Family update

It is hard to believe we have been back in the UK for 4 weeks and 1 day. Life in Canada in one sense seems another lifetime ago and yet it is also the backdrop to all that we has a family of 4 know in so many ways. We are closer to family, catching up with long held friendships but day to day life was in Vancouver and we formed so many very dear friendships there.

Last night was also our first decent nights sleep from the boys which goes along way to how we see the world when we wake/get up in the morning.

As some of you already know Mark this week accepted an offer to do PhD work in Cheltenham. So this Friday Mark and I are headed through to Gloucester to find somewhere to life. We have about 6 or 7 houses to look at lined up. The two towns are only a few miles apart but significantly cheaper rent in Gloucester. Mark will be able to cycle or get the train. So God willing we will have a potential home sorted by Friday evening and then we will look to move as soon as we can. It is about 2 to 2 1/2hr drive from both sets of parents.

It has been a wonderful gift of grace and generosity for Nana and Grandad to have us stay for an indefinite time over the summer while we find our feet and they have with grace sacrificed their peace and quiet and allowed life with two small boys to tumble all over the place. It will be fun though to find our own home and gather all our belongings from here and there and be able unpack and set up home. This will be the first time Mark and I have set up our own home from the start together as Mark moved into the home I already owned when we got married and student accommodation was second home.

Thank you for those who have prayed for this time of adjustment, time is giving way to a greater sense of calm though we are aware that this upcoming move will also bring with it disruption to the boys again but we will be able to settle and put down roots which will be good for all of us. Our holiday in Cornwall was a blessing and gave us time away from everything to really pour our time and focus on the boys and they are clearly happier for it.

We have not travelled otherwise but spent our time on catching up with both sides of the family which has been wonderful. Hopefully once we have got settled in Gloucester we will get to see more of our UK friends either in our new home or visiting them. And for those living further afield our hope is to find a home with a guest bedroom so please do come and visit.

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Well it is ordinary time in the church calendar and while we seem to be journeying through a season of significant changes there is still plenty of ordinary time events taking place in the every day moments of life, lots of story books, snacks, tickles, games in the garden, craft projects, answering the question ‘where is my…? – on the boat” so many times a day, and for littlest one his 6 month shots, (which he would normally get in the UK at 4 months), this afternoon.

Ordinary time is usually something I take little notice of but this year with all the changes going on for us I found the start of ordinary time oddly reassuring that even in the midst of big there are still little things going on and God is in the the details as well as the big things and that ordinary time this year has brought me a gift of freedom to rest in His grace and just life in the moment rather than trying to get all the  big decisions sorted and right in one go.

So for now i rest in all of the ordinary that today holds and allow Friday to hold the possibility of a new home.

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Spare the rod?

This post is sparked my dissatisfaction with some of the book “Shepherding a Child’s heart.”  It is not a review of the book by any means, but simply an interaction with a major part of the book’s emphasis.  The book’s call for discipline that is based around “rich communication” which seeks to reach beneath behaviour to the heart of a child is a good one.  My reservation is over the authors sole reliance on spanking (smacking) as the means of discipline to go with this.

One objection to the book is at a simple logical level.  The author criticises most methods of discipline commonly used today (time outs, grounding, behaviour incentives, etc) because they fail to incorporate good ways to communicate well to the child’s heart and only address behaviour, and then offers a model based on “spanking” (smacking if in UK!) plus communication as the only right way.  However he never seems to consider any other methods of discipline with his communication strategies incorporated.

The major reason given for his favouring of spanking as the method of discipline is a “biblical” one.   The “rod” in Proverbs is taken to always be physical discipline, and therefore, the argument runs, since Proverbs tells us that if parents don’t use the rod they hate their child then we must use physical punishment.

My big issue with his book is this question: is the rod always physical?

The word commonly translated as “rod” in Proverbs is the word that also came to mean in some instances “leader” (possibly derived from the concept of one who uses the rod of authority), and “tribe” (a group under that authority).

From that we can see that some uses of the word have a metaphorical usage beyond that of simply a physical staff and so it seems reasonable that we should at least consider if the “rod” of Proverbs might encompass more than just physical discipline.  In that light we should note Psalm 23:4 where the rod and staff of the shepherd are a source of comfort for the sheep.

