Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: children

What Do I Do With My Kids and the Bible?

Let’s Have a Bible Class

Since we’re all basically part time teachers this school year my friend Bryce had the idea that one of the subjects he ought to teach would be the Bible. I was quite taken by the idea. It hit me when I was washing my hands the other day that I better help them know some Bible by heart.

We all wash our hands so often during the pandemic that I have had this amplifying memory that I keep talking about. Whenever I wash my hands at the kitchen sink and the water is running while I sing the ABC’s twice like the good virucidal citizen I am, I remember to turn it off because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles told me to when I was about seven. I grew up in Southern California where human life is basically unsustainable without great feats of engineering to pipe water hundreds of miles. So water is a premium that we ought to conserve. The Ninja Turtles taught me in a PSA that would come on at the end of the show to turn off the tap. I know this by heart. How do i know I know this by heart? Because I remember it daily!

We are influenced by so much, wouldn’t it be a nice gift to my kids to plant some words of comfort and truth from the book that testifies to the Word of Life right there in their hearts next to the cartoons?  If we are too laisez faire about this, the Ninja Turtles and their media ilk will plant some less beneficial messages that will win the day. Raising kids who grow into an adult faith is super difficult in this day and age. Maybe a Bible Class during Pandemic School 2020 is what they need?

Oh But Wait, Maybe We Shouldn’t

We say in Circle of Hope that the Gospel is better caught than taught. That is to say, teaching the Bible is not the best way to reveal the person of Jesus to people. That’s why we organized our church around this organic metaphor of cells. We want people to be a part of a living body that does the Bible. We are Bible people in that we organize our common life around the life and teaching of Jesus who showed us what it means to be human. Teaching a class to my kids could rip all of that up, right? Well, yeah… maybe.

We say in our Children’s Plan:

The difference between school and cell-like groups of children [which we try to create in our non-pandemic Sunday meetings].

  • A cell is the church. Sunday school is a program the church does.
  • People are a cell. People go to a Bible study.
  • Cell Leaders facilitate the life of the cell. School teachers help people learn the subject.
  • Jesus is the agenda of a cell. The Bible tends to be the agenda of a Sunday school.

Even though children have less capacity to engage in adult conversation, we still do not intend to create a classroom atmosphere for them to experience.”

Is there a way to give my kids some content without abandoning this novel project? Is it clear what we’re going for in making these distinctions? Let me know in the comments.

Owning the Project But Still Trusting the Spirit

Really I just want to try something since my normal means of helping my kids connect, life in the community, is a little tattered at the moment. I hope that my partners rely on the community connection as much as I do in their project of raising kids who know they are loved by God so they can respond to Jesus’ call on their life when they are ready. I think they do. But let me say it for everyone: making your family’s life around a local expression of the gospel is the best way for your kids to grow into adult faith. Your faith, your action because of it; your disciplines, and how you talk about Jesus; your rituals, and God’s presence in them — these are the best ways for kids to see what faith really is and receive it themselves. BUT it’s not just your faith and etc. It’s OUR faith. Humbly recognizing the need your child has for more than you can offer is a reason to regularly include them in the life of the body. Relying on that body for your life of faith and for your child is what I desire for all of us.  (And that’s what we call Village Parenting)

But that is harder to do right now when most of our relating is mediated through screens. This makes our ownership of the project all the more important. Doing what we do with our kids on purpose is the moral of the story. Having a plan and adapting the plan — that’s the trick. I think that if you have a plan adapting the plan is not as hard. It’s having a conscious plan that might be a bigger hurdle. Those who are recovering from an overly dogmatic experience or a brittle fundamentalism might have the hardest time. I feel you, but don’t give up. The faith you have is worth sharing, and that takes a lot of intention, and a lot of trust in the Holy Spirit. Remember, nothing works, only God works.

It seems that the most common outcome from that desire to have a plan is to make a class. And now I am thinking about doing just that. Am I just as uncreative as my spiritual ancestors who thought it was best to boil down the Bible into third grade mouth sized bites and hope the information magically transformed into faith?  I admit that it could so easily go that way, but I want to do a class mostly in name only. Really I’m just adapting my plan and finding ways to engage my kids in the thing I have set my life up to do.

Some Idea That I Am Going to Try

It’s not really a class. It’s YouTube videos. I’m going to watch youtube.com/thebibleproject everyday and talk about it with them. my kids are six and nine years old and they love learning things. They love stories about history (Thanks Hamilton) and really anything that is a cartoon. They also love taxonomies like the various types of dragons they can spawn on their phone app and, of course, the perennial Pokémon (gotta catch’em all). Why not get the Tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples up in there too?  We’re also going to memorize some scripture as we are able. We are starting with the Lord’s Prayer. That’s it.

I don’t think it is really a class. It’s more some concerted energy toward this 18 year project I have with them. I want to show them who Jesus is to me and what a life with God is like in real life. If I reduced it down to just the class, I think I would be in trouble, and much of my siblings in Christ have done that to some degree (I probably have too), but I’m hoping it can be done. Want to join me and Bryce?  Let’s talk about it. Shoot me an email.

Saving our Imaginations from Fortnite

I am reading A Wrinkle in Time to my son, Oliver, who is 7 years old. One of my goals is to teach him to use and develop his imagination. I actually stop as we’re reading to encourage him to be still and actively imagine what he’s hearing. It’s hard for him to not fidget with something or even be drawn to other books and images in his room. I remind him, “We’re being still and practicing seeing the story in our minds. What does Calvin look like?” (I’m really glad he hasn’t seen the movie). On our family vacation this summer we listened to the Chronicles of Narnia in the car and he claimed to be able to read his book about dragons and listen to the story on the car speakers at the same time.

I think I’m a bit like Oliver sometimes. Paying attention is a difficult task. I spend a lot of time on my computer and always have way too many tabs open in Chrome. I am prone to popping between tasks and too often lack the stillness for the clarity of thought I desire. I want to listen to God and engage my own imagination in any number of creative tasks, but I am, as I think most people are, chronically distracted.

fortnite and coopted imaginationA big new distraction the gaming industry recently cooked up is Fortnite. It’s a shooting game where players skydive onto an island and gather resources to kill each other. Some kind of plasma storm forces them into a tighter and tighter circle and they can build platforms and ramps out of the resources they gather (that’s the “fort” part I think).

I found out about Fortnite through my nephews earlier this year but when I heard this incredible episode of On the Media about Twitch, the social media platform for gamers, I took a deep dive to find out why and how so many people are interested. If you are an elementary school kid like Oliver it is one of the top topics of conversation. Millions of people watch professional gamers play this game. There are tournaments with prizes in the millions. The most famous professional gamer in the United States is Ninja AKA Tyler Blevins. He reportedly earns a million dollars a month. He got really, really famous when, in April of this year, he played with Drake. Seven million people have watched the YouTube video of their game so far.

I want to save my son’s imagination from Fortnite. Imagining violence is the biggest reason. I don’t want him to be desensitized to violence by repeated cartoonish head shots and rocket explosions. I don’t want him to dream about how to kill anyone, even if only in a game, but it’s more than that–I fear the overwhelming swell of enthusiasm for this game will steal his imagination. Instead of imagining anything, he can see it all. It’s loud; it’s fast; and everybody loves it. He loves it and he has never even played it. It IS indeed creative, but too complete, I guess. There’s not much room for his brain to do anything because it has all been done for him. The artist who made Fortnite are not giving an invitation into anything. They are as 20th century writer George MacDonald said in his essay, “The Fantastic Imagination“, writing “THIS IS A HORSE” on their art (and on our minds).

Don’t mess with this dude, George MacDonald

“Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?”

If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

As admirable as the creatives responsible for Fortnite are (I love their worldwide campaign with the llamas), the main force behind Fortnite is not art but business. Companies are going to great lengths to tap the veins of a generations’ desires as they have with Fortnite. But instead of awakening something in their imaginations, they feed us back their desire like a soon to be foie gras duck. If they find something we want, they slap a “THIS IS A HORSE” label on it and shove it down our throats in every conceivable medium. They took our dreams, made them very real, and then edged out the competition by dominating our imaginations for as long as possible.

Imagination is key to being a Christian. The cooperation of mind and heart with God takes contemplation, stillness and creativity. It is not always so clear what God might do next and we who are committed to following that next thing must have unclaimed space in our heads for the project. Other things crowd it too–worries, earning a living, etc.–but Fortnite is the most recent in a string of increasingly demanding and enticing competitors for our hopes and dreams. You might have a future in professional gaming, son! Maybe Fortnite is your ticket to the big time! Lord, save us.

