Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween & Jesus

Approved Christian Costume
Halloween is one of those events that generates discord among Christian parents and churches. Some advocate total abstinence from any hint of this celebration, some compromise and attend church "harvest" festivals and dress their kids as cute little puppies and Bible characters, and others dive right in with the rest of the community. 

Before I say another word I will "show my hand" and let you know that I am in the third category. We carve pumpkins that sometimes look ridiculous and that sometimes look scary. Our boys go "trick or treating" and I steal all the Butterfingers and Peanut Butter Cups from their loot. Past costumes include pirates, zombies, The Headless Horsemen, Egyptian gods. cute little puppies, dragons, magicians, and Jedi Knights. In preparation we watch movies like Spiderwick Chronicles, Aliens in the Attic, and of course It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. 

Costume of Crazy Bible Guy
Halloween is one of those activities that most people in America celebrate and I think it would be a shame if every Christian hid inside our doors on this night. It reminds me of the time Jesus took his young disciples to Ceasarea Philippi where it was known that people sacrificed to the god Pan and to Caesar. At this place where true evil was taking place, Jesus told his disciples that "on this Rock I will build my church". Jesus declared that the collective gathering of Christians would grow in the very places where people were desperate for hope and prosperity and where they turned to false gods for comfort. Jesus knew He would triumph over evil so instead of being seclusive, He was present. 

Another great moment in Scripture we see Jesus show up at the Pools of Bethesda. These were medicinal pools outside of Jerusalem. These pools became known as a place where the god of healing, Asclepion, was worshipped. Jesus went to this place where no Rabbi would dare be found and he offered healing to someone who was suffering for many years. If Jesus was afraid of being in a place where false gods were worshipped, this man's suffering would have continued. Instead of being exclusive, Jesus was present. 

Life-size costume of Moses.
The 10 Commandments are included!
I'm not trying to convince you to change your convictions, buy a demon costume, and play with a Ougi Board in the name of Christ. I simply want to remind you that Jesus came into a world full of people who are broken and hurting and He met them where they were. He was accused of being a drunkard and glutton and some attempted to insult him by calling him, "a friend of sinners". 

If your faith causes you to abstain from all things Halloween, by all means follow your convictions. But be okay with those of us who join in with our culture on a pretty fun night. Be happy that there are many of us who love Jesus, love dressing up in ridiculous costumes, and who love hanging out with our neighbors. (Even the neighbors who dress like Satan and try to scare the hell out of little children). Also remember that Jesus will build his church even in the most broken and desperate places on earth... and the gates of hell will not prevail. 

Happy Halloween! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yoga and School pt. 2 (For Yoga Supporters)

The old saying goes, "You know you created God in your own image if God hates all the same people that you hate". The principle is the same for the non-religious or the indifferent. It is easy to tolerate people who think like you but when we get angry when others' beliefs oppose our own, we are imposing our world view on another.

The people of Encinitas (and all those outside the city sharing their two cents) need to keep the previous principle in mind when discussing the issue of yoga in the public schools. My previous post gave a challenge to the faith communities that oppose yoga's insertion into the curriculum so out of fairness, the following are some thoughts for those who support yoga in the schools

1) Be understanding. Thirty years ago my wife's first grade class had a Christmas party (please don't do the math to determine her age). She still remembers two classmates who waited in the office during the party because they didn't celebrate Christmas. She remembers how all the students were aware of this and wonders how this must have felt for those two children who did not participate.

Times have changed and we now have "winter parties", but the same principle applies and we need to be sensitive of those faiths who are uncomfortable with yoga. Do we really want children sitting alone and missing out on Physical Education because their family does not want interaction with practices that are associated with Hinduism? No alternative to yoga currently exists for these children so they are asked to sit alone during the yoga class thus putting children in awkward situations.

2) Be tolerant. A logical fallacy is inherent in the statement, "You are being intolerant" so let's think this one through. It is usually only Christians who get the privilege of being labeled intolerant but this time we need to turn this around. Understand that faith is the most important thing in many people's lives. Please respect religious convictions that say things like, "we will not eat meat and dairy together" or, "we will fast from sun up until sundown during holy days", or "we will not practice exercises associated with spiritual expressions of another religion". There are plenty of religious convictions in the world that I do not share but as long as those convictions do not bring harm on other people I can respect them.

