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

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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.

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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.

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One Thing Love Is

One day, my 5-year old daughter wanted to go visit her friend a few houses over. I don’t know what it was, but at the time she didn’t want to walk the 50 metre distance herself – and I, responsible parent that I am, not wanting her to develop unsustainable dependencies, didn’t want to walk her. So we reached a compromise: I would watch her from the door as she walked.

As she was walking, I became aware of her, attentive to her physical presence and movement on a deeper level than usual. And all I could feel was love. I felt protective, but happy for her young independence. I felt proud of her skills and abilities, both physical and mental, as she walked to play with her friend. Do you know how complicated that is, neurologically and physiologically? She looks like me. And she’s got my walk. Yet, she’s her own person. Every day she becomes that person more and more. It struck me, standing in the doorway that day, just how amazing that is. And just how much I love her.

I think that’s part of what love fundamentally is: Delighting in the plain and simple being of the one you love.

That’s why we spend hours of the phone with our crushes. Why we can spend ages simply looking at our kids sleep. Why it’s not awkward to sit in silence eating with our spouses. Why it hurts so much to lose someone. It’s not because they do anything for us, but simply because they are.

And there’s nothing more deeply fulfilling to get to be for someone else. We don’t have to perform. We don’t have to look a specific way. We can simply be – and be loved.

I can’t help but to think this is part of what John means when he says, “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7) God delights in our very being – which is where grace is born. He doesn’t require us to perform, only to be. He doesn’t reject us because of what we have done, because we are. He saves us because he loves us because we are.

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God <3 Darth Vader

Last night, as I put her to bed, I talked to my 4-year old daughter, Lý, about God’s love. God loves absolutely everyone, I told her.

“Even bad people,” she half asked, half proclaimed.

Yeah, that’s true, I told her. God loves even bad people.

But be careful when you call someone bad, I continued, because we’re all a little bad. The only real difference between good people and bad people is how much bad bad people have done.

“You’ve done some bad stuff too, right?” I asked her rhetorically.

She looked away and started shaking her head at this point.

You’ve misbehaved sometimes, I said. You’ve disobeyed. You’ve whined. You’ve been mean to your friends and your brother. You’ve said things, sometimes, that weren’t true.

I paused. She had stopped shaking her head.

“I think you might be saying something right now that isn’t true,” I said and smiled.

She turned to me, held her best poker face for a couple of seconds – and broke out in a big mischievous grin.

“And you know what, bad people are good way inside,” I then explained. “Sometimes stuff happens to them that makes them really angry or really sad, and they choose to do bad stuff, but really, inside their hearts, they are still good.”

“Just like Darth Vader,” my daughter replied.

My genius of a lovely, beautiful daughter replied with a Star Wars reference! I guess I am doing something right after all!

We have watched episode IV together (with the rest to come) and I’ve explained how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. How the pain of losing Padme Amidala and his anger towards the Jedi counsel, etc. was what made him turn to the dark side. And how in the end, he kills the emperor to save Luke, proving that deep inside, there was good left in him despite his evil. It’s actually a pretty good example to use to illustrate the complex interplay of good and bad in people. I’m happy she has such good stories to help her sort through her experiences with people, and herself.

We then talked about Star Wars for a while before I prayed and left her to fall asleep leafing through a book of fairy tales for little princesses.

Kids are lovely.

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One Thing I Love Especially About My One-Year Old

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This is Hákun. My little boy. He’s at the age where we still count months (15, in a couple of days). He likes cars, throwing himself around in his parents’ bed and making fart noises and laughing.

There are a lot of things I love about Hákun. But one thing that I love about him especially is his… Bulk. Somehow. The space he takes up in the universe. His size. This was particularly true when he was even littler and didn’t have much personality and didn’t communicate and interact as much as he does now. Holding him and feeling his physicality stake a claim on however many particles go in to constituting a baby’s body. I really love that. And I’ll protect that little body with my own, whatever it takes.

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“Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”

Via Rod Dreher, Tish Harrison Warren very eloquently articulates the frustration and challenge faced by those of us who resonate with the radical Christian witness of Shane Claiborne, etc., but find ourselves bogged down by ordinary family life of dishes and diapers:

This Radical Christian movement is responsible for a lot of good, and I’m grateful that I’ve been irrevocably shaped by it for some fifteen years. When we fearfully cling to the status quo and the comfortable, we must be challenged by the call of a life-altering, comfort-afflicting Jesus. But for those of us — and there are a lot of us — who are drawn to an edgy, sizzling spirituality, we need to embrace radical ordinariness and to be grounded in the challenge of the stable mundaneness of the well-lived Christian life.

This is taken somewhat out of context, but I often come back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:26 when thinking about the mundaneness of ordinary Christian living: “for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” No one will write a book about how I did those dishes or changed that diaper and it will inspire no one to follow Jesus in super radical ways (though it might make my wife happy). But God sees and God remembers. We can faithfully live our ordinary, but challenging Christian lives trusting that.

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