Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pronouns, Tribes & the Kingdom

Pronouns are important.

Pronouns tell us a lot.

But we'll come back to grammar lessons later.

I grew up in a generation whose parents were careful to build a strong self-esteem in us. We received trophies for participating on sports teams. Most of my friends received money for the number of A's we received on their reports cards. I got tokens at Chuck E. Cheese, which was more valuable than anything else I could imagine at the time.

The returns on that kind of parenting are coming in and it's not all positive.

And yet...a healthy self-esteem is a part of healthy self-development. When children are born, they have an ego-centric level of awareness. The world revolves around them. That's why when playing hide-and-seek with my 4-year old son and 2-year old daughter, they think they can hide in broad daylight. They assume that as long as they can't see me, I can't see them.

Early on, children are able to begin sentences with the word "I."

This stage of ego development is crucial to human development. And that is why parents nurture love, care, compassion, discipline, and morality in their kids. You want them to have a healthy, formed ego...


If your children remain egocentric, something destructive begins to happen. And if they never evolve out of that stage of development, they will be come sociopaths who will eventually become harmful to society

So, you have them do chores as a way of "inviting" them into the tribe. And over time, mowing the lawn and cleaning the toilet helps them move from an egocentric view of the world to an ethnocentric view of the world. Our tribe (family, school, athletic team, nation, etc.) has a certain way of doing things. In doing this, you are helping introduce them to how the tribe functions. Most tribal cultures have initiations for young men (sometimes women) to mark this transition.

And at that point, young adults can begin sentences with "We."

Beware: You can rush this. If you yell at a 4-year old because they didn’t mow the lawn correctly, you might be rushing it.

But if you stop at an ethnocentric or tribal view of the world, we could have trouble. Because what happens when the tribe goes down the wrong path? You want to instill in your child the courage that when the tribe veers off course (jumping off a proverbial bridge, engaging in certain fraternity initiation rituals, Nazi Germany in 1938), they can do what's right for humanity rather than just following the path of least resistance. 

There are certain times in a tribe when you don't want your child to be ethnocentric or tribal. You want them to question the rules and rituals of the tribe. You don't want them to drink the Kool-Aid.

If there is any hope for our world in a nuclear age, we need the majority of people to move to a world-centric stage of development. Because sometimes, what appears to be the ethnocentric party line is actually bad for other tribes.

Hopefully, we develop into the kind of people who think about what's best for all of humanity and begin our sentences with "All of us."

In Genesis 12, God calls Abram forward in his consciousness. He's called to leave his tribe and start another tribe. But he's not some bandwagon fan. It's not that the new tribe is cooler, stronger, or better-looking than the last tribe. God is calling forth a new tribe who is called to reflect what God is like.

And though some religious tribes make God sound like a tribal God (sectarian, nationalistic, racist, etc.), he isn't tribal. He is well past an ethnocentric consciousness. He's a world-centric God.

He's for us.
All of us.
Every one of us.
He shows no favoritism.

Or as Paul says, "...for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:27-28)

Which reflects exactly what God told Abram about this new tribe in Genesis 12: "...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Which brings me back to grammar.

In baptism, our allegiances change. Our tribal identities are no longer primary. When we come up out of the waters of baptism, our pronouns even change.

I have many tribal identities. I'm a Native Texan...a Colorad(o) American...a Caucasian...a Wildcat...a Longhorn...a Preacher...a Littleton Church of Christer. All of these tribal identities explain who I am.


None of these descriptors identify me best. After coming up out of the waters of baptism, the allegiance that trumps all other tribal allegiances is my commitment to Christ.

So, I struggle with my pronouns.

God's kingdom isn't just about me. It's not just about us. It's about all of us!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Lessons at the Playground

Friday is my day off and the day our family practices Sabbath.

There are lots of legalistic arguments about whether Sabbath is something Christians must do. Those arguments aren't important to me and they miss the point much of the time.

We don't practice Sabbath because we believe we have to. We practice Sabbath because we have found there's a rhythm in the world that contributes to human flourishing. That pattern is 6 and 1...6 and 1...6 and 1. Sabbath reminds us that the world goes on fine without our effort. Sabbath reminds us that God does just fine without our addictive patterns of worry and work. Sabbath calls out the insanity of our other 6 days.

Today, we went to a park. We kicked the soccer ball, threw the football, and played on a playground. It was a blast!

But the coolest part happened while we were at the playground. Maddox is our more reluctant child. He prefers to stay safe and our insurance company appreciates that trait in him. Addison will jump off anything and laugh when she hits the ground.

After a couple of times up the stairs and down the slide, Maddox saw a different way to climb up to the slide. He saw a climbing apparatus. As he stared at it, I could see the wheels turning in his mind.

Should I try it? Could I climb it? Is it safer to just go up the more traditional route?

And as he stared at it I asked him, "Do you want to try it?" And sheepishly he said, "I think so."

So, we moved toward the red ladder and Maddox methodically worked his way up the ladder, careful to ensure his feet didn't slip. I stood and watched as a proud father knowing that this moment would set his self-confidence forward or backward depending on the outcome of this one act.

As he neared the top, his legs began to shake and he looked back to see if I was there to catch him. I rooted him on saying, "Maddox, you can do it." Slowly he climbed up to the top bar, but he had to make a giant step of faith in order to make it across to the playground's terra firma.

I moved to get a closer look and I was there to catch him if something went wrong, but he had to do this one on his own. Would he make the step?

Eventually, with his legs shaking the entire structure, he stepped over the abyss and onto the platform.  And he yelled "Yes!" with a joy I've only heard him make audible on a few occasions. He did it!

And I was beaming from ear to ear.

There are moments as a dad when your relationship with God makes more sense. This was one of those moments. I could have helped Maddox across. I would have caught him if he had taken one poor step. He was never in danger. But I knew that his confidence would only grow if he took that step.

And it made me realize why God seems so absent sometimes. When Maddox was on the top bar, I'm sure he wouldn't have minded me helping him across. When I'm in a pinch, I'm hopeful God will answer my prayer and fix everything in an instant. But I believe there are times when God doesn't make things easy on us because he knows we need to learn to do some things on our own.

And when we take that step, I'm certain that God smiles from ear to ear as well.