Wet Bar Wednesday – Kyoto Dream

August 9, 2017

There is a comfort in settling in with a set of drinks that you know you and those around you like and enjoy.  It takes a certain amount of pressure off.  But there is always a joy and thrill (at least for me!) in learning something new.

I was blessed by Ruth in the gift of a bottle of Genzou Haguro Honjyozo sake, a gift to her late father from some university students grateful he didn’t want to press charges or file insurance claims after they accidentally backed into his car.  It’s a beautiful corked crockery bottle with a matching sake cup on top.  I haven’t done much with sake, so this was an opportunity for experimentation!   I knew that I wanted to serve it chilled rather than warm, so I went to the Internet for inspiration.  I found it in a beautifully illustrated but woefully inadequate (ration and quantity-wise) recipe for a drink I am now claiming as my own and dubbing (thanks to my wife) the Kyoto Dream.

Kyoto Dream

  • 1-inch piece of chopped lemon grass
  • 1/2 inch piece of fresh, chopped ginger
  • 1.5 Tbsp raw sugar
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 oz chilled sake
  • Club soda to top

Muddle the first four ingredients together (mash them up together – you can do this in a glass with a spoon, some folks use a food processor, I prefer a mortar & pestle). Pour into a glass.  Add the chilled sake and stir briefly to make sure all the sugar has dissolved.  Add ice, and then top off the drink with club soda.  Stir again to thoroughly mix and combine the liquids.

This is an amazingly bright and light drink.  Get a good quality sake that is not too overbearing in taste (overly rice-y, to use a technical term).  This one was very clean and crisp tasting on its own and blended very well with the other ingredients.  Lemon grass is an incredibly pungent grass, but also very coarse.  While you could blend the lemon grass, ginger and lemon in a food processor, I still think the result will leave unpleasant chunks of fiber in the mouth and teeth.  By just chopping and then muddling, people can either leave these on the bottom of the glass or munch on them as they like.

This is a great summer drink that requires a little extra work but provides a huge payoff with that first sip.  Since you’ll likely want to make several of these at a go (you should be able to get 8-9 drinks out of a single bottle of sake), prepare the lemon grass and ginger in advance, mixing them together in a bowl and then using about a tablespoon and a half for each drink.  Enjoy!

Facts & Feelings

August 8, 2017

On the continuing saga of the fired Google exec who dared challenge prevailing opinions about gender and workplace policy and culture (which I mentioned already here and here), here is input from four apparently well-qualified academics.  Their conclusion is that the author of the memo lined up pretty well with actual research into the differences between men and women.

Unfortunately, that research and his conclusions from it are not very popular these days.

He’s already out of a job, so being right is of questionable consolation in this day and age when truth is determined too often by who screams the loudest and uses the most pejorative language.  His situation perfectly proves the very point he was trying to make.   Google couldn’t have proved and endorsed his critique any better than by firing him.

We struggle as a culture to come up with a framework for male/female interactions (as well as gender, sexuality, etc.).  Whatever is proposed inevitably ends up being offensive to someone and therefore is untenable.  But whether something is offensive or not is separate from whether it is true.  In the drive for equality, feminism and now pop culture at large has settled on the idea that in order to be equal, men and women have to be the same.  Physically, emotionally, intellectually – you name it.  Practically interchangeable.

The only problem with this is that it’s not true.  We know it anecdotally in our relationships, and those informal observations are backed up by an impressive amount of research.  Worse still, it is patently offensive to both men and women to insist that they are virtually identical except for some hormonal and physiological differences – both of which modern medicine and psychiatry are happy to tweak with until you think you’re happy.

I find it interesting that it is common to describe human beings as animals, emphasizing our similarity at a genetic level to the animal kingdom, we are far less interested in seeking comparisons on social issues.  It isn’t helpful to note, for instance, that in many animal species there are very clear roles for each gender, and that those roles differ, but both are important and necessary.  Perhaps such comparisons aren’t often drawn because it is an inconvenient truth, a truth we like to think we have moved beyond.

