Monday, September 05, 2011

I don’t want to raise good kids.

Eden nears the radio. “Eden,” I call her in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “Don’t touch the radio, please.” She obeys and does not touch the radio. “You’re such a good girl.” A couple of hours go by. Eden gets close to the radio again. “Eden, please do not touch the radio.” This time she does not obey. “You’re being a bad girl.”

What has my daughter learned from this? If anything, Eden has learned that she is a good girl as long as she does what I say. If she does not comply with my rule then she is a bad girl. Most people do not see anything wrong with this lesson. But I do. By telling my child that she is a bad person as a result of her disobedience, I am essentially teaching her that being “good” is dependent upon the correctness of her behavior. Her behavior must meet my expectations, or else. What happens if a child makes a mistake? Or if, as a two-year-old, she cannot control her emotions? Or if her imperfections as a human being get the best of her? Do you see where I am going with this?

In a world where good kids are only those who behave correctly, there is no room for mistakes or failures. The line is drawn down the middle and kids are constantly being placed in and out of the “good” and “bad” side. You screw up and you are one bad kid. How many of us can relate to this? How many of us have had parents who were intolerant of our mistakes and attacked our identity because of it? As a result, something horrible happens to our sense of self. We learn to view ourselves as anything but good when we screw up or do not perform accordingly to a set expectation. No one likes me. My husband doesn’t love me any more. My parents think I’m so irresponsible. I’m not very smart. I’m ugly. I wish I was talented.

The fundamental problem with our obsession in wanting to raise good kids (kids that do not misbehave) is that we neglect the heart of the child—the core of who she truly is. Behavior is just an external activity, and many times these external activities are neither good nor bad. I liken behavior to a pot of water. If the water is boiling hot, it is not because the water decided to be hot. There’s a source of heat somewhere causing the high rise in temperature. Likewise, when my child’s behavior is not what it should be, I do not identity her to be a bad girl. There is something going on deep down in her heart that is manifesting itself in said behavior.

I don’t want to raise good kids. What I want to raise are kids that are confident in their God-given self-worth to make the right decisions. I want my kids to know that their being good has nothing to do with how they behave and everything to do with how God sees them. But even if I did not subscribe to a religious faith, I want my children to be secure in their identity, to be proud of who they are even when they screw up, and to be assured that no misbehavior will ever make daddy love them any less.

Let us look at the situation with Eden again but with a focus on her heart instead of her behavior.

Eden nears the radio. “Eden, please don’t touch the radio.” She obeys and does not touch the radio. “Eden, thank you for obeying daddy. I am very proud of you.” A couple of hours go by. Eden gets close to the radio again. “Eden, don’t touch the radio, please.” This time she does not obey. I remind myself that Eden is only two years old and her testing my authority is a normal developmental process. I tell her she needs to go to timeout. After her time is up, I ask her to come to me. “Eden, why were you on timeout?” She admits her infraction. Then I tell her, “Daddy is very disappointed because you did not obey him. But do you know that he still loves you very much?” Her sadness turns into a bright smile and she gives me a big hug. “I know you will do better next time.”

Firstly, my daughter has learned that her daddy loves her unconditionally. Secondly, she has learned that her actions have a consequence. And thirdly, Eden has learned that her daddy believes in her ability to make the right decision next time. There was no need to demean her identity by telling her she is a bad person. Leave such contemptuous terminology to Hitler, not your children.

Good kids are overrated.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

No relationships, no Christianity

I am becoming more and more convinced that unless we have good and healthy relationships, our Christianity is nothing but a failed ideology. Theological savviness, devout volunteerism, perfect church attendance, unrelenting passion for missionary work…not one of these matter without relationship.

Think about it. What is Christianity without relationships? When asked what sums up the law, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God…” and “love your neighbor…” These two commandments make a connection between relationship with God and relationship with other. I believe this connection is very significant because it reminds us that one cannot have a good relationship with God if one is unable to have a good relationship with people, or vice versa. Jesus’s contemporaries were pious. They obeyed the Law. They knew their Scripture. But they treated people quite miserably. Most of these leaders cared more about their religious practices than about engaging the people in their neighborhoods.

