Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For All the Saints

Last week Pope Benedict designated seven new saints of the Roman Catholic Church. This announcement got a lot of attention because one of those designated is the first Native American ever chosen. The proclamation was timely; All Saints Day is this week.  

I grew up on All Saints celebrations that featured "For All the Saints" ringing the rafters. Then, when my children were small, I discovered "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God," a hymn written for children in the late 1920's and still included in the Episcopal hymnal. It's fun to sing and includes some great conversation starters!

I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, 
and one was a shepherdess on the green;

It starts out so traditionally; saints are people with virtues. Kids will just love the images presented there, doctor, queen, and shepherdess, all becoming saints. And there are still more occupations included:  

And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, 
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;

Yet another implication that special people get to be saints. And then, in the last verse, a twist:

They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will.
Where? Where are these hundreds of thousands? I’m not seeing these exemplary, super-naturally powered people in my neighborhood.  Martin Luther, on the other hand, wrote that we are each saint and sinner simultaneously. Sometimes sainthood is best described as being a forgiven sinner. 

Being a parent truly helps us comprehend this saint-sinner concept. What parent, looking in exasperation at a mess created by playing children, hasn't gone to get a camera to record the mayhem before scolding or cleaning up?  In that moment your child is saint and sinner simultaneously. That helps this last bit make sense:

You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, 
 in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
They are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.

Sainthood, what a wonderful goal to dangle before a child's eyes! Why not? We bring them to be baptized. We teach them right from wrong. We love them unconditionally and forgive them when they mess up. It sounds like a good environment for raising saints! And God loves them even more than we do.

Seeing people (past, present, or progeny) as saints will make us more saintly too. I'd like to be patient, brave, true, and joyously do God's will. I would most assuredly benefit from reflecting on the fact that I'm forgiven. Take some time this week to think about the saints you have heard about, known, and admired. Maybe even take the time to sing this song with your little saints. (I searched YouTube for a good rendition of the song and I am very disappointed. This one is the best I could do. You can find the complete lyrics at Wikipedia.) Celebrate the exemplary and forgiven people who inspire you. Remember those who are now gone but who once passed on the faith to you.  

For all the saints. . . Alleluia!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The School of Reformation

When I was growing up kids were occasionally threatened with "reform school." Back in those days you could be removed from the school and the home and sent away to clean up your act.  It was a scary threat -- to be sent away to a place where people would make you walk the line. Still, there was a hopeful premise underlying the threat. Those who threatened still believed that it was possible to reform a wayward child or adolescent. These days we are more cynical; at least some of us no longer believe that reform is possible.

I have been thinking about the word reform this week because this coming Sunday is designated as Reformation Sunday in the Lutheran calendar. I love the word reform. Re-form. Form again. It is a hopeful word.

In the place that I inhabit, a place where faith and parenting intersect, Reformation Sunday is a time to look around and see what needs to be reformed. There is always something. For example, I need to reform my eating habits so that I eat more fruit. Re-form. Form again. Not break a bad habit, just reform my habit. Breaking a habit sounds a bit violent when you think about it. Reforming sounds like gentle molding. I like that.

As a parent, you are continually reforming your children, yourself, your rules, and your routines. Each reformation is intended to improve things or to adjust to changed circumstances. It is a living, growing, changing, hopeful, and dynamic approach to life.  It is impossible not to reform when there are children in your day-to-day life. They are the catalysts for these changes, and our lives can be immeasurably enriched by these reformations.

Historians and theologians will tell you that the Reformation that spawned the Lutheran church was a significant point of change in Western civilization. Life would never be the same: economics, education, religion, and governance were all impacted.  Still, in the midst of the Reformation, things were retained. People still worshiped. There were changes to the form of worship. The communal language was used and everyone participated. Some things stayed the same. The object of worship, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, remained the same.

This is how reformation in the family needs to happen. Some things will change, and some will stay the same. Your family may be facing  the arrival of a new baby, a child's departure for college or military service, the fears and blessings that accompany the start of kindergarten or handing over the keys to the car. Some things will have to change. And some things will have to stay the same to keep us anchored through the change. What anchors your family? Is it bedtime blessings, breakfast rituals, Sunday worship followed by brunch with family or friends? Do those rituals need to be reformed so that they will have greater staying power?

The Reformation we celebrate and your child's first solo drive bear much in common. They are life-changing events. They cannot be undone. They both promise greater autonomy and greater opportunity. They bring relief to some who were overburdened. They are undergirded with hope.

Happy re-formation to you all!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sacred Parenting

At my church we have just started a new video course called Sacred Parenting. The premise of the course is that our children teach us to know God. Gary Thomas, the author of the course, believes that God uses our kids to change us. I can't help but reflect on the ways my children have changed me.

My children were my best teachers of grace - no contest. No matter how angry, sad, or upset they were when I put them down for a nap or tucked them into bed at night,  they loved me with their whole hearts again when they awoke. No matter how I failed them, they will still loved me. I think that children become less grace-filled as they grow up but as their parent you will continue to be forgiven and loved in spite of yourself. You may not deserve it but they will still love you. (Kind of like God!)

My children saw my authentic self - not the mask I sometimes wore for the world. They watched me so closely. They knew my habits and could predict my moods, even when I had on my best party manners. You will often hear an older child counsel a younger one: stay out of dad's way when he's (fill in the blank) because it means he's in a bad mood, or if you want her to say yes, ask her when she's (fill in the blank) because that means she's in a good mood. They know us so intimately. (Also kind of like God!)

My children's faith inspired me - and helped me to discover God again as a child. Because they had not yet learned to be skeptical, they could appreciate all that I taught them about God.  When I was worried, one of them would say "we can pray about it" which would stop me in my tracks. I COULD pray about it. Sometimes, as adults, we make things entirely too complicated. "And a little child shall lead them" is true in so many ways.

My children depended on me – and assumed that I would provide for them. With complete trust they believed that their needs would be met. They didn’t worry about tomorrow; they simply lived life one day at a time. This is how I should act with God, and I’m much closer to that place than I was before I had children!

My children are adults now, but I continue to learn from them. They are still open to the world in a way I have long since left behind. Sometimes that means they look at things I have long treasured and criticize or dismiss them. And sometimes they embrace things that I long ago dismissed or rejected. Just as a toddler's discovery of the world delights and refreshes our perspective of things we've long taken for granted, so my adult children's encounters with the adult world refresh me and cause me to see what I take for granted with new eyes. 

God's infinite wisdom and love permeate this parent-child relationship. It is a sacred relationship. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Continuing Ed for Parents?

A few years ago there was a popular quiz making the e-mail rounds: which television mom are you?  I was very happy to be aligned with Claire Huxtable of The Cosby Show. Television is far more often ridiculous than helpful or useful in its representations of families but every year or two there's one where the writing is just so perfect you stop in your tracks and wish you had said that perfect thing. Of course, we don't have the benefit of terrific writers who come up with our lines, or do we?

I think there is value in watching television shows and movies about families. Even the silly ones. Television parents have writers who craft words that say exactly the right thing when the important topics come up, can prepare you for those tough questions. If you pay attention, you can have the right words when you need them too.

Some of my favorites:
  • Glee: The parents don't appear much but Burt Hummel, father to Kurt who is gay, gives one of the best bits of advice about readiness for sex that I have ever heard. It would work for a son, a daughter, straight or gay. Brilliant writing, and really good advice.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond is built on family comedy yet often includes poignant moments that leave you with a lump in your throat and eyes welling with tears because of the truth of family they express. The episode where they decide to hold the twins back in school because one of them needs it articulates parental fears and wisdom with truth and whimsy.
  • Parenthood, my current favorite family show, hits a home run more weeks than not.  In just the last few episodes the families have tackled racism, cancer, job burnout, adoption, veterans issues, and salaries. Last week Jasmine's "Talk" with Jabar about racism is sensitive, compassionate, and way better than any parent could do on the fly.
  • Even shows that aren't actually about families, but which have families attached to them can sometimes supply words or ideas. The Suarez family of Ugly Betty shows us a remarkably functional family smack in the middle of a ridiculous industry and workplace.
Television families aren't real, but they reflect family life like a fun house mirror that makes us look a little taller, a little skinnier, maybe a little better. Comparing yourself to the Huxtables, the Barones or the Bravermans doesn't help your family in any way, but mining their experience for things you can do better or say more articulately might bless your family by making you a more prepared parent.

As with everything in life, the best preparation is prayer. And if you ask God to show you how to handle this phase of your child's life, and you get to watch Claire Huxtable or Adam Braverman do it well, then perhaps this is the answer you were seeking. Like the man on the roof in the flood who is so confident that God will save him  that he sends away two boats and a helicopter before drowning - let's recognize the answers when they appear. If I, a human parent made in the image of God, will use puppets to teach my children lessons they need to learn, why should I think that God won't use television to teach me?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

First World Problems

About a year ago I ran into the phrase "First World Problem". The first time I heard it I wasn't even sure what it meant but it kept cropping up and the meaning eventually became clear: A First World Problem is a problem only for people who live in a country with a stable economy, sufficient food, and the luxury of a lifestyle, not just a life. One clever blogger has compiled a list of examples. Here are a few youthful ones I gleaned from
  • "I went to go babysit for an hour and the kids didn't know what their own wi-fi password was."
  • "I don't have enough chips for my dip, but if I open another packet of chips, I won't have enough dip for my chips."
  • "I put a bandaid on my thumb and now I can only text with one hand."
Obviously, none of these "problems" is really a problem but each is an example of either a complete lack of awareness of the luxury we take for granted or an entitlement problem that will eventually undermine a whole generation of people.

As we teach our children about money, it is vitally important that we make sure that they understand the privileged status of their lives. What we take for granted on an average day is far beyond what billions of the people in the world can ever imagine. Wherever you may be on the American spectrum, you have significantly more than the majority of your fellow citizens of Planet Earth. Knowing this fact is essential to your children's ability to handle their money. It impacts everything from food supply to fuel consumption. It will also deeply impact their faith life. 

This is the biggest First World Problem. It is hard to learn to trust God when we have so much. Jesus comments about how wealth can be an obstacle to faith. He says that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." The wealth we enjoy in this country, even during the current "hard times," is so far removed from the poverty of the rest of the planet that we forget that life itself is a gift from God. Gratitude is lost in the midst of plenty. We fail to see the blessing of the cup of clean water that flows from our taps. We fail to see the abundance of food that fills our pantry shelves. We worry about the high cost of college while others worry about the high cost of milk. 

No matter how hard we work, or how well we manage our money, our financial status in the world has a lot to do with the fact of where we live. We have so much because we are blessed to live in the richest country in the world. We are blessed. We may be hard workers; we may be smart; we may be wise money managers but all good gifts come from God. Our life, our way of life, and life itself is a gift from God.

There are many more tactics for teaching kids about money, but this is the most important one: be grateful. Model gratitude. Encourage gratitude. Live gratitude. Spend, save, and share from a place of gratitude; we have more than we need. Thank you God!