Friday, August 31, 2012

I Dare You to Read

This blog has become something of a public journal for me, a place to articulate my thoughts about a matter so that I know for sure what I think about them.  I’m always amazed that anyone cares what I’m thinking about, but since people apparently do, I’ll let you know that I’ve been meditating a lot on Hebrews 11 lately.  For the non-Biblically literate, that’s a chapter of the Bible that gives a roll call of the “heroes of faith”.  It essentially gives us a working definition of faith and is therefore a key passage in the Bible -- because as verse 6 says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  So, obviously, it is critical to know exactly what faith is.
So, I need to ponder and then articulate these ponderings for myself.  And I intend to do that here, in a series of posts.  Maybe every Friday.  Maybe more often, maybe less often.  We’ll see.
But here’s the thing.  I’ve noticed that I get more response and more readers when the topics I’m writing about are more controversial or confrontational.  Sometimes I need to work those thoughts out here.  But sometimes, I need to meditate on a truth God is dealing with in my heart.  I don’t seem to get much readership on those.  Oh, well.  It’s my blog.
Faith isn’t a very glamorous topic to write about.  It’s a bland word.  It’s something that the believer usually feels they’ve got a good handle on – that’s why they’re believers.  It’s something that the non-believer doesn’t care to hear about – that’s why they’re non-believers.
But I’m going to challenge you . . . no, dare you to read these posts anyway.  Not because I’m some fabulous writer who is going to inspire and illuminate the socks off of you (chances are, I won’t), but because of the same reason I’m choosing to write them: faith is critical.  Faith is not a subject to ignore.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  If you’re interested in pleasing God, you need to know that you know what faith is and that you have it.  Even if you’re not interested in pleasing God, you need to at least understand what this faith thing is all about before you walk away from it.
So, there you go.  I dare you.  Read and ponder and articulate with me . . . and see if God doesn't work a change in your heart.  I'm expecting one in mine.  Coming soon . . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Three Reasons Why You -- Yes, You! -- Might Want to Consider Homeschooling

Full disclosure:  I’m a homeschooler, and a former public school teacher.  And I know the reputation that homeschoolers have in America of being wacked-out religious fanatics trying to shelter their children away from reality.  I’m not going to deny that there of some of those out there, but I hate that they have become the face of homeschooling, because homeschooling is a WONDERFUL thing that I think more people should honestly consider.  And I’d like to offer three scenarios in which I think you – yes, you – religious fanatic or not – should give some serious thought to bringing your child home and teaching him yourself.
1. If the school is not adequately meeting your child’s educational needs.  This is a more common scenario than you might think.  Parents often operate under the assumption that the trained professionals should know best how to help their child learn.  They forget that the trained professionals have scads of children to deal with every day; that they only see them in the very unnatural, structured environment of the classroom; that they are limited in the time and resources they have to offer each child; and that they don’t know and love your child like you do.
Remember the old learning curve – the small percentage at the top who excel, the small percentage at the bottom who fail, and the large mass in the middle who muddle by?  I’m convinced that the muddling mass in the middle could be excelling if they were taught in a way that works with how they learn – and the failures as well.  Maybe you’re satisfied with the progress your child is making . . . but maybe you shouldn’t be.  Maybe you could do better.

2. If your child is five years old.  Or six.  Or seven.  I’m going to reveal a personal bias here:  I think we start formal education much too early in America.  I read an article a while back about the public school system in Sweden (or was it Norway?), touting it as one of the most progressive and effective in the world – and children don’t start school there until they are seven.  Ever notice how many American kids hate school by 3rd grade?  Maybe there’s a reason for that.
Young children don’t need to be “doing school” to be learning.  They’ve been learning since birth.  In fact, they learn far more effectively in an informal setting (and enjoy it far more, which may be even more important).  If you’re an involved parent, you’re probably already giving them a better learning environment at home than they would get at school.  And remember:  we’re talking about kindergarten and first grade, folks.  Nothing too difficult.  Yes, you can teach your child to read – you potty-trained him, didn’t you?  You got books and advice from other parents and you figured out how to do that; you can figure out the reading thing as well.  Very few kids have special issues where they need trained educators to get them to read (although many, MANY kids simply need more time and less pressure . . . which they don’t get in school).

3. If your child is turning into someone you don’t recognize or like.  I wrote earlier about my daughter’s and my impressions of what the school environment can do to kids.  I never cease to be appalled at the stories my daughter tells me of the behavior of her classmates (and neither does she).  Much of this is learned behavior.  Too many parents, I think, watch their children disintegrate into social, emotional, and psychological messes, feeling powerless about the whole situation.  They forget what powers they have.  And one power is to remove that child from the environment that is feeding the disintegration.
Before I became a parent, a mother at my church told me that her son had asked her to homeschool him for his sophomore year of high school.  After a personal spiritual awakening at church camp that summer, he realized he was in a bad crowd at school.  He knew if he went back, he would fall right back into the behavior he now knew was destroying him – that he didn’t yet have the self-control to protect himself.  He asked her for one year at home to build his strength before facing it all again.  I found that remarkable.  Not many teenagers (and almost no children) have the self-awareness and maturity to pull themselves out of a destructive place.  They still need their parents to do that.  We need to find the wisdom and courage to do it.  We’re the grown-ups, after all.
I would be the last one to say that every parent needs to homeschool . . . but I would be the first to say there are many parents who don't who probably should.  Yes, it is hard, but if you wanted an easy life, why did you have kids?  Most paths with great reward are hard.  They are also rarely regretted.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Catching the Frauds

My friend recently posted a picture of his grandmother on FB, a 96-year-old African-American living in Kansas, where they now require a photo ID to vote.  My friend expressed his heart-felt concern that his grandmother should never again be denied the opportunity to vote.  I felt his pain; I, too, hope she has no problems voting this year.  I hope that whoever there is in her hometown who would assist her in getting to the polls would also assist her in getting to the appropriate office and getting her paperwork together to get a photo ID, if she doesn’t have one.
Honestly, I haven’t followed all the fuss about voter IDs very closely.  On the surface, I can’t see how there could be an issue with people being required to prove that they are who they say they are before they are allowed to vote.  Apparently, there are people for whom this will be an inconvenience.  Apparently, I’m ignorant enough to not understand the dramatic extent of this inconvenience.  But if there are legitimate reasons for such concern, I would be all in favor of legislators and concerned citizens doing the work to figure out how to make it easier for folks.  I still think it is perfectly legitimate to expect people to be able to prove that they are who they say they are before they are allowed to vote.
However, right now I want to address the most prevalent argument I’m hearing these days against the voter ID laws: that voter fraud is not a big enough problem to warrant making things so difficult for people to vote (again – so difficult?  Really?  But I digress . . . ).  Here’s the argument: the number of people successfully prosecuted for voter fraud is miniscule – like, in the hundredths of a percent of all voters.  Obviously, voter fraud is not a problem.
Tell me what I’m missing here, folks.
Seriously -- I really don't get it.  What those statistics prove is that the current situation is catching a very small number of fraudulent voters – they do not in any way prove that there are no other fraudulent voters out there who are not being caught by the current laws who might be caught if different laws were put into effect.  In fact, one could use those statistics to argue that the current laws are completely ineffective in catching fraudulent voters.  Because I have a hard time believing there are that few people in our country trying to cheat at the polls – and I have a hard time believing that anyone else would believe that either.
Now hear me – I’m not saying photo ID laws are the answer to any problem or even that there is or isn’t any problem . . . as I said, I’m not informed on this issue.  I’m just saying that this particular argument everyone is dancing around about seems to hold no water of any kind.  Seriously – tell me what I’m missing here.
My liberal friends seem to be asking me to believe that in this nation full of sinners, in the midst of a very contentious and divisive period of our history, we have no more than a miniscule number of people trying to cheat at the voting box, and our current system is catching them.  Whereas the other side is saying, the current laws are only catching a miniscule number and it stands to reason that there is vast number of people getting away with it.
I find the latter argument to be more believable.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"It Destroys People"

My eldest . . . the bright, beautiful daughter who reads people so well, whom we homeschooled from 2nd to 8th grade . . . my eldest and I had an interesting conversation in the car.
“It’s public school, mom.  It destroys people.”
Destroys people?  Wow.  Strong words.  How does it destroy people, I asked?
“There are nice kids and there are mean kids.  And the mean kids pound on the nice kids until the nice kids have to get mean to survive.”
Ouch.  Yes, I remember so well.  Does that mean we should bring you home again?
“No, I’m already destroyed,” she replied with a smirk.  A smirk I desperately clung to.  No, she doesn’t really mean that . . .
So, should we have kept you at home and not sent you to public school for high school?
That provoked some thought on her part.  “No,” she finally answered, “I would’ve had to have dealt with these people eventually – in college or something.  It’s better to learn to deal with them now.”
Yes, that was our thinking at the time.  Better now while she’s home with us and we can help her than later when she’s on her own.  I feel better now.  Even though we felt confident about the decision to send her to school at the time, there have been many moments since that I’ve been troubled with whether we’d done the right thing.
But I’m still troubled by her description of public school.  I remember the first year we pulled her out.  We joined a homeschool co-op, and I watched her interacting with the other kids with trepidation.  From day one, I saw the difference.  These other kids, who’d never been in school – they weren’t perfectly behaved or anything; I mean, they had the excess energy and lack of maturity that all six- and seven-year-olds have.  But they did NOT display this pulling-down-someone-else-to-raise-myself-up behavior that was so representative of the other children she knew.  I was genuinely afraid my kid would show her public school roots and end up being the behavior problem in class.  And my kid was, in all seriousness, a very good kid.
Yes, I truly believe that public schools are a toxic environment in so many ways.  A necessary thing in our society, but a toxic environment.  Something needs to be done, but I don’t know what.
And . . . now I don’t know what to do with Kid #2.  Sigh!!  Parenting is SO HARD.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In Your Right Brain

Last night, I had one of the most satisfying experiences I've had in a long time.  I was asked by the board of our local homeschool group to speak at our Mother's Night Out on the topic of right-brained learners.  It's a topic I'm fascinated by and I loved preparing for it.  I had a blast presenting it.  And it hit home for so many.

I had moms telling me, "Yes!  This is my kid!  This explains so much!"  I had moms tell me, "Yes!  This is me!  You just described me!"  One mom said, "I almost cried while you were talking because that is me, and I remember being in school, like you described, and failing over and over and how awful that felt.  That's why I homeschool -- I never want my child to feel like that."  Oh, friends!  It truly was so gratifying to be used by God to speak liberating truth to his children.  There is nothing wrong with you.  This is how I made you.

Because even though right-brained learners feel handicapped sometimes in our left-brained world, they are designed by God to think that way because we need them!  We need global thinkers -- people who mentally climb to the mountain top to see the lay of the land on a subject before diving into the details.  People who see connections and relationships between things that the rest of us don't.  These are the geniuses . . . the Edisons and Galileos . . .

We need people who think in pictures.  Even though their communication with us left-brainers is slowed by their mind's need to translate words to pictures and back to words again (like when I tried to speak Spanish to the storekeepers in Panama).  Their ability to zip through mental images in their mind (research shows that picture thinking operates much faster than thinking in words) allows them to reach intuitive insights that change our perspective.  It's a gift -- if we see it as such.

One mom last night told me about her husband who was put in special ed all through school and ultimately gave up on academics because it just wasn't happening.  He's a right-brained thinker.  Once he found his niche, his brilliance became apparent.  I'm so grateful for that.

But oh!  The wasted years!  The pointless pain!  When will we learn that God doesn't make mistakes?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Yes, His Words Were Awful, But . . .

