Monday, April 24, 2006

Raising Warriors

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I can do the most important job that God has given me. Not the one I get paid for, or my future aspirations for starting a society shaping entertainment company. No, the mission field in my own home. I've got two boys who need to brought up in the "discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4) Taking a survey of my life reveals that there are two ways one can measure their success in life. You can judge success by societies standards of education, career advancement, wealth, and happy family life. Or you can look at it like God does… and He doesn't seem to care at all about any of those things. Jesus didn't call the educated to be His disciples. He told them to give up their careers. He told the rich young ruler who had followed all the laws that the only way he could enter the kingdom of God was to sell everything he owned and follow Him. He said those who don't hate their family and their own life can not be His disciple. (Meaning that they must be willing to put Christ before everything and everyone.)

I had some moderate success by societies standards for a while. My career took a very fast upswing some years ago, my salary doubled and I was given a bunch of responsibility. But none of that mattered to God. It didn't make me happy. It didn't save my marriage. So when I think about my sons' futures, and how I would like to shape their hearts I see that I want to instill what is truly important. God's plan for their life will undoubtedly look very different than what I can imagine. But it's my job to equip them for wherever that journey takes them. And most importantly, instill a desire to find and follow God's plan. I've found that God seldom speaks out of thunderclouds to people anymore. He speaks to those who love Him in very subtle ways. So really, my basic job is to cultivate a love for God in my sons' lives so that they will be ready and willing to hear Him and His desires for them. How do we fall in love with someone? We get to know them. How do we know God? His Word and His Spirit. So here is what I've felt inspired to do with them to help them know God…

To know His Spirit is a heart transforming process. I can't change my boys' hearts, only His Spirit can. But I can teach them to recognize and appreciate the fruit of that change. Changing from the 100% inward focus of infancy to the outwardly focused person God wants us to be is a life-long process, and must come from within. You can not be forced to love anything. I can't set up a list of rules that the kids have to follow and expect them to love those rules. But I can show them when they demonstrate fruits of the spirit. Here is a list from Galations 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Whenever a person demonstrates these attributes that is a work of the Holy Spirit. Whenever my boys demonstrate them, I want to recognize them and encourage them in it. I want to show them the natural results that come from that fruit. To teach them to love God is to teach them what God loves. So I'm going to be making a poster with a barren tree on it. Every time they 'show fruit' I'm going to draw the fruit I see on the tree. I may make some stickers for this. So far I have strawberry for Love, a coconut for Patience, a lemon for Self-control, and an apple for goodness.

We used to keep a happy face chart where we would put a smiley face under their name for every good action we saw them doing, and we would cross them out every time they did something bad. Then we would tally all the faces at the end of the week and get them a reward of some sort based on that number. But we ran into two problems. One: they kept getting more faces taken off than put on. And two: what good does it do to bribe your children into acting good. Because with a mixed motive like that, it truly is "acting" good. Once the incentive is gone, the heart will just go back to its default selfish mode.

So while I have no idea whether a reward-free fruit poster is going to make them behave better, ultimately I care more about showing them what God loves, and how He loves the fruit that they show.

The second idea I have is a long-term project. As a family, I want us to memorize a whole bunch of God's Word. The chapters that I memorized for BibleQuiz as a teen have stuck with me and formed my life experience in ways I probably don't even recognize. God's Word truly is powerful. Here is one of my favorite verses:

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Combine that with the list of armor from Ephesians 6 which calls the Word of God a sword, and I feel like creating a physical display of a spiritual truth. As we put more of the Bible into our hearts, our offensive weapon against "this present darkness" grows more powerful. So I told the boys that when we have finished memorizing this massive amount of scripture (which will probably take several years) I will build them a sword to symbolize the weapon that they have forged in their hearts. I think I will engrave their names and all the verse numbers that they memorized. A kingly gift for the sons of a king… Uh… That being Jesus, not me.

So while things like a good education, appreciation for the arts, and people skills are very important for me to teach my kids, if any of those things is put before a love of God and others, than I'm not doing my job of arming the future generation for the war they will have to fight in. Like it says in 1st Corinthians 13:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Half a year of marriage

We had our six monthiversary on the first. I still can’t believe the way God blessed me and my family with Heather. It’s one of those things that makes it impossible for me to complain about anything. Having a woman who loves and supports you and who was hand picked by God for you is better than anything I can imagine.

They say after six months the honeymoon period ends and real life begins. But I think our kids effectively suppressed any sort of honeymoon period we may have had. I generally associate newly-wedded bliss with things like time to focus on each other and long romantic encounters. Well, we do our best, but these things come less often then they do to less distracted couples.

