Daddy and Daughter Date

A couple weeks ago I went on a date with someone other than my wife… and she was cool with it! After all, I’m the first love for this “other girl,” so I didn’t want to let her down. Before you report me to the elders of our church, lemme explain.

My wife and I have talked for a while about implementing a sort of parent-child dating strategy where, every month or so, one of us will take one of our kids on a “date” to have fun and “get to know each other better.” So, a couple weeks ago we finally started. My daughter Sophie got all gussied up, pulled her hair back, wore a necklace, and we headed out for a night on the town, complete with dinner, an event, and ice cream to top it all off! She seemed genuinely excited to have her daddy show her such sustained attention.

This idea is not new. It’s not mine. I got the idea from Aaron Wymer when I saw him out for a night with one of his daughters. They were playing checkers at Starbucks. Nothing particularly creative or revolutionary, but it’s the sort of thing that could be a helpful tool for how Christian parents prepare their children for relationships with the opposite sex. Can you imagine how many times we’ll talk about important issues of life over years of dates? By the time some scary boy actually approaches Sophie for a date, she’ll be WAY prepared. (And I will have drilled into her “25 Ways to Say No To A Boy”!) In fact, she may not feel much of a need to conventionally date because years of discussing her preeminent need for Jesus will hopefully mean she won’t feel as burning a need for the attention of hormonal mental philanderers. (But that might also be a little wishful thinking!) :o)


“Those girls aren’t wearing enough clothing, are they, Daddy?”

SweatpantsMy 5-year-old daughter Sophia and I were watching “Dancing With the Stars” the other night when we had to have a little daddy-daughter discussion because most of the female dancers were practically wearing lingerie and the judges used the word “sexy” about a thousand times. So we talked about how we don’t need to say that word, how we don’t need to look that way because God cares about our hearts and doing what is right, and how wearing enough clothing is, well, rather important.

Fast forward a day… We arrived at ballet a few minutes early and the local high school dance team was finishing up their rehearsal. Most of them were wearing things high school girls wear. So Sophie leaned over to me, raised her eyebrows, pursed her lips, and with a sort of forlorn sigh of sympathy, she whispered, “Those girls aren’t wearing enough clothing, are they, Daddy?”

From the mouths of babes.

Maybe I’m just being a proud parent because she seemed to be getting it, but… It was almost like she was saying, “Those girls don’t really get it, do they?” She wasn’t just pointing out that they didn’t quite understand the rules, but she almost felt sorry for them, as if they were so obviously pining for attention and, gee, isn’t that sad?!

Y’know, like it or not, we live in a world where 5-year-old girls are being discipled to live and look like hoes. And I don’t mean the garden tool. And, while I’m not claiming Sophie can describe everything she expressed nor can she articulate so much why, she did get it enough to know that “we don’t need to do that.” At… Five. Years. Old. At 9 or 10, in this day and age, it’s too late to begin teaching her how to manage the mental gymnastics of a world that sells a pathetic substitute for the well-lived Kingdom life. Way too late.

And, while we’re at it… Regardless of how acceptable it may be for girls to wear sweats with “cute words” on their rear, it will only be over my dead body that my daughter wears clothing that encourages hormonal boys who are mental philanderers to look at her derriere. Over my dead body.

Christian Kids at Christmas

ChristmasIt seems that a lot of Christians are unwittingly complicit in teaching kids to commodify Christmas. This, of course, helps kids think temporally rather than eternally. For example, how often do well meaning people approach our children about their Christmas plans by asking, “What do you want for Christmas?” On the face of it, questions like these are innocent, and, of course those nice folks at church don’t intend to introduce anything diabolical. But these questions frame childrens’ thinking processes and teach children that Christmas is about getting stuff.

As a kid I remember poring over the pages of the Sears “Wish Book” for hours, salivating at the mere thought of a remote-controlled car. Instead of training our children to value important family memories or to perceive Christmas as a time to rehearse a lifelong practice of giving, we train them to ask for Christmas presents. In a world where spiritual values become commodified, kids grow up dreaming about what to GET for Christmas! It’s really quite a wrong-headed set of values.

Why don’t we stop asking them what they for Christmas and start teaching them how to celebrate Christmas?! Why don’t we ask them how they want, along with their families, to creatively GIVE at Christmas? Why don’t we stop being complicit with the marketing machine and begin asking what they want to give away with their lives and resources?!

Can you imagine what our kids would be like if we began teaching them that a truly exciting life is one that whose resources are spent for the Kingdom’s sake?! If Christmas was approached by Christians as an opportunity to teach children about living to give like God did in Jesus, our kids wouldn’t care so much about getting clothes that came from a certain store. No, that behavior is learned… just like the quality of character that cares about giving more than receiving.

