Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One of Those Moments

I told your mommy it was one of the highlights of my life so far.
When you asked if we could kiss between each bar of your crib,
me on my side, you on yours.
I didn't think you'd have the patience to accomplish your goal.

You squeezed your head into the small space as hard as you could. Then you invited me:
Just a small kiss. "One".
Another one. "Two."
Still another, but this time you pulled my head closer. "Three."
A fourth kiss. "Sixteen."
Then "Twenty!"

You continued all the way until the end. Sweet innocent kisses, smiles.
And your beautiful blond hair tickling each of our noses as we went.
You wanted to be close to your daddy.

I know there'll be a time when you won't.
And it grieves me already that these moments come and go so quickly.

Yet this one is there forever.
You and me.

You are my Lovely Little Lady.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Do It Yourself

One of the things I've learned about myself recently is that I love finding things in everyday life that lead me to contemplation but ultimately point right back to everyday life. Like most people, I like to escape. But I don't simply escape for the sake of leaving. For me, the attractive part of escaping is being stronger when I'm present.

This part of me showed up a few weeks ago in the middle of Wroclaw, Poland - a city of over 700,000 people. The group I was with had the opportunity to sight-see in the old town. When I learned that Wroclaw was the birthplace of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I immediately made up my mind to do whatever I could to see whatever it was that commemorated his life.

When I got there though, I found myself frustrated by the fact that so many others were also interested in the Bonhoeffer Memorial. So, staying in the vicinity, I walked around a bit, keeping my eye on the memorial but also looking for other things that might catch my attention. Then I saw this:

"Do it yourself". 

It was enough to disturb my frustration over the crowd in front of the memorial. And it took me away for a few minutes. What was it, a command? A suggestion? An invitation?

Then it was time to get back to the bus. Another meeting to attend. This time we were to talk about how we can reach children in each European country. What paperwork do we have to complete? Where will the next camp take place? A real life conference, based upon the very event I was being reminded of, couldn't have seemed more foreign to me as these thoughts and questions penetrated my mind. 

But as I continually contemplated "doing it myself", I realized the irony is that the message of this piece of art contradicts the message of the cross. Not that the art was "wrong". I don't think we can make that sort of distinction with anything that leads us to critically examine our faith. Rather, the suggestion that I, the observer can do anything myself, is leading me away from the heart of the biblical message.  

This biblical truth has real life implications. The fact that I am only justified by Jesus' sacrifice reminds me that I cannot  - nor need not  - justify myself. What a freeing thought!  I left Wroclaw thankful that I don't have to do it myself. 

How would you interpret this piece of art?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Renewal, Freedom and Fish

The fish my son received for his birthday is only free if it's in water, if it has food to eat, and if it eats the food it's given. "Greenlighty", the name our oldest son gave his new fish, died three days after it arrived to our house. Enoh wasn't devastated though. The fact that Greenlighty wasn't eating gave him a few days to prepare for his death.


Last week, I spent a couple days up in the northern part of Hungary with some guys from America, Hungary, Serbia and Croatia. For the second time in three years, we were gathered with the intent of being renewed. Our conversations were centered around the New Testament book of First Peter.

In the second chapter of this letter, Peter calls the Church to live as free people. I wonder how foreign that must have sounded to this persecuted group of exiles. Yet as we continue reading, we find that the freedom they are to live out is set within the framework of being a servant. They were to be free servants of God (2:16). How does that work?

Our approximately 48 hours of renewal included a time of silent reflection and prayer. During this time I found myself redefining some of the borders that secure my freedom. I realized I was neglecting several areas of my life that were vital to living freely. Rebuilding those walls would mean tightening some of the relationships I have with others; freedom wouldn't be found in letting go as much as it would be in grabbing onto.

That's when I remembered that the Gospel I proclaim is all about the person of Jesus Christ. The closer I am to him, the freer I am. In fact, being a servant of God allows me to live as a free man. Like the fish, we are only free if we live within the structure we have been created to live in.

When we live in this freedom, it's expressed to others by honoring them (2:17). And we're to do so regardless of how they respond. Peter wasn't exhorting the Church to honor others so that they would be honored in turn. No, he told them to do so because honoring others is a proper expression of freedom.

My wife, four kids and job in our local church is the current framework for my freedom. And as tempting as it is to find this context limiting, the call to live as a servant of God is, in fact, liberating. At the risk of oversimplifying, my freedom comes from obedience to God and service to others. Coming to this realization, and taking time to figure out how it works practically is difficult at times. But I'm thankful for the quiet moments I've been given to reflect on what it means to live in freedom.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When Culture Shock Sleeps in Your Bed

We almost forgot. The Jurassic age that had arrived last week had disappeared over the weekend. We no longer had any expectations on Monday morning. So when we came into the living room to get ready for pre-school we were surprised to find our prehistoric friends very comfortable.