Lord give us space, rest and real hope. Awaken us to what is already in us and where you already are. Stoke our imaginations and make something new. 

 

 

Why I Ditched the Grown Ups for the Children

The week before New Years Eve I schemed up a plan at the last minute to ditch the grown ups at our morning Sunday meeting.

I’m usually involved in a significant way at our meetings (I am the pastor, after all) but it has been years (close to a decade probably) since I got to be with our children during a Sunday meeting. The children are a very significant part of our church, so I needed to go and be involved in a significant way with them. We ended up throwing a surprise New Year’s Eve party complete with a balloon drop, games and prizes, pudding parfaits, ball drop, and countdown to noon (EST but midnight in Vietnam) all made by the kids. We surprised the grown ups and made them yell and celebrate something new with us. The most fun, I kept telling the kids, was that WE made it for THEM. It was a gift.

Children have gifts to share with the community.

Some of you might say, “Of course.” Others might be saying, “Huh, yeah, I guess they do.” Let me enumerate a few.

Children easily express themselves.

In joy or sorrow, children are close to their celebration and grief. Everything is cause for some eruption. Learning to regulate is still in the future for them, but that process often goes awry as we grow up and we, the adults, end up too regulated, our emotions shriveling for lack of expression. Children remind our hearts of their capacity for the full spectrum.

Children know how to trust.

Jesus called little children to the attention of the adults who followed him on more than one occasion. It seemed a special feature of Jesus’ hope for us that we relate to God as a parent. He taught us to pray “Our Father” he told us that “unless we become like a little child we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Children trust their parents even if they are untrustworthy. I have a vivid memory of going over to a new friend’s house when I was about 10. His little brother, who was probably 6 or 7 told me, “My Dad knows everything.” Being the youngest in my family, I had never been exposed to such foolishness. “Of course your dad doesn’t know everything,” I thought, but having enough compassion intuitively not to be responsible for this boys disillusionment, I said nothing, just wondered. Trust like that kid had in his dad is not far from the faith we need for the darkness of the world.

Children need us to express our faith. 

“My Dad knows everything.” The corruption, destruction and rot have their limits. Somewhere, somehow, God contains it, sustains us and plows a path for us through the drifts of icy death dealing to other side of death, and maybe just tomorrow. Our children’s fragility is a gift to us in this harsh reality. They need our gentleness and we need their need. What future are we creating for them? What hope are we demonstrating for them? What faith do we have to show them? Will our Heavenly Father save us? Will our Heavenly Mother care for us. Our children know what we believe. They can smell it. They need our faith because the world is not safe. We are in Christ, though. You can be, but you need the tribe of Circle of Hope to maintain and grow it.

Children are good at being themselves.

At the party, the children offered us these gifts just by being themselves. In Circle of Hope in South Jersey we do not have a curriculum for our children. We have a tradition. We have a routine, which is helpful for our togetherness, but the content is our life together. We tell stories from the Bible but more importantly, we DO the Bible by forming our tribe, our extended family in Christ, just by being ourselves together and including others in our fun. Having a project on New Year’s Eve was great for building our team. Everyone played a part. We dealt with our limitations, we sorted through conflict, we loved one another, we listened to each other, gave and received honor, and went a little wild together. We made a mess and ate too many cookies. We danced and whooped. The Kingdom of Heaven is near!

Circle of Hope receives this gifts and creates an environment for them to be received and for children to grow.

Our theology about how we raise children is well developed but under communicated. I encourage you to read this page on our website, which is a brief summary of how we think our community is a great environment for children to grow up into a life of meaning and faith. If you’re really into it, like on the Children’s team or a parent yourself, you would be interested in our Children’s Plan, a more extensive document about how we practically create and maintain that healthy environment for our children.

Four Reasons Not to Make Rules for Your Kids

Oliver and TheodoreMy sons are six and three years old. They are now both old enough to cause considerable damage (to each other, their mother and our house). But they  are not old enough to have the requisite impulse control and self-regulation to refrain from doing so most of the time. They are in constant need of discipline because they are human three and six year-olds. I don’t hold it against them (most of the time). Deciding how to discipline our children is something most parents are thinking about, but we don’t always do it together. I think I have something novel to add to the discussion: aim for obedience instead of compliance.