This Christmas we’re asking our 5-year-old daughter to write a letter to Santa Claus and baby Jesus outlining her hopes for Christmas with the instruction that her requests should include some “gifts” for some people other than just her. This is just like the prayers we’ve heard her say where she mimics Mommy and Daddy, “Dear Jesus, please help all those little boys and girls who don’t have mommies and daddies and homes or enough food or clothing.” Little does she know she’s going to receive a response that outlines why we give gifts and how Santa Claus and Jesus want them to live her life as a gift to the glory of God. Now, of course, we’re hoping the Santa Claus is only a temporary mythical fixation that falls by the wayside in time. And, don’t worry, we’ll let her know that Santa Claus is to Jesus sort of like John the Baptist was… his practice of giving gifts is meant to point us to Christ.

In the complexity of modern culture, Christian parents must be intentional and creative in their approach to teaching children to navigate the exigencies of a world where the plausibility of God is pushed to the margins of reality. We must correct the imbalance. Anything less is tantamount to playing with their eternal destinies.

Now there’s nothing wrong with giving presents and everyone loves to see the excitement on kids’ faces when they receive a gift, but this is half the story. I also want my kids to be excited that God is getting glory and His Kingdom is expanding.

Christmas Wisdom From A Four-Year Old

Jesus in the Temple with the EldersWe had just started unpacking the Christmas tree when a commercial ostensibly selling cars popped up with Christmas music blaring and bells jingling, snow cascading in the background and ornamental icons stubbornly flashing “Zero Down.” Of course, the announcer’s downright screaming about this “limited time offer” like you’re a total idiot if you’re not falling over yourself to get to the dealership.

Insert the wisdom of a 4-year-old. Sophia, our daughter, says, unprovoked, “We don’t need that store do we, daddy?” “Why not?” I inquired. With the matter-of-fact innocence of a little girl wondering why cars are being sold as having something to do with Christmas, she held up her arms and shrugged her shoulders while explaining, “We don’t need it because we don’t celebrate cars at Christmas.” It gets better. Then she said, “Celebrating cars is nothing.” I beamed back, proudly, “You’re absolutely right, kiddo. Absolutely right. Celebrating cars is nothing.”

On Being Anti-Hummer: American Excess, Cars, and the Spiritual Nurture of Children

HummerI am anti-Hummer. The audacious excess of these elephantine tanks is beyond absurd… it’s downright silly. Does anyone living in suburbia really need an assault vehicle built to withstand the rigors of war? How often does someone need to drive on the roof of other vehicles like a monster truck? Do we really need zone-specific memory settings that automatically adjust their seat positions and temperatures?

In sharp contrast, I drive a stick-shift early-nineties Ford Escort worth about five hundred dollars. When I pull up to a drive-through, I have to open the door because my window doesn’t work. The alignment is horrendous, the tires shake, the front speakers buzz, and the brakes squeal. Starting the ignition requires a nuanced wiggle of the key. And the engine emits a spurious low-pitched whine… loudly. No power nothing. Escort… appropriately named. That’s what it does. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need anything fancy. In fact, I don’t want anything fancy—I don’t want my kids to someday wonder why their parents spent lots of money on a bigger car just so we’d have extra room for all the groceries.

The only reason I have this car is because a generous couple in our church found out we needed a vehicle and purchased it for us, taxes and all. For their kindness, I am forever grateful. But, as a young pastor with lots of education and student loans but a relatively impotent salary, I watch church members, some of whom are kids, drive up in huge SUVs and, well, let’s just say it makes me think hard about money and life’s priorities.

I an openly, passionately anti-Hummer. Being strung out financially makes one think hard about money and life’s priorities. I am increasingly grateful for temporary financial difficulties because it’s made my wife and I consider what we want, for us as a family, and for our kids’ long-term spiritual health.

Instead of accommodating the excess and busyness of American culture by buying larger vehicles, we want our cars to allow for some margins in our lives. There was a good reason Jesus spoke of taking only one’s staff and cloak. It was because it keeps open the spiritual margins of our lives so we can take seriously spiritual nurture.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti progress or anti culture. I have long used a Palm Pilot, I use a cell phone, and I would donate a kidney for the new Apple MacBook Pro laptop. I don’t believe we should buy things of poor quality and I don’t think God called us all to live in grass huts with no running water, but I do have some questions about what we’re doing with our money and how it’s affecting our children.

Does every social context within which we find ourselves require an appropriate shoe? For many, a style principle like this is axiomatic—because, really, we all know that others’ perceptions of our personal style is far more important than children created in the image of God having enough food to eat, right?!

The amount of time and energy we spend creatively thinking about how to indulge ourselves and enjoy the luxuries of modern life is embarrassing, even for someone of average means.

Can you imagine what God could do with American Christians’ money if they began to think creatively about meeting others’ needs? And what do you think the difference is in children who grow up in an Escort instead of a Hummer?