It seems at least possible to suggest therefore that “rod” is a metaphorical way of referring to the authority of a parent over the child, and that Proverbs is saying that this authority is to be used by the parent over a child to discipline the child in the way it should go.  The precise form of the rod will vary from culture to culture and from family to family according to what would be wise and appropriate for the child.

It might well be that the original hearers of the Proverbs would have used a physical rod but we should not assume this and it certainly does not automatically mean that we have to use physical punishment today.

In each of the verses where the “rod” is mentioned, the wider concept of “discipline” is referred to.  Proverbs 22:15 contains the phrase: “The rod of discipline”. This could mean that discipline is achieved by means of the rod, but also, given the possibility of a meaning beyond the simply literal it could mean that the rod is the whole range of parental discipline beyond simply the physical. The Bible certainly refers to God using a whole range of things as discipline of his children (Hebrews 12) so presumably the same would apply for earthly parents.

So, if I am right, the book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” is flawed in its use of Proverbs – should I throw it across the room in disgust and write it off?  Surely not. There is much wisdom, particularly in his discussion of communication with your child (even if the conversations never quite seem to work out so well in real life), and in making sure that the heart is addressed.

My worry is that the book would lead people to over-rely on one form of discipline that may not even be the most effective.  A further issue with an overreliance on physical punishment is that it is surely conceivable that at some point smacking will be made completely illegal. I for one am not convinced that this is an issue Christians should then disobey the law over.

I think it is possible to give coherent, firm and authoritative discipline without physical punishment, and I do not believe that to withhold physical punishment is to defy God’s law.  Rather I believe that God wants us as parents to use our authority to discipline our children in the widest sense so that they will know right from wrong, and be fully equipped to choose the right ways and the wise ways for themselves as they come to adulthood.  Whether this involves physical punishment or not is a matter for wisdom, for considering how biblical principles apply to life and different people in different situations with different children may well give very different answers to that. Thoughts?

Thankfulness

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For fish and chips so fresh you can still taste the sea.

For the sound of waves lapping on the shore.

For the waves of grace pouring over us as we breathe in sea air on the first night of our holiday and slow down.

For daily doses of ice cream made with Cornish clotted cream.

For our first family climb with eldest son going under his own steam.

For daily trips to the beach at low tide to build castles and watch them come tumbling down as the tide turns and reclaims the beach.

For M&S dine in for £10 for two one night with both boys going to bed early and staying asleep, allowing us to have some grown up time.

For the first week away from normal life as a family in over 3 years.

For the boys beginning to play and laugh together.

For eldest son’s enjoyment on his introduction to test match cricket.

For youngest son’s excitement at food that we eat rather than pureed food and his attempts to eat the opposite end of my snadwiches.

For the generosity of a friend who made their home available for us to stay in.

Glorious Creation, More Glorious Creator

An early “hymn of the week” because we are away in Cornwall for a week, and will not be in e-contact!  The selection of this hymn (and a bonus chorus) are inspired by the location to which we are going, and the reminders it creates.  It may not be a familiar hymn to many, and to appreciate the significance some background ambience needs to be created.  Transport yourself to a youth club hall. Add 40 “lads” aged between 9 and 18. Add 20 “leaders” mostly in their twenties, but a few older.  Add one slightly out of tune piano, and an enthusiastic pianist playing this hymn, to the tune of “For all the saints”, at about 2-3 times normal pace. Everyone is singing at pretty much full volume – if not necessarily in tune.

It might be at the end of August, start of September. Most of those present have got back from the fortnight long annual summer camp of the group (and by camp I mean a proper 2 week long under canvas camp with no hot water on tap, not one of those soft, spend 10 days in a rather nice boarding school sort of “camp”). Newly washed and rested, everyone is unrecognizable from the previous two weeks, but are reminded of the days just gone by the smell of the yet to be unpacked kit.