Pat Robertson is a case.  I wrote a while back about the comments he made about a man whose wife had Alzheimer’s.  Now, apparently people are all up in arms about some things he said about adopting kids (see clip below).  But again, while I may be giving him far too much credit, I have a feeling that people are misunderstanding his point (which is understandable because he made an abominable mess of making it). 
I think he was trying to tell his co-host (and all of us) that helping to raise an overseas child isn’t as simple a no-brainer decision as she was implying – that it takes some thought and doing some business with God to be ready for that challenge.  Anyway, the conversation has stirred some thoughts in me.
1) I think it’s time for Pat Robertson to get off the air.  I don’t watch the man, so I can’t vouch for anything about him; I only hear about when he messes up.  But even if his words here don’t accurately reflect his heart or his intended message, the words are ill-spoken, and this is mild compared to other gaffes he's made.  He needs to stop speaking words publicly on behalf of believers; he’s doing more damage than good.
2)He's aggravating, but his point is valid (at least the point I think he was trying to make).  Folks got angry at him for defending people who chose not to do the right thing (what they think was the right thing to do).  Allow me to state the obvious.  Sometimes, doing the right thing is HARD.  Phenomenally hard.  If it wasn’t, none of us would be sinners. 
Yes, maybe every believer SHOULD trust God enough to believe He will carry him through difficult situations like these if he takes the righteous road, but that kind of trust is a goal.  God puts tests and trials in our lives to grow us into that kind of faith – we don’t start there, and we all get there at different paces.  Correction:  few of us even get there.  I bet every one of us can think of a situation where we could not make ourselves step into the seeming abyss and trust that God is going to carry us through – and my abyss may not be your abyss.  None of us pass every test, and very few of us get challenging tests like these.  Good grief, let’s give each other some grace, people.  Let God deal with each of us as he sees fit.
3) The perspective that I see Robertson trying to impress upon us (although he does a dreadful job of it) may be a perspective that we could use more of in all of our “culture war” battles.  The pro-lifers find abortion inexcusable – understandably.  But a lot of them would probably do well to spend more time standing in the place of a pregnant teen and considering just how very, very hard this thing is that they’re asking her to do.  It’s all well and good to tell a lesbian that obedience to God means she should stay abstinent, but I wonder how many people saying that have seriously considered how difficult a thing that can be. 
And let’s remember that many of these people are not believers.  Why in the world would unbelievers choose to take the difficult road if they don’t hear the voice of God pointing them there?  How could they be expected to accomplish such a difficult endeavor apart from God’s empowerment?  To an unbeliever’s ear, such suggestions are completely absurd.  Why do we condemn them for behaving like the unregenerated when that’s exactly what they are? Forget about the forced behavior modification.  Their behavior will change when they have a genuine encounter with God – lead them there.
But even with believers, I think we need to give people a break.  I’m not saying we compromise and give them a green light to take the easy route that is not God’s will.  I’m saying we deal with them from compassion mode rather than condemnation mode.  And we allow God to work in their hearts at the pace HE decides is best, not at the pace WE believe demonstrates righteousness.  It IS possible to speak the truth in love – and we are commanded to do so.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Three Words to my Fellow Believers

Some friends reacted to my last post thinking I was going too easy on Christians.  Hmph.  And here I was concerned my Christian friends would think I was too judgmental of them.  Whatever.  In any case, it occurred to me that there actually are some words that should be said to the American Christian community that I’ve probably never said publicly before.  I pontificate a great deal about people needing to call out wrongdoing on the part of our own.  So, in the spirit of practicing what I preach, here goes.
Dear fellow believers:
1) Stop hating.  Seriously.  As I’ve emphasized so many times before, I know most of you don’t hate.  But the truth is, many of you DO.  Many of you look at, say, the gay man running the cash register at your local Target (or the slick-haired conservative preacher eating Chik-fil-A) and immediately feel repulsion.  You don’t love him as Christ does.  You want him to go away and stop making your world something you don’t want it to be.  Admit it – you do.  Deep down in the depths of your soul, that ugliness is there.  Stop calling it righteous judgment or some such nonsense.  It’s hatred, and it’s ugly.
If this describes you, I suggest you do a prayerful, extended study of the book of 1 John, not to mention the gospels.  Love is a defining characteristic of a child of God.  A defining characteristic.  If you are not loving, with all due respect, you have much more reason to be worried about your own eternal destiny than about your Target cashier’s.  That not me judging you – that’s me encouraging you to exercise some critical judgment on yourself.

2) Stop it with the “Christian Nation” talk.  It’s irrelevant.  Whether or not the United States ever was a Christian Nation, it is not now.  What we have today is a nation where the majority of the people claim a shaky allegiance to a religion that they little understand and rarely practice. 
And if the U.S. ever was a Christian nation, it was so by consensus and not by legislative fiat.  AND if it was and is no longer, that is because Christians have failed to live the faith in a way that won the hearts of the people.  It’s our own fault.  Don’t get your knickers in a bind blaming the unbelievers for pulling the nation away from Christ.  Just what else did you expect unbelievers to do?  The onus was on us.  It still is.

3) Get serious about your relationship with God.  Not about your culture, or your doctrine, or your heritage, or your denomination, or your creeds.  Your relationship with God.  Because a depressing number of Christians don’t have one to speak of.
Your relationship with your church is not your relationship with God.  Your knowledge of scripture and theology is not your relationship with God.  Let’s be blunt here:  an appearance of godliness is easy to fake – I know of which I speak.  Jesus made it quite clear that there will be a whole host of folks who spent their days on earth crying, “Lord! Lord!” to whom he will be saying, “I never knew you.”  That is, you and I did not have a relationship.
Are you worried about the moral decline of our country?  Do you know who changes the world?  Jesus does.  Do you know how people meet Jesus?  By seeing him in the lives of Spirit-filled believers who mean it when they call him “Lord”.  Spiritual revival and social justice both start with God’s people getting themselves right with God.  Get off your soapbox, and get on your knees.
Which is what I’m about to do right now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Open Letter to my Gay Friends

