Give Them Words: Helping Boys Name and Navigate Their Emotions

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I’ll never forget the moment I found out that I was having a boy. This was my first child, and, I must admit, I had been looking longingly at the lovely, frilly dresses for girls in the baby section.

During my ultrasound, though, when I heard the words, “It’s a boy!” I was just filled with gratitude that he was healthy and doing well. Little did I know that as powerful as those three little words were that day, parenting my son would teach me even more about how words change lives.

My son is now thirteen years old, making me an unwilling parent of a teenager. My family likes to joke that my son is my mini-me—he loves to read, is inquisitive by nature, enjoys my “punny” humor, and delves into impromptu philosophical discussions with me. He also likes to stack the bowls in the cupboards in even numbers or else it bothers him. I totally understand.

Growing up, he was always especially aware of routine. If any part of the routine went awry, he was a mess. He would fall apart emotionally. This was especially evident in transitions from one task to another (particularly if the next task was not as enjoyable). As he transitioned from nonverbal to verbal, the most powerful moments for him were when I could verbalize his frustration.

I remember one time he was angry about dirt on his shoe (yes, he was that child). He was crying vehemently, and it took me a while to figure out what his problem was. When I said, “Are you sad because you got dirty?” He yelled, “Yes!” and hugged me so tightly. This was a learning moment for me. He needed me, at his point in his life, to give him words.

The topics have now changed, but I still see myself providing a vital role in helping my son find his words. With hormones raging, he struggles to identify the cause of all the anguish and to find his way out of it. My daughter, on the other hand, has many words. She doesn’t need my help, only my patience. My son though still needs me to help him uncover what is hidden to him. My hope is that as I model how to find the hurt and fear behind the rage that my son will learn how to stop and listen to his heart. And, once he can hear it, I am praying that he will learn the power of speaking truth to his woundedness—without me.

Read the rest in Mutuality Magazine here.

Photo by Marcus Neto on Unsplash

True Superheroes Should be Replaceable

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The final cuts from Marvel’s Infinity War reveal devastating losses. Thanos has gained control of all six Infinity stones and enacts his horrific plan to randomly disintegrate half of the world’s population. This random number includes superheroes such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy and more. Despite the anticipation of most of the fans that Marvel will surely reverse some, if not all, of these deaths (due to previously released movie titles), the audience is left wondering what is next. With most of the superhero family gone, there aren’t many heroes left to whom the world can turn to for help. This leads us to ask–why did the Avengers leave the world so dependent on them?

Obviously, most superheroes are super in every way, like Thor or Captain America who seem downright indestructible. But others, like Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hulk, are just human beings with exceptional talents. We assume that like every other mortal they could die of natural causes leaving not much behind except a world that has become used to their abilities to save the day. Wouldn’t true heroes be thinking ahead, planning on how to both replicate themselves or find others with giftings to train?

Preparing for the Future

The idea of preparing for the future can be seen to some extent in the Marvel universe. Both Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and Shield take an intentional approach to finding new recruits and training them. However, in the case of the X-Men their focus is more on the protection of their gifted students, rather than training them to be protectors of the world. The school is eventually destroyed, and the students go into hiding. Shield fares no better. Their issues revolve around political bureaucracy and corruption which eventually leads to its downfall and the conflict between Captain America and Ironman (Captain America: Civil War). People are left not knowing whom they can trust and without clear leadership. The fact that both of these organizations ultimately fail at their goals leads the viewers to wonder how important it was to the overall Marvel theme in the first place. In both of these situations, people became dependent on something bigger than themselves, making them weaker as a result.

Read the rest here on The Artifice.

Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash

Idolatrous Reputation: How the Church Idolizes Reputation at the Cost of Truth

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Back in the days of CDS, my daughter’s favorite was God’s Top Ten which is a collection of songs that put the Ten Commandments into kid-friendly language. Her favorite was “Don’t Bow Down to Idols.” Accompanied by what is meant to sound like an Egyptian tune, the words send a warning:

In the olden days

people used to bow and pray

to the idols all, fat, medium and small

they would bow and grovel down on their knees

slobber on their idols

and kiss their feet

what a silly sight

you can see it did no good

for the statues were made of metal, rocks, and wood…

Don’t bow down to idols

idols don’t love you!

Perhaps she liked this song because, unlike the other commandments about respecting parents and being truthful, this one seemed impossible for her to break. Though modern man laughs at those who worshiped metal, rocks, and wood, we are aware of our own temptations of the obvious sort: power, money, and sex. However, the idolatry we should fear as the church, is the destructive idolatry of reputation.

Tim Keller defines idolatry as,

anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

His definition translates the often impossible-to-imagine scenario of idol worshiping to our modern context. The church must ask herself what it is that we want more than anything else? Lately, with the #churchtoo movement and revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, it is clear that the church is willing to tolerate heinous sin in order to protect the reputation of the church.

New York Times published an article about Bill Hybels, founder and former pastor of Willow Creek Church. Pat Boranowski explains how he had inappropriately touched her on numerous occasions. She didn’t say anything at the time. She explains that

“I really did not want to hurt the church,” said Ms. Baranowski, who is now 65, speaking publicly for the first time. “I felt like if this was exposed, this fantastic place would blow up, and I loved the church. I loved the people there. I loved the family. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. And I was ashamed.”

The Washington Post also notes that when Megan Lively was raped by her boyfriend, Paige Patterson then president of her seminary, encouraged her to forgive him and not report the incident to the police lest the church be given a bad reputation.

Fear of Harming the Church

In both of these situations, fear of damaging a reputation created scenarios where sin was covered and harm done to victims. The reasoning seems valid though–why should the church air its dirty laundry? Won’t that hurt the cause of Christ?

Ironically, reputation was not something Jesus emphasized at all. In fact, he appeared to deliberately do things that confused, offended, and revealed the sins of the people of his day. When discussing John the Baptist (a very polarizing figure), Jesus criticized their unsatisfiable expectations:

To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:21-35 ESV)

Jesus’s sole concern was in accomplishing the will of the Father, no matter how odd that might appear to others. Whether this was healing on the Sabbath, claiming authority to forgive sin, sending a herd of pigs to their death or making mud to heal a man’s eyes, Jesus’s actions were often inscrutable and always criticised.

We Can’t be People Pleasers

Paul also had something to say about people pleasing. In a letter that lambasts the legalism of his time, Paul asserts, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 ESV). In many of Paul’s letters, particularly to the Corinthians, he discusses the pressure to conform to their standards. Instead, Paul was determined to follow God’s plan for his life, even if it meant doing things that the church disapproved of like going back to Jerusalem and certain imprisonment.

This should be the mission of the church. We the church should not be afraid of being misunderstood and, instead, be dedicated to truth in the inward parts. It is dangerous to cover things that are evil fearing it might damage the church. Our witness isn’t in our goodness but in His. The gospel proclaims our brokenness, and it proclaims Christ as the only one to whom we can go for help. When we try only to fulfill expectations, true correction and healing cannot be accomplished. Instead, it takes boldness and focus.

As B.B. Warfield says, “Let us, then, cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day. None should be more zealous in them than we. None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it wherever it leads.” In this way, we will no longer worry about the appearance of evil, but we will have routed out the very form of it in our midst. This is only possible when we’ve relinquished the idol of reputation and, instead, have erected the beacon of truth.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

A Little Education

In Louisa May Alcott’s famous book Little Women, we follow the March family of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The March family has a rigorous philosophy of life that includes an emphasis on education and self-improvement. At Christmastime, the girls are grieving because their father is away serving during the Civil War. To help them, their mother proposes a guiding idea. They are to imitate the journey of Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress:

Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo’s words, by saying in her cheery voice, “Do you remember how you used to play Pilgrim’s Progress when you were little things? Nothing delighted you more than to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a Celestial City.”

“What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting Apollyon, and passing through the valley where the hob-goblins were,” said Jo.

“I liked the place where the bundles fell off and tumbled downstairs,” said Meg.

“I don’t remember much about it, except that I was afraid of the cellar and the dark entry, and always liked the cake and milk we had up at the top. If I wasn’t too old for such things, I’d rather like to play it over again,” said Amy, who began to talk of renouncing childish things at the mature age of twelve.

“We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home.”

This classic tale becomes the structure of the book as we follow each sister’s journey and attempt to learn wisdom and seek goodness. Education should do for us what Mrs. March’s idea does for her daughters—provide a framework by which we interpret our lives. Education is not only about facts and skills. It is about learning how to think about the world. Though I am primarily an English teacher, I believe each of the academic disciplines has much to teach us.

