Parenting

Conquering Inner Demons is a Team Sport.

Dear 25 year old Nathan,

Regarding your little girl.

When you get angry, you are going to be tempted to think a sincere apology is enough.

It will not be.

No matter how sincerely filled with regret you are, it will not be enough to say sorry. You will need to fix your anger, not just apologize for it. You’ll want to do that real soon. Now is a good time. See a counsellor. Talk to a friend. Use that new Blackberry Pearl and text someone. Whatever you do, don’t try to go it solo.

Notice your perfect record when it comes to solo battles? You are 0-293.

The losses are stacking up because conquering inner demons is a team sport.

You are going to be sneaky about it, using being a Christian as an excuse. Christians never fight battles alone.  With Jesus all things are possible. Or so the coffee mug told you. And Jesus is helping; but, he isn’t doing what you would like. You’d like him to wave a his magic wand and fix your issues in a way which keeps your secrets safe, salvages your arrogant pride, and keeps you from being the least bit vulnerable. No, his help will come in the form of a consistent whisper in your ear telling you to get help from a real live person.

You will say, “But Jesus, you are a real live person.”

He will say, “Stop being so stupid.”  

Thank God you give in. Just after Acacia’s fourth birthday, Jesus whispering in one ear and your wife pleading in the other eventually get through to you. You pick up the phone and make an appointment to see a therapist. You’ll feel like you are walking around naked with the wrong size fig leaf for a few months, but it will be worth it. Once you humble yourself by asking for help you begin to feel God working inside you.

It’s going to be so good.  Right now, you have no idea how pervasively your anger sabotages life. Even the moments when you aren’t angry are toxic because everything around you is holding its breath.  When you become someone people can truly relax around life, will have a surprising new joy.

You’ll also be surprised at how deep the transformation will go. You’d have settled for being able to control your temper. You end up becoming someone who rarely has to control anger because it is simply not there. That reflex to punch a wall? Gone.

Believe me buddy, you become a new man. And the only remaining concern anger wise is your worry the kids will remember what it was like to be scared of dad.

But God takes care of that one too. Just after Acacia’s 14th Birthday, out of the blue, she will say this to you while you are driving her to school:

“Dad, you always talk in your sermons about how bad your temper was. But I’ve never ever seen that side of you.”

You’ll be able to hold it together until she gets out of the car.

Then you’ll have to park for awhile; overwhelmed by the strength of the grace which makes 1-293 into a winning record.

 

Parenting

Hurtling Whisky Bottles at Cats (and other bedtime rituals)

Dear 25 year old Nathan,

Regarding your little girl.

You are going to want to selfishly cut bedtime short every single night. And not for really good reasons either.

You will want to hustle through it so you can watch the Vancouver Canucks. You will be confused later in life by how much you cared about watching every minute of a three hour hockey game. Rest assured Acacia Weselake will always mean more to you than Markus Naslund ever will. Plus he can be PVR’d.

You will often compare yourself with someone you imagine to be a worse dad and thus give yourself permission to cut bedtime short. There is no question your 10 second bedtime prayer is preferable to his night time ritual of hurling empty whisky bottles at the neighbor’s cat. But this shouldn’t be the reason you make “injesusnameamen” one rapid fire word.

Yes, those will be your primary reasons to avoid maximising a time of day when your little girl is yours for the making.  They are as stupid in real life as they look here in black and white. So fight against selfish impulse and plop yourself by her bed for a good 20 minutes or so.

Now, what will you do with the 20 minutes?

Read. You will read the entire Chronicles of Narnia to her before she is 4. She wont understand half of it, but she will get to snuggle in close, hear your voice, and you will get to sniff the top of her head.

Do physical things which reassure her of your love for her. Nothing tastes quite like a chubby 3 year old cheek. Make noises like you are pretending to chomp her little ears. Growl like a bear. Why give a goodnight kiss when you can have a “flurry of kisses” that leaves her chortling and squirming?

The time before bed is the perfect time for “tender nonsense”. Tenderness is good. Nonsense is good. But together they create a love bomb. So tickle toes. And then name the little piggy who goes “wee wee wee all the way home” Lenny. Lenny will need a backstory. He has some issues as you might imagine a small toe would. He has difficulty leaving his home of origin. He has small toe syndrome. He is allergic to jam. He has an accent which is difficult to place. You are a dad. This sort of tender nonsense is built in and emerges as soon as you let yourself off the leash a bit.