All of you know me and know I love you.  I sincerely hope you read this in the spirit in which it is intended.  This whole Chik-fil-A thing clearly poured salt on some open wounds and requires some post-mortem analysis, I think. For those of you associating ugliness from that day with the evangelical church, let me try to explain some things.
You know that Christians are not always Christ-like.  Most of you, my gay friends, are Christians, and you know you’re not always Christ-like either. 
The vast majority of evangelical Christians do not hate you.  They are not afraid of you, as that ridiculously over-used term “homophobic” implies.  They don’t sit around smugly thinking, “Well, you asked for it,” when they hear of the pain you experience.  Most of them feel genuine grief over the pain you experience.  In fact, “grief” probably sums up their feelings about your situation.  They believe God has better for you, and they’re so sad that you’re not experiencing that.
But that’s only how they feel about the whole sexuality thing.  That’s not how they feel about YOU. They define YOU by more than your sexuality . . . or they try to.  Sometimes that’s hard if it seems like it’s all you define yourself by.  Some of you, my personal gay friends, have told me how frustrated you are also when gays do that.
I’ll admit, many Christians may question whether or not you’re genuinely saved.  But don’t you question whether or not some of them are genuinely saved?  That’s not productive behavior for any of us.
I’ll admit, a lot of them are uncomfortable around you.  In some cases, that’s because they’ve cocooned themselves away from the world as much as possible, looking for a safe, easy life from the safe, easy god they’ve created in their mind – and you represent an unwelcome invasion of real life into their cocoon.  Don’t judge them too harshly.  History is replete with examples of people surrounding themselves with “their own kind” to affirm who they are.  It's an instinct, one tough to fight.
In other cases, though, it’s because, frankly, they don’t know what to do with you.  This ideal of hating sin but loving the sinner is one that only Jesus was able to perfect.  They likely feel the same way about you as they feel about their cousin who is living with his girlfriend, or their neighbor who slyly admits to using pornography, or the elder at their church who clearly has too much love for his wealth. 
They LOVE that cousin, that neighbor, that elder.  And they’re afraid for that person.  They’re afraid to keep their mouth shut and allow the sin to continue and grow and fester and hurt the person they love and damage the faith community.  But they’re also afraid to speak up and be castigated for doing so, labeled intolerant and hateful.  And they're afraid of their own sins being cast in their face in retribution.  And they’re also afraid of being totally wrong in their assessment of the situation. 
So, often only the callous have the courage to speak up, and they don’t speak well. And the fearful who don’t speak up are too fearful to try to fix the mistakes of the callous.  And because it all comes out badly, the gay community believes bad things about the church as a whole . . . and the few Christians who get it right are put in the bad camp without a proper hearing.
It’s all kind of a mess, and it all makes me very sad.  I’m sorry it got this way.  Jesus said his disciples would be known by their love, and we are not.  The church is made up of sinful human beings (like yourselves) and a whole lot of us are, unfortunately, not as dedicated to Jesus as we are to our own self-drawn picture of Christianity and a Christian nation.  I ask you to give us some grace. And I ask you not to judge us by the ugly vocal few – just as you don’t want to be judged by the ugly vocal few.  And when that handful of us get this love thing close to right, please also give us a fair hearing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Fair Let-Down

Hubby has a book that lists a thousand places you should see before you die.  Places like the pyramids in Egypt . . . the Taj Mahal . . . and the Iowa State Fair.

Yup.  The Iowa State Fair made that list.  One thousand places is a lot of slots to fill, I guess.

Actually, I think it's on the list because a midwestern State Fair is so very representative of Americana, you know?  Hubby went to the New Jersey State Fair during the first few months he was living there and said it was positively laughable that they called it a state fair.  This is a very uniquely midwestern cultural thing, and it is something to experience.  And Iowa's version has a reputation for being the best of the genre.

In any case, we've been saying for the last four years that we needed to get ourselves to Des Moines for the Fair some summer, and with the prospect of leaving Iowa looming, we had some urgency about it this year.  So, we headed to Des Moines last Friday with great anticipation to enjoy an event to which, as its motto states, "Nothing Compares".

