How and Why to Not Be Postmodern

metaphor for postmodernism

Recently I had coffee with one of my adult sons. I wanted to hear his insights about his spiritual development growing up. One unexpected comment came to light as he compared our family’s culture to that of a close friend’s. He observed that Mollie and I had modeled a faith that permeated all of life, and that our values reflected this. By contrast, for some people, faith is something added on, like an extra-curricular activity.

He said, “For you guys, a biblical worldview was like a pair of glasses through which you viewed everything. For my friend’s family it was more like a pair of binoculars that they would pick up now and then.”

This got me to thinking about postmodernism – the cultural state of society that distrusts the very idea of objective truth.

What is Postmodernity?
Philosopher and author Paul Copan describes postmodernity this way:

“French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard said that, simplifying to the extreme, postmodernism is suspension toward a metanarrative, which is a ‘world story’ that’s taken to be true for all people in all cultures and ends up oppressing people…”

So, postmodernity is a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are many horrific examples in history of people oppressing others over strongly held beliefs – both religious and secular – postmodernity seeks to solve the problem by getting rid of the notion of truth altogether. It’s like John Lennon’s song, Imagine. Copan continues:

“…When people are so certain that they’ve got the truth and believe their system explains everything, then people who disagree with them are on the outside. They end up in Auschwitz or the Soviet gulags. So instead of metanarratives, postmodernism emphasizes mini-narratives. In other words, each person has his or her own viewpoint or story.”

Postmodernity attempts to address a very real problem in the world. It’s true that there are many metanarratives, ideologies, worldviews, and religions in the world that are coercive. But in making all truth relative, postmodernity does the world the ultimate disservice if there is, in fact, an objective, loving Authority who has communicated a true story that includes all of us. Followers of Jesus should confidently and joyfully ignore postmodernism and instead, prove the life giving nature of the story and message of Jesus in our own lives and families.

“All Truth Claims are Wrong!”
Copan points out that the relativism that stems from a postmodern worldview is self-refuting. It simply doesn’t work as a worldview.

“…the relativist believes that relativism is true not just for him but for every person. He believes that relativism applies to the nonrelativist (‘true for you’), not just to himself (‘true for me’). The relativist finds himself in a bind if we ask him, ‘Is relativism absolutely true for everyone?’…There’s no reason to take seriously the claim that every belief is as good as every other belief, since this belief itself would be no better than any other.”

But having noted the self-contradictory nature of postmodernity, what about the problem of metanarratives being necessarily oppressive? Specifically, does the big picture presented in the Judeo-Christian scriptures necessarily marginalize those “on the outside”?

Self Righteous and Holier-Than-Thou?
I don’t buy that. The Bible specifically teaches that self-righteousness is not even possible (Ps 14; Ro 3:10-18.) Salvation is a gift from God and something none of us can claim to have earned (Ro 3:23,24; 6:23; Gal 2:15,16; 3:2-5; Eph 2:8,9; 3:7-9.)

From a biblical worldview Jesus is the only human being who could rightfully claim to be without sin, claim to be righteous in-and-of-Himself, and claim to be unerring in His knowledge of truth. Yet He was the perfect picture of love and inclusivity. His life was characterized by loving, healing , and reaching out to the marginalized: those on the fringe of respectable Jewish culture, women, lepers, the sexually unchaste, traitors, servants, children, Romans and other non-Jews, and so on. He typically did this even though it was inconvenient for Him and often got Him into trouble with His critics.

Not only His actions but also His teachings explicitly taught that following Him must mean reaching out to and welcoming the marginalized in a broken world. Several parables come to mind:
The parable of the Samaritan
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector
The parable of the prodigal son
The parable of the wedding feast and the uninvited guests
The parable of the widow’s offering
The story of the rich man and Lazarus

Rather than oppressing the marginalized, a biblical worldview acknowledges our common humanity. It roots human worth in the idea that all people bear the image of God, and yet it humbles human standing in the idea that all people “fall short of the glory of God’s ideal.” It is notable that two of the most combative personalities in the New Testament repeat the quote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.) Humility invalidates oppression and marginalization. A quote attributed to D T Niles rings true to me:

“A Christian witness is not like a rich man who has a lot of bread which he hands out to the poor beggars who have nothing. He is rather like one beggar who tells another beggar where he has found bread.”

A Bedtime Story
Accordingly, this all affects what we say to our children. As a young father it was my job and privilege to tuck my children in at bedtime. I would sing and pray with them each night. I remember a period of time when one of my boys was very troubled. He would tearfully express that he was a “bad boy.” Those are the words he used. He was probably 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was a bit taken aback by this because Mollie and I made a point of never telling our children that they were “bad,” even when correcting them.

He didn’t seem to be trying to confess a specific hidden offense that was troubling his conscience. Instead, he seemed to be expressing a recognition that there was something generally wrong within himself. I remember thinking carefully and prayerfully before answering him, because he expected an answer. Should I assure him that he wasn’t all that bad? Should I point out how he favorably compared to serial killers and drug dealers? This was my first impulse – to minimize his feelings and build up his self-esteem by pointing out all the things on the “good” side of his scale.

But a biblical worldview compelled me to say something different. Instead, I essentially agreed with him. And, holding him close in the dark, I sympathetically let him know that I was also “bad,” and so was every one else in the world; that what he was feeling was accurate. I explained that this is why God sent Jesus to us, because we all need a Savior. My son’s recognition of his brokenness was simply the first step toward the spiritual rebirth that Jesus offers to us all. Jesus promised to give us His Spirit to live inside of us, and after that we help each other to live a new life in that Spirit.

I’m certainly not recommending that we as parents teach our children that they are pure evil. The truth is more nuanced than that. I think the Bible’s description of the fallen human heart as “inclined” toward evil is helpful (Gen 8:21.) When I think of an incline, I notice it’s possible to roll a ball up an incline, but it takes deliberate effort. A ball naturally will roll down an incline. So it is with our hearts.

Speaking the Truth in Love
I assume there are those who would say it is appalling to say such things to a child. I imagine that a time may come when a secularist government will see fit to intervene in cases where parents teach such things. But truth is that which corresponds to the way things really are. What if a child is taught that he or she is naturally good and perfect? Where does that leave the child when he or she sees within himself or herself a tendency to lie, cheat, and hurt others? I contend that it leaves the child in a truly hopeless position.

The fact of human brokenness should never be used to shame or manipulate others. But neither does a biblical worldview indulge secularist, utopian, wishful thinking about the natural goodness of humanity. In fact, ironically this kind of thinking is actually dangerous when it comes to granting human beings governmental power over others.

I would like to hear about your experience as a child or a parent. How did you understand the state of the human heart? How was it communicated to you, and what effect did it have on you?

 

Dad Notes: You Are Having An Impact on Your Kids. Make It Count!

nuclear family 1967

Dad, me (center,) the sibs, and a stylish lamp – 1967

As a young man I never really dreamed of having kids, or even of getting married for that matter. I had been paying attention, and I rarely saw a marriage that looked like an enviable situation to me. I wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea, it’s just that I had a lot of other things that I wanted to do. Things that probably wouldn’t provide a reliable means to support a family. Things like being an artist.

Wow, how things changed. Mollie and I will celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary this fall, and our youngest of 5 children graduated high school 2 years ago. I now consider my relationship with my wife and kids to be far and away the best investment of my time, energy, and life that I could have made. I’m so glad we had 5 kids. I really could not have guessed how deeply fulfilling being a dad would be.

When my first son was born, literally when I first laid eyes on him, it was as though a switch got flipped. I embraced fatherhood with a passion. Building a solid marriage and family is hard work, but looking back on my own upbringing I could see that it was as important as any work there is.

Did I do things perfectly? Of course we all know the answer to that…

A bad dad story
Not that I need to prove I’m not perfect, but there was this one day when I took our (then) four kids with me to the grocery store to give mom a break.

We got out of the mini-van, and there was a stray shopping cart right next to the van. I strapped the baby in to the built in car seat, and told my kids I would give them a ride to the store entrance! I told my daughter to stand on the end of the cart and told her to hold on tight. I positioned a boy on either side of the cart and told them to hold on tight.

I told them to hold on tight, not because anything bad was going to happen, but because I was such an awesome and responsible dad.

I started pushing the shopping cart, now loaded down with small children. I remember being a little surprised at how heavy the cart was, and thinking that we were possibly going slightly too fast. But all of my kids were laughing and holding on tightly, and I could tell they were all thinking, “YAY! We have a FUN dad!!!” Plus I couldn’t really slow the cart down anyway. I noticed several people in the parking lot looking at me like I was an idiot, but I didn’t care because I was being awesome and they weren’t.

To my relief, we actually approached the store entrance without hitting any old people or getting backed into by a car. Unfortunately, just as we were slowing down and nearly out of danger, one of the boys decided to hop off the cart. This upset the delicate balance I had created and the cart began to tip. I was not strong enough to hold back the weight of the remaining 3 kids, and the shopping cart tipped completely over, right in front of the supermarket entrance.

There I was, red-faced on the ground with 3 screaming kids, including a baby who was (fortunately) strapped in, upside down in the shopping cart.

I remember being really glad my wife wasn’t there.

Embracing the fatherhood role
My dad was apparently smarter than me. I had a great dad and a very secure, I would even say uneventful, upbringing. No abuse, no feelings of non-acceptance, not even any big hurtful words or moments that I can remember. I took this for granted at the time. It simply fit with the way I thought a dad who claimed to follow Jesus should raise his kids. The love of my parents made the world make sense to me. I have now come to see how unusual my upbringing was.

It almost seems unfair just how much fathers impact the lives of their children. My adult children now lament that, even among their Christian friends, great dads seem to be rare. Many kids grow up warped by dads who were physically and/or emotionally absent, or abusive, or habitually angry, or control freaks, or unaccepting, or too proud to admit when they were wrong.

But there is an upside to how much impact a dad will inevitably have on his kids. The upside is that we can consciously choose to influence our kids for good. We can ask God the Father to give us the heart of a father – the kind of heart that He had in mind when He created the fatherhood role.

As a young parent, my dad’s example was always in the back of my mind, like a north star that I could navigate by when I was unsure of what to do. I think it gave me an added measure of confidence and peace in my parenting as well. But even if your upbringing was troubled, you can still learn from your parents’ mistakes, as our own kids will certainly learn from ours.

May this day inspire you to renew your mind and renew your commitment to be a great father to your children. No one else can do this as well as you.

“…For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:8-10.)

A Fun Craft Idea That You & Your Kids Can Make For Your Spouse

arts crafts gift ideas for children

Tiny items on these frames include small erasers, buttons, fake pearls, sea shells, Barbie shoes, beads,  hair barrettes, various game pieces, and a couple of pictures cut out of cereal boxes…

I’m sending this out early enough so that you and your kids can get this done before Mothers’ Day. Or Fathers’ Day. It’s a simple idea, easy to do, and yet the final result is something that will bring a smile to your spouse’s face for years to come.

The end result is a functional picture frame that reflects your child’s unique personality.

When my kids and I made the frames pictured here, my grand scheme was to make a frame with a different kid each year. Their frames still hang in our bedroom. The idea was inspired by looking at a lot of “found object” artwork while I was working as an artist at Hallmark Cards Inc. years ago.

The idea is to completely encrust a bare frame with small found objects of your child’s choosing. I did not disallow created objects, but the overall effect was to end up with a found object piece. One of my kids created a tiny drawing to put on her frame. Some combined objects. One cut up tiny pieces of felt to fill in so that no white spaces showed through on his frame

Your child’s personality will come through in the objects they choose. My oldest son was big into nature, so his frame reflects this, including turquoise-colored aquarium rocks, acorns, and a rubber insect. (Fittingly, his photo features him with his butterfly net.) His younger brother was more into playing with the process and finding things on the street, (which we washed.) My oldest daughter was a girly-girl and wanted lots of pink items and cute things. Even with the differences though, the frames still all look great on the wall together because they all share a similar aesthetic.

There is not much to say about the process. We used Elmer’s glue to attach the items to the frames. I cut my frames out of Foam Core board, but you could use a simple purchased frame. With my last 2 kids I switched from white Foam Core to black Foam Core (below,) since the black isn’t as distracting if the board shows through. My plan was to clear coat the finished encrusted frame to protect the items and to help keep them from falling off over time, (which I will still probably do, perhaps when I retire.) I mounted black and white photos in our frames because the frames themselves were so colorful, I thought black and white photos would stand out better, but that’s just me.

Craft and gift ideas for kids to create

Tiny items on these frames include small toys, pieces from a broken Mouse Trap game, a reflector from a bicycle pedal, costume jewelry, old computer key pad buttons, and Grandpa Walker’s campaign button (which would have otherwise disappeared into oblivion) These two siblings obviously influenced each other…

Below are the dimensions I used for my frames. Of course, you can make yours larger, but if you make a two foot long frame it may take the rest of your kid’s childhood to cover it with small objects!