Any, at this point we are supposed to stop seeing the quirky things our spouse does as cute, and start finding them annoying. Those differences that we reveled in now getting under our skin. Well, that hasn’t happened to me yet. I love my bouncy, bubbly, emotional, frustrated, skipping, ADD wife as much as before. It doesn’t ever annoy me when she bounces on her workout ball for 10 minutes while I’m writing. It never bothers me when she needs to be played with like a puppy. I’m not tired of her needs in the least. I still adore those quirky aspects and I’m pretty sure I always will. Since I’ve been through this process before I think I can spot the potential for that sort of thing… But get back to me in 10 years.

Seriously though, I feel so blessed that I had the marriage I did before this one. It wasn’t just a bad marriage. It was spectacularly bad. Broken and dysfunctional in almost every way possible. And yet God was in there the whole time. His gentle, patient will getting accomplished. He gave me two sons through that marriage. Individuals whom He destined for something that only they could do. So I never want to act disdainful of my first marriage. But I can realistically assess the effects it had on me. And one of the coolest effects is my overwhelming appreciation for my new wife and how utterly different she is. Almost everyday something will spark a memory of how things were for me in my first marriage, and then I am overcome with how wonderfully opposite things are now. It’s not just that pains were taken away, but they were replaced with pleasure.

One example of this is the way Heather let’s me be who I am. And in that freedom, I’m finding all the right reasons to grow. Our pastor’s focus in our premarital counseling was loving another… Loving an OTHER. Loving the differences that we bring to each other. And we have many ‘other’s to love. Everything from appearance to attitudes. If we were paper dolls and we dressed each other up I know we’d look totally different. I’d put Heather in punky clothes and give her heavy, goth mascara. She’d put me in polo shirts and khakis and cut my hair short. But I know that she’s not punk, and she knows I’m not gay… or, whatever that look is.

I need a ton of sleep to feel good. She can’t sleep and never feels good. (Well, she’s sleeping now, and looking like the most adorable angel you could imagine.)

Then there is the way we spend our free time. I love to sit quietly and think, write, play games, etc. But she needs people to interact with. I keep trying to think of some kind of hobby that she could just sit down and work on for hours at a time. But the only time she can be still is when she is working on a project for somebody. You would not believe the amount of time and effort she pours into the people in her life. For instance: she had a college roommate several years ago from Korea who has moved back there. Well, Heather has this 50-page book that she has filled to overflowing with photos, poems, cartoons, etc. that she has made for this girl. She is always thinking about blessing other people. It’s the way God built her. And in that otherness I see a higher place that God is calling me to. So even though I wish she would just sit and entertain herself so I won’t feel guilty about a 3 hour Civilization IV session every now and then, I see the beautiful attributes that make her that way, and love her and God all the more because of them. I know she is challenged the same way through my attributes.

Something I don’t understand about our relationship so far is the total lack of fighting. We ruffle each other’s feathers and hurt each other’s feelings now and then, but we have never ‘fought’. Never yelled. Never blew up and slammed a door. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know if it’s just a phase that we will grow out of, or if our personalities just mesh a certain way. Whenever I’ve heard of a relationship without fights I always assume it’s because one of them was a total spineless push-over, or one was so domineering that the other knew arguing was futile. (I got to that point at the end of my last marriage.) But I don’t know any more. I’m certainly not claiming to have figured out some formula to a great marriage. We have just been incredibly blessed with each other and I hope that blessing will be pouring out to others more and more as our marriage matures.

Monday, April 10, 2006

On being special and being rude

I’m on vacation in Moses Lake with Heather’s family. It’s spring break so I’m trying to minimize the amount of time she has to be alone with the boys. As the longer you have to watch them, the more annoying their boyhood propensities become. One of our usual activities while here is visiting some of Heather’s old childhood friends. Well, the ones who still care. (And some who don’t.) Well I heard a comment second hand from one of them that they thought I was stand-offish since I usually have a sketchbook or a little claw, arm, hand, etc. to sculpt on. This is certainly understandable, and I feel bad that it’s interpreted that way. It’s something that my ex never accepted about me. She simply decided to change that aspect of me. But after I gained my freedom from her mold, and was able to slowly re-shape myself I’m sure I dropped some of the positive attributes that came along with being controlled. Since I don’t seem to care about other’s opinions of me as much as most people do, being forced to think about other’s feelings could sometimes be a good thing. But like all situations where you have to be good, there comes a point where you realize it’s not your heart causing you to behave, but external forces. And if those are removed your natural state of selfishness will come to the surface. I think that’s why so many college freshmen go crazy.

