschooling, a particular theory of the atonement, etc. Fundamentalism raises the bar making options essential. The opposite is Universalism. Universalism drops the essentials making them optional. Universalism lowers the bar and says, in effect, “There is nothing you must believe.” Universalism leaves us with such a low bar to the faith that few see any reason to join. This is why we don’t “edit” universal truth. Fundamentalism hands the next runner an anvil to run with. Universalism gives them an empty hand-off. We receive and pass on, “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

The Great Tradition

Seventeenth century Archbishop Lancelot Andrewes explained “tradition” as “one canon (the Scriptures), two testaments, three creeds, and four councils, over the first five centuries.” The three creeds prioritize Christian beliefs. As Rupert Meldinius said in 1627, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.” Creeds keep the main thing the main thing.

The creeds articulate God as trinity, an idea that is impossible to get one’s mind wrapped around – which doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. In fact, anyone who can contain the infinite God of the universe between their ears really needs to find themselves a bigger God.

Creeds are our wedding vows 

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Creeds are not about warm-fuzzies or even felt convictions. They are the substance of the faith the church has stood upon since soon after Jesus left. They are like marriage vows-so much so that they form the substance of the promises one makes in Holy Baptism. There is a reason we take marriage vows – It is because human love is fickle. We imagine that love sustains commitment, but actually it is just the opposite. It takes great commitment to sustain love. A couple makes vows and clings to them through thick and thin…and, at the end of life, a thing of loving beauty has been produced. The historic creeds work the same way. The Nicene Creed proclaimed in church is a promise to cling to the glory and vastness of God, even when the pressures of life scream to give up. When said in church, by the community of faith, the Nicene Creed is a weekly prayed promise to act in love toward God. It is our spiritual, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.”

Creeds answer the question, “What must we believe?” We answer,  “We believe in one God, the father, the almighty…”  

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Aren’t all Religions are basically the same? (Creeds for Newbies, Episode 3)

The Original Creed

The first Christian creed was, “Jesus is Lord!” (Mark 1:1)  This drew a hedge around what it meant to be Christian…and since it was a play on the Roman creed, (“Caesar is Lord!”) it did this by being a bit prickly to those who were not.

But Aren’t All Religions Basically the Same?

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This is the mantra of the day-repeated often enough to be assumed uncritically. Unfortunately, the world’s great religions are not at all the same. Each makes individual faith claims that stand (or fall) on their own merits. To say anything less is deeply dishonoring to the world’s great traditions. Every one of the world’s major religions does, however, seek to answer 3 core human Questions:

  1. How did we get here?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. How do we fix it?

The Christian answers, by the way, are;

  1. One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Gen 1:1-3).
  2. Sin – We voluntarily walked away from our loving creator and God’s good way for us. (Is 53:6)
  3. We don’t. God did. God’s grace was given through Jesus’ death & resurrection. (Eph 2:8-9)

All of which lead to the one really big human question: What about me? Christian Answer: We follow God by faith, living a life of gratitude toward God and faithful service to the world (John 1: 12, Eph 2:10).

The Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds very carefully only answer the first question. They stay on “Who is God?” That is the nature of a creed. Creeds assume that if you get the “who” right, everything else will fall into place. That focus on the “who” is what makes creeds different from confessions. Since creeds are the least you can belief, churches that cannot endorse the Nicene Creed, like the LDS or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not considered Christian churches. This is not personal. It is not meanness. It is simply that to not be able to endorse the Nicene Creed means we are talking about different Gods. As we said in our last post, creeds are the broad fence around the very least it means to be a Christian. A lot of groups fit into that playground: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Pentecostals, Copts…anyone who holds to a trinitarian view of God. It is only these late theological innovators that do not wish to enter the fence of the trinity to whom Christians say, “We are sorry. But change your mind on the Trinity and come on in!”

The shape of Creeds: A Trinitarian Narrative

St. Hilary's Shield

St. Hilary’s Shield

At their most basic level, creeds do not express a systematic theology but a narrative one. As I said in the previous post, the creeds give us the interpretive framework from which to view the Christian story – a new story within which to orient our lives. The Christian story, in a nutshell, is that God, dwelling in triune love, desired to share his great love and so created. Taking love for granted, we wandered. God, unwilling to let us go, moved into the neighborhood in the form of Jesus, showed us a vision of a kingdom to come, and went to the cross to redeem us from our sinful God-rejection, walked victorious from a tomb 3 days later, breathed on his own 4o days after that, and went to heaven where he “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). From there he will someday return to make all things right. Humans are now invited into that divine love through the plan of God, the work of the Son, and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit.