Only here's the thing.  It turns out that something does compare:  the Kansas State Fair.

Yes, Kansas has a butter cow, too.
We lived in Hutchinson, home of the Kansas State Fair, for a few years, so we know of which we speak.  They're just not that different.  Iowa's is not that much better.  I don't even think the fairgrounds are bigger or anything.  I don't think it attracts bigger grandstand performances.  (In fact, our youngest is now convinced of Kansas' superiority because her heartthrob, Max Schneider, is performing there next month.)  It has the same animals, the same 4-H displays, the same crafts and industries booths, the same midway rides . . .

OK, I do believe they had more total food booths.  Almost all of them were commercial food sellers.  In Hutch, there were a lot of churches and such who had food stands -- I saw very few of those here.  Rows and rows of fried foods and food on a stick. 

But no Jaffles!!  No Jaffles!!  What is a State Fair without Jaffles? 

I tried a Red Velvet funnel cake because that sounded simply divine.  It wasn't.  Mainly because it was cold.

Sigh!  All around, the day was a bit of a let-down.  Mainly, I think, because we were expecting so much more.  Not to discourage anyone from attending -- especially you east coast friends who have never been to a REAL State Fair.  You must go to one before you die.  Somewhere in the midwest, where the State Fairs are what they're supposed to be.

Might I suggest Hutchinson, Kansas, in September.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Our Philosophical Past, Present and Future

Mary-Elaine Swanson’s book John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty is not light reading.  It is a scholarly work about the life and influence of the 17th century philosopher.  It’s not for everybody.  But for those of us whom it is for, it is wonderful.
Swanson begins by telling about Locke’s life, mostly through the words of his companions.  Then she shows how Locke’s thoughts and writings were instrumental in the Glorious Revolution in England in the late 1600s.  Next comes a great comparison of the American and French Revolutions in terms of the philosophies behind them:  the American Revolution being based directly on Locke’s ideas . . . and its French counterpart using a perverted twisting of them.  She closes the book with an analysis of how America currently seems to be headed away from our Revolutionary roots and toward the path of the failed French philosophy.
This is a historical work, meant for historical study.  One doesn’t read this book to get a general idea of the ideas and thoughts behind these great movements of world history.  One reads this book to understand what influenced these ideas in their formation, how they were communicated person to person, how they were adopted and rejected by various people in positions of influence, and how they have been misinterpreted and misappropriated over the years.  Swanson is trying to get at the original Locke and his original thoughts, defending him from the accusation that his political philosophy was rooted in godless rationalism.
If you are concerned about the direction of our country today, and you have the time and inclination to examine the philosophical basis of it, this is a great book to get you started. You can order it here at Amazon.

I received this book free from the publisher through the book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Next Adventure

I’m excited today.  And nervous.  I’m announcing my new website:  Acting Out! Christian Dramas.  I’ve had so many people over the last couple years tell me I need to sell my dramas I’ve written, so I decided to give it a shot.

Let me tell you what you’ll find here.  There are three full-length plays that I wrote for the middle and high schoolers in our homeschool drama program; the last one was a musical.  There are three one-act (30-minute) plays I wrote for the younger homeschoolers.  And there are scads of sketches written for Sunday morning services to introduce sermons.  A few of the shorter sketches are free – you can download them right now.  Everything else has an excerpt you can download to get the idea before you buy it.
I’ll be adding stuff as I continue to write.  I’m encouraging people to sign up for a monthly email, so when I add new stuff, you hear about it and can take a look.
I don’t mind telling you: this is a serious stretch for me. I’m rather nervous about opening myself up for public criticism of my work by people who don’t already know and love me.  More than that, I’m quite the techno-idiot so just getting this all together and going was stressful.  One service to give me the website platform . . . another to deal with payment . . . another to deal with the digital downloads . . . and I may need to use another for the monthly emails.  Good grief!!  I’m certainly learning a lot; I’m just not sure any of this is stuff I wanted to learn.
I’m not necessarily looking to make a lot of money at this.  (Although, of course, I’ll be thrilled with any money I do make.)  I just figure, I have all these scripts just sitting on my laptop now.  SOMEBODY out there could surely use them.  SOMEBODY out there may be desperately looking for a two-act play with a Christian theme for teenagers to perform, simple to stage, flexible in cast size, fun and entertaining . . . and here I’ve got “Pilgrim’s Progress”, sitting dormant in my files.  Mainly, I’m hoping I don’t lose money on this venture.
I learned while running a Creative Memories business in New Jersey how much I hate sales.  I hate promoting myself and my product.  I’m kind of hoping others will do it for me.  J  So, here’s my request to you, my faithful readers and friends.  If you know anyone who might have use for my scripts (churches, children’s and youth ministries, Christian schools, homeschool groups, etc.), please pass on my website to them with a kind word about the work therein -- especially those of you who have seen my work staged and can vouch for its quality.  I so very much want to know that God’s using this stuff out there somewhere.  Thank you!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Seasoning Out One's Life

