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During the course of the past seven years, my wife, Erika, and I (along with our kids) have made certain sacrifices in order that I might pursue full time ministry in a local church setting. As we have counted the cost of this life change, we have been, for the most part, happy – and, we are incredibly grateful. I work from home and take care of the kids and dogs, while Erika excels at her work as a Process Improvement Consultant at Group Health. I stay at home and my wife has a career outside of the house (where she makes way more money than the current zero dollars an hour I get paid for planting a church). There, I said it. That took some guts – cuz, I’m actually more than a little afraid that Mark Driscoll and his wife are going to storm my front door and Mark will scream “Infidel!!!” at me as his wife kicks my ass. But, I digress.

This familial arrangement of ours has one incredible drawback: I am in charge of dinner. The problem? I hate to cook. This problem is compounded by the facts that my wife loves to cook and my kids hate all food. Plus, I have the nutritional intelligence of a public school lunch lady (insert comment about pizza being a vegetable here). But, alas, Erika loves her work and she is incredibly gifted for this specific type of work and there is no way in hell she is going to quit. So, for the foreseeable future, I am in charge of dinner. And, I hate to cook.

that burger is bigger than his mouth!

Last night, I outdid my self. Feeling incredibly ambitious and energetic, I attempted to make a “complete” meal. By “complete,” I mean it consists of at least three items and one or more of them is a vegetable-like substance. Not only did I pursue the ever allusive “complete” meal, but I also tried to make it healthy. I passed on the frozen burger patties from Costco and made my own turkey burgers – complete with oats, raw egg, and seasoning. And, ya know, what? That meat tasted DAMN good. However…

My kids have gotten into that Food Network show Chopped! with Ted Allen. Andddd, cue Ione!

Ione: “Chef Jim. What have you made for us tonight?”

Me: “Turkey burgers, french fries, and corn.”

Erika: “Judges, what do you think of Chef Jim’s dish?”

Thelonious: “Chef Jim, I can feel the oats in my burger. And, it’s way too big. I can’t get my mouth around it.”

Ione: “Chef Jim, the french fries are nice in the middle, but the ends are a bit too… crispy. My burger is over done on the bottom. The “carmelization” is gross.”

Erika: “Judges, what do you like about Chef Jim’s dish?”

Ione: “Chef Jim, the burger is seasoned very well! It’s delicious!”

Thelonious: “Chef Jim, the burger is very moist and seasoned very well. But, I can feel the oats in my mouth.”

At this point, Ione took a commercial break. Then, Thelonious covered his plate with a napkin and asked rhetorically, “Who’s dish is on the chopping block?!?!… Chef Jim, you have been chopped!”

Always the optimist, Erika asked me what I learned from tonight’s meal.

  1. It is not possible to have all items in a complete meal be the same temperature at the same time. (Personally, I don’t mind cold corn, lukewarm fries, and scalding hot burgers)
  2. Johnny’s Seasoning Salt contains no MSG and kids love it.
  3. 1/2 pound burgers are way too big for most humans, especially children (unless you are Ione who ate the whole thing).
  4. I hate to cook.
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Yesterday I received an email from my son’s teacher. It said something to the affect of:

“Thelonious asked a very good question during our Bible lesson yesterday that takes a higher level of questioning than I usually see in a 5th grader. He asked how we know God is real. And, how do we know the Bible is real and not just some thing the authors made up. These questions are a little beyond what the other 5th graders are asking, so I couldn’t get into it with him very much. I thought you might like to give it a go.”

Well, as a matter of fact, it just so happens that I do hold a masters degree in theology. So, I guess I’m actually fairly qualified to broach this topic.

As Thelonious and I lounged around last night, wasting a few minutes before bed, I laid down on his bed and we had a little conversation. “Your teacher says you’re asking annoying questions in Bible class. Stop it.” I kid. “I hear you’re having some pretty serious questions in Bible class. Want to talk about them?” See, sometimes, my kids bring up life altering issues at school but they don’t really care about the answers all that much. Questions of existence can simply be a passing fancy in the Fox household. But, he remembered the questions. How do we know God is real? And, how do we know the Bible just isn’t made up?

So, like any properly trained pastor, I asked him, “what makes you think that God isn’t real?” His answer was simple: if God is real, bad things wouldn’t happen. Great. 10 years old and I have to deal with issues of theodicy (the first of many vocab words he learned during this conversation). So, like any properly trained pastor, I asked probing questions that steered the conversation towards issues of choice. But, apparently, free will isn’t very important to Thelonious.” Why doesn’t God stop me from doing bad things?”  “Why doesn’t God stop me from being mean to Ione?” Pretty soon the conversation degraded into “why don’t you stop me? why doesn’t mom stop me? why doesn’t the playground monitor stop me?” Apparently, there is only one person who is not responsible for Thelonious’ personal choices – and, that person is Thelonious.

Our conversation went on and on. It was pretty fun to get inside his head and mess it all up and see how he thinks. The dialogue was far reaching and bounced back and forth from one corner of his cynical little mind to the other corner of his agnostic little mind. Every time I looked over at him, his little face was all twisted up and distorted. It was (literally) a look of pain. A look of deep, deep thought. His brain was working so hard that it actually couldn’t send messages to his face telling it to keep it looking the way it is supposed to look. I won’t bore you with all the details, just the conclusion…

“Dude, let me tell you about the only philosopher that really matters: Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said that when it is all said and done, we just don’t know for sure. You can’t know for sure. And, nothing anyone says can make you know for sure. Kierkegaard called it “the leap of faith.” Sooner or later, you’re just gonna have to take a leap of faith.”

I may have been a little too esoteric (another vocab word he learned last night). I may have been a little too ambiguous and non-committal. I may have been lacking in anything that could actually be called an answer. I may have been way too comfortable in the grey world of “I dunno.” But one thing is for sure. I kissed him good night and said, “I love you.” And, for the first time in a year and a half, he replied with, “I love you.” See, he gave up that little kid gesture of verbally communicated affection long ago. But, apparently, a parent who will sit with you in the unknown (and introduce you to the depressed Dane) is irresistibly lovable.

As I got up from his bed and started to leave the room, Thelonious wanted to ask me one final question… After the conversation at school, the teacher asked the rest of class: “class, what do you think of these questions?” One little girl raised her hand and said that she knew the Bible was true because what it contained was so amazing and wonderful that it was beyond human ability to imagine or make up any of  it. (Anselm… that line of reasoning is so 5th grade.) Thelonious continued: “but, ya know what? I think that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, the stories in the Bible really aren’t  all that amazing.” Letting him read comic books was a very bad idea.

gg21

BOD is shorthand for Board of Directors. Did you know that? I’ll never forget the day that secret chunk of knowledge was revealed to me. I felt so smart, like my level of professionalism jumped from “soggy sock” to “red hot lover” in an instant. At that time, I was a member of the Puget Sound American Marketing Association’s board. We did planning/visioning retreats every year. I didn’t enjoy them.

This weekend, I’ll be attending the VCC staff and BOD planning/visioning retreat. This will be the first planning retreat I have been a part of with VCC. At least, I think it will be the first one. I’m totally going to get fired if it turns out we had a planning retreat just three months ago and I have completely forgotten the entire event. Anyways, I’m very excited. Ya see, I secretly love planning and visioning. It’s true. Mission and vision and purpose… well, they are the wind beneath my wings. In hindsight, I’ve realized every bout of depression I’ve had has been fueled by the unanswered question, “what’s it all mean, what’s the purpose of it all?” That is to say, if I don’t have a clear mission and purpose, I literally go insane.

For Christmas, Ione wanted one thing and one thing only: the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker. She didn’t want Barbies, video games, or My Little Ponies. She didn’t even want a Camaro with a princess riding a flying donut airbrushed on the hood. For her, it was all about the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker. I guess the VCC BOD planning/visioning retreat is my Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker.