Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"No Crying He Makes" and Other Christmas Myths

One of my dad's favorite holiday pastimes is demythologizing Christmas songs. His sermons are regularly sprinkled with anecdotes about the "little drummer boy" not existing and "the three wise men" not being present on the night of Jesus' birth. One year he even picked on the fact that the Bible does not say whether Mary rode on a donkey, a camel, or a cart...or maybe had to walk on her way to Bethlehem. 

Consequently, I now have this hobby as well, much to my wife's chagrin (sorry honey). She feels like I'm always trying to rain on everyone's parade. As we listen to Christmas songs, I like to think through the lyrics and see if they gel with reality. What can I say? Many of them are full of myths about Christ's birth, and those myths can damage of the message of Christmas.

For instance, our songs and paintings would have us believe that the baby Jesus never cried. The song Away In a Manger puts it right out there: "the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes." He was the most inhuman baby you ever saw with a halo around his head and group of people standing around at a fair distance gazing on the new born Son of God. This is the baby of a religion--not history. Notice the Gnostic tendencies that have crept into this picture (Gnosticism views the spiritual/non-material world over the physical one). Is crying a sin? I don't think so. Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, so why would he not cry as a baby? One of the important reasons for the birth narratives is to show us that Jesus was human. He can identify with the lowest of the low.

Our songs have a way of sticking with us--especially since they play the same twenty-five in various iterations from October through December. They have a way of influencing the way we imagine the birth narratives. So do Christmas cards. They deliver this portrait that seems so ideal, so air brushed, so fake. I, for one, can't identify with a calm and sanitized birth and viewing session in a barn. 

The version that I read in scripture is a lot more complicated. This Christmas I would encourage you to reread Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 with fresh eyes. What does the text say? What does it not say? What is emphasized in each? We always need to go back to the Bible. I think that when we immerse ourselves in the story as the gospels present it we will find that we can connect with it in richer ways.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Son Of A Preacher Man: a Book Review of Barnabas Piper's The Pastor's Kid

In Evangelical Christianity, many pastors have risen to near celebrity status. Everything they do, everything they say is under the microscope. Even if a pastor isn't nationally or internationally known, it is likely that they are well known within their community. People could pick them out of a crowd at Pizza Hut or Wal-Mart. But there is a unique group of people who are along for the ride but have never asked to be singled out. They did not respond to a "call." They did not necessarily climb into the spotlight of their own volition. They may not even have a full understanding of their spiritual standing. This special group of individuals are singled out just the same. They are the pastors kids--otherwise known as PKs.

Barnabas Piper grew up knowing all about the joys and trials of such a life. His dad is John Piper, internationally recognized preacher and author of numerous books. Now Barnabas is a skilled writer and author in his own right, and he has some things to say. But he does not write this book to throw his family under the bus (John Piper actually wrote the foreward) or piggyback on his father's noteriety. He writes this book to give readers an inside look at what it is like to be a PK and to help PKs themselves deal with some of the issues that they have faced--or as the subtitle has it, help with "finding your own faith and identity."

Most pastor's kids that I have known, myself included, cannot win. People assume that you are a trouble-maker or put you on a pedistal. Neither one is fair. People make many other assumptions, as well, and treat you accordingly. That is partly what this book is about. Barnabas also gives many insights into the difficulties that PKs face, so that pastors and congregants alike can avoid doing damage to these unique individuals within our churches.

This book has been really good for me. For most of my life I have been a PK, and now I am in the ministry myself. I can identify with quite a bit of what Barnabas has written concerning the difficulties and blessings of growing up in that kind of environment: I was often under the microscope, expected to be the leader, and preached at in the home. But I am also reminded of how blessed I have been to view my experience in a (mostly) positive light. There were some negatives to be sure, but my parents worked hard to avoid several of the pitfalls that he describes in this book. I even received a lot of mentoring in ministry by my dad and had the blessing of learning many skills that serve me well now. But I know other PK's who weren't as fortunate.

 Barnabas doesn't claim to speak for every PK, but I think he speaks for a majority. He doesn't write merely from his limited experience--he has spent time interviewing other PKs and doing research. As a matter of fact, not all of the situations or criticisms that he offers are a part his own experience at all--and, so, I think it rings true to the general experience of PKs. The simple fact is that most of us are measured against our fathers, rather than as the individuals that we really are and we were (or are) held to a higher standard than the rest of the youth of the church.

What ar PKs to do? How do we respond? The reality is, and I speak for numerous PKs, I do not care what my father thinks about many things. I am not a chip off the old block. He has influenced me and taught me, and now I am taking my own lane and going my own speed. And that is what PKs must be able to do. We must choose to do it, and the church must let us (kindle location 479).

I recommend that anyone in ministry read it and take note; PKs read it and know that you are not alone; and congregants read it with an eye to supporting and praying for their pastors and their kids.