Why I Let My Daughter Wear Her Darth Vader Costume To Church

1560779_10151963918719613_1566983558_n

It was 4 o’clock. One hour to church. Our daughter is visiting her grandmother, so we call and ask if she wants to come to church or wants to stay longer. She wants to come to church.

Half an hour later, she comes home. As soon as she walks through the door she tells me she has something to show me. She tells me to go to the other room and asks her mother to come help her. Two minutes later she bursts through the door as Darth Vader. I laugh approvingly and tell her how cool she looks, reciting a line or two from the films. I take the photo above.

At this point, we only have a couple of minutes before we have to get into the car for church. I know my daughter. She wants to wear the Darth Vader costume to church. I don’t think that’s a good idea. So I break it to her gently. She freaks out. Falls on the floor crying, super grief mode. I try telling her that she can wear it after church. I try bribing her with candy. Nothing helps. In the end, we agree on a compromise: We’ll bring the costume to church, but in a bag. She won’t be wearing it as we walk in. I just hope she’ll forget about it and not put it on.

We arrive at church. She runs off with her friend and I get a moment to think.

After the service she comes for the bag. I let her take it upstairs where she puts on the costume. A minute later she enters, a look of pride and serious intent behind the mask. Just like I did at home, I tell her how cool she looks. I tell her how cool she is and I cheer her on.

As we walked to the car some ten minutes later, I looked at her, mask off now, but cape flying in the wind. She wasn’t giggling. This was no joke. As far as she was concerned, she was wearing the coolest clothes she owned. She loves Star Wars. It’s something she and I have together. Her mom isn’t a fan and her brother is 1. She is 5 and a massive fan, particularly of Padmé Amidala and Princess Leia. We’ve watched the films together several times (all except Episode 3, which is a bit too dark for her in my estimation). She plays Angry Birds Star Wars on the iPad. She has me print out Star Wars colouring pages all the time. We read the comic books together when she goes to bed. She really, really loves Star Wars.

I don’t believe in indulging your kids. I don’t think their every whim should be taken as ontologically significant. But good parents recognise when something is genuinely special and precious to their children, and they nurture that affection, encouraging it to grow in healthy ways. There were two things special and precious to my daughter that night: Star Wars, obviously, but also church. The fact that she wanted to bring the Darth Vader costume to church and to show it off there, says something about how she regards church. Remember how she wanted to go to church, all on her own? That’s special and precious. So is the sense of belonging, of trust and of genuinely positive relation that lies behind a wish to show off your best clothes to the people at church.

I think it’s somewhat important to wear nice clothes to church and we usually do. I wouldn’t approve of a grown man, for example, donning full Stormtrooper garb in church. It would feel disrespectful. But to me, facilitating the connection to church I could see in my daughter’s wish not only to be there, but also show off her cool new costume, is much more important than teaching my daughter a lesson about respectability. We can do that later. Right now, I want her to know and to feel that church is good. That church approves of her. That church loves her. Knowing that will help her through some dark times when she gets older. When she feels alienated by church, she’ll have this positive memory to hold on to. When other Christians treat her badly, she’ll remember the ones who treated her well. When she doubts her faith, the love and acceptance she felt from the Christians in her childhood will put intellectual questions in their right place in the larger context of loving God and loving neighbour. She’ll know what to look for in a church. And she’ll know how to be in church.

My number one duty as a Christian parent is to model the love of Christ in the lives of my children. To ensure that the love of Christ isn’t an abstract dogma, but something they’ve experienced tangibly and can put their finger on. I hope that’s what I did yesterday when I let my daughter wear her Darth Vader costume to church.

Advertisements
Standard

The Most Powerful Sermon I Ever Heard

…was delivered by my dad, pretty much impromptu, almost two years ago. I was the one scheduled to do the sermon that morning, though. But the night before, a leader in our church (a church I’ve left since) very aggressively attacked me for proposing some unorthodox outreach ideas. I was well on my way of completing the sermon manuscript when I left for the fateful meeting, but I just couldn’t continue when I returned. It was such a blow. It knocked the wind out of me completely. I tried to pick up the writing the next morning, but found it impossible. We lived with my parents at the time and they saw how hard a time I was having. So my dad asked if he should do the sermon instead. I was a bit embarrassed to let down the church, but very thankful and relieved for his offer.

