Category Archives: Parenting

Favorites of 2013

As 2013 winds to a close and Auld Land Syne and college football fill our ears and eyes, I (Chris) have always found it a profoundly beneficial and thanks-generating exercise to think back on the year and compile some lists.  Don’t construe our lists as necessarily “best ofs,” there are plenty of those to be had around the internet, rather as favorites- moments or events or artifacts- where each of us has savored something of the goodness of the Lord.  Without further ado…

Andy’s Favorite Hikes of 2013

Catbells, Lake District (England)
CatbellsFor our 15-yr anniversary, Miranda and I spent a few days in the Lake District. it may well be our favorite place on earth. We had a number of good hikes while there, but one that stands out is the hike up Catbells. Though not very high (500 metres or so), the summit affords a dramatic 360 degree view, with Derwent Water to the East, Skiddaw and Keswick to the North, and the Derwent Fells stretching up to Buttermere to the West. At the end of the hike we sat in our Vauxhall Zafire and listened to The Lumineers, a new find at that point. Later that day we ended up in a pub in Ambleside where we played Scrabble over a pint.
It does not get more romantic than that, folks (of course, at 15 years of marriage with 4 kids, just having an uninterrupted conversation is quite a romantic venture).

 

Loch Morar, West Highlands (Scotland)
Loch MorarSomeone graciously gave us the use of their holiday home on the West Coast of Scotland over the summer. One of our favorite moments of our lives was hiking around the northern shore of Loch Morar. The vistas were of dark green, rugged mountains crowning the water… which is one of Europe’s deepest lakes. And legend tells that it is haunted by the aquatic monster “Morag” (though we escaped his clutches that day).

 

Camasunary Beach, Cuillin Hills, Isle of Skye (Scotland)
Camasunary BeachPossibly my favorite family hike of all time with my wife and kids was on the Isle of Skye during the same holiday trip. We took a ferry to this rugged, massive Isle and parked the car on the side of a narrow strip of road from Broadford to Elgol just after a downpour. We took a path over some gentle slopes and ended up on a ridge granting us views of what ma be the most jagged, rock-splintered skyline I have ever scene, that of the Cuillin Hills. These are not very high by the standards of the North American Rockies or the European Alps, but they are dramatic to behold and apparently quite difficult even for professional climbers. We took a sharp descent down into a valley where we found the abandoned Camasunary Beach. Yes, in blasting wind and 55 degrees F, my kids wanted to wade in the sea. And yes, I had to go with them. But it was glorious, ya know?
We ended the day at a hostel adjacent to The Old Inn in Carbost. Miranda and I were surrounded by our 4 healthy kids who had just skirted the Cuillins on a 5-mile hike. We were sitting at a darkwood table drinking pints of stuff brewed with water straight from the same hills, having just placed an order for fish and chips. It was one of those unforgettable Moments.

Chris’ Favorite Music of 2013

This Side of Jordan- Mandolin Orange

imageI first listened to this record in the car on the way to Black Mountain, NC for a very special trip before Titus was born.  I’m not sure I could pick a better soundtrack for Piedmont road tripping than these delicate Southern sounds. Knowing Andrew and Emily, who make up the band’s core, and Jeff Crawford, who produced it (as well as plenty other of the album’s  fine players), I couldn’t be more proud of them or pleased with such a gorgeous label (Yep Roc records) debut.  I especially appreciate the third track, “There Was a Time,” (maybe a bit of a Neil echo?) with its lovely piano solo and crushing lyrics (“there’s no gold on either side of the Mississippi/no silver in this world left to find/precious metals and precious memories/slip away, slip away from your fingers and your mind”).  In the midst of loss and sorrow, whiskey waltzes, and clovers, TSoJ is a redemption-haunted album, looking for and occasionally even finding hope on Jordan’s banks.