For many of us with Christian or Jewish faith, we believe that the earthly and spiritual worlds are interwoven. We believe that there is a spiritual side of life and our Scriptures prohibit us from opening up to "other gods". EUSD does not want meditation in the classroom to become spiritual but for some faiths, all meditation has a spiritual element and those who do not share this conviction should respect that some do. By labeling Christians, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and whoever else protests, "intolerant",  you are guilty of your own intolerant preferences.

3) Don't let this ruin friendships. I have lived in a country where my faith was not accepted and where my children were isolated for their beliefs. If you haven't experienced it, you can't imagine the pain a parent feels to see their kids suffer from bigotry. I watched my children jump on the same merry-go-round as children of a different faith only to see the parents rush over and take their kids away from mine. My heart broke one day when my son asked to dress like kids from a different faith so that he "would be allowed to have friends at the playground".

Please do not let this issue become a point of division among free Americans. When you gossip about parents who oppose yoga and belittle people who have convictions that compel them to obstain from the program, you are contributing to the larger problem of hatred, bullying, and bigotry (yes, this point applies to both sides). Agree to disagree but don't let that affect your play dates and your involvement with every other aspect of education.

4) Find the common ground. We all want the same thing so you should want the non-yoga kids to be just as healthy as the yoga kids. Be an advocate for options. We don't have to kill the wellness program and all the other benefits such as the garden and healthy food programs. We don't even have to kill the yoga portion, simply provide options that don't force discrimination. Signing petitions to remove or keep the program, or calling for suits and counter-suits is taking away from all the great things our schools do for our children and from all the energy that we should be investing on campuses.

5) Be intelligent. I know that religious people historically like to argue from passion and not logic, but it goes both ways. One comment on the blogosphere (I know... not always the greatest source for intelligence) said, "How can a parent oppose yoga at the same school that has a 'good news club'?"

That comment is a bit like criticizing someone who cheers for the Chargers but who doesn't like Hockey. The "Good News Club" is an after school optional club that is constitutionally supported and therefore is not related to someone's opposition to core curriculum in the school.

Other comments criticizing parents who object to yoga are, "Next you will pull your kids out of Karate", or "Next you will say serving Salisbury Steak... is promoting Germanic values" (Salisbury Steak is an American invention named after James Salisbury but that is not the point- editor's note) Other comments include, "I suppose now they will oppose teaching Spanish" and finally, "We should get rid of Christmas vacation because it promotes Christianity" (again I must pitch in... we no longer have Christmas break, it is "winter break" and kids are forbidden to give Chanukah or Christmas cards to one another. And what child or parent wants to get rid of winter break?). 

The point is, don't argue your case un-intelligently or people like me will side against you on principle alone. Compare "apples to apples" and try to attack arguments, not people or religious beliefs.

My final word for everyone. 
Focus on the 98% of the school week where EUSD is as good as any other district in the nation. Be proud of what we have and work together to put our efforts into future generations. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Christians, Yoga, and Schools

The Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) has made the national news by adding Yoga into their curriculum in an effort to support wholeness and health for our K-6th grade students.

This has created controversy with parents who are uncomfortable with Jois Yoga instructors entering our schools and teaching students elements of a yoga routine. Though the district has complete control over this curriculum and is working to ensure no spiritual elements are included, the ties to the Hindu religion by this specific yoga foundation are causing waves.

Some of you reading this are outraged that a school district would bring yoga to the schools, some will applaud the district for their efforts, and others are probably asking, "Why is this an issue at all?"

Though I am uncomfortable with some of the elements that have been included thus far in the yoga instruction, I believe it is important for Christian families to approach this issue with the heart of God that is concerned about all people.

The following are some suggestions that I urge the Christian community to consider:

1) Don't assume. It is naive to think that the school board or Dr. Timothy Baird (the Superintendent) are secretly trying to bring Hinduism into our schools. This district is known for innovation and excellence and it desires to lead in the area of elementary education. I have personally dialogued with Dr. Baird and know his desire is to find ways to create healthy, successful children. This is not a ploy by the district to expose children to Hinduism so we should approach the district assuming the best.