So the next time you say the creed. Don’t just say it. Pray it.

Scales and Playgrounds: Why you need the Creed (Creeds for Newbies, Episode 2)

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Creeds over Confessions

Last week one more friend, one with a graduate degree in theology proudly said, “I don’t say creeds. I’m non-creedal.” This friend is both orthodox and devout in his Christian faith, yet he says, “I don’t want to be bound by statements that limit the faith.” Like so many, he is confusing “creedal” with “confessional.”

A Big, Big Playground

Creeds are not about limiting the faith, but rather about pushing the faith’s boundaries out to their widest possible limit. A creed is about how little one can believe and still be recognizably “Christian.” Creeds give the edges of what C. S. Lewis referred to as “Mere Christianity.” Confessions, which came later, do exactly the opposite. Confessions attempt to narrow the conversation from “how little can one believe” to “how much should one believe.” If beliefs are a dartboard, a creed is the outermost circle. “You hit the target, way to go!” A confession is the bull’s eye.

Belief as a bull’s eye is, of course, my friend’s real issue: Whose bull’s eye, whose confession are we to use? Augsburg? Belgic? Heldelberg? Helvetic? Thirty-nine Articles? Baptist? Westminster? …And those are just the ones written between 1430 and 1630! A creed is a fenced playground, but a creed represents the largest playground possible. A confession is the kindergarten play ground – very small and safe. The Nicene Creed is the high school ballfields – a square half mile. If you can’t find room to play at the high school, you really just don’t want to be there.

We Fear Creeds

Creeds have been ignored by evangelicals and progressives alike. Evangelicals busily moved past the creeds in a desire to be culturally relevant and a fear of the world creeping into the church – so evangelicals tightened the reigns with detailed, specific, narrow confessional boundaries. “Are you a Reformed, dispensational, pre-trib, pre-millennial regular Baptist?” “No! I am a Reformed, dispensational, mid-trib, pre-millennial regular Baptist.” “Oh. Sorry, we can’t be friends.” This resulted in “many protestants” – a now collapsing array of denominations.

At the same time liberals were also busy jettisoning historic creeds. For liberals though it was a desire to be theologically relevant and a fear that the world was creeping out of the church.

Scales Before Jazz

photocredit: ehow.com

photocredit: ehow.com

When my children suggested to their piano teacher that they learn popular songs, their piano teacher would patronizingly reply, “We learn scales before Jazz.” The reference was lost on my kids who had never heard Jazz. What they wanted to play was the theme to the after school cartoon, “Arthur.” But the teacher was right, if you know your scales you can play any musical. Creeds are the substance of the faith – The “scales” to teach to every child and newcomer. By definition, creeds are catholic (universal), confessions are sectarian genres. Everyone has a genre preference. But if one doesn’t know the basics, regardless of the genre, what we end up with is bad music.

Creeds unite us around the basic Christian story (the “who” and “why”) rather than the symbols of our tradition (the “how” and “what”). The symbols of our tradition are rich and powerful, but our traditional actions and symbols never stand alone. Their power is that they point to greater truths-the truths specifically expressed in the creeds. Confirmation programs, for example, lose power specifically when our teachers have forgotten to keep the main thing (salvation in Christ Jesus) the main thing. And one cannot master Jazz who has not first mastered their scales.

So Christian, don’t give up your creeds!

The Bible’s Lucky Decoder Ring: The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

The Bible’s Lucky Decoder Glasses (Creeds for Newbies, Episode 1)

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The First Council of Nicea

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(Part 1)

In 1934, the Little Orphan Annie radio show hit on a terrific marketing gimmick: kids could mail away for a “secret decoder ring” in order to decipher hidden messages.

Perhaps you remember the young protagonist, Ralphie, in the classic movie, “A Christmas Story,” ordering one…

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…only to be disappointed that the “secret message” was nothing more than “a  crummy commercial.”

If you grew up in the sixties you might have had Johnny Quest “lucky decoder glasses” to interpret secret messages.

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It may surprise you to know that there are “lucky decoder glasses” to reading and interpreting the Bible – A set of lenses Christians have looked through as keys to understanding the Bible for nearly 2000 years.

Everyone has a set of interpretive lenses through which they see the world and read any text. For orthodox Christianity those lenses are a document originally written in 325 CE called, “The Nicene Creed.”

Settling Fights

As with all doctrinal statements, the Nicene Creed was written to settle a fight. More precisely to clear up confusion over the Bible’s teaching about the nature of Jesus and his relationship with God. You see, Jesus was so unique that people had a hard time “getting” him. Now, my evangelical friends will say, “The Bible settles who Jesus is, just read the plain meaning of the text!” The only problem is “reading the plain meaning” was not working. The early church was reading the Bible…in fact, not only were they reading from the same Testament, they were even reading from the same Gospel, and yet coming to radically different conclusions.

Let’s be honest, the Christian claim that Jesus is fully God while at the same time being fully human is pretty confusing. It shattered any existing thought paradigm. Two thousand years later it is still pretty tough to wrap one’s mind around a claim that astounding.

It may be of interest to you that the early Christians struggled with the humanity of Jesus more than his deity. Greeks, influenced by Gnostic thought and the idea “flesh” was corrupt and “spirit” was good,  had a tough time with the notion that Jesus could be a real, actual human. So the early church wrote a creed we know as the “Apostle’s Creed.” It was used in Baptisms. The line, “Born of a virgin” was included specifically to insist that Jesus was an actual, real, burping, got gassy, snored while sleeping on his back, human being.

A century and a half later the struggle had shifted. A priest named Arius had started teaching that Jesus was something less than God (as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons teach today).

Arius’ new teaching began to win people over. (It helped that he was a good preacher and musician. He penned a catchy ditty that all the cool kids were singing, “There was a time when he was not…”) Arius argued out of the gospel of John, “Jesus said, ‘The father is greater than I.'” (John 14:28) The church answered with, “The father and I are one.’  (John 10:30) and ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the father.‘” (John 14:9) So there they are: reading the same gospel and coming to two thoroughly opposite conclusions as to Jesus’ identity and the nature of his relationship with the Father. So is Jesus less than or equal too the Father? This really, really matters because Jesus’ role is to make sacrifice for sins. If Jesus is anything less than completely holy, anything less than divine, his sacrifice will be incomplete…and we will remain dead in our trespasses. (1 John 2:2, Heb 9:26-10:12)

When the “Bible alone” is not enough

How did the church settle this dispute? Is the faith to be, as Arius’ would have had it, endlessly malleable or is there an inner core that is non-negotiable – a “…faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all“? (Vincent of Lerins, early 400s.)

The church had two trump cards in this argument: catholicity and orthodoxy. 1) Catholicity (universal), the unbroken line of bishops (apostolic authority) traced back to Jesus – an argument of continuity of relationship with Jesus (those related to Jesus by touch). 2) Orthodoxy, an argument of continuity in Jesus’ teachings (those related to Jesus by teaching). The church has argued one or the other for 2,000 years, but both were seen as vital.

Those bishop’s unbroken interpretation of the scriptures present in the conciliar statements generated when they met in worldwide (ecumenical) council. The first of these councils met  in a town in Turkey named Nicea in 325CE. 318 bishops from all around the world attended. They came from as far away as England. The meeting was presided upon by no less dignitary than the rather newly converted emperor of Rome, Constantine. The statement they wrote, stating in unambiguous terms, that Jesus was fully and completely God in flesh, was signed by 315 of the bishops present (Arius and two cronies refused).

Since that time, Christians, whether they are aware of the fact or not, read the Bible through the “lucky decoder lenses” of those bishop’s statement, the Nicene Creed.

And, since the Nicene Creed is so undergirds how we view and interpret the rest of the Bible, it is a pretty decent idea to, as more and more churches are beginning to, pray that creed in church every Sunday. 

(Part two: Creeds: “The Substance of the faith” not “things indifferent” – Creeds are not confessions and it is above our pay grade to rewrite them.)

 

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Guest Post: The Black Holocaust Never Stopped

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I don’t do many guest posts. Today is an exception. In the wake of Ferguson and the vitriol at the looting but not at the killing that precipitated it, I want you to hear my friend Warren Stewart’s voice. I want you to hear how it feels to be Black in American right now. Today.  Warren is not a reactionary. He is a kind hearted, conservatively educated, middle-class, married guy of good will struggling to raise his kids. He is a Christian, a pastor, and the son of one of Arizona’s most highly respected and moderate African-American clergy. If Warren does not feel there is a place for him in our culture, we are really in a tough spot. Please read this with an open heart and then take the risk of letting it start conversations…

 

Why do black people have to explain why racism still exists in America? You tell us. We didn’t create it. It must be amazing to be a part of the majority and privileged demographic in America. To never have to be concerned with racism, prejudice, profiling, lynching, slavery, etc. is a privilege.