We are convinced that now that we understand (or think we understand) genetics and DNA and natural selection we have somehow surpassed these things and are in the position of redefining reality and truth to suit our purposes.  We are convinced that our alleged knowledge has made us masters of the things we think we know.  However if DNA and genetics and natural selection are the things we think they are, it seems rather unlikely to me that we have somehow gotten the drop on hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection.  As though we have reached a place where our genes no longer dictate to us, but rather we are free to dictate to our genes through genetic modification.

For now, and for all of time leading up to this moment, men and women have been different, and this has been the source – unfortunately – of inequality.  I have no idea how things will be going forward, now that we are editing and tinkering with DNA and our own genetic code, making changes that can be propagated to future generations.  C.S. Lewis warned about this stage of things in his very prescient book The Abolition of Man.  Unsatisfied with merely being able to rewrite history, we are now permanently rewriting our future as a species.  While some are optimistic about this, I am not.  Our rewriting of history has so often been disastrous that I can’t imagine our success in rewriting the future.

Perhaps it will be a future where the Google engineer is wrong and his detractors are right.  But that’s not the case here and now, and it would seem wise and desirable by all sides to recognize this and take this into account rather than simply pretending it isn’t true.

 

Tolerance for the Win!

August 7, 2017

After an internal memo generated controversy within Google and then was leaked online to further stir up emotions, Google has fired the person responsible for writing a challenge to alleged bias’ and harmful ideological leanings within Google.  Google fired James Damore for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”.  Damore has filed complaint over wrongful dismissal and is mulling possible legal action against Google.  I dare say that if a woman had written an internal memo critical of Google policies and prejudices towards men, the last thing she could expect would be termination.

Not that it’s any of my business, of course.

In other tolerance-related news, a movie chain that sponsored women-only screenings of the box office smash Wonder Woman says it is stunned to learn that such practices may have been discriminatory and illegal.  Really?  You mean the idea of a men-only screening of a movie would have sounded just as equal-opportunity?  Would the theater – and our culture at large – have so easily dismissed complaints by women against a male-only screening?  Would a mayor have written a “tongue-in-cheek” defense of an illegal practice if it had been an all-male screening?  And would women have been satisfied with a free DVD of the movie as compensation for their complaints?

Kinda hard to imagine these days, isn’t it?   Good thing we’ve traded that outdated notion of loving our neighbor for the modern idea of tolerance.

Home

August 6, 2017

I had to ask the last of our happy hour attendees to leave about an hour ago.  One (the one who doesn’t drink!) was falling asleep on the couch with the dogs .  But the wife and kids are getting up early in the morning for a birthday boat ride to and a day of hiking on Santa Cruz Island, so I needed to empty the house and get them to bed.  People started arriving around 6pm this evening.  This isn’t everyone who was there, but it gives you an idea:

Our daughter tells us there were 21 people here tonight (including our five family members).  We didn’t know most of them.  Six are weekly regulars.  Of the rest, one or two have visited once or twice over the past year and a half.  The others were first time visitors.

There were actresses and actors fresh from small indie performances in town and trying to figure out how to position themselves for a Big Break.  Missionary kids from Eritrea the Ukraine.  Aspiring doctors, a sailing captain, a future lawyer, two Swiss exchange students, several talented musicians previewing songs from an upcoming debut album, a future professor and a few undecideds.  All in their early 20’s, all a long way from family.  A cross spectrum of ideologies and personalities, but our friends knew that they would be welcomed and honored in our home, greeted by our kids and our dogs, handed some AMAZING cocktails (thank you to Ruth for the sake!!!), and welcomed to just be.  I probably didn’t converse with a third of them more than to get their drink order.  Talking with everyone every Sunday isn’t always feasible.  But I conversed with one guy on the difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology.   I planned with another couple I’ll have the privilege of marrying in two weeks.  I received updates on short-term work and travel plans from another person.  I watched my kids help keep the food supplied and deliver drinks.  I heard my oldest son joking and telling stories.  I washed a lot of dishes.  Some of them twice.

I may have misgivings and feel inadequate in describing what happens on Sunday evenings to other people.  I may be exhausted at the end of an 18 hour day.  But it’s a beautiful place to be.  A bit chaotic at times, but that’s sort of the nature of Christ’s love.  We always know what we’re getting with Christ’s love, but we never quite know where that will lead us or how it will change us or who it will connect us with, whether for an evening or a lifetime or, by His grace, an eternity.

 

 

Authentic Community?

August 6, 2017

I’ve shared a bit about how I’ve struggled, internally, with the concept of Christian community.  More accurately, I’ve struggled with how other people might want to define Christian community.  What makes it valid, legitimate, authentic?  There are no shortage of answers to those questions.  I’m sure that some folks would define Christian community as centered in worship, but then that begs the question of how is worship defined?  Is worship always and only defined as the Divine Service of Sunday mornings?  Is worship only where the Word or Sacraments are explicitly presented, or can these form the backdrop, the living context in which human beings are gathered?  Does Christian community only exist when acts of service are performed?  But how do we define acts of service?  Is it only reaching out to the socially or economically marginalized?  Or does it involve nursing and nurturing people through heartbreak, through disappointment, into joy?

Perhaps the confusion isn’t the nature of community so much as the nature of ministry.  If a congregation supports an outreach, a ministry to a group of people, what does this mean?  Are there explicit or implicit assumptions and expectations?  Is that outreach only valid when a certain set of criteria are met?  Or is just loving people and being together enough?

It seems that in most church-sponsored ministry, something gets done.  What if there are no tangible outcomes?  No quilts made?  No bags for the homeless stuffed?  No meals prepared?  No funds raised?  Not that any of these things are bad, of course!  It’s wonderful that God’s people are motivated to show love in so many ways!  But is such a tangible outcome the only criteria for a ministry?

As pastor I feel an obligation – a reasonable one – to be a good steward of my community’s resources.  Certainly those resources that are allocated to my work in various ministries.  Perhaps that’s what makes me most uncomfortable, the worry that some might view a ministry as pointless or irrelevant – ultimately as a bad investment for not meeting certain expectations.  On the other hand, I also feel it’s important to model what I believe the life of faith looks like.  Imperfectly, to be sure.  But intentionally as much as I can.

There are various ministries described in the Bible, but the command is ultimately to love our neighbor and to love our God.  That means I need to be comfortable – and encourage others to be comfortable – simply in loving one another.  When opportunity and interest present themselves to be of tangible service in some way, wonderful!  But love is often intangible, expressed in word and presence rather than in product.  Much like our Lord comes to us in worship – in Word and Sacrament, promising us that the Holy Spirit within us has drawn us into community.  His community.  Not based on what we do but who we are in faith.

So I have to trust that it’s enough to just gather, with gathering being the main point.  Joy in one another and the peculiar vibe created around family and friends, food and drink.  The simple enjoyment of the Lord’s good gifts on so many levels.  It isn’t always easy.  It’s definitely work (at least being the hosts and preparing for the gathering each week!).  But it’s work I enjoy and look forward to, never knowing quite what is going to happen, who is going to be there, and how we will be blessed through and in it.  But never doubting that we have been blessed in it, that we are, and that we will continue to be.

Reading Ramblings – August 13, 2017

August 6, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 13, 2017

Texts: Job 38:1-18; Psalm 18:1-16; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

Context: The life of faith is one of obedience, of trust in God rather than in ourselves. But this is hard, isn’t it? Trust is much more difficult than knowing. Obedience is much less glamorous that determining our own fate. Faithfulness in our vocations doesn’t necessarily deliver us from boredom or the envy of others who seem to live more exciting lives. The passages for this Sunday deal with the challenge of being faithful where and as we are called, rather than on the terms we would prefer to set for ourselves.