How cool is this photo, BTW?
There’s a man named Gregg Harris who is kind of a grandfather/guru of the homeschool movement.  Somehow, I happened to acquire a set of cassette recordings of presentations he did on homeschooling and Christian family life and so forth.  Pretty radically “right-wing” – I always have to employ a lot of discernment and Berean study when I listen – but they do contain a lot of fascinating insight and teaching.  In one in particular, he discusses the “seasons of life”, which he says break down roughly into approximately 20-year segments.

1) The Preparation season.  This is when we are preparing for adult life – gaining the skills and knowledge we need for what God has laid out for our future.  Birth to the end of our formal education years.
2) The Production season.  When our focus is, essentially, on family – the birthing and raising of children and the establishment of careers to financially support the family.  Up to about the 40s.
Now here’s where it gets interesting, I think.
3) The Provision season.  Up to about what we consider “retirement age”.  You’ve established yourself financially and career-wise and your children are maturing.  Now, your primary responsibility is to the church, as pastor or elder.  To serve as wise servant-leaders to your particular faith community.  He suggests that no one from the “Production” stage of life (20s or 30s) should be trying to shepherd a congregation – they need to focus their energy on shepherding their family.  Examples abound of PKs (pastor’s kids) who have gone off the deep end for lack of guidance from a parent whose attention is focused on a congregation.  I see a lot of wisdom in this.
He also indicates that all men (yes, men – liberal friends, don’t get hung up on the perceived misogyny and miss the point) should expect to take a stint as a church leader in this stage.  They should ALL be doing “seminary study”.  They should ALL have learned how to teach by teaching their children in the Production season and be prepared to teach in their church community.  (I would say that the women should be similarly prepared . . . but I’m not going to squabble today about gender roles in the church.)  “Eldership” or leadership positions are not to be reserved for the handful of folks who are the spiritually mature – ALL are expected to strive for spiritual maturity.  Again, interesting.
4) The Protection season.  These are the city fathers sitting at the city gates in Biblical references.  At this point, children are gone, and time and energy can be spent on the protection of the “least of these” – the widow, the orphan, the underprivileged.  These elders, presumably, are the political leaders, the city council members, the congressmen.  Yes, they are old and probably wouldn’t be able to serve in political office for very many years.  I have no problem with this.  Politics and public service was never meant to be a career path – it’s a stage of life . . . a duty that each citizen takes on for a season.
Now, Harris isn’t implying that these activities are restricted to their particular time of life.  The Preparation season may be focused on education, but you will still be educating yourself until you die.  Similarly, you will have occasion to be involved in the political realm all your life; but at the end of your years, when your familial responsibilities are few and your experiences have given you wisdom and perspective, you are particularly suited to be serving in such a role full-time.
Yep, very interesting.  I’d love to hear what others think.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Boycotts and Appreciation Days

Friendly advice to those I agree with AND those I disagree with.  Before you boycott . . .
1. Do your research.  A company here in Sioux City has had to lay off hundreds of people because a lot of other people believed an article full of lies and ran with their emotions.  That kind of damage is almost impossible to undo once done.  Reputations are hard to resurrect.  Check your facts.
2. Consider what exactly you expect to accomplish.  Do you hope to get them to change their policies?  Is that a realistic expectation?  Do you want to punish the company?  Do you want to shut the company down?  Are you motivated by a desire to bring about change or by a desire to inflict pain to ease your own hurt? 
3. Is your beef with a company policy or practice . . . or with the personal beliefs and actions of somebody associated with the company?  The people you disagree with have the right to believe and say what they want, AND they can still be quite capable of performing their job with excellence, AND they have the right to try to make a living doing so.  Do we in America really want to head down the path where everyone we do business with has to hold the same values we do?  That’s a scary place to be.
4. Who exactly is going to be hurt by this boycott?  The one person you hate . . . plus hundreds of innocent employees with families to support who may be on your side . . . and sometimes entire communities that rely on the growth of this business.  If you genuinely consider the consequences of your actions, you may decide there’s a better way to make your point.