Then pray. Pray out loud all the good things you want for her and feel for her.

If you do these things consistently, young fella, when she is 16 years old you might still get to sit on the foot of her bed, hear about her day, plant a kiss on her forehead, and say goodnight to Lenny.

If you are especially blessed you’ll hear a “I love you daddy” as you turn out the light and shuffle your tired old carcass down the stairs.

Parenting

You Build That Platform Dad!

Most interactions I have with my 16 year old daughter make me feel lucky.

I’m lucky she likes me.

I’m lucky she teases me.

I’m lucky she lets me tuck her in at night.

I’m lucky when she asks a question about something she is reading in the Bible.

I’m lucky to be the nervous passenger as she learns to drive.

I’m lucky to get to watch her play an important part in building her younger brother’s confidence.

I’m lucky she lets me kiss her on the forehead.

I’m lucky she took the time to read this and gave me permission to post it with a “you build that platform, dad!” 

Did I mention she teases me?

So I’m lucky.

But it hasn’t been blind luck. Surely, it is how it is with her, at least in part, because of things I’ve done?? Although, most of what I have done “right” has been to take the advice of older people I knew who had adult children who were flourishing.

I wrote some of that advice in a letter I’ve addressed to my 2002 self. Back when I was the new father of a baby girl with the most thick dark hair I ever saw on a baby. It turned out to be a longer letter than I thought it would be; too long for just one post.

So, with PAC’s Annual Father Daughter Banquet coming up on Feb 16, I’ll post them, one each day, leading up to the ticket deadline of Feb 11.

Leadership

Tug o’ Pastor Part 2

(You can read the first post here)

Imagine my delight as my vaguely remembered theory proved correct – knots are stronger! However, I didn’t get to bask for long because the hose broke in a different spot. The recoil sending a 3 lb knot towards the head of a four year old tugging heroically on the front of the hose. Thankfully, it didn’t hit him.

Also thankfully, I didn’t have to decide what to do next because I heard a voice behind me:

“Nathan, let me get a rope from my truck.”

I said: “Sure.” I thought: “Where were you 10 minutes ago, Mr. Helpful?”

Moments later, accompanied by cheers, Mr. Helpful reappeared with a thick braided rope complete with huge metal hooks on each end. Anyone could see it would hold up just fine. It could probably pull a semi out of the ditch. I felt appropriately emasculated standing there holding my hose. But the games must go on.

Slowly, as it turns out. After people fall hard it’s difficult to commit the same way, even if you know the danger is gone. One guy, in a classic dad move, put sunglasses on his daughter in case the rope broke. I am not sure what he thought they would prevent, but you could tell by his face he felt like a more responsible parent for having placed the dollar store sunglasses on her little freckled nose.

No surprise, the rope held together and confidence returned after a few rounds. Then people were right into it. Pulling with all their might and trash talking with words well outside the evangelical thesaurus. Eventually, the winner emerged and no one mentioned anything more about the hose……for three months…in a budget meeting?

We were discussing how to deal with a broken piece of equipment. Replace? Repair? Whose budget lines does it come out of?

Out of the blue, our youth pastor pipes up:

“You know, we could always just tie a knot in it.”

I was confused.

You don’t tie a knot in a projector?

The laughter around the room revealed they were much faster to catch the reference than I was and this meant the story had a staying power I was totally unaware of.

I wasn’t embarrassed. I just felt misunderstood. I felt like they didn’t understand why tying a knot made perfect sense. If I could only explain the context, pressures, and limited options I was facing they would concede my actions were understandable and maybe even laudable.

Specifically, I believed if they could understand it from my perspective they would come to see it was rational to have forty people yank on a garden hose with all their might. They would also admit the knot was a sensible solution given the many factors at play. Finally, they would acknowledge there was plenty of blame to go around. The manufacturers of the hose, our janitors for not throwing out a brittle hose, the dad hoarding rope in his truck, and whomever is to blame for the childhood obesity epidemic in North America.

I started to explain but stopped short when I realised I not only sounded insecure, I also sounded insane. Neither of which is how I hope to appear to the team at PAC.

So I shut up.