We were still in a daze so we didn't even think about how they might have made the popcorn. But it turns out food is a major part of their lives. 

There was no question their leader was beginning to assert herself more and more. 

In fact, all of their personalities were beginning to come through. 

After all the eating, terrorizing and building, they found some time for play.

But now it was time to spend a couple nights at baka's house. Would they follow us? Unfortunately, there were no dinosaurs at baka's but as soon as we got home, we asked mom and dad if they had done anything else while we were gone. They said no, so we forgot about it until we went to bed. 

Sure enough, they had made themselves comfortable in our beds while we were out. Which brings us to a truth about culture shock. Sometimes it's surprising, sometimes it's exciting, sometimes it's even fun. But no matter what, there are times when it gets too close. 

We threw the dinosaurs on the floor and went to sleep. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

When Culture Shock Comes to Your Home

One of the things about culture shock is that you expect to experience it to some extent when you move to another country.  New faces, different mentalities and foreign behaviors are all things you're ready to be confronted by when mingling with a new culture. And even though it's sometimes difficult, any reasonable person is ready to make some adjustments to the new world around them.

But what happens when that foreign culture enters your home? How is one to adjust to their personal space being invaded - especially when there's anthropomorphism and a time warp involved?

Monday morning was supposed to be a normal get-ready-for-preschool kind of morning. Yet, when we woke up we happened upon the following scene:

Our favorite peanut crunchy snack - bobi flips - were being consumed by prehistoric beasts! Yet, when we sat back and took it all in, there was something exciting about seeing dinosaurs outside of their natural habitat. Would this just be a one time occurrence?

We didn't have to wait long to find out. On Tuesday morning we found them like this:

They had climbed up our blocks, onto our bookshelf and found one of our favorite stories. Of course, no one was more surprised than T-Rex, but it took us off guard too. We couldn't wait to tell everyone about the creatures who had decided to make themselves at home overnight.

On Wednesday morning as soon as we woke up, we ran to see what they were up to next.

We started asking questions. How did they get up the stairs from their box in the playroom? How'd they open the door? Daddy told us he would make sure the living room was closed and locked overnight so they wouldn't come in. We were relieved...then disappointed. But I realized there were other places they could go if they didn't have access to the living room. Would they take advantage of other rooms?

Sure enough, on Thursday morning they were bathing in the bathroom.

We usually take our baths at night, but decided to join them right away.

How will this story end? How much longer will it last? Stay tuned.

Editor's note: This was not our idea! Go here to read the original. Go to their facebook page to browse or post your own pictures. There's still a week left of Dinovember!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Unplugged in Zagreb

Hrvatski prijevod: Iskopčani u Zagrebu

"If someone in walked in here off the street, they wouldn't believe what's going on."

My wife and I were standing in a former casino hall in Zagreb surrounded by 300 other Croats, Slovenes, Serbs and Bosnians enjoying a Slovakian band singing in Serbian. Some were dancing, others talking among themselves or simply listening; but everyone was having a good time. My wife was right; this scene was rare. The event that brought these different cultures and languages together was called "Srcokret" - a word that's not even a word.
Photo courtesy of Sara Delić

Suncokret is Croatian for "sunflower". It literally means "turn towards the sun". The wordplay was designed around a desire to see hearts (srce) in the former Yugoslavia turned toward Christ. This was the third Srcokret since 2008 and the second one my wife and I have attended. All three of them have been examples of how true Christian unity is stronger than the tradition, borders and history that divide these nations.

Yet the main point wasn't simply about reconciliation. Although everyone is aware of it, many of the young people in attendance were born after the conflicts in the early to mid-90's. No, this conference was about what it means to unplug from the system. The example of a matrix was used - the movie explicitly referred to. When someone honestly makes a decision to follow Christ, they're unplugged from the influence of the world. As the Apostle Paul said, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind". (Romans 12:1, NIV)

The whole conference was structured around six different workshops - all of which focused on unplugging from a specific cultural grid. But this condition of being unplugged doesn't just mean that Christians are supposed to stay in their little corner and wait for heaven. This was one of Srcokret's biggest strengths. Rather than being exhorted to withdraw, we were encouraged to be the best in our fields and engage in the culture around us. One of the workshops I attended was led by a successful law professor whose desire is to use the gift God has given him to its full potential.

Unity was also a major theme. The lead organizer, a pastor from Karlovac, concluded the conference with a passionate call for Christians to be plugged into the church. "We shouldn't have to pray for unity", he said. "Do I have to pray for my foot to walk? When we're truly part of the Body of Christ, unity comes naturally."