Now concerning “Appreciation Days”.   You’re free to purchase or not purchase from a particular company for whatever reason you want.  But to intentionally purchase on a particular day to make a statement – well, you need to be very clear about what that statement is.  And is that statement clear to everyone who hears it? 
Most people who ate at Chik-fil-A on Wednesday were saying, “In America, government officials do not have the right to ban commercial establishments because of the publicly expressed personal beliefs of someone involved with the company.”  Amen to that.  But that’s not the message many heard.  In some cases, that was because people heard what they expected to hear based on their opinions of the messengers.  (Is that the fault of the sender or the receiver?  I don’t know.  Accurate communication requires responsible behavior from people on both ends.)  But in other cases, at some Chik-fil-As, people heard hate in a very literal and physical voice.  This is inexcusable.  And, unfortunately, given the current social climate, it was probably unavoidable.  Again, if you genuinely consider the consequences of your actions, you may decide there’s a better way to make your point.
And, as someone pointed out, it would be nice to see Christians showing up in droves at soup kitchens and homeless shelters -- to do the things Jesus really told them to do.

So, have I offended everyone yet?  How’s this: I stopped at Chik-fil-A Wednesday afternoon, but to be honest, only because it gave me an excuse to indulge in the best milkshake around.  So, I used the event for my own selfish ends.  There.  That should hack all my friends off.  J

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Three Reasons Not To Date

Not to sound all crotchety and super-legalistic (I mean, my daughter dates), but I think it’s unfortunate that most kids these days just jump into the dating scene because that’s what everybody does and they don’t want to look like an undesirable loser.  Allow me to offer some good reasons NOT to date until you’re ready to actually find a spouse.

1) Dating is not a realistic environment in which to get to know someone – or even necessarily to learn about the opposite sex.  On a date, the stated intention is to go out and have a good time together.  You’re separated from others.  There are formulas and expectations for how one behaves on a date.  This is not real life.  The person you become acquainted with is not the real person.
You want to get to know someone?  Spend time hanging out with their family – watch how they treat their parents, their siblings, their possessions.  Work with them – see how they handle responsibility and challenges and difficulties.  Serve with them – find out where their passions lie . . . and don’t lie.  Separate the two goals of romance and entertainment.  Don’t look for romance just to give you something fun to do.  When you've gotten to know someone enough to know they could be "the one", then you can enjoy the romance.

2) Dating essentially trains you for divorce.  At least, dating as it is typically done by young people these days.  Consider:  you “commit” to someone as their boyfriend or girlfriend; you have good times together; and then when it’s getting stressful . . . when it’s not fun anymore . . . when somebody better comes along . . . you break up.  And for many kids, this happens over and over and over. 
How in the world is this supposed to prepare you for a life-long commitment where you may be – and most likely WILL be – required to persevere through trials, hardships, and (worst of all) boredom?  The simple answer is, it doesn’t.  It bruises you and makes your heart tender to the touch – which only complicates later relationships.  (Yeah, I expect some fallout from this one . . . )

3) Dating requires you to focus energy and attention on one person, at a time in your life when there are so many other things that need your focus.  Your teen and young adult years are so important and so valuable.  This is when you are truly discovering your gifts and passions for life.  Honing your skills.  Finding your calling.  Without time-consuming relational commitments (i.e. spouse and family – and boyfriends/girlfriends), you are available to do other important things: volunteer work, career-building, education . . . the stuff that makes you you far more than a romance does.
Besides: doing these things now will make you more romance-able later.  Boys, the best way you can attract a girl is to be confident in yourself and to have good reason for that confidence.  Girls, when the boys grow up and get serious about their women, they’ll want someone with more going for them than good looks and a lot of experience with other boys.  Your dating relationship should NOT define you; you are something else beyond that.  Lay the foundational work of becoming who you were created to be before adding the hard work of growing and maintaining a romantic relationship. 

Don’t read this as a call to strict, all-out “courtship”, as so many homeschoolers do.  I respect kids who choose that path (although I question the wisdom of parents who force it on their kids).  But no, this is a call to living life intentionally – not falling into default mode because you’re following the crowd – thinking about what you want to accomplish with the behavior you are indulging in.  That’s a radical move for a teenager.  Be the best kind of radical.