2) Find Common Ground. The EUSD wants our children to excel in all areas of life (socially, academically, and physically). This is what parents desire as well. I am thrilled that my children are in a district that innovates and experiments with new theories and new technology. I love that every student in the elementary schools use iPads for their school work. I love that they do not assign "busy work" as homework. I love that our schools have gardens where our children have the opportunity to do physical labor and then eat the food that is produced. I love that my children are able to obtain a bi-lingual education because the district offers a dual language immersion program. I love that the teachers and administrators that I have encountered actually like their schools and their students. Christians should approach the district offering assistance knowing that we all are working towards the same goals.

3) Be Involved. Let the district know that you are willing to help wherever there are needs. If you are concerned about who might be influencing your children, make sure you are involved and being an influence. Remember that you are on a public campus so this does not mean influencing by teaching your beliefs, but influencing by living your beliefs. Jesus doesn't need you to defend him, he needs you to represent him. If your Bible is the same as mine, you will see that Jesus accepted everyone, offered love to everyone, and even rolled up his sleeves and served everyone. Maybe you can volunteer to help in the Yoga class (I know.... a bit too much, too fast. Just take some baby steps).

Being involved also means being involved in your children's life of faith. Discuss what they are learning. Ask questions, and talk about the elements of Yoga that differ from your faith. Sooner or later they will face views contrary to your faith so create an environment where they can process differences in a healthy way. In doing this you will also have to trust that God is big enough to protect your kids' spiritual lives.

 4) Pray. It is absolutely essential that parents pray for their own children and all the people involved in their education. Pray for the Board, for the Superintendent and his staff, for the principals, and for the teachers. These people are not your enemies and even if they are you are called to pray for them as well. The great thing about prayer is that it usually opens your heart to the people you pray for and you will be able to approach them with compassion and understanding.

I suspect we will hear more about this issue in the weeks to come and I hope it is because our community serves as an example of how people with different perspectives learned to work together for the good of the whole city. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Forcing Fall

I love this time of year when the colors on the trees come alive and the cold northern air pushes the last remaining signs of summer away for a long winter break. I love the sounds of football games and the smells of leaves as they fall from the trees declaring that it is time for a wardrobe change.

I also love the succession of holidays that we celebrate in America that crescendo with Christmas and encore with New Year Day.  Every month we have at least one celebration that serve as mile-markers on the road of old memories of childhood and new memories we create with our own kids.

Sometimes the California weather doesn't cooperate in sharing the tangible signs of the season. This year in San Diego we have had one of the hottest Autumns on record so instead of warming up with a book and some spiced cider, I have been cooling off with a daily surf session. (I know you are feeling great heartache over this difficult problem I am dealing with but don't worry, I will endure).

The solution to dealing with the recalcitrant weather is to force the season and pretend that Fall is here.

So yesterday we headed off to a local farm for our annual pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch. Though our boys are getting older and at least one of them is beginning to question whether he should still be participating in this ritual, we forced them into the car, endured the half hour of fighting that came with the drive, and made them pose for photos that make their mother very happy.

The truth is that the family had a great time (though we did need to cool off with some ice cream). It confirms that keeping traditions even as the boys grow older is a fight worth fighting for. Even when they think they can convince us that they are too old for these holidays we know that this isn't the truth because my wife and I are not too old. My guess is that like most things, they will look back with memories much more positive than what they let on.

Besides, without a stroll through the pumpkin patch we may not be able to convince San Diego that Fall is here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#Binders of Women

Last night at our second presidential debate the challenger Mitt Romney once again appeared disconnected with his comments about fighting for equal pay for women. Overall he mostly held his own but this morning one issue is all that people are speaking about. 

When asked about how he would help equally qualified women receive pay equal to that of men he floundered, looking for a response. He said when he was Governor of Massachusetts his staff struggled to initially find any qualified women for cabinet positions. He then said he told his staff to find some women to interview so they brought him a "binder full of women". 
As parents, we teach our boys that having a "binder full of women" is not respectful thing to do and that it actually promotes inequality by objectifying women. We even have software on computers to prevent our boys from creating virtual "binders full of women". 

Or maybe he was referring to some other type of binder... either way, Mitt probably lost some women's votes with that story. At least the "boys" at the country club can relate. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

#What Frozen Toys Teach Us

This morning I noticed our freezer door was slightly open so naturally I looked inside to see why it was not fully closed. I discovered that there was a large bowl of dragons frozen in ice. 
For those of you with one or no children you might think this is an odd thing to discover. For those of us with three boys this is a perfectly natural occurrence. 

