Saturday, July 25, 2015

Blowin’ in the Wind: Modeling Christian Faith with Children (And the Part Nature Can Play in That)

(Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, excerpts, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me or have given me joy. I trust they will do the same for you.)

I’ve a cool but untypical thing to share this week. My daughter sent this long ago, and I regretfully confess from the start I do not recall its source (if memory serves me it was from another pastor’s blog), but it immediately found itself in my ‘I Wish I’d Said That’ category. Before I get to it, though, let me explain.

As my parenthesized paragraph above states whenever I do my “Blowin’ in the Wind” feature, I come across a lot of things that inspire me in my pursuit of God through God’s creation, things I don’t write myself, and I enjoy sharing some of them occasionally here. A couple times in the past I’ve written on the importance of inspiring children with God’s creation, but this piece says much more than that, and it’s very, very good.

And there's been one more since this photo was taken...!
What’s prompting my thinking about this subject is that a couple of my grandchildren from Alaska are coming today to spend some Grandma and Grandpa time these next three weeks. We’ve tried to pull this off each summer once they begin elementary school, and have found it good for them and for us, especially when all of them live so far away. Having raised our own kids with an appreciation for God’s creation, it has only been natural for us to continue this in the next generation, and what a pleasure this has been! Kids have a natural curiosity that finds the fun and wonder in things Gail and I might even miss.

…A child’s faith is not meant so much
to be instilled as to be inspired…

Back now to the piece I wanted to share with you, apologizing for such a long introduction! This pastor’s writing was stimulated by a quote he had heard from Princeton Seminary President Craig Barnes, “We can’t make our children believe. We can only make our children believe that we believe.” Instilling faith in children is an important subject most Christian parents have on their minds and hearts. What I think Barnes was getting at is that a child’s faith is not meant so much to be instilled as to be inspired. In other words, children must ultimately choose faith on their own volition rather than it being ‘force fed.’ Barnes’ quote caused this pastor to wonder what he does to help his children believe that he believed, wondered even if his children knew he believed. What he wrote is worth every parent’s and grandparent’s (and uncle and aunt and mentor’s) consideration. Here’s what he said:

  1. I will seek to share an image of God so large that they never fear that what I believe is absolutely what they must believe. Jesus told the church before his death that he had more things yet to say to us, but that we couldn’t bear them yet. So he made a promise: the Spirit of truth would come who would guide us into all the truth (John 16:12-13). Michael Jinkins describes a riff by Cindy Rigsby with which I heartily agree: “If you have understood something, that which you have understood is not God.” Because God is more than I can ever comprehend, I will remain open to what God may yet reveal to me, even by way of my children.
  2. I will seek to show through my words and actions that I believe being connected to a community of faith is not a burden, but a joy. I know all of the reasons folks have left the church. At times, I am tempted to think that it would be a whole lot easier if it were just me and Jesus, but then a day comes when I have no prayers to offer, and discover someone is praying for me. Or a morning breaks when clinging to faith seems impossible, but another holds it for me. Life in community is always messy and frustrating and even infuriates me from time to time. And yet, left on my own, my vision always grows more narrow; my arrogance always rises; and my understanding of God becomes pitifully small. I believe in the power of the community Jesus calls together, even though we often betray our own beliefs. So I will keep showing up to give thanks that I do not have to journey alone.
  3. I will seek to take seriously my baptismal promise to nurture my children in the faith. One of my kids once told me, “This is my life! It’s not your life to live.” And she was right. But, as I reminded her, it is my life to shape, and I want to do that with as much love and grace and care as I can. And I will need the community of faith to help me keep my promises as well.
  4. I will sing. Ours is a singing faith, and I have found that by singing the hymns and songs in worship, even the ones I don’t particularly enjoy, I discover myself believing in a deeper and truer way. Just a few weeks ago, I stood beside my mother in worship. Hearing her sing the words she can no longer see made me even more grateful for her voice, and for her faith. I want my children to hear in my voice what I heard that day in hers.
  5. I will seek to reflect the generosity of God as I relate to others. I love the way Eugene Peterson renders a verse from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in his paraphrase of the Bible“Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (Matthew 5:48, The Message). Looking back through the course of my (almost) fifty years, I see countless times the grace of God has surprised me with joy and transformed chaos into hope. It is that grace I seek to bear in my life toward others.
  6. I will seek to live my life in grateful response for the gifts of God that fill this world. In Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, David Steindl Rast opened my eyes to the truth that all of life is sheer gift. The world and everything in it didn’t have to exist, yet by the sheer gift of God, it does. I do not simply wish to notice these things which fill the world with God’s goodness; I also want to offer back my grateful praise.
  7. I will seek to share a sense of awe and wonder as we explore God’s good creation while hiking. Henry David Thoreau was right: in nature we return to reason and to faith. I want to explore with my children the beauty of all that God has created, showing them along the way how the heavens and earth tell the glory of God. While nature doesn’t reveal the whole picture of who God is, there is also nothing quite like seeing the sun rise through the mist hanging on the mountain ridge.
  8. I will talk with them about events in their lives or on the news that reveal a corruption or serious mis-understanding of what it means to follow in the way of Jesus Christ. This could be called the Westboro Baptist clause, but there are simply too many people who are beyond mean in the way they seek to share the love of God. As I seek to clarify and correct, however, I will also seek to avoid sarcastic dismissal of those who are earnestly seeking to be faithful.
  9. I will seek to let my life show the radical nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While there are myriad ways to do that, I will be particularly attentive to welcoming the outcast; to forgiving those who sin against me; to loving my enemies; and to embracing the other. I will do some of this by working through the systems of care at work in our community; more importantly, I will seek to do these things in the midst of the messiness of my real life relationships.
  10. I will always be ready to account for the hope that is within me, so that my children know why I’m living the way I am. I guess by this I simply mean, “I believe.” And I want my children to know that what I believe matters for the way I live and how I worship and the kindness I share.
This is a lot to think about, and I commend it not only to you but also to myself during Grandpa time! If you have children at home, discuss these things with your mate or friends and see what they think. As for us, Gail and I will be much outdoors with our grandkids these next days, a perfect and natural place to live out a natural faith.

~~ RGM, July 23 2015

Sunday, July 19, 2015

QOTM...*: Ted Loder

(*Quote of the Month)

We’re back on our little acre in the woods. Here in the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I cannot say that it is easier to experience the ‘thin places’ of which the classic spiritual writers speak, those moments of greater spiritual translucence when God’s presence seems more palpable. Let’s just say we are always the more ready and eager to seek them out in these periods when we are less ‘…cumbered with a load of care…’ in the words of the old hymn; there are fewer loads to care about or preoccupy us here.

So when I come across a great quote that reminds me of this truth, surrounded as we are here with nothing but God’s natural beauty, my spirit is arrested, tugged quickly to a slower pace as a bungee cord attached behind me to my belt loop, or as sand in shallow water catches and slows a canoe. I share this blessing with you who also find in the natural world a constant or at 
least regular reminder of the graces of God.

…At certain moments
     when sunlight strikes just right,
     or stars pierce the darkness just enough,
     or clouds roll around just so,
     or snow kisses the world into quietness,
everything is suddenly transparent…
and something in me is pure enough
     for an instant
to see your kingdom in a glance,
and so to praise you in a gasp –
          then gone,
               but it is enough.

This excerpt is from the poetry collection Guerillas of Grace by Methodist minister Ted Loder, quoted extensively in Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (a great book, by the way). What do you think? Can you relate to it? There are moments when I’m so caught up by a serendipitous snatch of God’s beauty that my eyes widen, a lump rises in my throat and I feel I could walk through a portal straight into heaven. As Loder says, it’s quick but so worth it. How about you?

~~ RGM, July 17 2015

Saturday, July 11, 2015

POTM...*: Prairie Dogs who Praise the Lord...

(*Photo of the Month)

OK, I know, I know, I’m taking great license here with my borrowed photograph. It’s an actual National Geographic cover but you won’t find the article therein saying anything about prairie dog spirituality. I simply think it’s a very funny photo when paired alongside the concept.

But here’s the thing: I’ve got prairie dogs on my mind… There’s a colony right behind our backyard fence that is definitely growing in its geography! Several days ago I ran one out of our yard, imagining only that it was an emboldened scout recruited to case the joint and see where a new entry/exit mound might be able to be excavated. I’m not even exactly sure what I’d do if this happens. They’re cute little critters, so my wimpy compassion would likely rule the day (though I’ve felt no remorse trapping rabbits from my yard and relocating them, an effort I have since jettisoned as fruitless). Extermination seems extreme (yes, there’s even a product for it called Rodenator…), and professional relocation is expensive. But I’d have to think of something.

So the day I chased Kit Carson away, I sent a quick email out to my neighbors to see if any of their yards had been encroached. I quickly got a response and photo back from our friend Jerry, across the street mind you, even further away from the field behind our house. Here’s the photo he sent:

I laughed out loud. Jerry says this guy had scaled four feet of masonry and looked in his office window when he snapped the picture. Now that’s scout dedication! Was it not just interested in an entry/exit mound but a break-in? Sure looks like it. Maybe it was checking to see if Jerry’s yard might come with a nearby beer cooler.

Of course, prairie dogs, a keystone species, are not dogs at all but burrowing rodents, with slightly longer and fatter bodies than gray squirrels but shorter (and shorter-haired) tails. Endangered in some locales, they’re prolific in Colorado and many interior west rangeland states; in fact, ranchers tend to be adamant about their destruction while city people are most often their advocates. Though colonies can be scores of acres large, they don’t always require much land to establish themselves – we see them often in the city limits of Denver in the grassy areas along freeway entrances, not the safest place in the world. Colonies are easy to spot due to the mounds the little guys create around their burrow holes, by which they can keep better watch of their surroundings for predators. The dog moniker comes from the little ‘bark’ they make to alert their compatriots when danger is near. (I guess that must mean me, as they always bark when I go out to our backyard.) Interestingly, they're one of the curiosities Lewis and Clark brought back alive to President Jefferson in Washington DC after their 1804-06 excursion to scout the American West, and may at that time have been the most abundant mammal in North America, some say a billion in number; but habitat loss and extermination have reduced their numbers to 10-20 million today. Highly social and playful, they live in close-knit family groups called coteries.

If you’re interested in seeing more, here’s a link to an interesting piece my sister sent me about them.

Precociousness and history aside, though, I’m still not sure what I’m going to do if they tunnel under the back boundary and show up in my yard. Maybe if they’re Christian prairie dogs, I can, in the spirit of Christlikeness, peacefully convince them to stay on their side of the fence. And praising the Lord? I suppose if Jesus said that the rocks would cry out their praise if the people failed to (Luke 19:39-40), anything is possible.

~~ RGM, July 8 2015