Job 38:1-18 – I’m adding the first three verses of this chapter to the reading, because they provide good context for what follows. We’ve been commiserating with Job for a long time. We’ve heard his well-intentioned friends advising him on how to placate God so that his wrath is removed. We’ve heard his wife suggest that he should just curse God and die. Job has remained steadfast and resolute. He is convinced that personal sin/guilt is not the root cause for his suffering. He insists that God alone is responsible – as nothing can happen apart from his will or permission. And now God finally arrives and we settle back for a comforting ending, an explanation that will satisfy Job – and us. Instead, we get God in his anger and indignation. God is not about to explain or defend himself to Job – or to you and I. Job – like you and I – is not in a position to demand such an accounting. Job is a creation. Creations obey. Creations trust. Creations worship and praise. Creations do not stamp their feet and demand explanations from the almighty. While uncomfortable, these verses and those that follow remind us that we are not God, and if we expect to be, or expect God to accommodate our personal whims and preferences, our God is not likely the God of Scripture, but rather ourselves.

Psalm 18:1-16 – I’m using the longer reading for this psalm. It’s a beautiful picture of the wrath of God directed against anyone and anything that threatens and antagonizes his beloved creation. This is the God of judgment who will vindicate and redeem his people and his creation from the evil power and deceit of Satan and his followers. This is righteousness driving evil from all of creation, restoring the freedom and peace of Eden once again to creation. This is God sending his Son to conquer sin and death and Satan not with bolts of lightning but with obedience, faithfulness, trust, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. This is where my hope lies. I am going to die. I may well suffer in some respect or another beforehand. But I know that my redeemer lives and therefore my suffering and death will not be the final word in my life. My tombstone epitaph is not the last word in my life, but rather Jesus’ final word is, and that word is LIVE!

Romans 10:5-17 – Paul’s earnest desire that the Jews would come to see the truth of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah promised in their own Scriptures is real and true. And he recognizes that this is not a truth that we can come to of our own reason or devices (though at times it may seem that way!). Rather, it is a faith that we must receive, and to receive it, it must be brought to us, and that requires people to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard it – either literally or actually. The importance of evangelism is that all might hear, and in hearing, trust. Righteousness is not fulfillment of the Law; it consists in believing God when He makes a promise. – Martin Luther –

Matthew 14:22-33 – You know this passage. And you probably have heard one or two sermons on it to the effect of – What amazing faith Peter had! Too bad he didn’t have enough faith! Be bold like Peter, and keep your faith rather than doubting! I guarantee that if I preach on this passage Sunday, this isn’t going to be my sermon!

What the heck is Peter thinking? Why does he ask to walk across the water to Jesus? On what basis does he think this is a reasonable thing to do? How is his walking on the water a test of Jesus’ identity? Everything in this passage screams against Peter and what he is doing, not for him. Why is it that we idolize Peter in this passage, then?

I think such idolatry is common in our age where recognition, celebrity and fame seem to be the goal of so many, and where technology makes such hopes actually achievable – at least for short periods of time. How many people harbor the secret (or not-so-secret) desire to go viral and become Internet famous? It’s easy to make Peter into a role model for the extravagant, wild life of faith. The super-hero kind of faith. Not the ordinary, boring kind of faith. Not the faithfulness to wife and children kind of faith. Not the go-to-church-every-Sunday-and-find-ways-to-serve-each-week kind of faithfulness. Not the faithfulness of nose to the grindstone even when it isn’t exciting or even particularly enjoyable. Not the faithfulness of plodding along day after day. No, we want super hero faith. We want walking on water, we want miracle healings, we want to be admired for our faithfulness.

Jesus calls Peter to him, but why? Is it to show Peter all the amazing things he can do if he puts his faith into action? Is it to show him the weakness of his faith? Is it to embolden and strengthen Peter’s faith for greater miracles in the future? If Peter’s faith was weak, was it his faith in himself? Or was it his faith that Jesus could save him from his own folly?

