Relating to Your Children and Grandchildren

As Sansui, my brother-in-law, called out in a loud voice to his son inviting him from boyhood to manhood I was reminded of the baptism of Jesus and the heavenly Father calling out to Jesus telling him that he was loved and that he was pleased with him. Although I am sure that Jesus knew of his Father’s love and that the message could have been communicated telepathically, it is significant that the Father chose to express his affection and delight for Jesus publically for others to hear. Perhaps the reason why I was deeply moved at my nephew’s “Calling Out” ceremony was the Godlikeness of Sansui declaring before many witnesses his love and pleasure in his son.

For the ceremony Sansui read publically letters that he and dee, my sister, had written to my nephew explaining how the meanings of each of his five names were tied back to his paternal and maternal genealogy. (Again I was reminded of how the story of Jesus begins with his detailed genealogy.) For my nephew an understanding of his ascendants will form his identity and also prepare him on how to relate to his children and grandchildren.

There are two tribal ceremonies for a Nigerian child. The first is the naming ceremony eight days after his/her birth. Here the five names of the child are whispered in the baby’s ear so that he/she is the first to hear the names. The parents then declare the baby’s name to the gathering and explain the meaning behind each of the names.  In a Christian home the child is then given a life’s bible verse and the parents and community pray a blessing over the baby.

The second ceremony is the “Calling Out” from childhood to adulthood at age thirteen. Here the parents reiterate publically the meanings of his names to remind the child of his heritage as they launch him into adulthood. In both ceremonies the tribe/community is involved.

It has been said that our attitude towards our ascendants will be the same that we will have for our descendants. Could it be that our inability to connect to our own children and grandchildren, especially as they get older, is a direct reflection of our own attitude towards our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents? In other words our children have picked up the same attitude towards us that we have had for our ascendants, which may simply be called indifference.

The Calling Out

This past weekend was the “Calling Out” ceremony for my nephew. Sansui, my brother-in-law, is Nigerian and it is their tribal custom for the father, joined by the other men of the tribe, to “call out” a son from boyhood to manhood when he turns 13. It is a rite of passage of love, belonging, responsibility, accountability, and identity. Now living in the States Sansui has adapted the ceremony to include the significant men who make up their family’s American tribe. The men ranged in age from 83 down to 15.

The ceremony began with my nephew sitting among his peers wearing a colorful woven hat that identified the tribe to which he belongs. Sansui asked his son to rise and then in a loud voice called out his name inviting him to leave boyhood and to join the other men in the room to manhood.  My nephew acknowledged the call and expressed his desire to enter manhood.

He then moved to a designated seat where each man read to him a letter he had written concerning manhood and gave to him a gift that correlated to his letter.  The letters were autobiographical in nature drawing from the unique spiritual pilgrimage of each man. (Unexpectedly I was moved by what the 15-year-old men had to say.)  Woven together these letters made up a beautiful collection of wisdom, counsel, love, but also warning.

The clear messages from the 2-hour ceremony were: (1) you are loved and (2) you belong to us and we belong to you.

A couple of observations:

  • The “Calling Out” was initiated and led by a dad. It was a family event.
  • Although the ceremony was meaningful to my nephew, it also reinforced the importance of belonging for the adult participants. The older men were visibly moved as well as those still in their teens.
  • The ceremony made clear what in life is important and what is not.

 

 

 

 

The Value of Children

My ministry report for January 2013 includes the following:

I was in two sword fights, made a tent out of blankets, played “Star War Legos”, lost three games of “Sorry,” “Candyland,” and “Hedbanz,” and slid down a hill on an “American Flyer” way too fast, which ended poorly when my sled stopped suddenly and I did not, smashing my face against the ice. (My nose is still swollen.)

Why, you may ask, would a 55-year-old man play “Candyland” and sled down a hill on a bitterly cold day? It is because children matter to God. Of all my ministry activities this past month I believe that the events involving the children in my life were among the most significant.

I have often wondered what was going through the minds of disciples when they tried to keep the children away from Jesus. Did they think that Jesus couldn’t be bothered with children? Did they see the children as unimportant or a disruption to Jesus’ ministry?

Adults forget what it was like to be a child. C.S. Lewis said of adults, “They are forgetting what boyhood felt like from within.”[1] Who can forget the delight we had as children when adults showed an interest in us? The Clark children still talk of our fond memories of “Ice Cream Uncle Jim” who would give us as much ice cream as we could eat.

Jesus noticed children and showed an interest in them. My hunch is that the twelve disciples never saw children the same after being with Jesus.

In closing:

  •  Have your disciple share his memories of the adults who had a positive impact on his life as a child.
  •  Discuss with your disciple the children in his life (siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, sons, daughters) and the spiritual investment he could make in their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] C.S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspiration Press, 1987), p. 36.

Living Near One Another

Ed is a Jewish friend of mine here in Chicago. Often what to him is a simple side comment is a profound insight to me. Recently he said in passing, “It is unthinkable for a Jew not to live within walking distance of his community.” I stopped him and said, “Ed, wait a minute! What did you mean by that last statement?” He explained that in Judaism the value of community is expressed by a commitment to live within walking distance of one another. The children can play with one another, dads gather in the local park, and wives share a cup of coffee in one another’s kitchens.

Ed’s comment resonated with me because after being involved in disciple-making for 30 years I am convinced that living in close proximity is an essential element to making followers of Jesus. It is not enough just to have a weekly meeting together whether it is a church service, a one-on-one meeting, a small group meeting, or a house church. Living life together plays an indispensable role in making disciples because it is in the “doing life together” that your disciple has the opportunity to experience what it means to belong both in a nuclear family and a spiritual family.  You are also able to observe your disciple in various scenarios with different people and it gives him the opportunity to observe you among your family and friends.

Most anyone can sham love for a while whether in a service, a class, a small group meeting, or having coffee at Starbucks, but it is in the daily routine with our mates, children, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, and neighbors where love engages with reality.  I am not advocating that Christianity should stop having services, bible studies, or small groups but I am seeking to raise our awareness to the importance of living in close proximity to one another in making followers of Jesus.

Jesus did not remove his twelve disciples from their hometown of Capernaum but rather he discipled them among their family and friends in the familiar context in which they had been raised.

 

Remedy for Shame

Mrs. David (Madge) Wallace was the mother-in-law to President Harry S. Truman and as a friend described her “a prisoner of shame”. In 1903 her young, handsome, and prominent husband climbed into the family’s bathtub and shot himself. The humiliation was more than Madge could bear and she never fully recovered. Even Truman’s wife Bess did not want Harry to become involved in national politics fearing that journalists would find out about her father’s suicide.  Family status had quickly turned into their shame.

Man was not meant to live in shame. To follow Jesus is to leave the solitary confinement of shame in order to live in connection with God and others. Love embraces all of a person even his shame. It cannot pick and choose which parts to love and which to leave out. Anyone can love the good and attractive but it is only through the good news of redemption found in Jesus coupled with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we can love the undesirable in others.

Jesus went right to the shame of a person. Whether talking with the woman at the well who had gone through 5 divorces or having dinner with society’s outcasts, being tainted by another’s shame never seems to be a concern of Jesus. (More than once the question was raised about Jesus, “Doesn’t he realize what type of person she is and the things that she has done?”)

Your disciple will learn how to deal with his own shame and the shame of others by your love for him in spite of his shame. I believe that part of the reason why Peter did not take his own life after his betrayal of the Lord and why he was the first to run to the grave after the resurrection and why he dove out the boat to swim to Jesus on shore, was because Peter knew he could trust the heart of his friend after having witnessed for three years how Jesus loved, forgave, and kindly handled the shame of others.

 

 

A Prisoner of Shame

Your disciple’s shame will become his connection point of love to others and the means for his role in the story and purpose of God. Neither he nor you can avoid the shame in his life if he is going to be a follower of Jesus.

Elizabeth knew shame. She and Zechariah could not have children, which in Judaism in 4 B.C. was shameful.  Society viewed the couple as under the probable judgment of God for some unknown sin, even if Zechariah was a priest.

Elisabeth called her barrenness my disgrace among the people (Luke 1:25). She was marked and knew that she could never really belong. Part of the sting of shame is the stigma that comes from people putting a question mark after your name. “I wonder why God is withholding His blessing from Elizabeth?” “They seem like such a nice couple, why is God not giving them a child?” That question mark distinguishes between “those who are in” and “me”.

Shame is lonely and there were aspects of her disgrace that not even her husband could enter into with her. Elizabeth was asking the questions over and over in her head: Why can’t I give my husband a child? Is Zechariah disappointed that he married me? Are there other ways I can please my husband so he won’t become disgruntled with me?

Shame had been Elizabeth’s constant companion and now hope was gone as she was beyond childbearing age. There was a helpless feeling knowing that there was nothing she could do about her shame. She couldn’t just “fix it.” Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and their hope was so cold that Zechariah did not believe the announcement foretelling the birth of John the Baptist as their son even though it came directly from Gabriel the archangel.

Looking back Elizabeth would understand that her shame was the doorway for her role in the purposes of God by giving birth to John who prepared the way for Jesus and who, according to Jesus, was one of the greatest men who had ever lived (Matthew 11:11), but I doubt she ever forgot the pain of her shame.

Shame is a part of your disciple’s life. The good news of Jesus does not circumvent shame but goes to the heart of it.  Jesus through his death and resurrection could take Peter’s shame of denying the Lord and transform him into a man of love and spiritual power to advance the Kingdom and purpose of God.

 

 

 

Crippling Shame

Your disciple cannot follow Jesus if controlled by shame. Following Jesus is about belonging and nothing destroys belonging like shame. It is not an issue he can avoid nor will it just go away. It casts a long shadow so even shame from years ago he remembers as if it was yesterday.

Shame comes in various forms and degrees. Some shame is emotionally crippling while other shame has less consequence. There is shame he has brought on himself and shame that was not his fault.  Some was imagined while some was very real.

It could be shame associated with his family or the shame of a mental or physical limitation. A man with a learning disability said to me, Lewie, do you know how painful it is to feel dumb every day of your life? School for me was a walk of shame.

Whatever its source shame makes cowards of us all. It was R.G. Collingwood who wrote:

What a man is ashamed of is always at bottom himself; and he is ashamed of himself at bottom always for being afraid.[1]

Ministries have tried to accommodate people’s emotional fears by creating approaches, curriculum, and programs that limits relational risk for everyone involved, including the leader.  It gives the illusion of love and community but behind the façade there are not the bonds of trust necessary for authentic relationships.

Leading a small group, teaching a bible study, leading worship, and doing service projects can be done in emotional safety.  One can give the appearance of vulnerability but the test of vulnerability is in relationships. Recently I was with a friend who told me how her boss would display vulnerability behind a podium, but in a staff meeting or one-on-one he was anything but vulnerable.

Your disciple needs for you to place yourself in the vulnerable position to love him unconditionally. To place yourself in the vulnerable position of being the first to say,  “I love you.”[2]

 

 

 

 



[1] Collingwood, Robin G. Retrieved September 17, 2012, from http://www.quoteland.com

[2] Brown, Brene (2010, The Power of Vulnerability, Retrieved October 8, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Qm9cGRub0)

 

Love is the Starting Point of All Religion

Love is the Starting Point of All Religion. So how do we effectively spread love? American Philosopher Richard Weaver observed:

It seems to me that the world is now more than ever dominated by the gods of mass and speed and that the worship of these can lead only to the lowering of standards, the adulteration of quality, and, in general, to the loss of those things which are essential to the life of civility and culture.[1]

path, lead, righteous, snow, Christ, disciple

What path do you take to love?

I am afraid that within Christianity we have sacrificed some sacred things on the altars of mass and speed. An assumption has been made that the larger the ministry and the faster a ministry grows, the more God is blessing. Because of this, churches feel the pressure to produce sizable results quickly.

The problem is that loving relationships, which are to be the mark of the followers of Jesus, cannot be made in mass or quickly. To seek to maintain too many relationships or to try and speed up the relational building process will inhibit the love you are longing to experience.

Although counter intuitive, love limits in order to multiply. When a man says, “I do” to his wife, he says “I don’t” to all other women and when a couple decides to have children they choose a lifestyle that seems confining in comparison to their friends with no children. We willingly set margins around our family so that love will multiply to future generations because to neglect a marriage leads to divorce and to be inattentive to a child results in a wounded person, both of which breaks the love continuum.

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Hindrances to Making a Disciple of Jesus in Today’s World

An obstacle to making followers of Jesus in America is America’s aversion to deep friendship. Sociologists Stewart and Bennett have observed:

Although Americans have numerous relationships that are marked by friendliness and informality, they only rarely form the kinds of deep and lasting friendships in which friends become mutually dependent upon each other.[1]

God is relational. The insularly existence so natural to Americans is unnatural to God. Jesus came to earth and demonstrated the beauty of friendship in his relationships with men and women.  It was not only through his instruction that his followers learned how to love and to be loved but also through the experience of him laying down his life for them. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

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Untangling Fear

Veterinarians at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium regularly run blood tests on their dolphins to check for disease since a dolphin conceals its illness because in the wild a dolphin that appears sick becomes at target for lunch to its predators.  In a similar way people mask their fears to avoid becoming the emotional prey in unsafe schools, homes, jobs, and churches.

A key component of disciple-making is addressing your disciple’s fear. It is not possible for him to follow Jesus and to fear because fear will inhibit him from forming a love relationship with God and others and it will keep him from obeying the Lord.  (Jesus leads his followers into the teeth of their fear.) But to come along side of your disciple to help him face his fears is one of the more difficult and challenging aspects of making a disciple for a couple of reasons:

1. People avoid fear.

Your disciple will avoid whomever or whatever he fears to the point that he would rather lie than face his fear even if it means his demise.  (As illustrated by the Priests and Elders lying to Jesus when he confronted their fear of people. For them to have followed Jesus would have meant that they would have to face their fear of people, which was the core of their existence. Matthew 21:23-27) Your disciple imagines that irreparable harm will come to him if he faces his fear when in reality calamity will mark his life and the lives of those whom he touches if he does not confront his fear.

2. To untangle fears requires perseverance and patience.

Your disciple has masked his fears for so long that it can be difficult for him to discern reality from a lie. One fear led to a lie, which led to the dread of getting caught, which led to another lie, and so the tangled knot was formed.  Although love, grace, and belonging, will provide a new perspective for him, you cannot expect him to be able to untangle years of fear in a short time.