This afternoon I saw my son, three years old, do the "dead man's float" at Wood Lake Nature Center. He was fully clothed. It was not on purpose.
That image is seared in my brain at the moment, because I remember nothing between that and being waist-deep in muck, hauling him out. We had been walking along the marsh for half an hour on a wide path and some boardwalk. Johann's favorite activity was to break off a dead piece of cattail or marsh grass and throw it in the water, as if he were expecting it to float downstream as it would in the creek. J kept doing it again and again, as if expecting a different result.
Somehow, he found the one place along the path where there was no railing, a steep drop-off to the water and nothing in the way. I was literally two steps and way and saw him lose his balance, but couldn't grab him. It was maybe three feet to the water's surface and another three-plus feet of water.
We're all fine. He didn't break his neck, hit his head, or harm any limbs. He didn't breathe or swallow enough marsh water to make him sick. It was warm enough that nobody got hypothermia walking back to the car. Johann did, however, get a little hysterical when I suggested he get in the warm bathtub to clean up (and this is a boy who LOVES baths).
We tried processing a bit verbally, but it's tough with a 3-year old.
"Did you lose your balance and fall in?" "What's my balance?"
There has been much rich conversation today about upcoming sabbaticals, sabbath, and pastoral ministry. My favorite definition so far, from David Wood, one of our co-facilitators: " A sabbatical is a time when all that has been 'background' to your ministry -- your own spiritual life, your family, the origins of your call, your passions -- is given time to be foreground, while the foreground of ministry -- the tasks of preaching and pastoral care and administration -- drop away for a time." Exactly.
On another, crankier note, I was reminded again how little we know about doing ministry in the era of co-parenting and new gender roles. Eugene Peterson is often held up as a model for how one can be in parish ministry while still doing serious reading and writing. Here's a man who served a congregation for 28 years, with only one sabbatical in the midst of it, and still wrote countless books. His secrets? Well, he clearly had a strong vision of the ministry of the laity and handed over many tasks to his members. But there's another thing -- he has a wife, one who clearly was happy to take the traditional role of pastor's wife and see that as a calling.
Well, I don't have a wife. I have an active father to my children, but definitely no wife, and not one eager to be an upfront pastor's spouse either (not that anyone at my congregation expects that of him). It's really hard for me not to be resentful of the many men in generations past -- and quite a few still today -- whose careers benefit from the fact that their spouses have willingly picked up the slack.
I have to constantly remind myself that our mission is together as a family, even though our work worlds tend to pit our careers against one another. Fortunately for Will and me, our passions and commitments are blessedly compatible, even when the reality of modern life makes us feel like we're competing for time.
I'm actually taking this Transfiguration Sunday off, in order to participate in the City of Lakes Loppet on Sunday. For me it's an annual glimpse of the kingdom, being able to SKI from the suburbs into Uptown! This year we might have a kid skiing with us instead of being hauled behind us. . .another milestone.
Those of you looking for a preaching image or two, I'll refer you back to my essay from last year at Journey with Jesus. Matthew's account is a little different, yes, but the larger image of the lights going on still holds true.
At ECLC, we're going to have a surprise transfiguration of a different kind. You'll just have to show up to see what it is.
The thing about having a toddler is that you teach them a few things just in the course of living, and -- look out -- you're stuck with it for good! It's true, of course, for those unguarded moments when you say something you wish you hadn't: "Where did he learn that word? Oh, yeah. From me."
But fortunately, it's also true of the better things. Johannes has become our family evangelist, both of his mother's vocation and his father's. As a one car family, we've slipped into the pattern that the "girls" go to church at the drack of cawn before the first service -- usually with the car. Johannes and Will follow later on the bus, which conveniently runs in a direct line from our block to church. It works out well because Johann LOVES the bus.
Now, once in a great while, my DH would prefer to, shall we say, worship according to the First Article of the creed. Or, maybe, celebrate Sabbath with a truly long nap. But Johann will not stand for it. Skip church! God forbid!
I'm not sure, to be honest, whether it's the bus ride or church he is really insisting on. But a) he gets his father to worship and b) once there, he tells anyone who listens that he RODE THE 6B BUS!! Good news all around!
this quarter featured a funny but ultimately unsatisfying piece by Moncia Crumback, who discovered
that her son’s grandparents were plotting a secret baptism. Mother and father
met at a Lutheran college and left that institution “a lot more liberal and a
lot less Lutheran.” (I understand that those two “l’s” don’t go together in
some people’s minds, but it irritates me that this sentence prompts no further
As a pastor, I have seen all too often how
grandparently zeal for “getting it done” can overhwhelm any meaningful
conversation in the family about what baptism means, or the parents' religious
intentions for their children. I applaud the Cumbacks' recognition that, given
their own lack of commitment to Christianity, they have no business baptizing a
child. We pastors really don’t want anyone to be put in the position of lying
to themselves, their family, or to God.