Peter had no business on the water. Jesus knew this, and so did Peter, I think. Jesus indulged his bizarre request in order not that Peter might be the focus of the story, but that Jesus might. It was Jesus who walked across the water, who had calmed the winds that were battering the ship earlier in the night. It is not Peter’s place to be the miracle worker. Not yet! And even when that time comes, it won’t be for Peter’s glory! Hardly! It will be the source of problems and arrests and persecutions (Acts 3-4). The life of faith is not ordinarily one of glamour and prestige. It is following the calling of our Lord – not telling our Lord how to call us (perhaps Job sounds a bit familiar here?). It is obedience even to death, even death in the most ignoble and shameful manner, so long as it is faithfulness to our Lord that brings us to that point.

Peter did not have to cry out to Jesus to save him. That was why Jesus had come! To save Peter. And to save you and I. Not from boredom or ennui, but rather from our very real enemies of Satan, sin, and death. For this it is Jesus that receives the glory, not us. It is Jesus who walks on water as the Son of God and author of creation, not you and I as mere creatures. This is not our place, and it’s best if we learn it, come to peace with it, and ultimately take joy and satisfaction in it!

Fightin’ Words

August 5, 2017

A Google exec released an internal memo critiquing the company’s dominant ideological assumptions and is getting reamed for it.  The memo (allegedly) can be read here, while a sample of some of the responses it is generating can be found here.

I can understand why it would sound inflammatory to some people.  I suspect his basic assertions – that a particular ideological mindset are now entrenched and broach no challenge and engage in no dialogue – are accurate.  Some of the additional things he adds to the mix however make those basic assertions difficult to hear.  I don’t know if he attempted to substantiate his claims.  I hope that he did.  I would like to see his detractors substantiate some of theirs as well.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of statistics on both sides of the ideological divide, effectively clouding issues further.

Regardless of your point of view or ideological leanings on this, it’s disturbing once again to see where tolerance has gotten our culture and society.

 

Eat Which Bread?

August 4, 2017

Thanks to Gene Veith’s great blog for reminding me about a somewhat recent/current controversy in conservative church circles – are gluten-free Communion wafers acceptable?  He refers to this article, which provides an analysis of the Roman Catholic refusal to approve gluten-free wafers for Holy Communion, including a history of how they reached this point (which shows that this point today is not really a new thing in their circles).

I’ll disclose at the outset that about two years ago we started offering gluten-free wafers in our congregation.  We have at least one member with Celiac Disease, who was never able to take Communion before.  Now she can, and I think this is a good thing.  There are likely a couple of others who consider themselves gluten-intolerant.  Whether this is a fad or a health thing is not a call I’m qualified to make.  Nor do I think it’s one I need to.  My only issue is that, thanks to a snafu a few weeks ago, I tasted one of those wafers and they’re disgusting.  Actually worse than the tasteless regular wafers.  I remain firmly committed to the principle that if we’re going to make a big deal about the elements (as we likely can and should), we should insist that the bread actually looks and somewhat tastes like bread, rather than simply being made from the requisite same ingredients as bread.

Several questions come to mind.  First of all, is the gluten-free issue in any way a revisitation of the gnostic rejection of anything material, a rehashing of the Docetist view that Jesus only appeared to be human but wasn’t really, and therefore celebrating Holy Communion at all – or with actual physical elements – is inappropriate?  I don’t think it is at all.  I think it’s an example of using the rationale from one theological dispute towards decisions in unrelated issues.  I don’t believe that people with legitimate health concerns are denying the real presence of Christ in with and under the bread and wine, or seeking to undermine the goodness of the created order and the material world (as declared by God in Genesis 1) by asking for gluten-free wafers.

Secondly, what kind of bread were Jesus and his disciples using?  And was that bread substantively different from other breads?  We know that it was unleavened, yet the Eastern Church uses leavened bread for their Eucharist.  Is that a big deal?  Not to them.  Should it be to us?  Perhaps.  I think the idea of maintaining the unleavened nature of Communion bread makes good sense, and is a further means of tying us more closely to the actual event, the actual Jesus, and the actual Jewish faith.