Haw- Hiss Golden Messenger

imageTrue story: a few months ago I sold Mike Taylor (HGM frontman) a bike.  I’m thankful he paid me, but I’m also a bit gratified just to get to imagine him weaving apocalyptic tales as he navigates our fair Bull City on that single-speed.  Haw expands on Taylor’s previous offerings of Southern transplanted Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk.  With a voice like Van and kaleidoscopic writing like John of Patmos, HGM has become an office listening staple.  Maybe, just maybe, Taylor’s bike commuting signals something the record also communicates, a love and a tie to a certain place (the album title shares a name with a river that snakes just south of town). I found and enjoyed in this album the unique merging of some pretty lofty ideas and concepts with mostly grounded, gritty, specific people and places.

Debris- Roman Candle

imageRoman Candle was one of the first “local bands” I got into when I moved to NC. Little did I know then, when I saw them en-trance the packed Cat’s Cradle crowd in support of Wee Hours Revue, that they’d grow into an outfit (now in Nashville, considerably less local) that would follow so closely alongside my own interests and forays into the intersection of theology and the arts. Skip and Timshel breathe the kind of subtle explorations into beauty’s fleeting power and revelation’s mystery that folks like Rilke, Eliot, and Ms. O’Conner articulate most artfully. Logan’s musicianship and production on songs like “Small Time” and “Not Strangers Anymore” doesn’t just prop up those lovely lyrics, but at times actually takes over the storytelling altogether. I can’t recommend this album more. Get lost in the title-track dream and perhaps you’ll find out you knew where you were all along.

Joel’s Favorite Books of 2013

Due to parenting a toddler, remodeling a new home, supporting an entrepreneur wife and some other personal craziness, my reading suffered quantitatively, but I don’t believe it suffered qualitatively. Here are some of my favorite reads.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

GileadI picked up this brilliant novel at the turn of 2012 to 2013, with a subsequent re-reading in the summer of 2013. Man oh man. I loved it for at least 3 reasons.

First, it is beautifully written. I found myself reading, and re-reading aloud just to hear the words roll off my tongue. I know that sounds weird, but trust me. I could easily fill an entire post of Robinson’s beautiful one-sentence masterpieces of language.

Second, Gilead is one of the most profound resources of pastoral theology I’ve come across. Robinson’s main character’s reflections on the work of the pastor were profound, moving, sobering and inspiring simultaneously.

Third, Gilead alludes to John Calvin often. I think this book presents a way of being theologically Reformed that I find to be beautiful, under-appreciated, subversive and right. Much more needs to be said about this. Stay tuned.

Unapologetic, Francis Spufford

unapologeticI’ll join the bandwagon and add my accolades for this fascinating book. Spufford gives an “a defense of Christian emotions.” In and of itself, I find this approach refreshing and interesting.

Though I certainly don’t agree with every nuance, Unapologetic is funny, challenging, unsettling, moving, passionate, and witty. His re-telling of the Jesus story in the “Yeshua” chapter alone would be worth the price of the book. The refrain “more can be mended than you know” will reverberate in my mind’s ears for a long, long time.

 TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age, Andrew Byers

TheoMedia Pic 3Humor me for a second while I play for the home team. Andy Byers is a co-blogger at Hopeful Realism, a very close personal friend, and a mentor in ministry.  In Andy Byers, I think the church has been given an absolute gift of a thinker/scholar and shepherd/pastor. I’m completely biased here.

 

Chris’ Favorite Moments of 2013

TITUS ELIOT BRESLIN

imageThis year has undoubtably been (confirmed by Instagram!) the “Year of the Titus” for us. Since we found out we were pregnant in early 2013, through a hot summer pregnancy, to an early September arrival, and the last few challenging and precious months, we’ve truly known and experienced God’s love, generosity and grace in new ways.  For this reason, the ‘Titus Event’ seemed too big to even belong on a list.

Mako & the Four Quartets (January)

imageThrough some happy circumstances, the Gathering Church was blessed to host internationally renowned artist Makoto Fujimura in January.  Mako was in Durham for the Four Qu4rtets exhibit at Duke and did us the pleasure of speaking to our congregation and sharing lunch with some of our artists. I cannot stress how inspirational his work with IAM, his humility and gentleness, and his imagination for creativity and generativity has been for me and our congregation.