Depending on which dictionary you check, you might conclude that obedience and compliance are synonyms, but they’re not. I asked my facebook friends and the general consensus agreed with me. They are different, and how they are different is the essence of what I have to say. Compliance is about the rule of law, and obedience is about the rule of love. It’s regulation verse relationship. One complies with the law, while one obeys a person. I want every time I discipline my children to be about relationship not rules.

I want my children to obey me. I don’t want them to follow the rules. Here’s four reasons why.

1) I want them to have a relationship with me.

Theo (3) insists on removing his pants and underwear completely when he goes to the bathroom but then does not want to be bothered to put them back on. He wants his mother or me to do it for him. He claims that he does not know how to do this arduous task. Instead of making a rule about putting on your own dang pants (which would be completely reasonable) I say, “I don’t want to put on your pants because I know you can do it and you’re practicing taking care of yourself.” I am committed to saying this because when I am rushing to get him into bed after keeping him up too late I want to be able to put his pants on for him quickly so we don’t have to have the same old fight right before bed. As I help him I say, “I’m putting on your pants for you because I know you have a hard time with it and I love you.” If I made a rule about pants, I would be ruled by it too and Theo would learn to follow the rules and not me. Obedience is about relationship, it saves everyone from legislation.

2) I want them to disobey when necessary

Oliver (6) would prefer to eat cookies for breakfast lunch and dinner (who wouldn’t?) but I tell him, “I want you to grow up to be strong and healthy so you cannot have a cookie for breakfast.” But the world is also fun and full of surprises. Occasionally we get to celebrate that with cookies at 7:00 am. If I completely block the hopeful road of an unhealthy breakfast I think I hurt his hope muscles a little bit. I need his hope muscle to be strong because he may need to disobey the unending rules of our culture that will sweep him into despair. Disobedience to unjust laws and anti-christ ways of thinking will be an essential part of his adulthood, if he becomes the man I am praying he will be. He will need a lot of hope to believe that anything he does in the face of such great forces will mean anything at all.

3) I want them to have a sense of agency

Rules beget drudgery and performance. There are enough forces in this world preparing to steal my sons’ sense of their own agency. I don’t need to be a part of it. In moments of despair I do wish that these tiny ones would just do as they’re told and stop bothering me, but when I’m writing a blog, that despair is not part of the manifesto. My heart’s desire is that they have a healthy sense of agency. Capitalism will try to reduce them into a cog in whatever system they participate, a consumer or a product to be sold. The One Percent will figure out how to trick them into slavery, virtual or actual (depending on how dystopian our future is). They will need to have a sense of themselves that is quite separate from what we in Circle of Hope have deemed the Great Other, the amalgamation of surveillance state bureaucracy, globalized economies and incredibly entrenched injustices. The problems are so big and the system so inscrutable and esoteric that attempting to do anything more than survive with your head down is only for dreamers and fools. Obey specific individuals whom you have agreed to respect,  O my sons, not institutions that are lost in themselves and given over to the principalities and powers of the air. We’ll start now by using a pencil on our homework not because “you’re not allowed to use pen,” but because “the pencil is the best tool for the job when you’re learning which direction to write a lower case “p.”

4) I want them to have a healthy image of God

Our images of God are intrinsically linked to our images of our parents. Jesus taught us to relate to God as a parent, and so our parents are the source material for our language about God and our associations with the words mother and father. As children, the grooves in our brains are literally being formed. So when we arrive to adulthood trying to relate to God as a parent, we bring with us some patterns of relating that are hard to get around. I want my sons to have an image of me that is relational because that is the type of fatherhood that best corresponds with the type of parent God is. God is not the overbearing father or the bad cop mom. God loves us and treats each of us differently according to our specific needs. God’s care for us can not be reduced to a set of rules or principles (though many continue to try to do so). God can’t be tied up by the rules we make about God, and on his best days, neither can Dad. “Theo, your unintelligible whining is irritating but I care about what you have to say. Can you talk to me so I can understand?” I care about him more than the rules I am tempted to make about whining.

Obedience > Compliance

If I just get my children to comply with the rules I design for them, I will have the semblance of obedience. If I relate to them and get them to obey me because I have demonstrated the goodness of my love and the boundaries I set for them, I will have actual obedience. Rich Mullins wrote in one of his songs “Surrender don’t come natural to me/I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than take what you give and I need.” Many of us have that fight built into us. I know I do when I’m ready to dig trenches in my living room to defeat my children. God, give me (and us) strength to give and receive with discernment and trust. May we receive the love we need to love our children more than just keeping them in line.