Anyway, now I have a character defining dilemma to address. Or a chance to decide how I will be perceived. Not in that vain, self glorifying way: like whom do I want to impress. But in that putting-others-first way that I’m trying to get my kids to understand. See, as far as I’m concerned, I have a really good reason for having art with me all the time. And I know that I’m engaged and participating in the social situation when I’m making art. Given the demands in my life, an hour or two at our church parenting meeting or theological discussion group is a prime opportunity to make valuable headway in the projects that get shoved to the side if I don’t find every chance that comes along to work on them. For me, it’s multi-tasking at its best. I don’t need the part of my brain that listens to information and processes it to sculpt or draw, so if I’m in a class without art stuff I feel like I’m wasting time. I almost feel guilty about it. My hands and eyes are sitting useless while my brain works. Theoretically I could be taking notes, but I’m really bad at that. I can’t think and write at the same time, so my notes end up being half formed sentences that I could never decode later, or broad headings that don’t have enough detail to be useful.

On the other hand, what I am missing, especially during group interaction, is the non-verbal communication that is so important for people to feel that they are being listened to and understood. I don’t see those signals, and I’m not sending them since my hands and eyes are engaged. So for people to whom those aspects of conversation are important, (almost everyone) I’m essentially cutting myself off from them by my extra-curricular activities. Kind of like wearing sunglasses during a heart-to-heart talk. (I guess.) But then I think about quilting bees, barn-raising, and other communal activities that are heavily conversational, while still centering on an activity. But I suppose the premise of the meeting defines people’s expectations of what the member’s hands and eyes should be doing.

I guess what it comes down to is that I’m sending signals out that the vast majority of people interpret as, “I don’t care about you as much as I care about my weird little project.” And I suppose that is not really the heart of Christ. He wants people to know that I do care about them more than my weird little projects. I just wish people could understand that I’m driven by a calling to impact society through my art, and that I don’t have enough freeking time in the day to take care of myself, my family, and them, to accomplish that goal. I want people to be understanding of the fact that I’m speeeeeeecial!

And now that I’ve dug that deeply within myself I see, like almost all the problems in my life, this stems from a lack of faith. I think if I don’t multi-task like this I will never be able to achieve God’s plan in my life. But really, if I am not focused on serving those around me and making a positive impact on their lives, why would I expect God to give me the power to impact my whole society? I must show myself faithful in the small things before I will be given the responsibility to be faithful with the big things. (Like my big dream.) If my path to fulfilling my big dream involves driving by, or driving over, those around me to get there, why would I expect God to honor that dream?

I’m blessed in that my goal in life is absolutely impossible without God so that I can’t afford to take short cuts through morally questionable terrain to get there. The Bible says that He will make our paths straight. And that He is a light for our path. It’s our own reasoning that makes our road to His will circuitous. It’s our ideas of what seems right to us that gets us lost in the dark. And there is nothing darker or more myopic than putting our desires first. So when it comes to being a good steward of the gifts that God has given me, I’ve got to consider the gift of other people and their needs above my artistic gifts, lofty goals, and yes, even my specialness.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Oh Dear Not-God

Last night a death blow was dealt to my faith. I was finally confronted with information SO radical, SO profound, and SO earth-shattering that I had no other choice but to deny my most deeply held beliefs. I'm guessing this happened because I had the TV on in the background while I was sculpting. God must be punishing me for watching TV again… NO WAIT!!! I forgot: there is no God. It's going to take me awhile to get used to this change of belief systems.

So what was this news that was powerful enough to rip the blinders from my eyes? What could turn an ardent believer into a shivering wreck of a man with no faith? The Gospel of Judas! Dun-dun-duuuuuuuun! That's right. Last night I heard 3 different reports about this late-breaking news story. It turns out that in 3 or 4 hundred A.D. someone wrote a book called the Gospel of Judas! And it says Jesus ASKED Judas to turn Him over to the authorities!!! AS THOUGH JESUS KNEW HE WAS GOING TO DIE!!!! MY GOD! A REVELATION THIS PROFOUND WILL SHAKE THE VERY FOUNDATIONS OF CHRISTENDOM!!! "But wait." I thought to myself… Couldn't this be a forgery? But the clever scientists studying the book carbon dated it and SCIENTIFICALLY PROOVED that it is ancient! And we all know everything written a long time ago was true. And we all know that there were never any other competing ideas or documents floating around in the early years of Christianity. So the fact that a book was discovered that has a different account than the New Testament is sure to bring my former belief system to its knees.

