Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Rich Young Ruler

There is a story in the gospels that has always bothered me. It is the story about the rich young ruler who asks Jesus what he needs to do to have eternal life. I’ve been bothered by this story primarily because at the end of it Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23b). In Luke he says, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24).

How disturbing is that! I consider myself to be wealthy. I’ve been told by pastors and educators that I’m wealthy. And I don’t specifically mean me but Americans in general. I’ve been told that America is one of the richest nations in the world, and that our poor still live better than most of the world’s population. So I start worrying that I need to sell all my possessions and live in a cardboard box because my wealth is going to somehow disqualify me from heaven.

Plus, I've found several aspects about this story puzzling. Like why does Jesus ask the man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19b). Why would Jesus correct the man like this? Wasn’t the rich young ruler correct in calling Jesus good? 

And if it’s impossible for any of us to be perfect apart from Christ, why does Jesus say, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21b)? Certainly Jesus didn’t mean that if the man went and sold all his possessions, he would be perfect and have earned himself a place in heaven. 

And one more peculiar bit: after Jesus says it's hard for a rich person to be saved, why did the disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” (Matt. 19:25b). Did they think that being wealthy automatically got you a place in God’s kingdom?

See. Doesn’t make sense.  

And that’s why I don’t think this story is talking about wealth at all. Bear with me as I propose something that I have yet to find in a bible commentary. 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke precede the story of the rich young ruler with Jesus asking the little children to come to him. I believe the take-away from that is that we must recognize our helplessness and total reliance on Jesus in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

So next this rich young ruler asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus answers him, saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:18-19). 

I would like to propose that the ruler’s question might be reworded like this: “You are a particularly upright person, Jesus. So certainly you’ll be a good judge of my character. See it’s like this, I’ve been good my whole life, but I’m worried. How can I know that I’ve been good enough?”

Jesus’ response challenges the ruler’s use of the word "good." Jesus wants the man to consider who is actually good and who is not. As we learn later, the man thinks himself pretty good. So Jesus pulls the rug out from under the man’s feet. The man wants to know how good he has to be in order to go to heaven, and Jesus is saying, “You can’t be good enough. No one is good enough but God, i.e. me."

But then Jesus seems to answer the rich ruler’s question. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And the ruler replies saying, “All these I have kept from my youth” (Matt 18:20-21). 

I think Jesus is giving the ruler a chance to assess himself. “Do you really think that you haven’t committed adultery or murder or stolen? Do you really think you’ve never lied or dishonored your parents? You called me good, but how good do you think you are?” And in reply, the rich young ruler says, “I’ve been pretty good.”

Then Jesus says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matt 19:21). Now, if we can agree that Jesus isn’t actually saying that the man will have met God’s standard of perfection by selling all he possesses, then Jesus must be saying something else. 

Might Jesus be asking the rich young ruler to give up more than just his wealth? That is, to give up himself? Such a question would’ve prompted the man to ask himself, “How can I do that? I can’t govern from poverty. I can’t continue being good outside this position.” Jesus is asking the man to deny his rich-young-ruler-ness, take up his cross and follow Jesus.

All the gospels show how both the rich and the poor are able to follow Jesus. And while Jesus has plenty to say about wealth, I don’t think this is one of those instances. I don't think Jesus is saying that the one thing keeping the rich ruler from following Christ is the ruler’s wealth. But rather, I think Jesus is saying that the one thing keeping the rich ruler from following Jesus is the ruler himself. He isn’t ready to deny himself and his own goodness in order to follow Jesus and rely on Jesus’ goodness. So the man goes away sad. He can’t die to himself.

Jesus next statement may seem to muddle the argument, but bear with me. Jesus says, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24-25). Yes, this part does seem like Jesus is talking about financial wealth, but I think that’s because wealth was thought to be a result of inward goodness. 

The disciples next question makes it seem even more apparent that Jesus can't be just talking about financial wealth. “Who then can be saved?” they ask (Matt. 19:25b).

Why would the disciples be asking this? Certainly they knew plenty of wealthy people who weren't good. They had the Romans around them, after all. Their question only makes sense if they’re not just talking about the man’s wealth, but his moral goodness. “If that good man can’t make it to heaven, who can?” Jesus must mean not just physical wealth but moral wealth.

So Jesus then looks at the disciples and says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26b). The point can’t be driven home anymore than that! No man can be good, even the ones that seem good! But with God, through the blood of Jesus, anyone can be good enough, both the wealthy and the poor.