Wonderful Science

Though we’ve forgotten the classes and phylum of the animal kingdom, we learned that there is an order to life on this planet. In animals and plants, we observe similar and dissimilar characteristics from color to food preference that denote belonging. These details are revealed only to the patient, for science teaches us to really see—the iridescent artwork on the beetle’s exoskeleton, the thin veins mapped throughout a leaf or the events in a process that bring water tumbling from the sky. Science awakens wonder in us. The faithful pupil observes a universe of marvels from the tiny quarks to the supergiant stars that can be 1500 times larger than the sun. The extravagance of this world is a gift given to us every day; however, it is not one that is always enjoyed. Giglio quotes in his book Indescribable “As Paul Hawken keenly observed, Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course.… We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.” Science reminds us what we have been given.

Math, Precisely

Math, the dreaded subject, teaches us about consequences, logic, and balance. This is best demonstrated in the often-infuriating equation. Often dubbed the universal language, math communicates facts in the most succinct manner possible. Andy Walsh, the author of Faith Across the Multiverse, compares equations to information-dense poems. He explains that “seeing an equation as a poem helps us appreciate the true genius behind it. It’s not the ability to do complex calculations or knowing the Greek alphabet. It is seeing the relationships between two quantities (or more) in a way that no one else has seen them before and expressing that relationship clearly and precisely.” This ability has real-world implications. Walsh then explains how the movie The Martian showcases how equations enable the main character to survive his time stranded on Mars and make possible his eventful rescue. Math is the language of precision and opportunity.

Making History

More than likely, we have already forgotten 90% of the dates and names we memorized in history. Learning it all may seem like a waste of time. However, history’s value is its ability to humble us. It reminds us that we are one tiny story among millions. So many have come before us who are smarter and more talented than we are and are yet forgotten. Still, history can also puff us up when we observe how individuals did change the course of history. We have no idea the real effect our lives will have. Most importantly, history helps us understand our own times. The actions and philosophies of those before us have helped create the world we live in now. As Martin Luther King Jr. wisely observed, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

Meaningful Literature

Finally, no education is complete without literature. Literature is the first place where we take those tools and build meaning. Stories of courage, loyalty, love and even bad decisions take the facts and give them wheels and roots and wings. Stories teach us how to live.

It is here that we develop the skills for evaluating ourselves and others. Setting teaches us how the time and place affects the moment. Character development reminds us how we can or should change. Conflict and its resolution are the drive behind every story and a reminder of the larger problem of life with which we contend. Karen Swallow Prior, professor of literature, notes in Booked that “the more I thought about it, the more I realized that reading—that is, really reading, interpreting—literature is practice for reading and interpreting life. The more one practices, the better one gets.”

Stories provide an overarching theme for life. For the March sisters, the idea of a difficult journey leading to a beautiful destination fortified them and helped them press onward through the difficulties of life. The knowledge of the world through math and science can help us function, but the story of life and those behind us tells us how and why which is needed to survive the challenges in life.

Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning explains that “as a professor in two fields, neurology and psychiatry, I am fully aware of the extent to which man is subject to biological, psychological and sociological conditions. But in addition to being a professor in two fields I am a survivor of four camps – concentration camps, that is – and as such, I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.” How are men able to survive the horrid conditions of concentration camps? He states an important truth: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” In other words, man needs meaning in order to live. This is a gift that good literature gives us.

An Educational Journey

A true education teaches us the facts but also helps us develop a framework to interpret the facts. And, as Mrs. March so helpfully points out,

“We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City.”

This path of education does not cease with proffered diplomas or degrees but lasts the whole journey home. A life filled with observing wonder, succinct mathematical communication, and soul-inspiring meaning is a life of true success that will prepare us for the Father’s return and our homecoming.

Show and Tell

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The writing maxim is to show not tell. There are really only a few passages of Scripture where God speaks outright of his love for us. Instead, we see more showing than telling. God demonstrates His love by creation, redemption, intervention, and correction on a scale we can’t imagine (how many people have ever lived?). His love isn’t always received, but, unlike us, He doesn’t grow weary in continuously communicating this love to us.