The sermon itself started quite somewhat obscurely. Quotes from the Psalms and various places in the Old Testament about the faithfulness and love of God. Then it moved unto Jesus, if I remember it correctly, as the embodiment of God’s faithfulness and love. About halfway through, though, I got what my dad was doing. How can we say that we worship and follow God, when we are less than loving towards our own brothers and sisters in church? Subtly, yet with the authority hard-won after years of faithful full-time work, my dad was disciplining the church, and perhaps a certain few individuals within it, reminding all the congregation to be holy as God is holy, loving as he is loving. At this point I broke down and started crying. My dad was defending me, and encouraging me. Yet, that was the least of it. He drew upon deep wells within himself – his knowledge of the Bible, his intimacy with God, his personal experience with and of the church – and he spoke into the situation, singlehandedly reoriented the church unto or closer to the narrow path again. He was protecting me to a degree, but in actuality he was protecting the church itself.

I remember one line in particular, towards the end of the sermon. “It’s a tried and true fact that some of the most bitter opposition a servant of the Lord will face, will come from within the church.” His voice was emotional at this point, betraying painful experiences in his past, where he had been betrayed and ostracised by people trying to use him and his situation to demonstrate their own superiority and self-righteousness. Many years later, having come through these times of hardship and trial with his faith and dignity intact, he was seeing his son going through a measure of the same sort of thing. And he was seeing the church of his birth and long life, or at least certain members within, turning into the same sort of people who hung him out to dry. And he was not having it. The fatherly love of Christ demanded no less.

I cried for some 15-20 minutes as my dad was preaching. I must’ve looked like crap, puffy-eyed and face flushed red, walking up to the platform to play bass for the last hymn before the end of the service. But I felt deep gratitude for what my dad has done – and I thanked him, awkwardly, afterwards. Part of it was because I just needed it so damn much. But more than that, I was thankful to have witnessed what true holiness and spiritual authority looked like that morning.

Standard

In 2013 I Joined a New Church

Looking back on the year that is almost over, I think joining a new church was my most significant decision in regards to my faith.

There’s nothing wrong with my old church. I grew up in my old church. It was there that I was taught the Gospel, through words from the pulpit and through the exemplary lives of many of its members. I have deep roots and strong emotional ties there. It will always have a special place in my heart.

I didn’t leave because I was angry, bitter or disappointed, and I didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. There had been some problems, sure, but those were mainly of my own making. I’ve made some statements in the past and have publicly supported some stuff (evolution, alcohol, gay marriage, whatever) that understandably worried both the leadership and some congregants. I submitted to the authority of the leadership in an effort to show that I was not a troublemaker. And when that process was over, we were all in the clear. I have no hard feelings whatsoever towards my old church. In fact, I really miss it even though I am confident I made the right decision leaving it.

But it just wasn’t the church for me. Again, not because it was bad or did something wrong. It just wasn’t right for me and I wasn’t right for it.

I read Tim Keller’s Center Church at the time when I was thinking about the switch and that really helped me a lot. In the last couple of chapters he speaks about ecclesial movement dynamics and the differences between newer churches and older, more established churches. Older churches provide the stability, dependability and familiarity of tradition, newer churches are the ones that can experiment and try new things. Whereas older increase and decrease in size by exchanging members amongst themselves, newer church are better at reaching those who have never gone to church on a regular basis. New churches can also invigorate older churches, with new ways of doing things, but also new members who grow tired of the relative instability of a new church.

It was almost providential to read these words. It provided a way for me to see my decision not as a choice between good and bad churches, but between two kinds of churches, both essentially good, but one more fitting to my personal spiritual gifting than the other.

