Friday, December 30, 2011

On the alert for Fact Stackers

Interesting how kids can totally throw you off the scent of something they are doing that is not quite right.

"So why were you late coming home?" you may well ask.

"Brian got hurt and had to get stitches"

"What happened?  Did he fall?"

"Yeah, he tripped or something and then I went to find his mom."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"He was really hurt, Mom, I couldn't stop to call..."  as he wanders off to the kitchen to see what kind of snacks there are before dinner.

"So that took you two hours to find his mom?" you ask, following your distracted son.

"I dunno, can I eat this?  I'm starving..."

Something is fishy - you know that if your child's friend really smashed his face into the concrete, needing stitches and an urgent search for his mother, your child, who hates the sight of blood, would not be behaving so casually and sending signals to forget the whole subject and let him eat.

Only later, much later, do you find what you suspected.  You were scammed by a fact-stacker.  Your sweet little one did tell you truths... just conveniently ordered to create a harmless story, with significant other facts left out.

So what happened?  Your angel and the aforementioned Brian, got into an argument that turned into a fight, that led your sweet angel to try out a jujitsu trick he saw on YouTube, sending Brian face-first into the sidewalk, busting his nose and lip and screaming for revenge.  Your angel child sees blood, turns around and runs the other direction, just as Brian's mom drives around the corner in her car.  Panic ensues and your sweet angel has been hiding in the park for two hours, hoping that everyone will forget what happened.  You find out all this of course, when you call Brian's mom.

Why did he lie?  Why did he run away?  Easy.  He was scared of getting in trouble.  Why did he fight?  There could be many reasons and a combination of many reasons why he felt he had to argue, then use violence, then run, then stack his facts, and hope against hope that no one will ever find out.  Your angel is frustrated, scared, and living like a wild animal on survival mode.  He needs you to help him sort out his very complicated ten-year-old life. 

Fact stacking is interesting, because there are some people who don't outgrow it.  Adults who still feel a need to twist and rearrange the facts to make themselves look just a little better, might be forgiven if the subject was why you just ate that slice of cake.  "It was his birthday and he wanted me to."  Yeah, but you ate the cake after you said no up front, but then snuck into the kitchen for a slice when you couldn't resist it any more...

But when the subject leads to important issues of why you were found in the bar last night - "I was inviting them to church..." or why your car smells like marijuana, "It's the leather seats, I think someone threw up in the car when I loaned it to my cousin..." or why your ex-boyfriend keeps sending you messages on Facebook, "He's just a friend..." - you find yourself in the territory of the devil.  No one is as expert a fact-stacker as Satan himself.  Just read the smooth talking arguments he tried on Jesus while He was fasting in the wilderness.  

From your children to your friends, to yourself, be intolerant of this very easy trap to fall into.  Have no tolerance for stacking, twisting or hiding the facts.  "...for your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you."  

Friday, December 23, 2011

And now for something completely different

I just read an article that a guy wrote a few years ago about our church in Finsbury Park.  He calls himself, "The Mystery Worshipper" and visits churches all around England on a Sunday morning, and then writes reviews about them.  Apparently he had visited our main London church and had his observations about the beautiful building, the friendliness (or lack thereof) of the church staff, of the loudness of the microphones and the "patrolling" of the assistants who he called stewards.  He thought it was generally a friendly place, but strongly disliked any of the teachings on tithes and offerings.  Even though he said there were other teachings as well, he zoomed in on the giving aspect and felt it was "disturbing."

He came with some preconceptions, no doubt; he was a white English guy going to a predominantly black immigrant community church, and he didn't come with the purpose of humbling himself before God, but to add another post to his blog of reviews. I don't take everything he said as the gospel, yet there is something intriguing about this Mystery Worshipper.

We rarely get to see what our churches, our groups and even we as individuals appear to be in the eyes of others who observe us.  We like to assume that because all we do is with the best of intentions and for the noblest of causes, it covers for any mistakes we might inadvertently make.  In the eyes of God, yes, He judges us by our motives and our faith, and can bless us despite our faults.  Obviously He does or none of us would survive!

But if our lives, and our churches are to exist for the purpose of reaching out to others with the Good News, removing potential obstacles is only common sense.  We should be willing to hear what others say about their impressions, if they have the courage to do so - like this Mystery Worshipper.  An assistant ran after him as he was leaving the service to ask if he liked it.  I'm sure the man told him yes, because what else could he say to the assistant's eager face?  Most are too polite to say how horrendously we sing, or how confusing the songs or prayers are or how unwelcoming we may be (just as examples - I'm not picking on anyone.)

