Thursday, 31 March 2011

Toddler tantrums, Mum 'no's' best & the counter revolution of grace

Maybe you have managed to buck the trend & raise perfect children, but I suspect not? A quick browse through the chatrooms of Net Mums et al is enough to dispel the notion that our little cherubs are...well...cherubic in any sense of the word. If even the proud, brand name buggy pushing, hot house educating mums that frequent these sites are prepared to admit that little Harry & Chelsea still squirm & fight when they are shoved in their Prada car seats in the back of the 4x4, then it must be true - our children are not perfect - 'Get me a Nanny whilst I go back to work!'

It starts at the very beginning. The first word my children uttered was ‘No!’
They said it once & we smiled – then it came out over & over, usually in various embarrassing & inappropriate moments in the company of tutting adults who thought we ought to do better as parents!

Now they are older it’s the other way round, it feels like us saying no to them all the time.‘Mum, can I just.....NO!’ Before they've even finished the sentence, before the request is officially lodged, Mum just knows that it's a 'No!' Even if they manage to break her down, relentlessly pushing & nagging until they wring a 'We'll see....' out of her, they know in the cold light of day that 'We'll see' is just another form of words for 'No!'

The bible tells us in Titus 2 that grace has appeared on planet earth. This is grace for everyone,in & through the person of Jesus Christ who is full of grace & truth.
Not only has this grace brought us salvation – breaking the power of sin & fulfilling every perfection of the law – but this grace disciples us. Grace parents us, it teaches & instructs, it helps us to grow up out of fear & live securely as sons & daughters of God in the world. More than just setting us free, it shepherds us into the safety of right living – grace shapes our lives. Grace teaches us to say no!

Surely we don’t need to be taught to say no when we’ve been saying it from the earliest age? Saying 'no' is the one thing that we're rather good at, I thought we'd proved that?
Eileen Hayes, in her article for the BBC Health website puts it this way, 'Your toddler's constant use of the word "no" stems from a strong desire to be independent.' Unwittingly, Eileen has made a thoroughly theological point!
Actually, in saying 'no', we’ve inadvertently been saying ‘yes’ to something else from the very start of our lives – right from the beginning we've been setting ourselves up for a life of independence; Asserting our right to choose our own destiny, rebelling against any authority which threatens to stop us doing life our own way.

In this we mirror the original rebellion of Adam & Eve. Deceived by the temptation: ‘You can be like God, you can choose. He’s holding out on you, assert your independence.’ In the face of this siren onslaught Adam was disobedient – we are rightly called children of disobedience to this day. We’ve been saying ‘no’ to God & ‘yes’ to sinful choices ever since then. This grace which has appeared is the parent we've been looking for. It sets into motion a counter revolution, the rebels become the saints, we learn to say ‘no’ to sin & ‘yes’ to God – Grace reverses the curse!

Friday, 25 March 2011

How do you keep the music playing?

Our culture values outer beauty over inner character, youth over experience, the passionate moment of sex over sustained intimacy & friendship.
Books, movies, magazines, popular music – all preach this message boldly. It’s a cultural worldview which we've unthinkingly accepted without questioning the destination it takes us too. What happens when the music fades – where do we look for answers in a society which is running blindly up the wrong alley with it's fingers firmly in it's ears?

Marriage relationships are hard work. They don't just flourish on their own. There is so much pressure to contend with from the worldview expressed above, notwithstanding our own ability to blow it - in all the marriages we've explored in counselling, most pressures have been entirely self imposed. The joy of being together can so quickly turn to disappointment as reality bites. So many of your high Hollywood expectations will get crushed by gritty reality.

‘He’s not the man I thought he was’...... ‘He’s so chauvinistic, so self centred, so emotionally stunted’..... ‘He should have married his mother if that’s what he wanted!’
‘She’s so critical all the time, she never thinks about my’s all about the children now.....she’s really let herself go...’

Maybe for you it's not that kind of deep crisis. Perhaps you have just settled together into ‘same old, same old’ every day, week, month, year routines; Taking each other for granted in what have become boring, unadventurous lives.

Was that what we really set out for when we stood with such high hopes at the alter? Is it just a question of lowering the bar of our expectations & hoping not to be too disappointed? I for one was hoping for something a little more exhilarating than that! So - to quote George Benson at his finest - 'How do we keep the music playing, how do we make it last?'