Jewish tradition dictates that the unleavened bread of Passover must be made from wheat, spelt, barley, rye or oats – either whole or refined grains – and water.  Jesus and his disciples ate whatever bread was provided to them by their host.  It could have been any of those.  Oat bread is gluten-free (when prepared properly).  Couldn’t this be an option (as opposed to rice) for gluten-free wafers?

What we seem to have at the core is whether the Roman Catholic decisions about the elements for Holy Communion should be considered binding beyond their denomination.  Lutherans traditionally line up pretty closely with the Roman Catholics on many issues – far more closely than most other Protestant traditions (except for maybe high church Anglicans).  Should we assume that the mandate for pure wheat and water alone being the ingredients for Communion wafers should be adopted?  That puts a lot of power in the arena of tradition, something that Lutherans are historically hesitant to do (fluctuating political trends notwithstanding!).  If Scripture doesn’t provide us with the ingredients of the Communion bread used by Jesus, should the Church take the authority to determine what does and does not qualify?

Finally, there’s the 1 Corinthians 11 issue.  St. Paul is taking the Corinthian church to task for some of their worship practices.  In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul deals with some fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of Holy Communion, and how it is different than any other meal we eat.  Yet the Corinthians have forgotten or don’t realize this.  They treat it just like any other meal.  If the bread and wine were in some way substantively different than the rest of the bread and wine available, or that they consumed at home, wouldn’t this have been a less problematic issue?  In other words, it seems clear that they weren’t using special bread for Holy Communion – as in special pure-wheat-and-water-only-bread.  Paul doesn’t fault them for this, but only for failing to distinguish that the consecrated bread and wine is something very different than the rest of the bread and wine laying around the house.  It has been set aside for the presence of Christ.  It is not the ingredients that are the issue, but the failure of the Corinthians to discern this spiritual truth that has led to issues in their community and the need for Paul to correct them.

I believe there should be regularity in the elements.  I believe that the elements should by and large reflect the type of elements Jesus and his disciples actually were using that night.  The bread should be unleavened.  But it should also be bread!  The wine should be kosher wine, not some sort of trendy boutique variety.  Holy Communion is not a wine-tasting exercise.  Because of the fermentation process with grapes, I don’t have a problem with offering grape juice (which has barely discernible levels of fermentation).  I don’t think we should substitute just any sort of juice or any kind of bread-like substance.

But I think it’s possible to become too legalistic about the issue as well.  I don’t think gluten-free wafers are a new incarnation of Gnostic/Docetist theology.  And while I may agree that the whole gluten-free thing is more a fad than anything else, I won’t take it upon myself to medically interrogate my parishioners to determine if they legitimately need a gluten-free wafer or just prefer one.  Here, as in many areas of worship, we attempt to be faithful while recognizing still our essential freedom.  We try never to lose sight of our connection to the Body of Christ as a whole – historically or otherwise – while taking into account the needs of our members and trying to discern whether there is theological tomfoolery afoot.

 

Radio Silence

August 2, 2017

I have made a living for most of my life by speaking.

I only paused today to consider the wonder of that as an introvert and someone far more comfortable listening rather than talking.  Yet here I am, after years as a corporate IT trainer, then as adjunct faculty at a private university, and now as pastor.  I’m expected to talk.

But as I sit down this afternoon in front of a microphone and a rudimentary recording setup, I realize how awkward it is to speak when I’m not sure what to say.  Where to begin.  And how, most importantly of all, to draw a complete stranger on the other end of a radio or an iPhone or some other listening device into a conversation.  I’ve made my living off of speaking, but that speaking is enriched and formed by a continual process of listening and interaction.  When I’m staring at a blank wall and a microphone, it’s almost overwhelming.  I want to run away, much as I used to want to run away from social settings and groups of people.

God has an amazing sense of humor.

This radio thing is going to be harder than I thought.  At least to start with!

The Idol of Busy-ness

August 2, 2017

I live in an affluent city on the West Coast.  We home school our children, which puts my wife (mostly) into contact with other families who have made a similar educational choice.  And the reality is that part of the ability to make such a choice depends on a certain level of financial freedom and certain types of financial choices.  Home schooling requires that one of the parents not work (or at least not work full-time), and the only way to do this is a never-ending series of financial choices about what is important.

We’ve met a variety of wonderful people and families in this home-schooling journey.  But the one refrain we’ve heard over and over again, the modern mantra, is the lament of busy-ness.  I’m so tired – we’ve just been running around all over the place!  Taking X to this class and Y to this camp and then music lessons and play dates and camping trips and movies and and and and and

The list never concludes.

A lot of people in this town have money.  Not everyone, but quite a few.  So conspicuous consumption is less about the material, tangible things – those are passé – and more about time.  The status symbol of the day has less to do with the car you drive or the house you live in because everything here is expensive.  So the packed schedule becomes what everyone talks about and strives for.  Multiple classes, camps, lessons, outings.  It’s the current understanding that this is the price we pay for our children’s success.  If we want them to get into Harvard (and everyone is getting into an Ivy League school, right?) then we have to start filling out their future application now, at a younger and younger age.

Everyone is exhausted, so it’s funny that we’re repeatedly asked what camps and outings we’re enrolling our children in this summer.  The pressure is that everyone should be this busy.  Don’t you want to be this busy?  Don’t you want to have to keep your smartphone or Day Planner with you at all times to make sure you’re on top of things?  Don’t you want to join the club and lament about how busy you are, and the financial success that apparently makes such a schedule possible?

Actually, no.

Partly because we can’t afford it.  We live on one income, and while generous, it isn’t enough to fund all the myriad activities that are offered for the comfortable or well-heeled in the area.  We aren’t willing to put ourselves in debt in order to fill our children’s schedule with things to do.  But even if we could afford it, we believe that children shouldn’t have that kind of schedule to begin with.  Not during summer break.  Not during the school year.  They have their activities that we’ve committed ourselves to but those are very limited by both necessity and choice.  We’d rather spend our time making dinner together and playing games together than coming up with another activity to pack the kids off to for an hour a day four times a week.

Our culture is rife with status symbols – fame, fortune, health, eating lifestyles.  Plenty of opportunities to judge and be judged, to conform or to be ruled irrelevant or uneducated or uncultured.  I suspect this is the same for every culture at every time.  There has never been a shortage of edicts or peer pressure trying to get people to bow to the preferred idol of the day.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3) faced coercion to literally bow down.  But earlier in Daniel 1, Daniel and his companions felt compelled to resist a more subtle form of persuasion and coercion, one that promised great rewards for compliance.  What was offered was the best of the best – food and drink from the king’s own table!  But Daniel and his companions realized that in partaking in this food, they would be trading part of who they were – as Hebrews, as children of God even – and decided that the trade wasn’t worth it.  Their steadfastness was rewarded, but oftentimes the rewards of steadfastness aren’t immediately discernible.

We worry like any parent does about the decisions we make for our children.  Are we preparing them well enough for the world they will need to participate in as well as resist?  Are we doing enough to help mold them spiritually and intellectually as well as making sure their bodies are strong and healthy?  The worry is always there – maybe we should be doing more, or doing different.  Everyone else is – how is it that we trust our own judgment over the majority?  Isn’t that foolhardy?  Reckless?

Perhaps.

We don’t think it’s reckless, though.  And we think that what we are doing in and for our and with our children’s lives is already bearing fruit in who they are as people, how they relate to one another and to us and to everyone they come into contact with.  If we refuse to bow to the idol of the overburdened schedule, or the idol of Ivy League education, we substitute it with an emphasis on time together as a family and knowing who we are together and individually in Christ.   It may not get our kids into Harvard, but we pray it will help ground them for the increasingly fragmented and fractured culture and society they’re entering into very soon.