Chickens Lay Eggs (April)

imageLast November Rach surprised me with a very special gift for my thirtieth birthday: three day-old chicken hatchlings. I thus began my illustrious career as a (sub)urban chicken farmer, by naming those three little ladies, born on All Saints Day, after saints (Ambrose, Augustine, & Basil…Brosey, Augie, & Baz respectively). After a tragic hawk incident (RIP Baz & Augie), and the addition of two new pullets (Jackie Joyner Kersey & FloJo!), we moved into spring expectant to hardboil our own Easter eggs. The amount of care, expectation, delight, and learning that took place over that time was really special to our family. It oddly put me and my one year -old girl Noa on similar footing as we went out to the coop day after day looking for the first egg, only finally (in April, pretty late for layers) to discover a lovely brown orb in the laying box that had been so empty for so long. Since, I’ve learned how to cook eggs about 10 different ways and we’ve enjoyed being able to gift eggs to neighbors. These hens have truly blessed our family and taught about everything from grieving to waiting to eating.

2 Funerals and a Wedding (Summer, November)

NoaFlowerGirl

This year was a bittersweet year of firsts in my ministerial career. In the summertime, I was honored to officiate the wedding of my sister-in-law and now brother-in-law Ruth and Luke Taylor. What a joy to do their distance premarital counseling through Google hangout, and what an honor for them to entrust me with such a task as a newbie! I look forward to seeing God’s Love through their love continue to blossom and flourish in the years to come.  Later in the year I was also honored to lead my first two funerals, the first for someone I never knew when she was alive, the second in November for my dear uncle Danny. Danny’s service truly encapsulated a remarkable and eclectic life of faith, hope and love.  Following a packed church  service with more eulogies than we had time for, we walked across A1A to the beach for a flyover (fitting for a career air traffic controller) and a paddle out (even more fitting for a salty lifelong surfer). The process of and preparation for these funerals has certainly been a source of God’s mercy and a reminder and vision of the sort of Hopeful Realism possible only by means of Christ’s Spirit and Resurrection.

Joel’s Favorite Parenting Moments of 2013

2013 was my first full-year as a parent. Here are some favorite snapshots.These aren’t so much flash-in-the-pan moments, but recurring moments. Sweet and beautiful in their own right.

Vaccinations

photo-2My little boy looks at me, shocked, that I would allow such a thing. How often is it necessary to bring discomfort into your child’s life in order to do an ultimate good for them?

 

Playing chase

photo-3I chase Henry all around our house. There usually comes a point in which he realizes that he cannot run from me, that he will be caught. At that point, Henry stops and starts running toward me instead. There is a metaphor here.

Being loved by him

photoHenry is at the age where he desires to show love to us. Giving not just receiving. It’s been a difficult month (long story) and my wife Mandy was recently overcome with emotion. Henry stopped his playing, walked from another room, approached her, said, “hey” and gave her a hug and a kiss.

I’m learning a lot and enjoying a lot in this parenting journey.

Andy’s Favorite Fiction Moments of 2013

3) Thinking about the critique of media culture in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy.

 

HP2) Realizing the Triwizard Cup was a portkey while readying Harry Potter for the first time.
1) Revisiting Middle Earth after my wife bought me a hardback version of The Hobbit.
 
SWORD

A King from the Shadows

[drawing above: From the Dragon's Hoard by Shaylynn Rackers]

 

It was story-time.

My wife and oldest daughter were away for gymnastics practice, and I had just tucked my smallest daughter in her bed. The house was oddly quiet for a home with two strapping little boys at-large.  I found them both on the sofa, each of the them reading a book (the 7-yr old was reading; the 4-yr old was staring down at an open text…  he sure looked the part).

I wanted to tell them a Bible story, but we suddenly got into a conversation involving squires, knights and dragons.  Toy swords (which are always near at hand in our home) were grasped and the 4-yr old narrated a tale about a dragon’s cave with huge bats and a brave squire. When it was my turn for story-time, I held them both in my arms and recounted a tale pieced together from majestic lore of old….

There was once a great King.  The greatest of all kings ever to have reigned in those lands.  He fought with the courage of a wild beast, looking his enemies in the eyes and never wavering.  He was blessed and special, unlike any other ruler.  A vow was made that the throne would ever go to one of his sons or grandsons down through the long ages.