The more modern hip churches on the other hand, are so concerned about appearances that they have gone to extremes to be cool.  When I turn on the TV and see a guy on a black stage with a mike and tailored dress shirt with the tails out, skinny jeans and perfectly coiffed messy hair with blond highlights, a leather wrist band and a Bible, I think, this guy's trying way too hard... and change the channel.

So we can't please everyone. We can't be obsessed with appearances.  We have to say what God leads us to say whether people like it or not. We have to be sincere. That's a fact.

But there needs to be room for listening and understanding how we may be turning people off so much that they can't hear what God is saying because we stubbornly want to stick with our traditions or the idea that, "this is just the way I do things."  Who said that the way you are is the way it has to be?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Importance of Dads

As I watch more teenage girls wander into our churches with little babies conceived by boyfriends long-gone, I feel for them and the hard path ahead to raise these children alone.  But I feel even more for these children, born into homes with no father there who is committed to loving and raising them, no foundation of a married set of parents who will not only teach them, but show them by example how beautiful a whole family can be.

A father's presence in a home makes a world of difference in the shaping of a child's self-image, for both boys and girls.  For anyone who says that it's just fine to raise a child alone, as long as it is loved and cared for, doesn't understand that part of the love and care a child needs, is to have both a mom and dad present, active, loving, correcting and faithful to each other.  A child without a good marriage to undergird him, is  automatically born with so many obstacles to overcome as a result.

Read this portion of an article (The Involved Father) from one of the Focus on the Family's parenting experts, Glenn T. Stanton:

Fathers parent differently.
Fathering expert Dr. Kyle Pruett explains that fathers have a distinct style of communication and interaction with children. By eight weeks of age, infants can tell the difference between their mother’s and father’s interaction with them.

This diversity, in itself, provides children with a broader, richer experience of contrasting relational interactions. Whether they realize it or not, children are learning, by sheer experience, that men and women are different and have different ways of dealing with life, other adults and children. This understanding is critical for their development.

Fathers play differently.
Fathers tickle more, they wrestle, and they throw their children in the air (while mother says . . . "Not so high!"). Fathers chase their children, sometimes as playful, scary "monsters."

Fathering expert John Snarey explains that children who roughhouse with their fathers learn that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.3 They learn self-control by being told when "enough is enough" and when to settle down. Girls and boys both learn a healthy balance between timidity and aggression.

Fathers build confidence.
Go to any playground and listen to the parents. Who is encouraging kids to swing or climb just a little higher, ride their bike just a little faster, throw just a little harder? Who is encouraging kids to be careful? Mothers protect and dads encourage kids to push the limits.

Either of these parenting styles by themselves can be unhealthy. One can tend toward encouraging risk without consideration of consequences. The other tends to avoid risk, which can fail to build independence and confidence. Together, they help children remain safe while expanding their experiences and increasing their confidence.

Fathers communicate differently.
A major study showed that when speaking to children, mothers and fathers are different. Mothers will simplify their words and speak on the child's level. Men are not as inclined to modify their language for the child. The mother's way facilitates immediate communication; the father's way challenges the child to expand her vocabulary and linguistic skills — an important building block of academic success.

Fathers discipline differently.
Educational psychologist Carol Gilligan tells us that fathers stress justice, fairness and duty (based on rules), while mothers stress sympathy, care and help (based on relationships). Fathers tend to observe and enforce rules systematically and sternly, teaching children the consequences of right and wrong. Mothers tend toward grace and sympathy, providing a sense of hopefulness. Again, either of these disciplinary approaches by themselves is not good, but together, they create a healthy, proper balance.

Fathers prepare children for the real world.
Involved dads help children see that attitudes and behaviors have consequences. For instance, fathers are more likely than mothers to tell their children that if they are not nice to others, kids will not want to play with them. Or, if they don't do well in school, they will not get into a good college or secure a desirable job. Fathers help children prepare for the reality and harshness of the world.

Fathers provide a look at the world of men.
Men and women are different. They eat differently. They dress differently. They cope with life differently. Girls and boys who grow up with a father are more familiar and secure with the curious world of men.

Girls with involved, married fathers are more likely to have healthier relationships with the opposite sex because they learn from their fathers how proper men act toward women. They know which behaviors are inappropriate.

They also have a healthy familiarity with the world of men — they don't wonder how a man's facial stubble feels or what it's like to be hugged by strong arms. This knowledge builds emotional security and safety from the exploitation of predatory males.

Boys who grow up with dads are less likely to be violent. They have their masculinity affirmed and learn from their fathers how to channel their masculinity and strength in positive ways. Fathers help sons understand proper male sexuality, hygiene and behavior in age-appropriate ways. As noted sociologist David Popenoe explains, "Fathers are far more than just 'second adults' in the home. Involved fathers — especially biological fathers — bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring."