Thursday, June 28, 2012

House-parenting... a year on.

It has been quite some time since I've posted to my blog mainly because I haven't yet figured out how to share much of what I deal with and think about on a daily basis and respect the privacy of the children we care for and their families. But I wanted to share some brief thoughts about what I do, and some observations about this current generation.

House-parenting is very difficult. I know, shocker right? Coming into this, I knew that it would be difficult, but I wasn't prepared for all the ways it would be difficult. Arguing, disrespect, cursing, lying, sneaking -- all those were expected, but there were two things that caught me by surprise. First, I didn't realize how difficult it would be for our own children to be in this ministry. They have to hear other kids in the house talk bad about us behind our backs; they sometimes get treated badly just because they are 'staff kids', and they don't get all the counseling resources the 'placed kids' do. Second, I wasn't prepared to deal with the darkness that the kids who come here love so much. It is heart-breaking to hear kids talk so positively about all the life destroying things they used to do before coming here. It's almost like the world has been turned upside-down. And sometimes I just begin to think the whole world is like this and start to despair.

House-parenting is also very rewarding. In our short year, we have had teens leave our home both 'successfully' and 'unsuccessfully'. Which basically means they either completed the program, or didn't for whatever reason -- refusing to work on issues, or parents deciding to remove them early are a couple of examples. But in both cases, we have already heard back from both parents and students who wanted to thank us for the impact we had on their lives, even if only for a short time.

Residential Care facilites are very nearly invisible to the Church. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, because churches don't know about us, then they won't be able to refer families in crises to us. Second, it is unfortunate because we need all the support we can get. I'm not talking about money here, we have individuals and churches that support us financially and many of them come help out on various projects around campus -- and for that we are very thankful. What is missing is relationships -- friendship, community, prayer, emotional support -- or even inviting a family over for a weekend get away. We are a fairly isolated and invisible bunch, which can make life difficult at times.

Two parent homes really do make a difference. In the year that we have been here, we have had 10 different teens in our home and only one of those teens still had both biological parents living at home. Most have had multiple step-parents, or in some cases were being raised by an Aunt, or Grandparent. I'm not saying that blended families can't work, but our numbers indicate that blended families have to work extra hard to make sure everyone settles into the new family unit. I don't think this is a magic bullet, but it is one big common denominator for most kids here.

Youth culture in America is creating immature and unprepared adults. Another big common denominator would be American youth culture. Here we give our kids a cell phone, a car, and lots of free time to hang out with their friends, listen to crappy music, and sometimes experiment with drugs or sex. We don't, however, give them hardly any responsibilities or teach them basic living skills. I find it amazing that so many older teens who come here don't know how to wash clothes, wash dishes, run a vacuum, or scrub a toilet (but do know how to identify various drugs, or can write lyrics from dozens of songs from memory). What are they going to do when they leave home, live in filth?

Teens don't really want to become adults, they just want to stay teens. You may have seen articles about how the Millennials are not growing up, but are still living at home with mom and dad, or about how America is being 'Infantilized' by either our consumeristic society, or by political nanny's. Those may be very true, but why would they want to grow up when they have their cell phones to text on, and their friends to hang with? I think we may be delaying some of those 'Adult' responsibilities far too long because, by the time they are 18, many have already developed the mindset that life is about hanging out with friends and partying.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Convergence - God, Parenting, and the Early Church.

Over the past couple of weeks I have taken a couple of training courses in preparation for my new ministry as a house-parent; "Love and Logic" and "Developing Capable Young People". While taking these courses, I have noticed some similarities between them and the "Transition" series I listened to a few years ago, as well as the studies I'm currently doing in my spare time on the early Church Fathers.

At the heart of each of these is the idea that relationship should be the primary consideration over all else, including rules and moral code. There is the belief that the use of Power to enforce a set of rules or a moral code through threats, intimidation, and punishment is wholly ineffective in producing an "internal locus of control" or someone who is internally motivated to live a spirit-filled life.

In "Transition," Wayne asks us to re-consider the primary purpose of the Cross. Was it all about God's need to execute Justice on someone? Or was it about restoration -- our need to be cleansed and healed? He then asks us to consider what is driving us in our walk with God; Fear of punishment, or Love and Relationship? Do we change by obedience (effort), or through growing in a trusting relationship with God?

In "Love and Logic" and "Developing Capable Young People," the central idea is to win the heart of your child so that they know that they are loved. Then, through that connection, invite them to learn how to be in a healthy, mutually respectful relationship within the Family, and how to be a needed meaningful contributor to the Family. Within this context there are natural and logical consequences for negative behavior, but they are carried out in such a way that the child knows that the consequence was their choosing, not a punishment done 'to them'; this preserves the relationship between parent and child.

Finally, while reading on the early Church Fathers, I have been fascinated with how they wrestled with the idea of the Trinity. In particular many of the them reflected on the relationship between the Father and Son. They concluded that this relationship was unique, intimate, unbroken, and eternal. This relationship is wholly different from the relationship the Father, Son , and Sprit has with Creation. For them the astounding news of the Gospel is that, through our adoption in Christ, we get to participate in that unbroken, eternal relationship. We are invited into the circle of the Trinity, and are now sons and daughters. It it through participation in this Divine Life that we are remade into who we were meant to be all along.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A bit of the Irish in all of us.

Book of Kells
I started reading a couple of books on Irish and Celtic history and spirituality because my wife and I went to Ireland as a sort of late anniversary present. I have been surprised to find out what Western Civilization owes to the Irish. When all of Europe was plunging into the Dark Ages, the Irish Christians were preserving much of the Greek and Latin Literature that we have today, including the Gospels -- one of the more famous Gospel manuscripts being the beautiful Book of Kells.

In addition to preserving literature they brought needed change (shall we dare say reform?) to Christianity. By the 5th century Christianity had become a Roman religion. To be Roman meant being a Christian, and being Christian mean being Roman, christians of this era didn't ever think of preaching the Gospel to Barbarians (those outside the Roman empire). The rigidity and hierarchy of 5th century Roman Catholicism could not be translated into the Irish tribal culture. However, a Roman named Patricius, who was once a slave in Ireland, would return to Ireland after being told to by God in a dream and find that the Irish were a spiritual people quite ready to receive the Gospel. They saw the divine in creation as Paul did, but this was quickly lost in Romanized Christianity. In short they believed God to be both Transcendent and Immanent.

This sense of the world as holy, as the Book of God - as a healing mystery, fraught with divine messages - could never have risen out of Greco-Roman civilization, threaded with the profound pessimism of the ancients and their Platonic suspicion of the body as unholy and the world as devoid of meaning. Even Augustine, whose synthesis of pagan and Christian attitudes is the most remarkable philosophical creation of Christianity's first five centuries, can come nowhere near Patrick's originality. True, Augustine's theories on sin will haunt the Middle Ages, and cast their shadow still. But from the celebratory spirit of the 'Breastplate' will spring the characteristic art and poetry of the western world.

--Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization

I'm sure this doesn't begin to scratch the surface of their contribution to western civilization and christianity -- I have come to appreciate their influence, which can still be heard in 20th century Irish poets:

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and singing of the birds
Are but his voice - and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

-- Joseph Plunkett

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Christ beside me, Christ before me

My wife and I will be taking a trip to Ireland next week (May 10th), and I've started doing some reading to get into the Irish spirit. I came across a prayer called 'St. Patrick's Breastplate" also called "The Deer's Cry". It is said that St. Patrick challenged the pagan High-King Laeghaire by lighting a fire during a festival where all fires were to be extinguished. Once all the fires were extinguished the king would light his fire to show that he alone would provide his people with light and fire. Since St. Patrick lit his fire to demonstrate that he had a light of his own to share, the king tried to ambush him but when the king came to where St Patrick had been he only saw a group of deer.