—”What was his name?! What was his name?!” asked the 7-yr old, eyes wide open

“Shhh.  Just wait…”.  I resumed—

Then the people of this kingdom forgot who they were.  The great line of kings forgot their ancient father, the fierce and good King of old.

—”Was it Arthur?  It was King Arthur wasn’t it?!”

“Shhh.  Just wait…”

The people and the kings began to fade away.  Other kings, stronger and braver, fought against the people.  Captured them.  The years passed.  The family of the kings all but disappeared.  The people lacked hope.

But then—in the Shadows… in the Dark… in the Night—a baby boy came.  He was from the family of the great King.  But this baby would be the King of all.  And one day he would grasp a sword sharper than any other, a sword stronger than any other, and all evil would fly away from his face.  And one day he will fight every last dragon, and take their ruler, the great Dragon-Beast, the strongest monster of all, and throw him into the Lake of Fire forever and ever.

—”With all the bad guys?” (my 4-yr old is ever concerned about the “bad guys” getting their due).

“If the bad guys do not serve the the great King but follow the Dragon, then I am afraid they will be in trouble, too.”

Then I asked, “Do you want to know the name of this Greatest King?

Nods.

“Jesus. And the first king was David.”

Ahhhh, of course! flashed through the still widened eyes of the 7-yr old.  “But Dad, there are no dragons in the real world.”

“Are you sure?” (I had been reading an essay by J.R.R. Tolkien earlier in the day).

He was thinking. Wondering. And I explained to him that there be dragons, indeed.  But also mighty forces of light and beauty.  And we want to serve those good forces, fighting not with fists or swords but with truth and kindness.

The 4-yr old: “I like it when bad guys cry.” He was still delighting in the just end of badness.

“But sometimes,” I offered,” maybe we are the bad guys and don’t know it.”  The lines can get blurry at times, can’t they?

And on that note: “Bedtime, guys.”

TAB

The Table in my Home.

I had ground the coffee beans the night before in anticipation of an early Saturday morning reading a fine new book, Arthur Boer’s Living into Focus (my 7-year old is entertained that “the author is an Arthur.”)

In the pre-dawn Saturday darkness, I heard a tiny voice (that can get quite loud) calling “Daddy” from her crib.

I warmed up her milk while I brewed my coffee.  We are both very particular about our morning hot drinks.  I heat her milk in the microwave for 47 seconds.  My French Press (cafetiere) is timed for 4 minutes.  When the rituals were complete, we sat down happily under a blanket with clay mug of a bourbon espresso blend and a plastic thermos filled with perfectly warmed milk.  I also grabbed my book.

Boers is writing about “focal practices,” a phrase associated with University of Montana philosopher Albert Borgmann.

Product Details

Eugene Peterson wrote the book’s foreword.  Boers, Borgmann and Peterson alike share a suspicious disposition toward the technological ethos of our age—an important perspective for me to understand as I research for my media-theology book.  To a large degree, it is a perspective I instinctively share… though I have to say I am trying to listen carefully to other voices, a practice that is causing me to rethink a few things.

With my youngest daughter sipping milk and me sipping coffee, I was reading Boers’ evaluations of a home-life shaped around the TV.  In his view, important focal practices—ritual activities that healthily shape us and bind us to God and each other—can include hiking, meal preparation, woodworking, sharing fellowship around the supper/lunch/breakfast.  These varied exercises engage us in more healthy formative ways than video games or movie-going.  But practicing them is undermined by the perpetual question arising from our technological culture: “what are we going to watch…?” [1]

“Dad, can I watch TV.”

My oldest daughter had just appeared from her bed.

“No, hon, not now.”

I kept reading, now with both daughters snuggled up on the sofa under the blanket.  Boers was writing about his family’s experience of preparing and eating meals at this well-crafted wooden table, a furnishing in his home that almost took on a sacramental quality.

“Dad, I’m hungry.”

That was from my 4-yr old.  If he does not eat within ten minutes of rising bleary-eyed from a night’s sleep, there is a danger that the galaxy might implode.  At least that’s what his demeanor conveys.