Jesus taught something different. Obedience to the Law, orthodox theology, even observance of the Sabbath, means very little to God when relationship is ignored. And how can it mean anything? Everything we Christians strive for revolves around our relationships—strong church community, healthy marriages, good kids, leading people to Christ, etc. We certainly cannot engage God solely by remembering Scripture or volunteering at a pregnancy center. We engage God by engaging the very people we were called to be in community with. After all, our mission to spread the gospel is futile when we are unable to engage relationally with one another.

Now the question I have for my readers is this: What does it mean to be in relationship? I implore you to contemplate this question for some time because your answer will also be an indication of the kind of relationship you have with God.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Did Jesus know it all?

I don't believe Jesus knew everything; and I mean more than just not knowing the day nor the hour of his own return. Is it possible that Jesus was not omniscient? Why does the Bible tell us Jesus grew in wisdom if he indeed was the ultimate provider of wisdom?

The bigger question is: What did it mean for God to be human? Many Christians believe, as I did once, that God’s humanity just meant he had a physical body—like God wearing clothes made of flesh or something bizarre like that. Well, we would add that he breathed air, felt pain … you know, more detailed physical stuff.  And that whole deal about Jesus being tempted like any other man? This is where any thought processes on the topic should ignite some good and challenging conversations about the humanity of God, but it seldom does. Yes, Jesus was tempted like us ... but he’s God and he did not give in to temptation ... and that’s the incarnation boys and girls, Sunday school class over.

I believe the key to understanding God’s humanity lies in our understanding of what it means to be human at all. So how do we define our humanity? If we can at least have an honest attempt at a good answer to this question, then we just might have a little more insight into the meaning of the incarnation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Graphic Designers Design the World

Earth Without Graphic Design
I’m a graphic designer. When I tell someone that, the usual response is, “Cool. So you, like, make T-shirts, right?” Yea, sort of. I actually design the tags on the T-shirts, and the pattern on your boxers. I design the packaging for your girlfriend’s tampons; traffic signs, books, clocks, interfaces for TVs and smartphones, shampoo bottles, dollar bills, bumper stickers, toilet paper wrappers. In essence, I make the world that you see, breathe, and use.
I make what you read, what you hear, what inspires you, what breaks you. I am a psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist, political activist, business consultant, marketing professional, art director, critical thinker, creator of culture. I educate, empower, and influence. Rid the world of graphic designers and you have a bland existence devoid of meaningful communication, innovation, and creativity.
Of course, no conversation allows time for me to explain this to a John Doe, or correct the misconception that anybody with Photoshop and InDesign know-how is a graphic designer. So, yes, I make T-shirts.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I love you, my darling

My wife, Sarah, is an amazing woman. We’ve been married for almost six years and I can honestly say that I am more in love with her now than I’ve ever been. Sure, we’ve had our share of struggles, bitter arguments, and sharp disagreements (which will go on until death), but I cannot imagine life without her.

Sarah is a smart woman. She’s a strong leader. She’s a great lover. She’s a friend one can count on for anything. She’s a great mom who really knows her stuff, even though she doesn’t think so. I’m often fascinated by how she takes care of our kids; how she knows what they need and how to solve a problem.

Sarah has a heart for the poor; a heart for the city. Her passion for loving people is contagious and convicting.

Sarah is authentic and frank. She is blunt with the truth and not afraid of confrontation. But unlike me, her approaches to speaking truth are tactful and far from condescending.

Sarah is beautiful. O, so beautiful. Her curves make me crazy. I don’t want anyone else but her.

I am very fortunate to have Sarah in my life. She is my encourager, my joy, and my certainty. During dark times, when my faith falters, she keeps me strong. She is my sanity, my anecdote of optimism and hope. When I need assurance of God’s existence, all I need to do is look at her.

I love you, my darling, forever and ever.