For my shield this day
A mighty power:
The Holy Trinity!
Affirming threeness,
Confessing oneness,
In the making of all
Through love...

For my shield this day I call:
Christ's power in his coming
and in his baptising,
Christ's power in his dying
On the cross, his arising
from the tomb, his ascending;
Christ's power in his coming
for judgement and ending.

For my shield this day I call:
strong power of the seraphim
with angels obeying,
and archangels attending,
in the glorious company
of the holy and risen ones,
in the prayers of the fathers,
in visions prophetic
and commands apostolic,
in the annals of witness,
in virginal innocence,
to the deeds of steadfast men.

For my shield this day I call:
Heaven's might,
Moon's whiteness,
Fire's glory,
Lightning's swiftness,
Wind's wildness,
Ocean's depth,
Earth's solidity,
Rock's immobility.

This day I call to me:
God's strength to direct me,
God's power to sustain me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's vision to light me,
God's ear to my hearing,
God's word to my speaking,
God's hand to uphold me,
God's pathway before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's legions to save me;
from snares of the demons,
from evil enticements,
from failings of nature,
from one man or many
that seek to destroy me,
anear or afar.

Around me I gather;
these forces to save
my soul and my body
from dark powers that assail me:
against false prophesyings,
against pagan devisings,
against heretical lying
and false gods all around me.
Against spells cast by women (witches),
by blacksmiths, by Druids,
against knowledge unlawful
that injures the body,
that injures the spirit.

Be Christ this day my strong protector:
against poison and burning
against drowning and wounding,
through reward wide and plenty...

Christ beside me, Christ before me;
Christ behind me, Christ within me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me;
Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
Christ in heart of all who know me,
Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
Christ in eye of all who see me,
Christ in ear of all who hear me.

For my shield this day I call:
a mighty power:
the Holy Trinity!
affirming threeness,
confessing oneness
in the making of all - through love...

For to the Lord belongs salvation,
and to the Lord belongs salvation
and to Christ belongs salvation.
May your salvation, Lord, be
with us always.

... translation by Neil Dermott O'Donoghue

And here is a shortened variation in Song...

Friday, February 18, 2011

sed oderit uitium, amet hominem

I have been reading from 'Radical" by David Platt, and in Chapter 2 he makes this statement concerning a phrase that originated with Augustine of Hippo:

Habakkuk prayed to God, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, you cannot tolerate wrong." And in some sense, God also hates sinners. You might ask, "What happened to 'God hates the sin and loves the sinner'?" Well, the Bible happened to it.

David Platt - Radical, 2010 A.D.

I was going to write down my thoughts about this, but I decided instead to paste a few other quotes from Christians through the ages (and one from Christ himself) and let you decide what you think about this.

For a Christian is a man who knows no hatred or animosity at all against any one, has no anger or revenge in his heart, but simply love, mildness and beneficence; just like our Lord Christ and our heavenly Father himself is, whom he here too takes as his pattern.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. 1530 A.D.

As love is to good, so is hatred to evil; we wish good to them whom we love, and evil to them whom we hate. If then the will of God cannot be inclined to evil, as has been shown (Chap. XCV), it is impossible for Him to hate anything. ... What is found naturally in all active causes, must be found especially in the Prime Agent. But all agents in their own way love the effects which they themselves produce, as parents their children, poets their own poems, craftsmen their works. Much more therefore is God removed from hating anything, seeing that He is cause of all. ... Some things however God is said, to hate figuratively (similitudinarie), and that in two ways. The first way is this, that God, in loving things and willing their good to be, wills their evil not to be: hence He is said to have hatred of evils, for the things we wish not to be we are said to hate. ... The other way is by God’s wishing some greater good, which cannot be without the privation of a lesser good; and thus He is said to hate, whereas it is more properly [called] love.

Thomas Aquinas - Summa contra Gentiles, Circa 1260 A.D.

It is clear, then, that the man who does not live according to man but according to God must be a lover of the good and therefore a hater of evil; since no man is wicked by nature but is wicked only by some defect (lit. vice is a corruption), a man who lives according to God owes it to the wicked men that his hatred be perfect (Psalm 139:22), so that, neither hating the man because of his corruption nor loving the corruption because of the man, he should hate the sin but love the man. For, once the corruption has been cured, then all that is left should be loved and nothing remains to be hated.

Augustine, City of God - Circa 413 A.D.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus - Matthew 5:43-48 Circa 30 A.D.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Confession and Prayer against the darkness.

I wrote this in my journal today, and thought it might be worth sharing as a reminder that we are not alone in our struggles.

Waves of depression crash over me
then recede.
In one moment all is well, then in the next
a dark wave crashes upon my heart.
Lover and keeper of my soul
keep me anchored in you.
Let not the moors of your steadfast love break free
and send my soul into an ocean of blackness.
Hold me up by your strength when mine is gone,
and keep my by your side.

When the mirror tempts me to loath myself,
Remind me of the beauty you have wrought within.
When my body refuses to heal,
Remind me of the healing you have done within.
When uncertainty tempts me to live in fear of an imagined future,
Remind me to live in the certainty of your present gifts.
When the false teacher tries to cover your beauty with the mask of an angry devil,
Remind me of your single-minded grace and light that reaches into our darkness.
When the Pharisee tempts me to despair with their endless lists,
Remind me that you have done all that is required
and I may rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
And when the world tries to define me by what I may lack,
Remind me that my identity lies in you alone.

Rick Gibson in whom Christ dwells.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Every day has been a gift.

Yesterday, all the little little troubles in my life decided to dog-pile me, and I started feeling a bit blue. But it's funny how God can nudge you and gently remind you, in unexpected ways, how blessed you are.

Last night I was having sitting in Starbucks with my 19 year old son, Zach, and we were talking about his plans for the future. This got me thinking back to the same time in my life. 19 was a year of monumental changes for me, I celebrated my 19th birthday at Texas A&M, then the next semester I was at a community college trying to get my grades up, planning to return. But then my parents separated for a while, and told me that I had to make my own way. Overnight, I went from college student, still depending on my parents, to having to find a job and support myself with little education and few marketable skills. I bear no ill will toward my parents, for even then I understood that they were having tough time. But occasionally I will second guess my own choice to stay in Oklahoma; I was free and could have gone anywhere -- Colorado, Florida, College Station.... But then I look over the course of my life, and realize that I've been blessed. Every day, even the seemingly dark days have been a gift from the hand of God. Who could have guessed that I would have gotten from there to where I am today. There are many things that could have (or can) dramatically change the outcome of my life yet, by the Grace of God, here go I. And though I am doing well financially, that is not what I'm primarily talking about, more so I'm talking about the family I have, the faith that has been refined in me, and the friends I have made.

Then, as if God is wanting to re-enforce this thought, I read this from "It's What You've Been Given, Not What You Lost" in my blog reader morning:

Toward the end of the [Voyage of the Dawn Treader] as the main characters stand at the edge of Aslan’s country contemplating whether to go further, or stay in their respective worlds. At that point King Caspian offers a breath-taking observation, “I’ve spent too long wanting what was taken from me and not what I was given.” It hit me smack between the eyes. There are two ways to live in this world, either being thankful for what God has given you, or growing in bitter frustration at what you’ve lost.


When you focus on what God has given rather than the things you’ve lost, you can know great joy and gratitude even in the painful realities of the age we live in. God is the redeeming influence in your life, not the destructive one. Those who seek your destruction are pawns in the hands of a diabolical enemy. As painful as they can make our lives, God is bigger still. He can even turn our losses in this age into a treasures far greater by making himself known in the midst of our pain and disappointment.

All I can say is -- Thank you Father!