On the other hand, I find the author’s description of their
spiritual plans for their children less than honest. They will expose their
children to the stories of a variety of faiths, they say, and when their
children are grown “they can choose.” I have heard this approach defended many
a time, often from people who are equally clear that they would be appalled if
their child grew up to, say, drive a Hummer or join the Republican party.
Let’s be honest. To expose your child to a lot of “stories”
and “philosophies,” but no living community of faith or ritual practice, is to
instill in your child a quasi-religious philosophy, namely one of secular
skepticism. While it’s entirely possible that such children will grow to some
day commit themselves heart and soul to a traditional religious faith, they
would not be following in their parents’ footsteps as they do so – and odds are
good that such a conversion would cause family tension. Their children will
indeed choose, but their parents have made a clear bid for what they hope that
choice will be.
Religion, ultimately, is a very human endeavor, a bit like
language. I know some very committed interfaith families, but they work very
hard at teaching their children more than one language of faith – and that
includes interaction with community, holiday celebration, Scriptures, and
ritual practice like worship. It is the difference between raising a child
bilingually and saying you will expose them to a half-dozen languages and let
them pick one later on.
I appreciate the respect the church is granted when people
are honest to God. Let’s just be completely honest that non-belief is also passed
down to our children.
Back on the subject of Mary, Sara Miles has made a similar point to my earlier one about the virgin birth:
It is, of course, profoundly unsettling news: Mary doesn’t need a man
to have a baby. She isn’t going to follow worldly social norms. In
fact, she prophesies the overturning of the whole social order,
proclaiming that the lowly will be lifted up, the rich turned away
empty. She doesn’t ask permission of kings or family to step off the
precipice into unprecedented experience. Her proclamation that God is
at work in her body shows us, even before Jesus does, what it means to
truly submit––not to the world but to God.
I find it interesting that relative "outsider" women to the church -- adult converts like Sara Miles and Kathleen Norris, are the ones reminding American Christians that "submission" need not be a dirty word. I suppose it's partly a matter of experience; if you've spent your life in the secular culture of self-fulfillment and self-expression, submission to God sounds like a relief. If, on the other hand, you've been raised to equate submission to men with submission to God, the word would make an emerging feminist break out in hives. Either way, the point is to make a distinction between our ways and God's ways, as the Magnificat profoundly does.
Wanted: Congregation that refrains from holding evening meetings.
Talented, committed clergywoman seeks lively, left-leaning, Christ-centered congregation to serve. Have gifts in preaching, faith formation, theological reflection; have knowledge of emerging generations, wide variety of worship styles and child devlopment.Willing to commit considerable energies, passion and time, as long as it doesn't involve meetings during or after dinnertime and bedtime for small children, phone calls which interrupt story time, or breakfast meetings before the school bus arrives.
It's the night before St. Nicholas, so we'll be setting out the shoes by our kids' bedrooms tonight. My own mother used St. Nicholas as a way to "take the edge off" the gift anticipation that sets in this time of year. I'm not sure it's totally necessary in my children's case, since we have November and December birthdays in addition to Christmas. But our German roots call us, and it's great fun to have an excuse to buy a new Christmas book early in the month.
This year, I'm excited about a new book for the Feast of Stephen, Wenceslas. Our other book based on the popular carol has lovely illustrations and just the text of the carol. This one has lovely snowy illustrations but a re-telling of the story from the perspective of the page.
This time of year makes me so grateful to have children at home who still love to be read to.
I recently gave three new mothers I know a subscription to Brain, Child. One of them wrote back how glad she was to receive it, hoping that it will help her sort through all the conflicting advice that's out there on parenting these days. Here's what I replied
I should forewarn you
that Brain, Child is unlike any other parenting magazine I’ve seen. It’s probably better classified as a literary magazine written by mothers.
Except for a regular “pro-con” feature in which two people give their takes on
classic parenting debates, there’s no “how-to.” It’s mostly personal essays from
a broad spectrum of people who’ve been through everything you can imagine. .
.adoption, mental health issues, picking a sperm donor, and more. There’s lots of
good humor and a broad perspective on parenting as something all of society
should be concerned about -- and no side-taking in the stay-at-home vs. working
As time has gone on, I’ve come to realize that what I need as much as good
advice is a sense that a lot of people are struggling with the same issues and
care as deeply about parenting well as I do, even if they make different
decisions. This magazine helps me have that sense of community, even when I
don’t identify at all with the particular stances someone takes or issues they may be
I share this with you. blogosphere, because a magazine can't do everything. I'm convinced that parenthood is difficult in direct proportion to how isolated you are. I am so grateful to have both high tech and high touch community in my life: family, church, neighbors and good friends, far and wide.
My friend Jenell managed to find something useful to say about the program in homemaking that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist) is offering only to women. Not surprisingly, her blend of compassion and wit made it onto the LA Times Op Ed page. Go Jenell! Well said.