There is a love, a covenant promise love which can begin to change us so utterly. This is a deeper love which overwhelms us & begins to set us free to love with the same generous, passionate abandonment with which we ourselves have been loved.

Where do we find such a unique kind of love? It is exclusively available to us in Jesus Christ, the one who loves us in the mess of our lives so much that He came to roll up his sleeves & redeem us. If we husbands are to love our wives as Christ loves the church – If you wives are to joyfully submit to such releasing, affirming Christ like love – then this kind of love in action would begin to change everything.

Maybe the hopes we once held which have been buried under life & all it's traumas can be rediscovered in the light of such a love? Maybe there is hope that we can break out of tired, settled or downright unhelpful habits in the face of such a relentless passion? Maybe there is an opportunity to leave our past hurts, our disappointments, & even the stronghold of our culture behind in the slipstream of such a forceful love?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Already my Book of the Year for 2011

Forget the rest, the polls are closed & the golden envelope is already being opened in March! I can't wait for the year end, I'm convinced I won't find a more arresting read this year.

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you, 'The case for working with your hands, or why office work is bad for us & fixing things feels good.' By Matthew Crawford. Any book which has 20 words in the title deserves something just for that alone.

In this little masterpiece, Crawford turns on it's head the accepted academic pursuits of knowledge based training leading to an inevitable university education, which in turn so often leads to a job at a desk in a cubicle. He yearns for a simpler life where the brain & the hands are engaged together in tasks which have meaning & coherence for our whole lives.

This is philosophy & economics on a grand scale, yet it touches the heart of everyone who has ever been asked the question 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'

Speaking as someone who still isn't entirely sure at the age of 39.5 what I want to one day be, & indeed whether I will even grow up, this book is huge neon signpost towards a more skilled & fulfilled way of living. It draws us into an idea of work which has genuine purpose, & helps us to find our place in our community. Importantly, it deconstructs the whole work/leisure split that most of us live under most of the time.

This is direct, in your face reading - a must for anyone who is thinking (or unthinkingly) sending a young adult to university in the near future. More than this - anyone who can site thinkers like Marx & Aristotle to support the degreasing of a motor cycle crank shaft deserves all the attention they can get!

Mark my words - this will still be book of the year come December!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Jif Lemon, dead religion & a trail all the way to Easter

Happy Jif Lemon Day - the official start of the Creme Egg Season! The climactic weekend of gorging ourselves stupid on our own body weight in chocolate is now only 40 days away, let the the countdown begin!

Nobody really understands Pancake Day anymore, apart from a few of our more religious friends who also happen to go to church the following day to have ash crosses painted on their foreheads. There is a huge disconnect today between our ancient festivals which used to mark the pattern of the year & our modern mindset.

Most of them we have happily buried in the past (I include the idea of having an ash cross daubed on my head) but some we have kept. Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday to the real aficionados, incredibly made the cut. When you consider that we have quietly disposed of maypoles & even harvest in our urban culture, it is amazing, downright extraordinary that millions will batter pancakes into submission around Britain tonight!

The truth is only 1 in 10 children under 16 believe in Jesus Christ. The recent survey from Exeter University sums it all up rather well. We are a post christian generation where even the christians don't understand the meaning behind their rituals. When 1/3 of Anglican priests have doubts about the resurrection, is it any wonder that we've ended up with dead religious festivals with no idea what they point towards? Who is going to tell the doubters & the unconvinced that this is an opportunity to prepare their hearts whilst they also prepare the batter mix? Who is going to let them know that our forefathers celebrated the life of a mysterious Godman over the Easter weekend way before we began importing the addictive cocoa bean?

For my money, we should embrace the festivals, make a song & dance of them again rather than push them to the sidelines. Wouldn't it be ironic if we could use a bit of old fashioned religion to bridge the gap between the truth & the least religious generation in history? If the boys & girls of Exeter are representative of their lost culture, then they are already so far adrift from the biblical worldview that we used to take for granted. That we might more readily engage such distant thinking through old religious festivals which help them join the dots may be just what they need. Like all emerging generations, they don't want us to tell them, they just need a trail to follow. It's our role to lay an enticing path all the way to Easter.