I am told that it shouldn’t be called “racism” because we are all a part of the human race. Yet American history tells us Black people (slaves) were not even seen as human, only three-fifths so, in the 1788 American congressional documents.  When you are not viewed as fully human what other word is there other than “racism”? And yet I and many of your Black friends hesitate to comment on issues of race because we don’t want to offend our White friends.

Racism in America has never gone away. People of color have been written out of our history books – this is where racism begins: It is taught. Children are never taught our positive influence on history. And if children are taught, even Black children, to forget about Black history no wonder people of color don’t seem to matter in our present day.

Blacks have not arrived because we have the King holiday. We did not arrive because of the election of President Barack Obama. Those are not America’s apology for slavery. They are not our 40 acres and a mule. Having an African-American President has only opened the curtain to reveal that America still has stage 4 racism cancer.

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From Joseph Boston’s fb page.

The Black Holocaust has never ended. Jews had their horrific holocaust at the hands of Hitler and it was over. Our holocaust has never ended. Black people are still marked for sifting, extinction, and death. We have been trained to kill each other. We are targeted by the police. We have never had relief from prejudice and racism. We still feel the injustices of Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown every time another Black life is taken. If a White boy was gun downed by Black police officers they would be in jail now.

Our holocaust has never ended. Slavery has merely taken on a new form through the prison system (free labor). Our economic bondage is maintained by tying school funding to property values and then filling our neighborhoods with government approved predatory lenders. The Black eugenics plan (abortion) has killed more black lives than slavery. HIV/AIDS has killed more Black people then any other demographic. Africa, one of our world’s richest continents, has some of the poorest living conditions in the world. And in America the police act as the new KKK executing young Black men on the street and leave them there for 4 hours as they did when they hung us from trees in the South.

I am outraged. I am outraged because I still experience racism and others act as if it does not exist. I’m frustrated with my own people because we allow ourselves to be influenced by the demonic messages of hip-hop. I am upset because the media portrays us as less than (3/5) human whenever possible and demonize us as thugs. Mostly I am tired of having to explain that racism still exists. Here is my question, Do you value people of color as fully human other than entertaining you on a stage, field, or court?

I have wonderful White brothers and sisters in the faith and I am thankful for them. They understand and are genuinely concerned about what we go through. It is only through the gospel that has brought down every dividing wall that separated us that we can be unified in Christ in our diversity (Ephesians 2:11-18). But diversity and unity has to move from a conversation to integration in a masterful mosaic for the Messiah to be glorified.

One day every eye will see Christ’s body united. One day we will stand before God and there will be neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. We will all be one in Him. (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 7:9).

But that day has not yet come.

#ClassIsInSession #Racism #Ferguson #MikeBrown

 
*Originally posted on Warren’s blog: http://warrenhstewartjr.wordpress.com
 
Note from Matt: Reconciliation is hard work. It doesn’t happen between groups…or when we label “ those people on tv.” It happens one life at a time. You can be a reconciling presence or a dividing one. Each of us chooses every day. Again, I encourage you to take a risk and let Warren’s piece start some conversations.

The Polarization of America: Whatever happened to Average Joe?

 

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Thoughtful author and mega-pastor, Tim Keller, describes a seeming contradiction: How can conservative evangelicalism be experiencing slow growth when the wider culture is growing noticeably more secular? Keller’s answer: It is an indicator of an increasingly polarized America.

“…the number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people. The big change is the erosion in the middle…

I have been saying this for years. But finally somebody with a big-boy microphone said it – the middle, if not gone, is going fast.

“You don’t so much see secularization as polarization, and what is really disappearing is the middle.‘”

Here is how a disappearing middle plays out… 

-Politically-

In Arizona one would think that Republicans vying for their parties’ nomination for governor were the Hatfields and McCoys. For six months my inbox has been the sawed off shotgun of spam – Republican on Republican attack ads in every direction. And then the emails from the Democrats arrive. Both sides making sure we know the truth – “those guys” are ruining America! Accusations are fired indiscriminately, like buckshot. Want to win a political race? Run to a partisan sideline and attack your opponent. The middle disappeared.

-Religiously-

This loss of common ground is occurring in religion as well. It is seen on university campus’ as the forces of puritanical secularism rally to deny religious freedoms on even broad creedal bodies. A prominent clergy friend once said, “Twenty years ago I was decently left of center. Now I am the exposed right flank and wondering if there is still room for me.” A once self-proclaimed liberal the exposed right flank? What happened? In his church the “right” may have “quit,” but the middle disappeared.