Found object frame schematic

If you and your spouse share this email and you decide you want to do this, you might want to ask him or her not to read this so as not to spoil the surprise. If you decide to make frames with your kids, I’d love to see the result! Send me a photo of your finished product and I’ll post it on my Big Picture Publishing Facebook page.

Have fun, and happy crafting!

Raising Kids Who Have Strong Values but Aren’t Bossy

parenting bossiness strong values

Does this ring a bell? This was a frequent issue for Mollie and me. We are both artists and, I would say, intentionally on the non-legalistic end of the spectrum of conservative evangelical culture. But somehow we produced a couple of children with an overdeveloped sense of how everyone else should behave.

One child in particular seemed to feel he should be the Jiminy Cricket of the whole family. (And, perhaps the neighborhood, church, and world.) The issue came up with the other four as well, just not on a daily basis.

Of course, I was pleased to see that this child had a strong sense of right and wrong. He was also very bright, articulate, and overconfident. To compound his situation further, he was the second oldest, and his older brother had a disability. You can imagine how sorely tempted he was to constantly “help” those around him. Especially given that he had a younger brother who was apparently born without a conscience, (but that’s probably a story for another time.)

I’m guessing you’ve seen this in your own kids, or in other “church kids” as well. They’re good kids, but they’re kids, so of course they’re still finding balance. This tension is understandable because we’ve been teaching them that there is such a thing as right and wrong. We don’t want them to believe that “everything is relative.” We don’t buy into the idea that “you have your truth and I have mine.” We want our kids to grasp the idea of an objective Creator who has created a world where objective right and wrong, and truth exist.

So how do we raise them to not come off as judgmental little twerps, yet without undermining their developing worldview?

Here are four ideas that we consciously employed. We don’t have all the answers, so please feel free to contribute your helpful thoughts in the combox below.

1) Unsolicited help and advice is usually unwelcome
If a person doesn’t want your help, your help will not be accepted as help.”
We had to emphasize this about a million times with our kids. A couple of them seemed genuinely amazed that their interventions were not always welcome. After all, if one person is right and another person is wrong, the wrong person will surely want to know about it. Right?! This turned out to be at the root of a large percentage of sibling squabbles in our home.

This also happens to be one of those principles that continues to serve us all well in adulthood.

2) Authority roles
I think it’s worth explaining things to kids that we as adults have come to take for granted. Authority roles is a big one. The Bible teaches that God has instituted 3 spheres of life with clear authority roles: the state, the church, and the family. Gently but clearly, I would often explicitly spell out to a child, usually in the presence of the others, something like this:
“(Child’s name,) did you notice that your mom and I are sitting right here, and we did not correct your sister/brother? I don’t want you to correct her/him either. You are not the dad/mom. You have no authority over your sister/brother.”

Sometimes we had to remind them that they were not police officers either.

3) Family identity
Your family has an identity and a collective “self-image” that each family member shares. When our children are small, they accept this identity to the extent that they understand it. We sometimes felt it necessary to differentiate our family from many of those around us. Not for the sake of creating division or ill will, but because there was a lot of bad stuff going on around us, and we parents weren’t necessarily doing anything about it.

I should explain that we lived in an inner city neighborhood where there was a lot to criticize, even from a child’s perspective: lots of family dysfunction, lying, stealing, swearing, smoking, meanness, fighting, substance abuse, cruelty, vandalism, litter, and so on.

Our stated explanation of our identity would go something like this:
“Our family loves and follows Jesus. Many other families don’t. This is sad for them, but we can’t make them follow Jesus. The best way for us to help them is to be kind to them, and let them see how great Jesus is, not to always be telling them what they are doing wrong.”

Within the church it can be a bit trickier, since we are all professing Jesus:
“Their family is also trying to follow Jesus, but they understand that a little differently than we do. We’re all trying to follow Jesus, so we trust each other. We trust that we’re all trying our best. As a kid, God wants you to obey your mom and dad. That’s your job right now. When you have your own family someday you can do things differently.”

4) Parental example
I believe this may be the most important for the long term. I think a contradictory parental example can undo a lot of good instruction. So Mollie and I tried not to “boss around” each other or our adult friends. Even with our kids, when it was appropriate we would ask them if they would like help when we could see that they needed help. If the answer was no, and the situation wasn’t life threatening to anyone, we would wait until they were ready to receive help. We didn’t want to leave them with the impression that being in authority means you get to boss people around. (Not that there isn’t a place for this in parenting, of course.)

As an older, wiser friend of mine used to say, “More is caught than is taught.”

Part of our privilege as parents is to help our kids navigate life more effectively than they would without our wisdom. May God give you grace as you help your kids reach a place of balance!

 

Guaranteeing Family-Time in the Midst of Busyness

Sabbath-keepingI admit that I might be a work-a-holic, just a wee bit.

Perhaps this is partly because my work tends to be enjoyable and meaningful, and partly because I’ve rarely made enough income for our large family. Or maybe it’s just the way I am wired. I don’t really know.

At any rate, my wife once had a come-to-Jesus talk with me about this that proved to be a turning point for our marriage and family. Had she not called me out, I think I would’ve been too oblivious to make needed changes. After all, my time-sucking pursuits were good, and so were my intentions. I wouldn’t have guessed how important an intentional “work-free” day would turn out to be for all of us.

What started out as an experiment turned out to be a practice on which we have never looked back. In fact all five of our kids came to think of our practice of Sabbath-keeping as an expectation. My wife and I now consider it to be a weekly blessing that we wouldn’t want to do without.

Since it’s the beginning of a busy new school year for many of us, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my story, and hear from others on what works for them.

Before our experiment, here is how my life went: I worked full-time at as a Hallmark artist, and also did free-lance illustration work on the side. I also created a monthly comic strip for an alternative, conservative, free newspaper. Nights and weekends were a chance for me to work on my on-the-side stuff. So, on weekends, I would look around the house, and if everyone seemed to be occupied, and no kids were crying or poopy, I would tend to sneak off to my drawing board and get some work done.

Eventually my exasperated wife would come looking for me, usually holding a kid or two. She felt abandoned. We searched for a solution. We had already been toying with the idea of observing a formal Sabbath, but I had pretty much balked at the idea because I was too busy. (What a waste of time. A whole day – shot!) But I remember Mollie telling me, “If I knew I would get you for a full day on Sunday, I think I could live with you working the other six days.”

We decided to try it for one month. Sundays would be solely dedicated to church and family, and I wouldn’t do any paid work at all. Even if no one was poopy, I would be fully present and focused on Mollie and the kids. That was something like 20 years ago. Looking back, I shudder to think of what I almost missed.

Our Sabbath has taken various forms over the years. Mollie and I are interested in the Hebrew Roots of our faith, so for a time we observed a traditional Jewish Sabbath as best we could, complete with the lighting of candles at sunset, challah bread, and citing a blessing over each child over dinner, (which my kids thought was weird.) At other times we tried formal family devotions on our Sabbath. But mostly, our Sabbaths have been very unstructured, with the focus being on taking a rest from work, eating together, and, at some point, doing something together as a whole family, usually playing games.

We have tried to not be religious and legalistic about this. As our kids grew older, sometimes they would have homework that had to be done, or there would be a birthday party or a meeting that had to be attended. But for the most part, our kids’ friends knew not to ask our kids to get together on Sunday because that was our family day. Eventually, our kids didn’t even mind that their friends thought our family was weird because they were having too much fun with us.

At times we had fight to keep our Sabbath set apart. We’d make an occasional exception, but we had to say “no” even to some good things. Once, our church’s youth group leadership was considering moving youth group meeting day to Sunday. We felt we had no choice but to decline participation should that change be made. Our Sabbath had become a non-negotiable priority. One parent argued that Sunday youth group could count as our family time, but I knew the dynamic would be different. Fortunately the change was never made made.

Today all but one of our five children have left home, but they are closer now to each other, and to Mollie and I, than ever. We attribute this partly to regular, face-to-face time every week. Now that two of our kids are married, some of them decided that we should all get together every other Sunday; whoever can make it. On the off Sundays Mollie and I still observe a Sabbath, and we sometimes use this time to get together with people that we want to “get together with sometime.”

We believe that life is about relationships, and our Sabbath observance has become a practical application of this. (Though honestly, sometimes we’re too exhausted to entertain people.)

For those who may be wondering about my loss in productivity, I believe that observing a Sabbath has actually made me more productive, because I’m not burnt out, and I hit the ground running on Mondays. But even if it hasn’t made me more productive, if I could have all the money I lost because of keeping a Sabbath, I wouldn’t trade it for the wealth of relationship I have today with my family.

If you find yourself frazzled and frustrated by an overfull schedule, why not try keeping a weekly Sabbath for one month, just to see what good might come of it? I’d also love to hear your stories of how you ensure regular family time.

 

My latest book, Bear Island, reinforces family-time and our need for loving relationship. CLICK HERE for easy ordering!