I go to the kitchen to make breakfast: chocolate chip pancakes is the Saturday morning standard.  My mood is good.  I am excited about the culture I want to instill in my young family. As I work on the meal, I take glimpses out the window to take in the fresh sunlight hitting the Autumn leaves and the still-green grass.  Boers had installed a window in his kitchen so he could do the same.

“Dad, can we watch something now?”

I give my permission—the tiny toddler, full of warm milk, wanted to watch an episode of Elmo’s World.  It lasts 12 minutes or so… innocent enough, right?

Then I call them for breakfast.  My wife joins us from her activities upstairs, and we all sit around this old wooden table that, as our landlords inform us, used to belong to a well-known Bishop of Leeds.  Butter is smeared, syrup is poured, and conversation begins.

Actually, chaos begins.

Boers is calling for focal practices that cut into our technological/entertainment habits.  Part of the argument is that our lives are stressed, distracted, disjointed, fractured.  We hardly have any time to concentrate and enjoy each others’ company.  We can hardly sit and have a decent dialogue over a table these days with all the buzzing and beeping of our gadgets at the table.

Forget the buzzing and beeping.  I’ve got yipping and yapping.

When we all 6 take our place at that old, wooden table, the sort of conversation and fellowship I envision does not happen.  It is stressed, distracted, disjointed, fractured.  Someone drops a syrup-soaked hunk of pancake on the floor.  The sausage is too hot, someone complains.  The toddler shouts that she is all done, yet she does so while sneaking more bites as if she cannot get enough—she is mad if she gets taken down from her high chair, mad if she does not.  An argument breaks out between the two oldest across the table. A milk cup almost spills. All this happens in one rising swell—not instantaneously.  It just grows and grows until my wife and I are on edge, anxious, frustrated, and so busy attending to the madness that our own pancakes (lovingly riddled with blueberries) get cold.

And you know what?  If I had served the meal in front of the TV, it would have been quiet, relaxed, and argument-free.

Now, our table is not always cacophonous and chaotic.  And my wife and I understand that our children must be meticulously taught to sit quietly and respectfully while “at table.”  That will take years.  Also, Boers is not saying that these focal practices are easy.  In fact, difficulty is an essential ingredient in developing a focal practice: without the challenge, there would be no counteraction against the immediate-access culture of consumerism and technological gadgetry.

But Elmo’s World would have kept our table much quieter, much less stressful.

I am not necessarily disagreeing with Boers.  I like his vision.  I will help promote his vision.  But I do like to bring out the nuances and impracticalities, especially for those of us with small children (which Boers would readily acknowledge, and does so from time to time in his book).

Brewing coffee and warming milk with a bleary-eyed toddler in my arms is a focal practice of sorts.  My arm hurts, and reading with her squirming in my lap can be a real challenge.  I will never trade in those moments, though.

But I thank God for supper in front of the TV on Family Movie Night.

 

[1] From an interview David Woods had with Borgmann.  See Arthur Boers, Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2012), 21, n. 13.

 

 

 

 

bottle

Panicky Self-Preservation, Being a Dad, etc.

Mandy and I have a 6-month old son. He’s our first child. It’s been an amazing experience.

It’s certainly cliché, but we are learning a lot about our God, ourselves, and the Gospel in the process.

Things changed when our little Henry began to recognize his bottle. When he is hungry, he panics a bit. He whines, coos, cries, charms — anything to get roughly six ounces of milk.

It’s even worse when the liquid is within his field of vision. The attempts to fend for himself, to seek his own self-preservation become more intense. He freaks. He’s panicky. Strangely, if we are in process of giving him the milk, he only gets more nervous.

That’s understandable. It’s on him, right? He’s the one that has to seek his own sustenance, right?

Wrong.

I’m his dad and I’ll never deny him anything that’s good for him. Ever. I mean, if he asks me for a fish, will I give him a snake?

Of course not, and I’m a sub-par dad.

The simple truth is that he can relax, I’m his dad. It’s okay. He really doesn’t have to do the panicky self-preservation bit.

Neither do I.

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Deuteronomy, the Devil, Jesus and my Kids

[Note: The following is taken from the draft of my forthcoming book 'TheoMedia'...]

