After Father’s Day yesterday, it is clear that I still wrestle with how to be a Christian Dad. Or, maybe more precisely, how to be a Dad who asks his children to follow him as he follows Christ. These are some things (again, a random list I came up with yesterday, by no means comprehensive) I want to be more intentional about as my kids get older. And I know I need to be intentional because they are all counter-intuitive in the Christian tradition I come from:
I want to teach them to partner with God. There are only three primary ways we frame our relationship to God (with a lot of gray in between each). These are to be self-directed, to be self-deferred, or to be collaborative. I do not want my children to believe they can approach life without God but nor do I want them to lose themselves endlessly praying about a decision, hoping God will take the responsibility of choice from them. God doesn’t make my decisions for me. And to be honest, he gives me answers far less than he raises more questions. I would much rather my kids understand the drama of the Bible and then write their own script that attempts to be faithful to that story. As long as their heart is attempting to be Kingdom-builders, I don’t care what they do. Make bold choices and take bold risks, knowing that God (and your mom & I) love you regardless.
I want them to be around people of all labels. The most important doctrine for me in my Christian life is the Incarnation. It is the all-powerful giving up all power to be with us, and as such, to be identified with us. This is a very physical and very powerful act. It is this act of Incarnation that frames a lot of what it means for me to be like Jesus. As such, I want my children to literally rub shoulders with people of all stripes, the self-righteous Pharisees, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, GLBTQ, conservatives, liberals, old women, young men, homeless, and rich. We love best when we spend time with, when we begin to see all labels as irrelevant to a person’s humanity.
I want them to know their Bible. And I don’t mean memorize verses. I mean learn the contour of the story, see God for the dangerous, unpredictable, jealous, passionate, and loving God that God is. In our house the Bible will always be what we continually come back to. We will not dismiss it as simply fairy tale but neither will we stay at a distance from it, trying to tame it and systematize it. We will read it, not to confirm our beliefs, but allowing it to constantly question them, deconstruct them, make them unstable. I want to teach my kids to read the Bible in a way that motivates movement within them, not dogmatic stagnation.
I want to walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death. I do not want to protect my kids from the world. I want to do the hard work of engaging them in it, teaching them to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. They will know about violence and crime. They will watch rated-R movies. With me. And we will dig deep and discuss what it means to be human and what it means to live in a broken human world. I do not want them to behave properly because they aren’t even aware of other ways to be, shielding them from the world and human experience. I want them to be wise and faithful in a world full of danger and possibility, a world they know well.
I want them to love & live Jesus. This one is obvious, the Sunday School answer. But it’s the Sunday School answer for a reason I suppose. It’s the most important thing. As someone who is adamant about the unity of the church, I don’t care if my kids end up conservative Evangelicals or Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or United Church of Christ. I want them to find the system and symbols that help them to fall more deeply in love with Jesus and that motivate them to give themselves over wholly to the rhythms and lifestyle of Christ. The reason we can use the Bible to discomfort us is because our comforter is Jesus. The reason we can be around people of all stripes is because we have Jesus as our example. The reason we can partner with God in our lives is because through the person and work of Jesus we have the Spirit of God available to us. It will always come back to Jesus.
What are other things to be intentional about as we strive to be faithful parents in a Christian story?