Thursday, October 27, 2011

Doing Faith

Last week I wrote about how practice is necessary for learning.  This week I want to talk about doing FAITH.  I'm guessing that you who are reading this want children to have faith, and want children to mature into faithful adults.  In the Lutheran tradition, at a child's baptism, we promise to take on the following responsibilities:
  • to live with them among God's faithful people
  • to bring them to the word of God and the holy supper
  • to teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
  • and to nurture them in faith and prayer.
Regardless of your tradition or situation you need to demonstrate to your child what a faithful person looks like.  Where better to demonstrate this than in the community of faith we call the church.  The simplest element of faith “practice” is just showing up.  Show up on Sunday morning and you will be among God’s faithful people.  Even when you aren’t feeling faithful!

Help the children participate: fold hands, say amen, stand up, and sit down. Follow the words with your finger for beginning readers. Sit where they can see what’s going on.  Point out acolytes helping lead the worship. Let them put the envelope in the plate. 
The word of God and the Lord’s Supper will be present every week.  Again, the first step is showing up.  Before long your child will want to participate in the meal with you.  One of my children indicated this by demanding “snack.” She felt left out in a place where she knew she belonged.  She was already one of God’s faithful people.

Most churches provide religious education where your child will learn the great stories of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.  They will also be nurtured in their faith by faithful teachers and practice faith together with friends who are learning beside them.

As I said at the start, doing faith requires practice.  There are two things that can best be practiced by parents and children together.  The first is faith itself.  Daily trusting, and testifying to your trust in God, helps your child learn to trust as well.  If you worry aloud, your child learns to worry. Practice trusting and your child will too. 
The second is prayer.   Pray with and for your child.  Pray over important events or decisions in your family life.  Pray your thanks for answered prayers, blessings, and life itself. Pray for the people you know, and in the face of public tragedy.  Empower your children by giving them something to do when they encounter situations they are powerless to control or repair.

When your child leaves home she becomes responsible for managing her own faith life.  Knowing how to participate in a faith community and its practices will serve her well when she faces the world without the protection of the home and family she’s always known.  Going to church, if it has been a regular practice in her life, becomes a way of going home.  It can be an extension of family, allowing her to find a family wherever she is. Trust and prayer go where she goes.

My daughter’s band director said (frequently!) that practice makes permanent.  If that is true, then practicing faith with your children is one of the most important items on your to-do list today.  Enjoy!

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Do After Practicing

    A couple of years ago I went to a workshop and learned the term "Legitimate Peripheral Participation in Practices." In my mind it has become LPPP and I sometimes have to struggle to remember the actual words, but the powerful concept it describes is important.  LPPP is shorthand for how children learn to do things.  So, when your child learns to brush her teeth, it starts with the parent brushing the child's teeth and coaching the child:  "Open your mouth wide so I can clean your teeth."  Later, the child puts her hand on yours and "helps" move the toothbrush.  Eventually the child brushes alone and you inspect.  Still further down the road you let them squeeze out the toothpaste.  By opening her mouth, she is LEGITIMATELY participating.  That is, you can't brush her teeth if her mouth is closed.  It is PERIPHERAL because you are starting with the simplest component of the task.  It is PARTICIPATION because the child is actually involved and not just observing, and, of course, the PRACTICE is dental care.  If you haven't yawned off yet, I'll move on to the reason I'm sharing this with you.

    This week I have had a number of conversations about why kids can't or don't do things for themselves.  The conversations have centered on kids aged 3-23. The list of things people are surprised that kids can't do is long: laundry, putting things away, making beds, tying shoes, telling time on a "regular" clock, writing a thank you note, cooking a meal, baking cookies, pumping gas, getting to school with everything they need, getting a job. 

    Helping your kids learn to DO things is an on-going process. The busy-ness of our 21st century lives has made it hard to take time to teach kids how to do things.  Think about cooking dinner.  If I make that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and steam some green beans in the microwave we can have dinner on the table in 10 minutes.  If I have "help" it will take at least twice as long.  So I just do it so we can get to soccer practice or whatever the next thing is.  The same thing goes for laundry, cleaning, mowing the grass or washing the car.   Learning to do these tasks requires that you supervise while your child does it and give tips along the way.  Maybe your kid will make enough money to not have to do these mundane household tasks, but what about filling out a college, loan or job application?  What about going on interviews and getting along with other people?

    Parents, I know that you are drowning in demands on your time.  I don't want to sound critical but I do want to sound an alarm.  Your job as a parent is to prepare your child to live on his or her own.  You cannot care for your child forever so you have to prepare him for life without you.  While learning to play soccer will teach him to be part of a team and to compete, help him burn calories and provide endless hours of entertainment for both of you, it is not a substitute for all the other skills he will need for life. What do you want your child to know when she leaves home?  Is she practicing those skills now?