My wife and I are long passed the stage where we need to ask silly questions such as, "Why is there a large bowl of dragons in the freezer?" After 12 years of practice, we now know that the obvious answer is because, "you can't make ice in the refrigerator". 

The world of a child does not worry about the underlying question parents mean to ask which is, "Why are you freezing your dragons?" They do not need to worry about the question because that question is built on the false premise that assumes there are parameters on imagination and play. 

The silly question about the reasoning behind dragon freezing is usually asked by the same parents who say things like, "Why is the dog hand-cuffed to the stairs", or "Why did you draw tiger stripes all over your body", or even the fatuous question, "Why are you naked and jumping on the trampoline ?" 

Living in a house with three boys reminds us that asking questions that suggest disapproval is a subtle way of teaching our children to conform. Children are naturally filled with wonder and the desire for adventure. Left on their own they will see the world as it is meant to be seen. That is a world where possibilities are endless and where new ways of doing things are waiting to be explored. It is a world where broken computer parts become robots and where rocks dug up in the backyard become evidence of an ancient burial ground. 

It has been a process for me, but now when I see a bowl full of frozen dragons I am learning to say, "Why didn't I think of that?" 

I want to see this world in all of the wonder that the Creator intended. I want to honor God by still being impressed with the millions of stars in the sky and the millions of different people in the world. I want to recognize that I still have a lot to learn from all of the people that I interact with each day. People like my creative and observant wife, my experienced and seasoned boss, and my sometimes wild but always fun children. 

Life certainly is too interesting to think that there is only one way to play with a dragon or that there is nothing new to discover. So here's to all the kids who teach us to keep dreaming and to keep looking for new adventure. 

Now please excuse me, it seems that the 5- year old has his head stuck in the railing of the stairs. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How to Win the Nobel Peace Prize

This year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union for its work in bringing peace to a continent that was the center of two world wars. The award recognized the work of the Union that has former enemies living in peace... relative peace.

I don't want to appear cynical because I really am impressed that this continent hasn't been the center of a world war for over 60 years. I am also impressed on how it successfully created peace between its member state Turkey and Cyprus (okay it hasn't done that yet). Also don't forget how the European Union stepped in to help the former Yugoslavia Republic peaceably divide into new independent countries (I guess it didn't do that either). But it has managed to prevent itself from imploding during the financial crisis of the past few years. 

In fact, the real reason they were awarded this prize is to help manipulate the EU into maintaining peace during their crisis. As the award was announced the Chairman of the committee said, 

"This year we saw that the prize could be important in giving a message to the European public of how important it is to secure what they have achieved on this continent."
In other words, "We gave you this award so that you will behave". 

The pattern of giving the award to will some sort of outcome is the new pattern of this committee. Remember that Barak Obama won the award in 2009 for the work he did in.... um... well that is not the point. 

At least the award made sense when Al Gore received it in 2007 because he said, "The world is getting warmer and ice is melting". 

A little more reasonable is giving of the award to the United Nations in 2001 for their work in "creating a more peaceful world". My history is fuzzy but I guess 2001 was a year we saw the UN create peace across the globe... except in Palestine, India, Congo, Sierra Lione, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Angola, Odessia, Somalia, Liberia, Nepal, Serbia, and Chad. 

The award is now simply a symbol of what we hope will be done rather than an award for what has been done. It weakens the award and dimishes the real recipients such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. 

If the award is for what we hope for perhaps we can give it to Iranian President Ahmadinejad

or North Korea's Kim Jong-il in hopes that they will not do something stupid in the future.

Maybe we can give to Obama again in hopes that he will actually bring America together 

instead of pushing us apart. With this new criteria of awarding possibility and not results, the 

sky's the limit!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Attraction of Being an Idiot

A few years ago God's favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, made an unlikely comeback in the playoffs and went on the win the World Series. The exciting thing about that team was the way they won and interacted with one another. It was that year that they dubbed themselves, "The Idiots".  Their reasoning was that they were just a bunch of idiots out having fun and no one could stop them.

Yesterday two different baseball playoff games ended in dramatic fashion with "walk-off" hits for the home team. If you ignore the fact that it takes 2 1/2 hours of rather uneventful plays to reach the drama of a final inning of a baseball playoff game, you will be pressed to argue that any other sport brings such a concentrated moment of excitement. But this is not the point.