Changing churches is difficult in the Faroe Islands. It’s much more costly socially than in the U.K. or the U.S. This is a small community and it’s still quite traditional. In the Brethren Church especially, which is my background, changing denominations is taboo. There’s a lot of trauma there in the past, from when people originally split with the Lutheran church in the late 19th and early 20th century. Doing so cost our grandparents and great-grandparents a lot. Leaving the Brethren community for one of the Pentecostal or Charismatic churches is frowned upon. Leaving it for the Lutheran church, even more. As a result, lots of Brethren, who might be frustrated with spiritual inertia or unaddressed needs in their churches, find it easier to stop going to church altogether, rather than finding a more fitting, non-Brethren church for them. This has further repercussions, with churches having little or no incentive to improve and innovate because there isn’t any competition between them for members.

Which is to say that the decision to leave one Brethren church for another non-Brethren church was not one I took lightly. But reading Keller made the decision easier for me. It allowed me to zoom out, as it were, and see a larger context where every church, regardless of denomination, structure and worship style, played a role. And it allowed me to place myself into that bigger context and ask which church fit me best. Or, in more precise terms, through which church I could serve the Kingdom best with my particular spiritual skill-set. Socially it has been awkward in the last couple of months. Certainly. But seeing the bigger picture as Keller helped me do has provided a solid basis for my decision which has made the awkwardness much easier to live with. I’m am 100% convinced that were I to serve God fully (or as close to fully as is possible) in my old church, I would have ruined it. I’m too creative, too iconoclastic, too impatient with traditions, too dismissive with accepted categories and too forward-thinking for a church that has had close to a century to develop habits and attract members who find those habits deeply conducive to their spiritual welfare. But these are precisely the skills needed in my new church. A small church trying to reach new people in a town with several older and relatively successful churches. In market terms (which are the worst terms), the challenge is to find a niche and through creative means reach those who find what works unworkable. There are a lot of those people around. More now than ever, it seems.

Over the last few months I’ve noticed a subtle change inside somewhere. I’ve noticed myself becoming more excited about church. Many more of the ideas for events or sermons or projects that I come up with survive my filter compared to before. I’m not as scared as I was. I don’t censor myself as I did. I feel a deeper coherence between what I think the church should be doing and what my new church is actually doing. There’s more intimate fellowship, more honest and immediately relevant preaching, more focus on social justice, less preoccupation with denomination and church/world border disputes.

And that makes me really happy. It makes me really hopeful. I feel like I’m good for something. I feel like I can deliver more than 10%. For the first time in many years I actually wouldn’t hesitate to invite someone along for church.

Standard

Why Millenials Don’t Go To Church – But Really Should

I’ll just throw this out there in response to Rachel Held Evans, David Hayward, Alastair Roberts and other really thoughtful people that have a lot of worthwhile things to say. Here’s one, far from comprehensive, totally not fair and balanced, or even nuanced, angle that might be worth considering.

The one reason we millenials don’t go to church is because we’ve been encouraged – by our parents, by the media, by our music, by our films, by pretty much every single influence on our lives, all in deep accordance with our inner self-centeredness – to think that the universe revolves around us. Furthermore, we’ve been encouraged to think that anything that refuses to enter into this particular orbit should be blown to smithereens with an intergalactic death ray. We’ve been raised as narcissists. Our opinion matters most of all. We are beautiful and unique snowflakes. We want it our way, registered trademark. That’s why we can’t stand to go to church with people who disagree with us on gays, evolution or beer. They challenge our me-centric universe. They are threats and are to be treated as such.

So we stay away.

And that’s precisely why we shouldn’t. The very reason we don’t go to church is why we really should. Because there’s nothing like a building full of people who disagree with you to challenge your ego. There’s nothing like submitting to someone who clearly knows less you to teach you humility. There nothing like bad church music to teach you patience. I get – I really do – that there are boundaries to this. Churches can be genuinely toxic. Sometimes people are more than justified in staying away – millenials, too. Sometimes permanently, sometimes just for a while. But seriously. Maybe we need to get over ourselves and stop demanding that church be perfect and perfectly to our tastes, opinions and spiritual sensibilities in order for us to grace those pews with our butts.

Standard