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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.

Last week, I was lucky enough to take Thelonious to his very first live NFL game. I surprised him with a pair of tickets after school on Thursday. He’s been begging for me to take him to a pro sports game for a couple of years now and when he saw those tickets, I thought he was going to wet himself, have an aneurism, or both. I was a little nervous, though. Sometimes with things like these, the expectations can outweigh the actual experience (like the time he fell asleep during the Weezer concert). But, that Thursday night game was nothing but pure gold. Seattle Seahawks: 31 Philadelphia Somebodies: a lot less than 31. It was tons of fun – we won, there was lots of scoring, and Marshawn Lynch hit beast mode (more than once).

Of course, all pro sporting events are a cultural mixed bag. Something happens to humans when they are sitting with 60,000 other people dressed identically to them. Or, maybe it’s just that after you’ve spent $97 on a ticket, $12 on nachos, and $16 on a pair of beers, you figure you’ve actually paid for the privilege of abandoning all social norms, etiquette, and decent human behavior.

Let’s be honest: the 300 level of an NFL game is no place for small children.

Luckily, I had the wherewithal to warn T before we went in to the stadium. “Son, you’re going to hear a lot of things tonight. Yes. Many of them you have heard from your mom. But, many of these words, and their contexts, are going to be brand new. Be prepared.” And the guy sitting directly behind us surely did not disappoint. I don’t believe he was actually capable of expressing a thought or emotion without using the f word. If his sentence consisted of more than a single noun and single verb, it included the f word. Me hungry… Me effing hungry for some big a** effing nachos! Constantly. For three hours. It got old pretty quickly, but, ya know, what are you gonna do?

The game ended and we started walking the six miles back to our car. Thelonious and I were basking in the afterglow of a truly great evening and debriefing everything that had happened. I asked him how he felt about the guy behind us and all of us his annoying chatter. At that point, Thelonious turned to me and said, “after about 15 minutes, I really wanted to turn around and tell that guy to shut the fuck up.”

My mind was instantly filled with questions. How do I parent in this situation? Is there any soap in this alleyway that I can wash his mouth out with? Is it more important for me to reassure Thelonious that I am a safe place where he can experiment with expressing his emotions and thoughts – or that I correct his every misstep? If I don’t make him pay for that f bomb, do I “lose”? When I die, do I want my child to say “I was always safe with him. He could handle and accept anything that I threw at him. I never worried that he didn’t love me totally and completely”? Or, would I prefer that he say “that man could really discipline” ? And on and on and on. Finally, I just chuckled and said let’s not use that word anymore, mmmm k?

I know not everyone agrees with my parenting style. But, I don’t really care.

I completed the conversation with this: “I won’t tell mom you used the f word if you don’t tell her I urinated in an alley.”

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.

On the way to school this morning, Thelonious asked me a question. “Dad, what’s the name of that guy at the comic book store?”
“Gabe?”
“No, the other one.”
“I think it’s Panda. But, I don’t know if it’s Panda or just something that sounds like Panda.”
“Panda is kind of a cool name… It’s also kinda weird.”
“Ya. And, I don’t even know if it’s his real name or a nickname.”

At this point, Ione chimed in.
“Well, since he has brownish skin, maybe it’s Pandaria!”

Thelonious and I burst into laughter. “Ione, what are you talking about?!?!?”
“I don’t know! But, do you know what it’s called when a Panda has a diarrhea? … PANDARIA!!!!”

Here’s the point. My kids are in 2nd and 4th grades, respectively – and, they don’t have a clue about race. I think it’s a pretty amazing and beautiful thing. They live in a neighborhood with African-Americans, Africans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans. But, they consider skin color absolutely random. One of Ione’s best friends is adopted – a Korean girl with two white parents. For the life of him, Thelonious could not figure out how I knew she was adopted. In my kids’ world, there is no Black, White, Asian, or Indian. Instead, we’re all the same thing and some people are just more or less brownish than others – the same way some of their friends have red hair or green eyes.

And, here’s the other point. Poo is almost always funny.

Every Friday afternoon, I spend an hour at my kids’ school. It’s on Friday afternoons that Ione and her classmates from the 2nd grade have Art class. Sometimes, it feels like that commitment is infringing on my free time, but most of the time, I really enjoy it. The teacher likes having me help out because I know a little about art and she likes the way I interact with the kids about their artwork. The kids work on something, and I sit down and talk to them about what they are trying to communicate and what they are thinking. It’s fun. But, I won’t lie. Sometimes, I encourage their less appropriate creative expressions.

A few weeks ago, the kids started working on white glue relief print Christmas cards. Don’t ask, it’s not important. The important thing here is that I was walking around the room and I stopped by one of my favorite students. She sees things a little bit differently than the rest of the world. I like her. She had created a very interesting image. It was obviously a manger, the place one would expect to find a baby Jesus. But, in her manger, there appeared to be a 30 pound sausage. My curiosity was piqued.

“Hey, Jane (name changed to protect her identity). Cool picture. What’s that in the manger?”
“It’s baby Jesus. He’s wrapped up like a mummy cuz he’s dead.”
“Sweet. I really like it.”

See what I mean? Well, I came back a couple of weeks later to help the kids finish up their projects. I cut out the prints they had made and, using glue stick, glued them to a large piece of black paper. Glue stick sucks. They should outlaw that crap. I passed out all of the prints to their respective owners and then handed them a white pencil. They were supposed to come up with a greeting or phrase that played off their image. Another one of my favorites had drawn a cross with a manger in the middle of it that looked like light was exploding out of it. He was struggling, so I suggested he write something about light and darkness. He came up with, “the light came into the darkness.” I thought that was very hopeful in an Adventy kind of way.

I kept walking around the room until I came to Jane’s station. I looked down at her work. She had written:

Jesus is alive!, or
is he dead?!?

I think that’s probably the best Christmas card I have ever seen.