The two separate teams that won yesterday demonstrated a contrast in style. On one hand we saw the New York Yankees come from behind and win the game with a home run in the 12th. The fact that Raul Ibanez also hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game made this moment unbelievable but it was for a team that has seen its share of drama and is no stranger to "playoff magic". The players are experienced and most expect this sort of thing to happen for them.

The other team was the Oakland A's. A team of misfits in the sense that there are no superstars or big named players. They are always a bit loose and look like little kids playing a game they love. One might say they were a bunch of "idiots" having fun.

They were losing by 2 runs in the bottom of the ninth and a loss would end their season. Somehow they managed to tie the game and then win it with a hit by, not surprising, a former Red Sox named Cocoa Crisp (yes, his real name).

Watch these two plays here

In watching the ends of these two games you will see excitement from fans and tons of emotion from the players. The difference is that the Yankees' response was joyous, yet measured. They know they have more work to do and for them this is business as usual. For the idiot A's, the filter was off. The players raced onto the field as if they were already the champions. In the dugout after the game, the A's were blaring music and dancing around the clubhouse... idiots.

For me. the A's and the Red Sox of 2004, we see the attraction of reckless abandonment. We see the value of being passionate without concern for appearing dignified. In life we are attracted to those who's convictions cause them to live passionately and sometimes recklessly.

I believe it is the image of God in us that still remembers the spark inside that is fueled by passion and adventure. It is a spark that glows when staring down a giant, walking through a parted sea, or beginning a revolution in the name of Jesus. This is a spark that we too often stomp out and leave dormant in us but one that flares when we experience a life of faith that God intends.

I am not an A's fan but I am a fan of passionate people. I will pull for these idiots and hope to see more magic, but even more, I pray that I can sense the wonder and passion in my faith. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

What Obama Should've Learned in Kindergarten

There is a strong consensus that Mitt Romney surprisingly dominated this week's presidential debate. The effect this small victory will have for Romney remains to be seen but one effect that is most disturbing is in the response of Obama in the day following the debate.

With all of the pundits signalling a clear victory for Romney, Obama's team presumably worked through the night writing "one liner" responses to try to erase the embarrassment from the night before.

On Thursday morning Obama gave a steady dose of comments mocking Mitt Romney and questioning the identity of the "spirited person claiming to be Mitt Romney". What Obama was really doing was turning to name calling and excuse making in an attempt to alleviate the pain of the first debate loss.

This of course is exactly what we teach our children to never do. In sports, and in life, you will face tough competition and at times you will get dominated by another's performance. So we teach our children to be humble winners and gracious losers. Perhaps the biggest sign of a true champion is to say, "last night my opponent outplayed me and was the winner". You can then follow it up with, "Next time I am confident the outcome will be different".

The weak response of our President is a part of the political game that asks candidates to appear powerful and free from any weaknesses. There is an unspoken mistruth that causes leaders to think that shortcomings undermine their authority and ability to lead. We see this truth applied in business, sports, and even in our churches.

The real truth is that recognizing the successes of others and admitting our own failures is a sign of strength. It brings a touch of humanity and it communicates that we are in this thing together. It demonstrates the ability to learn from the past and move forward with new knowledge and wisdom.

"Name calling" is the tactic of bullies and comes from a position of weakness. Just as Mrs. Johnson said in Kindergarten, "Name calling is what small people do to try to make others around them feel even smaller".

This latest presidential response shows us just how far off we are in our  Democracy where the President is supposed to be a man or woman "of the people" and one who demonstrates the values we cherish in our country. If Obama truly is a "man of the people" he certainly isn't providing the example of the most basic behaviors that we expect from our children in Kindergarten. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

#Spiritual, But Not Religious

In CNN's recent post on their religion blog, Alan Miller discusses the popular idea of being, "Spiritual, but not religious". In the article he presents the idea that "spiritual but not religious" is a convenient way of reaping the potential benefits  of faith in the Divine without having to commit to any form of structure and accountability.

He writes, 
"Moreover, the spiritual but not religious reflect the "me" generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement.

The idea of sin has always been accompanied by the sense of what one could do to improve oneself and impact the world.

Yet the spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience "nice things" and "feel better." There is little of transformation here and nothing that points to any kind of project that can inspire or transform us."
In our culture where so many claim to "hate religion but love Jesus", are we just looking for ways to eat our spiritual cake and have it too?