No Shield Big Enough


We can't always shelter, can we?Though we serve a big God, no shield is large enough to keep out the world.

Tuesday literally burst with life. We had a day that epitomized gorgeous here (mid-70s, dry, slight breeze, and sunny with cotton candy clouds), so I bagged work. My son and I went geocaching instead. We hunted caches down by the Ohio River in Kentucky, the shoreline scenery adding to the picturesque day.

But before we got to our destination, I had to deal with the radio.

I don’t listen to kid-friendly radio. In other words, my listenership of Christian radio borders on the non-existent. I stopped listening when they refused to play a single one of the artists I listen to on a regular basis. You know, artists who talk about Jesus, sin, and repentance.

Instead, I tend to listen to classical music, which is primarily on Public Radio. Same for my news. And as I flipped to the news station, it just so happened to be discussing gay marriage as we drifted down the highway on that stunning June afternoon.

Where’s the force field when you need it?

My son was largely oblivious because he doesn’t know that gay means anything other than happy. You know, the way I understood it as a kid, too. Sadly, it just doesn’t mean that alone anymore.

My parents didn’t talk to me about “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” When I was in college in the early 1980s, a few men tried to hit on me. Clueless, I just thought they were overtly friendly in an odd sort of way. I didn’t know that there were men out there having sex with other men. I was in my mid-20s before I finally understood what homosexuality was. Even then, it made no sense to me. How was such a thing even possible?

My son won’t get that same shielding. None of our children will.

So I had to talk about homosexuality with my son. In the end, his reaction was much the same as mine: “I wish we could get the word gay back, Dad. It’s a good word.”

I wish we could get a lot of things back.

When I was a kid, things were different:

  • You could leave your house unlocked.
  • Adults were trustworthy, not potential molesters.
  • People looked out for each other and their neighborhoods.
  • The rules everyone knew actually worked and most people weren’t fighting to change them.
  • A boy might take a gun to school and the principal would admire it, not declare a lockdown.
  • Civic pride meant something.
  • You got the sense that people lived for some aspiration or belief greater than themselves.
  • People didn’t go out of their way to avoid someone in need or in trouble.
  • Social groups that hold our society together saw increases in membership, not precipitous declines.
  • A collective trust existed that each of us knew we were a part of a great nation, the best that had ever been.

All those good things (and more) seem to have vanished. Our children will never personally experience how it was for us to grow up in that environment. Instead, they’ll have to deal with the fallout of the jihad we declared on our own values.

In geocaching, you search for little treasure containers scattered all over the planet. I think that in many ways, our society has gone searching for similar containers, each a box with Pandora’s name carved on the front. And when we find one, we fail to ask whether it should be opened. Instead, we forge ahead, unable to contain our glee over what we might find inside.

There’s nothing I would like more than for “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name” to shut the heck up already. I’d love for us to close a few of those Pandora’s boxes and know that what Pandora could not repair, we could. But I know better.

The second law of thermodynamics applies beyond the laws of physics, doesn’t it?

When the World Was New


Christ blessing childrenWhen I left my son at 9:30 PM, he had his Bible folded over his chest, waiting for me to leave so he could wander over to his reading corner (complete with a beanbag chair and a funky five-headed lamp) and finish reading about the Passover. He couldn’t wait.

I let him read at night. As a precocious reader, he eats up just about any reading material we give him. I could no sooner punish him for staying up to read than I could punish myself for staying up to blog. Sometimes, you have to pick your battles.

This afternoon, he asked why serpents are evil. I told him God made all things good and that the snakes we see around outside our house keep mice in check. I mentioned that the devil took the form of a serpent when he deceived Adam and Eve, but the word serpent could be broader than snake. Then he asked to define the difference between a serpent and a snake. When I asked where he was getting this from, he mentioned the story of Aaron throwing down his staff and it turning into a serpent. Wasn’t Aaron a good guy? What was he doing messing around with serpents?

After his obviously faux attempt to go to bed this evening, he hopped into his beanbag chair and read through the Egyptian plagues, eventually answering his own question about the Passover. When I mentioned earlier that Passover started two days ago, you could see the excitement in his eyes. He thought it was “cool” that the narrative he now read just so happened to coincide with the actual events of thousands of years ago.

When the world was new to us, wonder filled every moment. Who knew what astonishing revelation might unfold before our wide innocent eyes. Magic filled each breath. Possibilities hid behind every corner, ready to unleash the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

What a pity then that I read so many Christian sites on the Web and note all the child-like wonder sucked right out of them. How sad for us that we traded in our amazement at the mysteries of God for some cut-and-dried “faith” that’s overly diced and ludicrously dessicated.

I won’t hold myself up as the pinnacle of Christian practice by any means, but the older I get, the more I see God restoring the wonder in my life. Something about maturity in Christ recaptures our childlikeness, that winsome inner spectacle that never ceases to amaze us who are His dwelling place. Anything is possible! What can He not do? If we’re not tracking with that kind of “inverted maturity,” we instead turn into grizzled and bitter veterans of the spiritual war. I see far too many people on the path to that cold, hard anti-faith. God help them!

For the Christian, every day becomes that day when the world was new. If we’re living consecrated, abandoned lives. If we died at the cross.

Big ifs, but not too big for a magnificent God to make real in the hearts of His children.

{Image: detail from stained glass window from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Wyandotte, MI}

The Loss of Innocence


Bratz—JadeI live in an area of the country that suffers from “chronophobia,” the fear of keeping up with the times. LA is about eight years ahead of us, and even our major Midwestern neighbor to the northwest, Chicago, is about five. I can’t point to the chapter and verse, but it’s a foregone conclusion the Rapture for righteous Greater Cincinnatians will occur at least three years after the fact.

When you live in a “backward” area, things that are “forward” startle you. I was jolted this last week by a seven-year-old boy in Kroger yelling to a woman who was clogging up an aisle, “Get out of my way, you fat f***.”

Besides being glad that my son was not with me to hear that, my unconscious response was to run the mental wayback machine to California, 1996. My wife and I were new arrivals, but we understood the vibe well enough to know we were “not in Kansas anymore.” The tape ran and ran, but I don’t remember kids in the Valley launching a tirade like the one I’d just now heard.

Still, it had to come from the coasts. Doesn’t that kind of filth crawl Godzilla-like out of the Atlantic and the Pacific, aiming to meet in the heartland, like some hell-tinged rendition of the driving of the golden spike?

I was in the new Wal-Mart about a half hour from us (tore down the regular “Center” and replaced it with a “Supercenter”) and was fascinated by the 40″+ flat panel displays strategically placed throughout the store playing “The Wal-Mart Channel.” A video by some new teenage singing sensations was looping, young people re-enacting everything they’d seen in Mountain Dew commercials throughout their young lives.

I could not stop watching that loop. This time my son was with me, pulling my arm with both hands, near-screaming, “Daddy, let’s go!”

There, in the eyes of those kids.

If you’ve ever seen the open eyes of someone freshly deceased, then you’ve seen that look. There’s nothing there in those eyes. Emptiness defines them. Even a child knows that something is missing when he or she sees the eyes of a corpse.

Those two dozen teens in that music video loop channeled that same deadness. Behind the eye liner and mascara was a vast nothingness.

After my son was practically biting my thigh trying to get me to stop watching corpses dance to the music, I could not stop staring at the under-20 crowd that filed past me everywhere we went the rest of that day. How had I—for so long—missed the ungrateful dead?

It’s miserable spotting a worn fifteen-year-old suburban girl you know could teach a fin de siècle Parisian hooker a thing or two. Madonna may have been a tramp in my era, but this girl is something altogether different. She may not even be human, at least as we define it. I’ve seen mannequins with more expressive faces. If there was a soul in that kid once, it vacated a while ago.

But more than anything else, I want to apologize to that zombie of a girl for my generation. We let her generation down. Our harebrained youth ministry experiments, our obsession with our careers, our self-centeredness—we allowed the Enemy to gut them while we slept on our watch.

Or maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe we did care, but we got stuck fighting so many endless battles against wickedness that we had to compromise somewhere. The low-rider jeans were too trivial to fight. It could be something worse; she could be doing crystal meth.

I just can’t get over the vacant stares.

What’s the entry point for death in our children? One day our sons are playing in the sandbox with their Tonka trucks and our daughters are having tea time with their stuffed animals, then the next they’re passing around rubber wristbands that signify what sex acts they’ve successfully completed, or strangling each other to the point of passing out—for the “fun” of it.

Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years.

Sure, we’ll get some PhD pedagogue regaling us with tales of the Dark Ages and the need for kids to grow up fast back then, but childhood today seems to be measured in seconds anymore. When girls in the first grade consider Barbie a toy for preschoolers, and boys have abandoned G.I. Joe as young as six, maybe picoseconds would be a better measure of the length of childhood.

It gives me the willies to think of my own son encountering one of these kids who’s a fifty-year-old in a ten-year-old’s body. I used to think they only minted those out on the coasts, but when I hear a seven-year-old neighborhood boy calling an adult woman a “fat f***,” I’ve got to wonder if someone’s firing up a local franchise.

The soap hasn’t wound up in anyone’s mouth around here, yet. I’m not looking forward to that day. My son got out some Blue’s Clues tapes the other day and watched them almost nostalgically, eyes wide and still sparkling. I watched with him for a few minutes. Though I knew he wouldn’t want to stop watching, I let him go, even if knew he’d ultimately sit there for two hours. Why? Because the precious gift that God has bestowed on him is indeed that.

And once you’ve lost it…