    This entry serves as a lengthy introduction to talking about how we DO faith.  Stay tuned - I'll address that next week.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Fair Trade

    As every parent knows, "that's not fair" is a regular refrain from most middle-school-aged members of the family.  It tends to be an irritant for parents and teachers alike. In the midst of this refrain though, we get a small glimpse of the kingdom of God.  Humans were created with a fairness meter inside of us; society spends years trying to dismantle it. 

    This finely tuned Fair-o-meter also knows a good thing when it sees it.  Last night my confirmation class was treated to a lesson about fair trade chocolate. The presenter explained first how chocolate was made.  Then she worked backwards to how cocoa is grown.  The students were very surprised to learn that children were being forced to work for low pay in the cocoa business so they could enjoy low cost candy bars.  Next she explained about the four conditions required to make something fair trade: No child labor, good stewardship of the land, democratic participation by members of the cooperative, and fair and just prices.  All of this taken together helped them understand why fair trade chocolate products cost more.  Then she suggested they use social media to challenge the big candy companies to use fair trade chocolate.  The kids liked the fair-ness of this.  Later in class we made fun foam turkeys which will be sold at exorbitant prices to provide turkeys to families in need for Thanksgiving.  They understood again that it was a fair exchange.

    Imagine my surprise when during my morning blog-surfing I came across another young person thinking about chocolate, but from a different faith and fairness perspective. Cindy McPeake is living and working in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, for a year through ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission. The following is excerpted from her blog entry Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. . . and Jesus:
    At the beginning of the movie, after the Golden Ticket announcement has been made, Charlie receives his birthday present- a bar of chocolate. This will be the only bar of chocolate he gets all year. After opening the chocolate and NOT finding the Golden Ticket, he begins to share his chocolate bar with the rest of the family. His mom tells him not to, it's his only chocolate bar, it's his birthday and he should enjoy it for himself. Charlie says, “it’s my candy bar and I’ll do what I want with it.” He proceeds to break off a piece for each family member. And each one does something different with it. One inhales the delicious aroma of chocolate, one takes a large bite, and one savors the flavor slowly. For me it was obvious to make a parallel between this moment and our call as Christians. We have received a great gift and we are called to share that gift, the love of Christ, with those around us. We are Charlie.
    The Kingdom of Heaven runs on a different economy.  It is fair; actually it is beyond fair.  It is generous as only a child knows how to be generous - sharing without worrying about tomorrow, having less so that others can have a share.

    I think that's a fair trade - teaching our kids about the world while they teach us about the kingdom!  I am guessing that God planned it this way.

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Curb Your Enthusiasm

    Last Sunday I was visiting another congregation in another state.  The choir sang to a respectful and appreciative congregation.  At the end of the anthem, which was greeted with warm and polite silence, a small voice rang out: "Yaaaaaay!"   The congregation burst into laughter.  The choir looked pleased as punch while the parents, no doubt, hushed the little one.  I've been thinking about that moment a lot this week. 

    One of the things I most adore about children is their uncensored reactions to events.  They restore our ability to be "wow-ed" - because we all got the message that we are not allowed to be wow-ed, once we become adults. A child's sense of wonder is a gift to the world.  It makes the world brighter and shinier.  It makes the world true-er.  One of my grandpas, who wasn't exactly child-friendly most of the time, loved to give a baby his or her first pickle.  He never tired of seeing their faces squinch up as they encountered sour for the first time. True and uncensored reactions are gifts!

    I'm wondering why we believe it's necessary to teach children to curb their delight.  I'm sure I did it - shushing the girls with a finger to my lips and a not-now look. It must be related to the corresponding belief that it's not ok to stick out in a crowd.  If your response doesn't match that of the people around you, you will stick out.  And that is bad because?

    I often wish I had studied sociology so I could find out why we do these things.  I didn't, but I did study Jesus.  Now this might not seem like something important enough to consult scripture over, but really, I kind of like to look to Jesus for everything.  Nowhere in the books of the New Testament that tell Jesus' story do I find any wallflower tendencies in him.  The closest thing that comes to mind is the wedding at Cana where Jesus says that his time has not yet come. Jesus often waded in and did things that were not socially acceptable: he talked to women and children, he argued with the priests and scribes, he ate with undesirables. I'm sure his mother was mortified more than once. I don't think we can argue that Jesus wasn't being who he was created to be.

    Maybe we should consider doing a little less curbing of our children.  Maybe we should cheer with them when they're enthusiastic and not push them to perform when they are shy.  Maybe we should focus on actual bad behaviors like being selfish or unkind but let them encounter the world from their own natural place.  Let the ones who hang back and watch until they are ready to join in do that.  Let the ones who hurl themselves into things do it their own way.

    Earlier this week I blessed our pre-school students with a little water to their foreheads.  The children had a variety of responses.  Some were very matter of fact and submitted to the water like a bedtime face-wash.  Others were shy and looked down.  Some were silly and made faces at me when I did it, and one little boy shivered like it was a holy moment for him - so many different responses to the same stimulus.  No behavior had been prescribed and so the heart responded.  That's what happened in church last Sunday. A child's heart responded, and the hearts of all the adults present responded to the heart of the child.  I think Jesus would approve!