Thank you National Geographic Society! Thank you for bringing this vitally important news to us. For slapping us out of our comatose stupidity and showing us the painfully blinding truth that this document reveals. Thank you Mr. Ancient text scientist guy for showing me that I don't have to hate Jews now, since Judas was not such a bad guy after all. (Because, you know, I hated Jews since Judas was a Jew and betrayed my Jewish savior who was born into a linage of God's chosen people, the Jews WTF!?!?!) But now that this guy has shown us evil Christians the light, we don't have to hate Jews anymore. Thank God… I mean… not-God. I mean…


I’m not quite sure what one of my gentle reader’s replies meant… But it reminded me that had one not seen the news of that evening that I had, one might not quite ‘get’ the angle of the preceding screed.

So here are my observations in complete, non-sarcasm (mostly) mode.

I had the T.V. in our bedroom on while I was working late, and heard a bumper for one of the stories coming up on 20/20. “The Lost Book of Judas” it said, “Was he really as bad as people think?” Well that certainly piqued my interest since I have been researching extra-canonical literature lately, and I hadn’t heard of that one. So far my research had brought me to the conclusion that there were many churches that splintered off from the one Peter started that was so influenced by the writings of Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These splinter groups came about as the society around them saturated and changed them into something else entirely. Besides outside religious and philosophical pressure, they were influenced by writings purported to be by other people who had known Jesus, and these writings presented a different vision of Him. Some slightly different, and some to a marked degree. There were around 20 of these “gospels”, and the job of the councils that came a couple hundred years later was to determine what would be included in the Bible and what wouldn’t. The gospels they chose to include shape our view of Jesus and His purpose. And what they included ends up painting a consistent image of Christ. They could have included the other contradicting gospels and said “make up your own mind”, but I think like any good historian, they were trying to get to the truth of the matter. They knew doctrine would come from their choices, and if you can believe that God inspired the writers of the gospels it’s not a stretch to believe that God inspired those who assembled them.

Now keep in mind that this is all common knowledge. Scholarship regarding the canon of scripture and what Christians consider the Bible and what they don’t has been around for 1,600 years. I think that’s almost long enough for people who write “the news” to have learned about. But I guess I was wrong. Because NONE of that information was included in any of the broadcasts I saw that night. Every opening line was a variant of, “Explosive new evidence of what may have really happened!”. Or, “Shocking revelation from a newly discovered ancient document casts doubt on the story of Jesus’ betrayal.”

Yes. Shocking. There are only 20 other gospels that have been around for over a thousand years that contradict the Bible story. So what’s so special about this one? Yet another point of view written by no one knows who. The claim is that Jesus asked Judas to betray Him. Ok… So it says something different than the Bible… Just like all those other apocryphal books.

But I suppose most people – Christians included – don’t know anything about church history, or the fact that the Bible was not hand-written by Jesus, or that even in the beginning of Christianity there were other competing ideas. And without that context, this would be an exiting revelations that blah blah blah. But shouldn’t an important part of reporting be the context? This story would be like a reporting that a masked man had shot several people in a major city… without noting that it was an Army soldier defending his platoon in Bagdad. Or saying that a woman had killed 7 dogs in the last week… without pointing out that she was a veterinarian who was putting old, sick dogs to sleep. A masked man shooting people? A woman killing those poor dogs! How horrible! Context makes the world go ‘round.

So leaving out really, really important info like that is just a slap in the face of Christians everywhere. But that wasn’t quite enough for these people. They had unzip, and slap us in the face with their genitals. How? Well, whoever the big-wig who was heading up the team of scholars who pieced the book together was, felt the need to further inflate the importance of his work by saying that this ‘new understanding’ of Judas should help Christians to stop being so hateful to the Jews. He said that since Judas was most closely associated to the Jews, and then vilified, he was somehow the springboard into anti-Semitism. Oh, and that, (and I’m not making this up) his name sounds very close to the word ‘Jew’! Closely associated to the Jews? They were all Jews! Jesus, His mother, the good guys, bad guys, etc. Except for the Romans, they were all Jews! But the best part was when the professor-of-whatever said something about how this perception of Judas as an evil Jew had instigated unspeakable acts of racial bigotry and hatred… while a clip of Hitler and concentration camps was shown! Yes! Hitler was quite the Christian, and his entire justification for killing Jews was that Judas betrayed Jesus.

Anyway. The moral of the story? There is a clearly orchestrated attack on Christendom right now. With the DaVinci Code, and the Gospel of Judas, they are attacking the very foundation of our beliefs. Satan knows that if he can undermine God’s Word, we have nothing to ground us. No plumb line, no ruler, no authority. But I think this is all good news. The dingleberries who check the ‘Christian’ box in the questionnaire but don’t know what Easter stands for will stop checking the ‘Christian’ box. The Christians who give a damn about their beliefs will be challenged to actually learn something about their beliefs and the history of their faith. The church will finally have to step up and start teaching and preaching this stuff, and solid, Christian scholarship will flourish throughout the land. At least that’s my prediction.