It is true politically. It is true religiously.

It is also true socio-economically…

-In Our Neighborhoods-

When I was growing up the difference between the wealthy and middle class was a fourth bedroom and room for a second car in your carport. The poor lived in two-bedroom homes two blocks away. Rich or poor, no one was really too far from the middle.

Americans once shared a lot of common ground: Most folks went to church. Most kids went to public school  – even if the school was not good. We all bought clothes at the same mall and food at the same grocery stores. Parents stood together in the streets after work and talked about “our” kids. It was a community of the middle. We were all “Average Joe’s.”

Today in that same neighborhood the children of the one car carport/three bedroom homes are on free and reduced lunch and the parents can’t afford to water the lawns. In the two car/four bedroom homes most of the kids are in $15,000 a year private schools. They do 6 figure remodels of those homes every seven years. (Now before you light me up for being anti-wealth let me assure you that I have nothing against wealth. Neither did Jesus, by the way. Jesus was not anti-wealth. He was pro-generosity. What I am having issue with is the disappearance of Average Joe.)

Average Joe, and his wife Average Jane, were America’s sane, moderate middle. They paid taxes, worked the same job until retirement. They raised nice kids who got in trouble a few times, but who would surely grow up and follow in their average parents’ footsteps.

But along the way Joe and Jane’s kids surprised us. The kids grew up into Katie Cause and Kevin Consumption-polarized and polarizing. Perhaps it was economic pressure. Or fear of change. Or political winds. Whatever the causes, Katie and Kevin picked “sides” in the culture wars and retreated to them. We could have not have done a better job of rearranging our lives around our socio-economics and our politics if we had set out to. Last week a thoughtful clergy-blogger, Fr. Tony Clavier, worried out loud that our religion has become mere cover for our political aspirations.

-The Disappearing Middle-

But here I remain. In the increasingly empty middle.

And I am not leaving. I’m compulsive in my centricity.  I even joined a church who calls itself the “via media.” But I am looking around. And from here the “middle way” looks like the no man’s land between the trenches in the Verdun. Nothing but bullets, bodies, and folks running for cover.

There are some benefits to being in the middle, of course. Occasionally one gets to be a bridge. Which isn’t always as fun as it sounds. Bridges get walked on. And in times of war booby trapped.

And Yet…

Before my cynical soliloquy sends you to the medicine cabinet in search of antidepressants, let me assure you that I actually have hope for a renewed common ground. It comes from our young adults – those misaligned Millennials. At their best, they have the ability to hold deep convictions but without the need to coerce into their camp those who don’t share them. Among the over thirty the word “tolerance” is generally code for “progressive.” For many young adults, who have grown up in diversity, it means, gasp, the ability to have real, actual friendships with those with whom they disagree.

Average Joe and Average Jane are gone. I am fairly certain they are not coming back. But look who is beginning to move into the neighborhood! Their grandchildren, who are less interested in consumption and, although they care deeply for their causes, have a distaste for demonizing others.

And, if you are tired of living on the fringes and looking for a new friendlier place, there is room here in the middle of our block for you…

Parenting To Make Disciples: Overcoming fear and perfectionism

 

Photo credit: Babble.com

Photo credit: Babble.com

 

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Are you nervous about how your kids will grow up? Are you trying hard to give them all the right opportunities? Does parenting feel like a high-stakes game of “Whose kid is more awesome?” If so, be encouraged. We made 10,000 mistakes and our kids still turned out ok.

So much parenting advice plays on our fears. We see the results of this being lived out in young adults as they struggle with the fruits of our fear-based parenting: Questions of identity, lack of community, confused calling, and sense of entitlement in an increasingly complex world. Is it possible to parent without fear? Our advice: Feel free not to play along – refuse to drink the “experts” Cool Aid.

It takes a fair amount of hutzpah to give someone else parenting advice, but we get a decent amount of street cred by knowing that we have made a mind-bending amount of parenting fails and still having adolescents who are turning into nice young adults – heck, we’ve even had people tell us they joined our church because they wanted their kids around ours. And our kids actually are pretty swell: They are kind. Thoughtful. Motivated. They love God. They seek community (both multi-generationally in church and in age-appropriate ministry groupings). They lead and serve others. And they are doing these things without much prompting from us. How did we do it? Was it dumb luck? Were we experts in child psychology? Were we blessed with compliant children? Actually, it was none of the above. We are ordinary people who did a few grace-based things that we thought were right. Here, in no magical order are…

10 things we do as parents that seem to have worked:

  1. Keep the end in mind. When our kids were young we sought the advice of parents whose young adult children we respected. A surprising number talked about “parenting for the future.” It was freeing to remember that what we were  not after eight year olds with the most activity ribbons, but self-directed, moral, responsible, God-following thirty-year olds. We parented alongside friends who were forever fretting: “Are they meeting the right kids, playing the right sports, learning the right version of Mandarin, eating sufficiently organic meals, will they try sex, will playing that video game turn them into a basement-lizard crackhead?” It was exhausting. So we relaxed. We lowered the bar early on. Our big goal for early childhood was that by age four our kids would know, “God loves you and Mommy and Daddy do too.” That was it. Instead of club sports and video games we kicked them outside and let them engage in kid-organized play. We let them be bored. We, gasp, put them in the “wrong” schools.
  2. Realize they will become you. All of us become our parents. Knowing our kids will become what they see, we watched what we said and, especially, what we did. In Christian Smith’s groundbreaking book Soul Searching, he describes the belief system of Americans as a shallow, touchy-feely, do-goodism masquerading as faith. The bombshell is not just that this is the belief system of both secular and many churched Americans, but that the source of that theology is parents. It may be trendy to blame the church, but the number one reason kids don’t love God is not the pastor. It is us. So we tried to grow in our faith and our kids noticed. And, because children live what they learn, they developed the habits of faith too.
  3. Love each other. It is (or should be) a given that we parents love our kids. Want to raise secure children? Love your spouse. It creates a stability that allows them to take healthy risks later.
  4. Live grateful, generous lives.We made service and ministry hallmarks of our family. We opened our home and family and let our kids see us sacrifice time and money for other’s benefit. We involved “those people” in our family. Most parents try to avoid “them.” Don’t. Have your kids in school with kids who are different from them. Have “them” in your home. In the small youth group that met in our house last night, kids from twelve different countries were present. This is not about serving the “less fortunate.” “They” have values that we wanted our children to learn. Educational research tells us that heterogenous groupings (differing abilities) are more effective than homogenous groupings (i.e. all the smart kids in one place). Our kids are broader and more able to cope in a diverse world as a result. More than that, it fights the creeping narcissism of our culture when your kids grow up involved in things that are for the good of another for another’s sake.
  5. Use lots of words. Ask good questions and listen. Talk. Read. Create a word rich environment. The dinner table is critical for this. Skip the baby talk. And don’t be afraid to praise them when you see them doing something admirable.
  6. Remember the goal is adults who walk with God. This is not the same as having the appearance of walking with God. Rule following is not nearly as important as a heart that wants to walk with God from love. We worked on teaching them to learn to love doing the things Christians have always loved doing: Read the Bible, pray, be in mutual surrender with other Christians, gather to worship, serve, etc. But experiencing being the beloved’s of the God behind these practices is the goal.
  7. Tell the truth. There are plenty of things we cannot and should not tell our children, but we tried remarkably hard to be sure that our kids could count on our word. (BTW, we took this one all the way to Santa Claus. We said, “Santa is really fun pretend. Sort of like your dolls are really fun, but still pretend.” You may not want to do that. It made us pretty unpopular with other parents when our kids spilled the beans.)
  8. Don’t need them to “like” us. Instead, be people they can respect. Parents seem to be confused in the Facebook age of “like.” You don’t need to be “cool.” You don’t need the latest slang. Kids are like sharks – they can smell a parent’s desperation. The impulse to be liked is in all of us. But what kids need now is a parent. So, rather than need to be liked, be someone who is courageous to talk about their life. Be someone worthy of their respect. …But do like
  9. Develop their gifts and dreams. Not ours. Encourage experimentation and risk taking. But before they can experiment with chemicals and sex, help them experiment with their God-given gifts and dreams so that they can begin to taste their calling. Help them to prefer adventure and risk to safety and security. Faith and fear do not go together. As a result, our kids have done a bunch of things that we would never have dared attempt.
  10. Have lots of honorable people in their lives. Hillary Clinton was right, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The successful families we were watching were all people who knew that they needed other adults in their kids lives who were saying what they were saying, but just happened not to be them when they said it. Surround them with healthy Christian adults, young and old.

In other words, we placed high value on effort, risk, faith, and service, and a lower one on club sports (never played one), academics (although they signed up for plenty of AP courses on their own), and fighting their battles.

How about you? Do you have any tips for young parents who are embarking in this lifelong adventure?

For another post on parenting: The Secret Sauce for Raising Great Teens