This story is helpful in two ways:

  1. It exposes my insecurity.
  2. It reveals how small my skill set actually is.

So it is worth revisiting and learning from since these together create a downward leadership spiral which leaves people writhing and wary.

And so we come to the main themes of this blog….

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Leadership, Uncategorized

Tug o’ Pastor – Part 1

Little kids are snarling at each on the front lawn of the church. Dad’s flip their ball caps backwards. An especially beefy cowboy type at the end of the line is stomping and snorting like a bull as he wraps the hose around and around his waist.

Wait. Did you say “hose”?  Um, yes, hose.

I was not supposed to be in charge of the games. Our usual “fun” person cancelled a few days earlier leaving the fun to me – which means we were in trouble. I chose Tug O’ War for pragmatic reasons. A round robin best of three tournament meant I could kill all the time we had with one game and didn’t have to explain and organise much.

The logic was solid except for one problem. Our church didn’t have a rope.

But we did have a garden hose.

A hose which, as it turns out, will stretch very impressively and briefly manage to convince you it can successfully impersonate a rope. Until it snaps like a rubber band and sends both teams sprawling.

The carnage was quite the sight for the already church wary clientele at the beer vendor across the street.

I squinted at the damage and inhaled softly through my teeth. Observing my body language, you’d have thought seminary prepared me for this very moment. I folded my hands behind my back and walked amidst the fallen like a veteran general promising every single message would get back to rosy cheeked Idaho sweethearts and flap jack fryin’ moms.

There was no need, everyone pulled through and we would have been out of the woods except there was half an hour left for game time. No problem! I remembered hearing a knot is stronger than a rope. This nugget of information might just save our evening. If true, all I had to do was tie the hose and the Tug O’ War train keeps rolling.

I inspected the two ends and tied them together with the flourish of an enthusiastic boy scout. I even confidently said “sheepshank” out loud. It was the only name of a knot I knew, although I am pretty sure this particular knot didn’t deserve a name. After giving it a firm tug, I gave my head a satisfied nod. Never had a man been more confident in a knot.

The bluff worked because the next two teams dutifully took their spots on the hose and made preparations. I bellowed a fun loving “GO” into the megaphone and….

 

Sermons

Beauty will save the world.

The things in our lives which are “off” are because we are not enough like God yet. The human project from a Christian perspective is to renew, restore, and even propel human beings into the mold they fit best – the image of God. To become like God you need to, in some sense, feed on him. That is, to take into ourselves the things God is and have these nourish us in ways which transform us further into His likeness.

You are what you eat.

Over the years, more philosophically minded Christians have identified three key “courses” for nourishment – truth, goodness, and beauty – which balance your diet.

For the most part, in my church, we offer a pretty good diet during a Sunday service. Most sermons you’d hear would focus on understanding truth – renewing our minds. You’d also consistently be challenged to be good. To change behaviour, your speech and actions, in such a way  your reflexes eventually change. Your heart becoming an instrument tuned to the key of right living and possessing the ability to receive the joy which comes from that.

So, while the sheep are fed pretty healthy doses of truth and goodness at Prairie Alliance Church it’s a little harder to find beauty. Not that anyone is looking. Most evangelicals are suspicious of beauty. When beauty is served it is seen as frivolous, temporal, distracting, or excessive.  It often doesn’t go down easy and sometimes it is just left untouched on the plate.

But we need to get over this suspicion (and here I am not just talking PAC but the broader evangelical church) because it causes us to refuse one of the three key “ingredients” which help us become like God and so fully human. It’s not math, and it isn’t a beautiful way of saying it, but for the sake of clarity let’s imagine if beauty was part of our diet we could be ⅓ more effective at becoming like Christ. That’s a high percentage to leave behind – nourishment wise.

Our reasons for being suspicious of beauty are based on misunderstandings. These are easily cleared up once brought into the light. Then, we can feast at every dish on the table in front of us. Having not only our minds (truth) and heart (goodness) nourished but allowing our souls to be fed by beauty.

This Sunday at PAC, I’ll be picking up what I started in the first part of this post as I begin where Micah Smith left off during Part 1 of the sermon series “Skin Deep”. If you are in the Portage or Neepawa area it would be great to have you here in person. If you are far away, feel free to watch Part 1 at either www.mypac.tv or on YouTube. Part 2 will be in those same places by Sunday evening.