 

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy more than any other Old Testament book. I was recently reading to my two oldest kids from Jesus’ temptation scene in Luke’s Gospel and decided I would inspire them with this: “when Jesus was assaulted by evil, he quoted Deuteronomy.”

For children who regularly fight imaginary bad guys and fairy tale beasts with toy swords and homemade archery kits, they did not seem very inspired. An old book they can hardly pronounce and probably cannot spell seemed like shoddy weaponry should a dragon draw nigh.

My wife and I have explained to our children that there are dark spiritual forces out there tempting us to do wrong. But the confrontation between Jesus and Satan in Luke 4 seemed a bit absurd in their ears: “Dad, if Jesus had not eaten in forty days, then why would it have been a sin to turn the stone into bread?”

The second temptation caused less consternation. Gaining the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshiping the devil was perceived as clearly wrong. But along with the conviction that worshiping anyone but God is bad, my oldest son was just as disturbed by the fact that Satan may have been guilty of false advertising. He knows the serpent of old to be a renown trickster.  Maybe he did not control all those kingdoms like he made out. My son smelled something suspicious, like when a friend promises a candy bar she does not actually have on her person.

The final temptation as Luke has it (Matthew follows a slightly different order) made no sense whatsoever to my kids. They could not quite figure out why jumping off the Temple heights would be a temptation. Surely Jesus would not fall for something that ridiculous. Only a fool would purposely hurl oneself off a bike or out of a tree, much less off a building onto stone pavement. As far as they were concerned, there was nothing heroic in Jesus’ valiant refusal . He was just using the sort of common sense they had learned from toddlerhood. Even their 4-yr old little brother knew not to jump off high places.

I almost explained that Jesus was actually resisting the temptation to pull off a spectacular stunt in the most public and religiously significant place in Palestine, and in so doing producing a grandstand media-event that would have resulted in a supernatural display of angelic powers (as Satan put it) which would instantly guarantee Jesus celebrity status.

I just stuck with a simple summary of what is arguably scene’s main point: Though Israel forgot Deuteronomy, Jesus did not.

Don’t forget Deuteronomy. It doesn’t sound like the typical lesson from a devotional or sermon. But actually, forgetting Deuteronomy, setting aside the media of God’s words, is why Israel and eventually Judah fell into rot and ruin.

The good news (“Gospel”) is this: though we forget the words of God, though we forsake him and fail to heed his commands, Jesus does not.  Jesus remembers Deuteronomy.

 



 

Middle Earth copy. ggg

Fact vs. Fiction

“Fact vs Fiction” had apparently been a teaching topic for my two oldest little kids at school. They were telling me about it…

“Fact is, like, real.  But fiction is not real.  Fiction is stuff that’s not true.”

I took offense.

“You mean,” I asked, “fiction is not true at all?”

“No, Dad, of course not.  That’s what ‘fiction’ means—not true.”  This intellectual pair of a 7- and 9-yr old were apparently having to interact with an ill-educated buffoon.  “And fact is much better than fiction,” they continued, “since fiction is just made-up… like make-believe.”  They sounded so sophisticated.

“But just because fiction doesn’t describe what actually happened, does that really make it bad or untrue?” I was prodding at their air-tight assurance of fiction’s inferiority to fact.  My question was parried with this from my daughter,

“Dad, if someone wrote a history about me, your own daughter, or a book about fairies and silly things that are just fiction, then which book would be more important?”

Ooooh… she’s good.

I attempted a response: “Look, I would of course prefer to read a book about you than one about fairies.  I admit it.  But even though fiction may not record exactly what happened once, fiction can be powerfully true.”

They did not understand.  So I gave them a factual report.

“Okay, what about this….”  I took my 7-yr old son in my arms.  “There was a young boy once, with red hair and a wonderful personality.  He moved to England for a few years and lived there with his family while his father did doctoral work.  He made many friends, played lots of football, and hiked lovely footpaths.”

Fact.  True.  But then a story….

“What about this…,” I began.  “Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in a faraway kingdom, and his father was the great and mighty king.  Both his mother and father loved him very much.  But every day on his walk home from his lessons, a group of mean bullies grabbed him, beat him up, and threw him in the muck down the same hill.  They did not know that he was the crown-prince.  And those mean guys did this to him every day.  When he got home, his mother always scolded him for having soiled his fine clothes.  But he never told his mother about the bullies.  He always apologized for being clumsy on the hill and never said a word.  You see, he wanted to protect those cruel boys.  He wanted to save them….”

Fiction.  But untrue…?

Now, I just made up that story on the spot for the kids.  What I was hoping to do was to show them what they already knew to be true just before they were so enlightened by the Western educational system.  As kids, the lines are actually quite blurred between certain categories we adults turn into dichotomies.

Fact and fiction are both conduits for truth. But sometimes, truth is too capacious for the bare facts.  Sometimes, a mystifying story can do better justice to truth than a hunk of data. 

So, I know there is no Middle Earth.  I know the wardrobe in my room will take me nowhere.  I know that no actual boardings take place at King Cross’ Platform 9 3/4. But in many ways, the respective stories just referred to are true.

I just finished reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.  I know it is fiction.

I also know it is true….

 

 

Grande Ludovisi (ca. 250 CE): Romans fighting Germans

Roman Soldiers, Jesus, & Heroic Little Boys

My 4-yr old son was playing with a forbidden set of toys this morning before I left the house.  They are forbidden by his big brother because they are his personal property, his collection of toy Roman soldiers.  There are figurines of Augustus Caesar—august and fierce with sword drawn—and a couple of centurions, armed to the teeth.  Living in the North of England, we hear about Romans.  The kids have hiked atop this big old wall Hadrian had his troops build some 1800 years ago to keep out those pesky Scots.

The little boy was at work crafting a battle scene.  He is a scrappy fella, and nothing thrills him more than a rough wrestling match with Daddy.  Though as sweet as he can be, there is violence in his bloodstream.  Little boys are taught to be violent by various influences (like maybe the father-son wrestling matches), but the raw matter is already there, crying out of their veins and genes like Abel’s blood from East Eden ground.

While grabbing something from my wardrobe (not as cool as the one from Lewis-lore), I casually mentioned to my little boy, “You know, those guys are like the soldiers who beat up Jesus.”

(This is what happens when you get a dad who wrestles all the time with ethical and theological complexities too big for his head.  He interrupts your play with loaded comments.)

He held the soldier in his hand.  A flash of realization appeared in his enormous brown eyes, as if the thing in his hand was suddenly discovered to be dirty or contaminated.  Then flashed a sense of justice.

“Well I would get those guys and kill them.”

It is always disturbing to hear a little kid speak with such rough words.  But he was operating out of a sense of just indignation.  He was like Peter in Gethsemane, hapless and confused, swinging a sword at someone’s ear.

“What’s crazy though,” I continued, “is that Jesus Himself could have killed those guys but he didn’t.”  This struck harder than the earlier announcement that his toy was an embodiment of someone who may have beat up Jesus.

Alien.  Incomprehensible.  Jesus didn’t do anything?  He didn’t wield His heaven light saber and take those bullies out?

My son was being confronted with one of the most perplexing wonders of history, that God Incarnate permitted men to have their way with Him.  And echoing over the whole moment is the Lukan record of this prayer: “Father, forgive them…”.

“Did those guys become nice, then?”he asked, perhaps apprehending that kindness and mercy can actually wield as powerful effects as swords and light sabers.

“At least one of them did.” I told him about the centurion Mark mentions who confessed Jesus to be “Son of God” after seeing how He died.

 

I’m not sure what happened  in his playtime after this brief father-son interaction.  After the ritual little farewells, I left for a day of study.

Yeah, I just left.  I left him there with the toy solider in His hand and one of the greatest mysteries of the universe banging around in his little head.

It was banging around in my head, too.  Still not sure how to take in the restraint of the Son of God on Golgotha.

Who knows how that 4-yr old little soul will process the divine restraint at the Cross as he heads to preschool.  But as far as his imagination goes, I guess he can now reenact battle scenes with at least one saved centurion when he gets home.  If, that is, his brother doesn’t fight with him over his toys….