A hymn like the one below recalls all the experience of living out of doors for two weeks, and, since camp was always spent on a western coast of the UK (Cornwall or Wales) this usually included quite a lot of weather. One night would always have literally been spent under the stars, often on a nearby beach, so creation was vividly in the memory.  It was in that context that the great truths which the last two verses speak of were imprinted on the mind of the “lads” – through morning talks, 4 evening meetings during camp, and “tent chats” in the evening where in the dim light of a gas lamp hearts were unburdened, questions asked, and friendships formed and Jesus made real.  The reward for those who measured the time spent as leaders on camps in terms of whole years will not be fully seen until eternity reveals the impact of lives changed by those weeks. I for one would not be the same without them.

It is those weeks which come back to my mind as we head off for a family holiday tomorrow. I love the North Cornish coast, for me it ranks second only to the Lakes in the UK for beauty with its rugged cliffs, its golden sands, and its foaming waves.  The wonders of the creation lead me back to the one who made it all – and who came to live in it – to praise and adore him, and put my worries in some sort of perspective.  It is in that spirit that I offer this hymn to lead you to enjoy creation, and worship our great creator and saviour.

  1. For all the glories of the earth and sky.
    For night’s soft voice and morning’s silent haze,
    For trees that whisper and for winds that sigh,
    We give you praise.
  2. For summer sunshine and for cooling showers,
    For stars that light the heavens’ darkening maze,
    For dewdrops sparkling on the new-born flowers,
    Our hearts would praise.
  3. For lightning’s flash and thunder’s echoing roar,
    For seas that beat upon their endless ways,
    For wild wave’s anthem on a rock-bound shore
    We offer praise.
  4. For mighty mountains and eternal snows,
    Enduring changeless through the changing days,
    For moon-lit valleys and for sunset glows
    accept our praise.
  5. But for that great redeeming work of Yours,
    Our souls their loftiest hymn of thanks would raise
    For free salvation, through a love divine,
    We give You praise.
  6. For all the matchless wonders of Your grace
    Seen in that cross on which we humbly gaze
    For peace and pardon to a fallen race
    Your Name we praise.

Since I am unashamedly in nostalgic mood in this post it remains only to also offer you the chorus below. The rhyme isn’t up to much. The words only just fitted the tune, but it was written for the youth organisation in question (name is given away at the end – now changed – thankfully – to Urban Saints) and inspired me when I first sung it, and still does. Change the last two words to “good and faithful servant” and the chorus becomes universal. I cannot imagine any better words to hear than the divine “well done” – I long that it would be said of me as a husband, a father, and in all I do.

The Lord has need of me, His soldier I will be, He gave himself my life to win, And so I mean to follow him, And serve him faithfully, And though the fight be fierce and long, I’ll carry on he makes me strong, And then one day his face I’ll see and O the joy when he says to me, “Well done my brave Crusader”

It takes a village not a bookshelf…

It takes a village to raise a child, not a bookshelf of parenting books. Yet walk into any bookstore and that is what you would be led to believe.  I am so thankful for the wisdom that my sister in law gave me very early on;  to just pick one book, one theory and let that book be our companion otherwise we would find ourselves reading as many contradictory theories as we were books.

What I had not anticipated was the level of tribal division and tension these different books can create, even those that are faith based. Most of the parenting books out there cover the broad spectrum of caring and loving parenting. The overall aims also overlap, helping your child sleep through the night, getting them to eat their vegetables, dealing with sibling rivalry to name but a few. The differences come in the way you achieve these aims. So called biblically based parenting books are no different.

So why is it that rather than allowing villages to raise our children we tend to huddle in tribes depending on the theories we have aligned ourselves? The phrase ‘it takes a village’ does not come from the Bible but no doubt in that culture children were raised in large extended families and I believe God did not intend for us to raise children by ourselves.

We need the wisdom and support of others. Others who can come alongside us and recognise the signs of teething pain, who understand what it feels like to have not slept for the past 48 hours. Who can intervene and help when the toddler is lying on the ground stomping their feet in public and the truth is that is exactly what you want to do too. Books can offer advice but they cannot come alongside us and take the children for an hour, or put the kettle on. Villages means that when your husband ends up in the ER with acute appendicitis a friend comes over within 15 minutes of your phone call with a toothbrush in hand and stays the night rotating beds depending on which boy is awake and needing attention. Villages means that you are known and loved and supported and your children are known and loved and cared for. Where the issues that matter to you and your child are respected but where you are also confident of the care and love and teaching others will show your child.

The further down this journey of parenting I find myself and the more I look to the Bible the more I realise that God says little directly on how we are to parent but much on how we are to love one another, to be humble and gentle and kind. To carry each others burdens, to walk with each other and for iron to sharpen iron. So my plea is to those of us standing at the door of the play group, mums groups or at the school gates can we please extend grace to those who choose different styles of parenting? Can we offer our wisdom lightly so as not to threaten? Can we see the bigger picture and remember that each family is different and so is each child in that family and so different styles have their place. Within the broad spectrum of caring and loving parenting there are many differing theories and styles. Parenting is not black and white and neither are our children and neither are we.

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I Cannot Tell

This hymn of the week expresses brilliantly the reality of being a Christian, and the reality of understanding more of the Bible, and more of God – there is so much that I cannot work out, but a few things I can confidently assert. It also sums up a blog post I was trying to write as an introduction to a series coming up on issues that Christians really should be prepared to say “I cannot tell” to one degree or other, and what part of those issues should get a ringing “But this I know.”

  1. I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship,
    Should set His love upon the sons of men,
    Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wand’rers,
    To bring them back, they know not how or when.
    But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
    When Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home,
    And that He lived at Nazareth and labored,
    And so the Savior, Savior of the world, is come.
  2. I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
    As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
    Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
    The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
    But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
    And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
    And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
    For yet the Savior, Savior of the world, is here.
  3. I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
    How He will claim His earthly heritage,
    How satisfy the needs and aspirations
    Of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
    But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
    And He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
    And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendor
    When He the Savior, Savior of the world, is known.
  4. I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
    When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
    Or who can say how great the jubilation
    When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
    But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
    And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
    And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
    At last the Savior, Savior of the world, is King.

Those verses some up perfectly the good that we are holding on to in the journey (remember Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings?), however hard it gets, however painful now there can be a participation in this good ending.

A final question. I’d be really interested to know the answer to this: In your life journey what issues in your faith have you become less confident that you “know” the answer, and what have you become more confident of?

Faith despite Delilah?

I have been reading Hebrews recently and have finally made it to the end of Hebrews 11. The list of names of those whom the writer does not have time to tell of towards the end of the chapter is fascinating: “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets”. Each of these is regarded as “worthy” of being in this hall of fame. David, Samuel and the prophets we might expect, but what about the 4 judges mentioned?

Gideon will only destroy the Baal idol at night and requires a lot of convincing to go into battle. Even though he refuses to be crowned bizarrely has a son whose name means “My father is king”, and like Aaron melts the people’s gold into a snare to be worshipped.  One glorious night seems to be enough to get him into the hall of fame. And he seems to be the best of the bunch. Barak wouldn’t go out to fight without Deborah. Samson’s life is like a James Bond movie out of control and Jephthah sacrifices his own daughter. How do these people make it into God’s hall of fame?

Part of the answer, I believe, is that their failings do not negate the faith they did have, even if it was small, weak and sometimes misguided.  Their faith was in God, and it was enough to do what God wanted at a particular point, to fight against God’s enemies, and to seek to do God’s will.

I’ve also been reading Steve Turner’s biography of Johnny Cash, and have been struck by the same themes coming through there. Cash is someone who found spectacular ways to go wrong, and yet each time responded to fresh grace.

His story reminded me of Samson, a man brought down by inner demons too great for him to control, and yet still somehow retaining faith in God. It reminded me of people I know whose life has gone through periods that just seem a mess – yet somehow too they cannot quite let go of God.

Perhaps this list in Hebrews is there to remind us that (as John Goldingay puts it in “After Eating the Apricot”) that “if there is room for Samson, then there is room for you”.  After all the list does not finish with Samson. It does not finish with the prophets or with the martyrs. It finishes with Jesus – the one who begins and ends our faith. “He alone has power to keep. Fix your eyes on him.”