*(The title of this post is a quote from Dostoevsky)

Uncategorized

Ordination: Then and Now

It is not an easy thing to be ordained Reverend in the Canadian Mid-West District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

The interview questions are picked from a list of several hundred and deal with everything from the content of Ezekiel 37, to your understanding of the Trinity, to how to deal with unwanted sexually attraction. Being pushed through these high intensity moral and theological intervals drains even the most stalwart of candidates.

It gets even more emotionally taxing when those who have been grilling you for two hours shift gears and become the most pastoral of caregivers, placing their hands on your exhausted and quavering shoulders, and earnestly pray God’s best for you. Usually their prayers reflect a genuine empathy for you and joy in your future. But occasionally they can be guilty of containing strong coaching elements:

“God, Carl here has just told us how he struggles with pornography from time to time. This is hurting his ministry and his family life. Would You deliver him from this? Would You help ol’ lust riddled Carl to find himself an accountability partner to walk with him in this time? Would You help Carl, who even now is probably thinking heaven knows what kind of perverse thoughts, find the desire to put an internet filter on his devices? Would you help Carl not watch movies alone in his basement until the wee hours of the morning?”

If it seems like I am taking shots, it’s OK. I’m currently the longest serving member of the ordination committee (10+ years) so I’m primarily taking aim at myself.

Contrary to my caricature of the interview, we are actually heavily slanted towards candidate success. Indeed, if they have done well with the sermons and papers submitted prior to the interview they basically arrive “pre-approved”. We even give the questions ahead of time. These questions are 99% the same as during my own interview in 2003. In fact, the entire process appears to have not changed much.

Candidates still cram during their drive to District HQ in Regina. The District Superindent still makes the call personally to deliver the news ASAP. In my case, I got the call on my flip phone during the drive back to WPG. The newly minted “Reverend Weselake” stopped at the Red Barn Restaurant in Moosimin and, although it meant spending a double digit percentage of his youth ministries budget, bought himself the largest steak on the menu. This too continues. After a recent series of interviews, I saw a fresh new Reverend out celebrating with their spouse at the Keg – I hope their church footed the bill!

From the outside it might look the same, but from the inside you would see  huge shift.

Back in 2003, I remember being eager to talk through the questions with my assigned mentor. I anticipated discussing various theological perspectives. I was disappointed to have my mentor steer me away from discussion and towards definition. I remember his words well:

“The ordination committee is not looking to have a discussion. They don’t care about options for how you might see it. They want you to articulate the Alliance stand on it and know you agree.”

Cue the cue cards.

I wrote “atonement” on one side, and then what I was supposed to say on on the other side with a couple Scripture references just in case I was asked – “and where would you find this?” I ended up with a cue card for every question and flew threw the interview on the strength of my short term memory. My mentor set me up well to succeed by having me memorize the right answers.

But the same strategy would backfire badly today.

Yes, the questions are the same, but our values have changed. The need to be right in a decisive and convincing way is no longer a high value in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Indeed, not only is this strict dogmatic approach not a high value in ordination, it is actually a warning sign the candidate may not function well long term in our denomination.

This is a significant shift to have made in 15 years.

I hope those of you in the Alliance can see the emerging distinctiveness of our brand – some would say this is actually a return to our roots – is the legitimacy we allow for variety of theology and praxis? Is not part of what defines us both the goal for one hundred percent fidelity to Scripture and the humility to acknowledge the futility of realising that goal? Many of us use the image of the denomination as being a “big tent”. The four pegs of the tent are Christ as Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. When we say this, what we are also saying is the rest are details.

Not minor details. But minor relative to this unifying Christological core.

This shift has changed what we are looking for in the ordination process for the better. We no longer look for those who believe only certain things, rather, we look for those who are able to believe a certain way. Specifically, we are looking for men and women who are able to handle complexity with dexterity, non – essentials with humility, and who find their security not in their theological rightness – but from their lived identity as sons and daughters of God.

This lets us find an additional unifying core – in addition to the tent pegs. We can now unify around our common love of diversity. Contrast this celebratory unity with the begrudging unity whose facade crumbles every few years at General Assembly. That is unity despite diversity and I am not sure you can have unity DESPITE diversity.

I wonder if true unity comes not despite our diversity, but because we have a love of diversity in common.