Maybe that's what would have seemed so strange to someone walking in off the street. Different nations, languages and traditions all having a good time together. The concert, which featured rock, rap, punk and worship musicians, represented a certain freedom everyone felt. Freedom from religiosity. Freedom from tradition. Freedom from the matrix.

Yeah, it was strange. Especially in this part of the world where events for young Christians are relatively small and where cultural divisions seem large. Maybe it was rare for those reasons. Or, maybe it's because this scene was as much like heaven as any other I've been a part of before.
Copyright Evanđeoska pentekostna crkva u Hrvatskoj 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Thought that Counts

Croatia generally does not celebrate Halloween. Sure, you'll occasionally see cafes or clubs advertising Halloween parties, but the tradition of trick-or-treating has its equivalent in February here. Being outside America and analyzing how others celebrate holidays has led me to take a more critical stance on how I celebrate. So last year, while we were visiting America and anticipating Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, I asked myself this question:

How are we as American Christians supposed to celebrate the various holidays our culture emphasizes?

I think the decision should begin by making a distinction between participating and celebrating. For Halloween last year, my wife and I decided that our family would participate by allowing our kids to dress up and go trick-or-treating. We had several conversations before the event because we didn't want to do something simply because everyone else was doing it. Nor did we want to reject it simply because it's not a "Christian holiday". Our goal was to make a thoughtful decision knowing that this might create a precedent for other times we're in America during Halloween.

Surprisingly, I had quite a few reasons for allowing our kids to participate in Halloween. One of the reasons was because it seemed like a Jesus-like thing to do. For one thing, it's an extremely relational event - especially in the American context. There is no other time in America when it's ok for a stranger to knock on another strangers' door expecting to be fed. And even though the exchange that takes place is usually short, it is sometimes longer than the typical "hihowareya" strangers often engage in. There's potential for new friendships here.

Plus, even though Jesus took time to withdraw, he often went where the people were. Now, I wasn't taking my kids out with the goal of evangelizing Massachusetts through trick-or-treat. The only point I'm trying to make is that when I ask what Jesus would do, a harvest festival isn't the only answer. Jesus wasn't one to hide away while the crowds engaged in their social activities.

On the other hand, I don't want to simply dismiss the question I wrestle with many other believers; If there are such Satanic tendencies and traditions tied up with this holiday, why in the world would I participate?

I realized that like any religion, Satanism - or more relevantly paganism - is about a constant practice. If one is a Satanist once a year, that person packs no more punch than a Christian who engages in some sort of Christian activity once a year. Nominalism, regardless of the religion, says more about what you don't believe than what you do believe. If I allow my children to participate in Halloween for one day out of the year, the only rituals they are learning is that of dressing up, visiting strangers and eating more candy than usual.

But couldn't Halloween be a gateway for engaging in Satanic/Pagan practices? Could participation lead to celebration? Yes. But, there is nothing in life that is not a potential gateway for evil, overindulgence or excess.  If we are going to truly live, we will be tempted to celebrate all sorts of things that will prohibit us from living abundantly.

As soon as Halloween ended, Christmas advertising began. It increasingly became a way of life for anyone who turned on the television, went into a store or got on the internet between Halloween and December 25th. A habit has been formed. We have to buy. We so easily become slaves to the consumer mentality when it comes to celebrating Christmas right. And the climax to this two-month way of life is Black Friday.

Here the participate/celebrate distinction is important. By choosing to celebrate Christmas last year, my family chose not to participate in the American version of Christmas. In order to celebrate, it's important, I believe, to think about what I can do to try to reproduce the original intent of the holiday. Therefore I see Christmas as a time to thoughtfully engage in gracious gift giving.  Buying became a last resort.

Why? Because buying and consuming is not Christmas. Outside of the American tradition, they're not even related to Christmas! But here is where we get back to celebrating. By giving a gift to my son or grandmother, I am celebrating the fact that I received the most valuable gift from the Divine. That's a big deal! What can I give that will celebrate this fact? Or, even more importantly, how can I give that will celebrate the incarnation. Last year, the answer was for my family to divorce ourselves from the American culture of buy, buy, buy.

I am thankful for my mother and my wife for initiating conversations to this effect last year. After talking about it, we decided to only re-gift. Second-hand stores were the only places we could purchase anything. The other options were giving something that was already in our house or making  something. In the end, it made for a very creative, original and joyful Christmas celebration.

Certainly this isn't the only way to celebrate Christmas, but that's the point. I don't think, in our time and place, that there's only one right way to celebrate. Rather, we should continue to thoughtfully and critically allow our faith to inform how we are involved in those things the people around us celebrate.

What are some other ways we can go against the tide? How have you participated/celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas differently?