This reminds me again of what Jesus said prior to this story: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17). Like needy children we all must rely on God for our moral goodness because there is none good but God. We cannot make it on our own steam. We must deny our own goodness and accept Jesus’.

All verses used are in English Standard Version.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

To the Intellectual

May being intellectually relevant 
not lure you away from elementary truths.
May this adult diet not assume superiority
over the milk on which you first believed.
May you not regard the basics as irrelevant 
now that you have advanced to higher levels of thinking.
Rather, may you work out how the verses of infancy 
sustain a grown man with grown-up troubles.

May the melding of belief to behavior 
continually compel you to consider your beginnings.
May the instances of unmet expectations 
and offending words and perceived injustices
crack and split the calcifying skins of yesterday’s faith,
and produce a faith for today’s letdowns and slights and fears.

May those simple creeds said by philosopher and layman—
“complete in the fullness of Christ,” 
“cast off the sinful flesh,” 
and “gift of God, not by works”— 
do battle with the discord in your heart, 
which seeps in from the world and the flesh and the devil.
May the faith you put in those creeds 
be strong enough to penetrate your self-preserving defenses
and the haunts you frequent for control and authority.
May such faith snap the cords that tie you to lofty and debasing roles,
and free you to remember who you have become, who you are, and who you will be.

May you swallow this faith each day with your daily bread, 
down the throat that trumpets ideas;
down like the oxygen that your lungs absorb;
down into the depths of your heart,
the nucleus of all your sensitivities.
Thus upholding you to act without pretending
and feel the Spirit of God claiming you as his own.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Character Study: Judy Maynard

Mantra: “Always remember: you are not alone, you are infinitely valuable, and you make the world a better place by just being you.”

Jewelry She Never Takes Off: Her wedding and engagement ring

Everyday Shoe: Little black flats by Anesha for going out, and Keen sandals for hiking (1)

Favorite Purse: 100% Nylon convertible hiking pants from REI. They have four deep pockets, one of which is big enough for a map. Unfortunately, REI doesn't make them anymore.

She collects: "I try not to."

Secret Weapon: Therapy. "It can be life-changing. And it's not just a last resort. It can be a powerful tool for personal sanctification." She's willing to talk about her experience and provide names of quality therapists if you'd like.


Every Home Should Have: Candles

Oldest Possession: Her mother's Bible and an Eastern Orthodox prayer book from her grandmother


Most Repeated Recipe: Chili
2 lbs ground turkey or beef
1 large chopped onion
3 cloves of minced garlic
One 6 oz can of tomato paste
Two 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
Two 15 oz of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 T. chili powder
1 T. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste. 

Brown meat. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot and cook on low for 5 - 6 hours. (2)

Secret Cleaning Weapon: KD Gold. (3) All-purpose, soap-based cleaner that's safe for plants, kids, and cooking surfaces. No toxic fumes! Rather expensive, but when properly diluted, one bottle goes a long way. 

On Her Nightstand: A pile of books that aren't being read and white-noise machine that makes the sound of the ocean.


On Her playlist: Italian Cooking Music on Pandora for kitchen work and KUSC 91.5 in the car for driving

Netflix Show: The Crown (4)

Shop: Savory Spice Shop in the OC Mix Shopping Mall in Costa Mesa. They have every spice and herb imaginable. You can smell and taste them, and then choose exactly how much you'd like. She also bought some delicious Raspberry Pear Balsamic Vinegar there that she's eager to try. 

Audiobooks: The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (5) and Elizabeth: The Queen by Sally Bedell Smith. Judy checks out audiobooks using Libby (6): a free library app that allows you to check out audiobooks and ebooks using your library card. 


Kitchen Gadget: Instant-Pot 

Flower: Lilac

Re-Read: Earthsea Cycle (7) by Ursula K. Le Guin

App: Paprika (8): helps you organize, modify, sort, and separate your recipes, as well as make meal plans and create grocery lists. This app allows you to download any online recipe to your personal list and tweak it however you'd like. Not free but totally worth the cost. Judy has it on her ipad, phone, and laptop.

Way To Unwind: Playing Two Dots: a free puzzle video game app

Evening Drink: An occasional spot of port

Place to Go: Yosemite, always Yosemite (9)


Friday, February 9, 2018

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

I just finished reading How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. And because I best retain information by regurgitating what I've read, here's a summary of the book.

I must, however, note that while this book has some great advice, I wouldn't use it as a primary foundation for parenting for two reasons. One: I get the impression that Faber and Mazlish don't believe people are born selfish. And two: I get the impression that Faber and Mazlish are uncomfortable with the idea of authority, submission, and respect.

I believe our views of authority and our propensity to selfishness can greatly affect our parenting philosophy. So here's my report on How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk with a grain of salt.

Faber and Mazlish argue that "When kids feel right, they behave right" (1). Listening and accepting children's feeling helps them process their daily frustrations and make their own good choices. The hard part for a parent is to not get sucked into the child's emotions and become defensive, angry, afraid, or an instant-problem solver.

"Mommy! She messed up my lego tower!" "I can't find my shoes!" "The kids at school laughed at me." "I can't do it right! I'll never try again!"

Faber and Mazlish suggest parents first listen and acknowledge what they've heard with "Oh," or  "Hmmm," or "I see." Then the parents can give their children's feelings a name or help their children process their emotions through fantasy.

"Sounds like you really want to go to Disneyland. It's so fun going there. Wouldn't it be fun to go to Disneyland every day?"

Once children feel they've been heard, they often come up with their own solutions or let the emotions go. I think this is an excellent way to listen to children when they come to us with their problems. However, I don't think this is a good technique to use when obedience and respect is what we really need.

Too frequently, I've listened to my children's reasons for not obeying, thinking I was being a nice and good parent when I was just allowing them to delay obedience or disobey. I was assuming they were considerate and reasonable little humans who would care about my needs and wants as soon as I did the same to them. This was not the case, and tiny seeds of resentment were sewn in me.

When encouraging cooperation from children, Faber and Mazlish frown upon threats, guilt-trips, accusations, name-calling, lecturing, comparisons, sarcasm, moralizing, and making a martyr of oneself. I agree with them here. But they also discourage warnings and outright commands.

Faber and Mazlish argue that because commands and warnings can make children feel defiant, small, dissatisfied, scared, or powerless, that commands and warnings shouldn't be used. However, I don't think my children's feelings should be my guide in this area. It's natural for my children to feel defiant or powerless when I ask them to obey. I feel this way myself when people tell me what to do, but this doesn't mean that those people are out of line, especially if they're my boss. It just means that I'd rather be the boss. I get the impression that Faber and Mazlish are uncomfortable with the idea of bosses in authority over others. They probably would hate the military.

My children don't have to like it, but they do have to obey me because: one, I'm the boss; two, I'm responsible for them; and three, I better understand the world. I don't have to be rude to my children when I ask them to do something. I also don't think I have to carefully craft a command in order to avoid hurting their feelings.

"I need you to get in the car right now. You can tell me all about your feelings after I hear your buckles click."

On the other hand, ordering my children about all day can be tiresome. Faber and Mazlish suggest a few great alternatives to vary our instructions to our children. Here they are in two examples.

Example 1: The wet bath towels are left on the floor

1) Describe the problem: "I see wet towels on the floor in the bathroom."
2) Give information—something unknown to the child: "Wet towels don't dry when they're left in a pile."
3) Say a word: "Lee, bath towel."
4) Talk about your feelings: "I get so frustrated having to pick up after your bath."
5) Write a note: "Please hang me up so I don't smell bad."

Example 2: Rose still eats with her hands at meal times.

1) Describe the problem: "You're eating with your hands and they're getting greasy."
2) Give information: "Greasy fingers make marks on walls and clothes."
3) Say a word: "Rose, spoon."
4) Talk about your feelings: "Rose, it bothers me when you eat with your fingers because it makes more work for me around the house."
5) Write a note: "I'm called a spoon. Use me!"

The goal is to "speak to what is best in our children—their intelligence, their initiative, their sense of responsibility, their sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to the needs of others" (Faber and Mazlish, 87).  I would also add to not forget that children, like us, are naturally selfish, and if they can get what they want by making us bend over backwards, they'll try to do it. We must be on our guard against overstepping our boundaries of self-respect.

When children don't cooperate, Faber and Mazlish suggest a variety of suggestions as alternatives to punishments. "We see punishment as the parent deliberately depriving a child for a set period of time or inflicting pain upon him, in order to teach him a lesson" (Faber and Mazlish, 111-112). While I believe this definition is accurate, Faber and Mazlish don't adhere to their own definition. 

Their examples of punishment are angry parents lashing out with spankings and spur-of-the-moment decisions to inflict discomfort or pain on their children. As an alternative, they suggest parents discipline by explaining their frustration to their children or having their children clean up their own messes or removing the child from the situation or giving the child a choice to either obey or suffer a consequence.

These alternatives are indeed far more desirable. However, I don't appreciate their muddling the definition of punishment. Especially as they then quote a number of sources who condemn punishment as a method of discipline. There is nothing wrong with punishing our children for disobeying just so long as we aren't lashing out in anger. Perhaps the modern world—or the world of the 1980's which was when this book was published—didn't like to say punishment because it infers children have done something wrong and deserve a penalty. I'm not sure. I'll have to do some more research on that word.

The next section of the book is entitled "Alternatives to Punishment," and suggests talking about the child's feelings, talking about our feelings, and inviting the child to work on finding a mutually acceptable solution (Faber and Mazlish, 122). This is a great way for two peers or coworkers to solve a problem. I particularly like giving my children the chance to come up with an idea on how to handle their own discipline, especially when I have run out of ideas. But again, we can't forget that we are the adults, and this is not a democracy. 

If at a particular time, I need something done without question, I need to be able to ask for it without having to explain myself or hear everyone's feelings. Sometimes, things just need to get done in order to keep Mommy from going crazy.

"The key word is respect—for the child, for myself, and for the unlimited possibilities of what can happen when two people of good-will put their head together." (Faber and Mazlish, 122)

Chapter four, "Encouraging Autonomy," begins by focusing again on how children's dependence on parents causes them to feel.  ". . . when people are placed in dependent positions, along with a small amount of gratitude, they usually do experience massive feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, resentment, frustration and anger" (Faber and Mazlish, 139). Thus we should seek ways to minimize our children's feelings of dependency by encouraging children to rely on themselves.

Again Faber and Mazlish are justifying a good thing, namely encouraging a child's independence, for a questionable reason, that is to avoid making our children feel bad. This is their basis for all their instruction: avoid saying these things because they make children feel undesirable feelings, and when children feel bad, they behave badly. But I would argue that no one can make another feel right except God, the ultimate authority, the one who can cure us of our selfishness, and the one to whom we are dependent for any ounce of goodness. Our primary job as parents isn't to give our kids good feelings.

What is our primary job as parents? Haven't worked that one out yet. Maybe it's to love our children as Christ loved us, creating an environment where that is modeled and taught. I'll be on the lookout for a biblical perspective on that.

Despite faulty reasoning, Faber and Mazlish give some good suggestions on how to encourage autonomy:
1. Let children makes choices.
2. Show respect for a child's struggle.
3. Don't ask too many questions.
4. Don't rush to answer questions.
5. Encourage children to use sources outside the home.
6. Don't take away hope.  (Faber and Mazlish, 139).

"There is no value judgement more important to man, no factor more decisive in his psychological development and motivation—than the estimate he passes on himself . . . The nature of his self-evaluation has profound effects on a man's thinking processes, emotions, desires, values and goals. It is the single most significant key to his behavior." (Faber and Mazlish as quoting The Psychology of Self Esteem, 173). Amen to that—although, perhaps how we view God is even more important. Let's remember as parents that our children's estimation of him or herself isn't entirely our responsibility. That is God's work. He only can give our children eternal worth and unconditional acceptance. 

On the chapter on praise, Faber and Mazlish give a list of ways that ill-phrased praise can cause distress and pain in a child. Faber and Mazlish suggest that parents: "Describe what you see . . . Describe what you feel . . . and sum up a child's praiseworthy behavior with a word" (187).

"Are you helping Rose eat her dinner? Oh, I like to see you do that. That's called helping." 

The chapter on "Freeing Children From Playing Roles," has a similar structure as the previous chapters. First Faber and Mazlish list the many ways we can label our children and cause them grief. Then they suggest ways to free children from playing roles.

1. Look for opportunities to show the child a new picture of himself or herself.
2. Put children in situations where they can see themselves differently.
3. Let children overhear you say something positive about them.
4. Model the behavior you'd like to see.
5. Be a storehouse for your child's accomplishments.
6. When the child acts according to the old label, state your feelings and/ or expectations. (Faber and Mazlish, 219)

All these suggestions, I found great. But the way in which Faber and Mazlish frown upon so many other options is rather stifling. I agree that calling our children names is not the best way to love them and teach them how to grow. But Faber and Mazlish also frown upon saying, "Stop being so bossy," because that might make them feel labeled, and "I'm so proud of you" because that shifts the focus from the child to ourselves, and, "You always look so nice," because that might make child feel pressured into always looking nice, and, "What's taking so long?" because that doesn't respect a child's struggle to do things quickly. The list of don't's goes on and on and is quite ridiculous for several reasons.

First: not every child will have these reactions. And secondly, if I'm fretting about what my child might feel every time I speak, I'm trying to bear a huge burden that wasn't meant for me to bear. To fret so much about our children's feelings is not a form of selfless-mommy-giving. Rather, it's a lack of self-respect. It's making a non-entity of ourselves and our own wants and desires. We weren't made to bear our children's emotions like this. They need to be able to handle that themselves. I think trying to do all these things for our children can lead to resentment in our hearts that the same respect isn't reciprocated.

Not only that, but we, as Christians, don't have to worry about parenting perfectly: saying things the "right" way or validating all our children feel. We'll never get it all right and that's okay. Because when we realize our weaknesses, we can fall upon the Lord and allow him to demonstrate his power. If we are in Christ, he takes all our efforts and makes them beautiful. We can trust that what is out of our control, namely our children, is in his control.

By all means, I think we must search out new ways of becoming a better parent. But let's not fall into the trap of thinking it's all up to us. God's got this under control. Let's trust him.

Faber, Adele and Elaine Mazlish, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk." Avon Books, New York, 1980.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

I Shall Not Pass This Way Again

I shall not pass this way again—with a five and three-year-old in tow and another growing inside, no larger than a lemon. And the children spending the hours in play while I sit with my feet propped up and my energy gone at 9 am. I know that the nausea and exhaustion will eventually pass, and that the time spent napping while the children talk to themselves in their quiet times is time well spent. 

There is a contentment in the now even though I’ve stopped cleaning and my brain has turned to mush and I can hardly stomach the scent of the dinners I make. There is still a contentment because this moment shall soon be gone. 

There shall never be another now. It has already passed. And yet, neither its departure nor the knowledge that all time is fleeting has soured the enjoyment of this: the daily having of moments. It nourishes and feeds like food, more so when I don’t scarf it down but savor the bite of white cheddar or the tartness of strawberries, when I see the steam rising off my tea or the lenticular pods of citrus juice within each orange segment. 

These moments parallel eating because the last thirteen weeks have been a battle with food. I don’t want to see it or smell it or think about it, but if I don’t eat it, I shall be sick. So I grasp at anything that doesn’t make my throat constrict and hope that it’s iron rich. 

Now the nausea subsides, and I can eat regular-sized meals, and I work up an appetite. And food has never seemed so glorious. I notice it more. And relish it all. But I’m not morose about what I’ve eaten after it’s gone. And to keep it in my mouth for longer than necessary is just gross. I enjoy and swallow, then take time to play and work before the next meal.

I'm talking about these dear little children who finger my straight hair and say that it’s soft or who ask to put chapstick on my lips or who request a game of rock, paper, scissors. These fleeting moments cannot be grasped or prolonged. Each day comes with its allotment of funny questions and adorable expressions and mispronounced words, and then they are gone. And I let them go, jotting some of them down, photographing others, but letting most, especially the tantrums and outbursts, fade behind me. I cannot dwell on my own mood swings either or the words that came gushing out of my mouth because I'm emotionally unstable when my body is making a baby. It's okay to feel run down and not always speak wise words. As Phil says, they're moments for others to learn grace. I must not brood or shame myself for my folly. I have passed that way already. I shall not pass it again. 

But the good moments and the mistakes aren’t over. They never run out. Even when the children are grown and moved away. The moments continue in different forms, with different colors and different tones. And I mustn’t try to grasp at the beauty of yesterday’s blooms unless I wish for these children of mine to cease growing and never to learn to eat moments for themselves.

 I shall not pass this way again—
Although it bordered be with flowers,
Although I rest in fragrant bowers,
And hear the singing
Of song-birds winging
To highest heaven their gladsome flight;
Though moons are full and stars are bright,
And winds and waves are softly sighing
While leafy trees make low replying;
Though voices clear in joyous strain
Repeat a jubilant refrain;
Though rising suns their radiance throw
On summer’s green and winter’s snow,
In such rare splendor that my heart
Would ache from scenes like these to part;
Though beauties heighten,
And life-lights brighten,
And joys proceed from every pain,
I shall not pass this way again.

Then let me pluck the flowers that blow,
And let me listen as I go
To Music rare
That fills the air;
And let hereafter
Songs and laughter
Fill every pause along the way;
And to my spirit let me say:
‘O soul, be happy; soon ’tis trod,
The path made thus for thee by God.
Be happy thou, and bless His name
By whom such marvelous beauty came.’

-First two stanza's of “I Shall Not Pass This Way Again” by Eva Rose York