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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.

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.

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.

I’ve lost my creative edge. First, there was that damned election and, quite seriously, that thing sucked all the energy out of my life. I just wanted to die when it was over. Instead, we got a new puppy. Then the snow came and vacation and winter malaise. I don’t wanna blog anymore, but I know how disappointed you will be if I don’t. SO! I’ve made a short list of things that I was going to write about during the past two months if I had had enough energy.

1. In high school, I was surrounded by hessians. They were everywhere. We got along but I hated their music and they hated mine. I really hate metal. But, due to lunchtime ghetto blaster wars and riding in Bobby Randles’ Duster, I know at least one line to every heavy metal song written between 1982 and 1988. Something took over my decision making faculties on November 7th and I downloaded 19 songs by Stryper and their nemeses: Maiden, Crüe, and Priest. For over a week I listened to those songs over and over and over again. I listened to nothing else. And, I hated every second of it.

2. I had an extremely profound thought about “core values.”

3. Thelonious, Ione and I were driving in the car. Thelonious said, “Hey dad, I learned some new words to a Christmas carol: Deck the hall with balls of money, fa lala la lalalala, tis the season to be greedy, fa lala la lalalala.” Ione immediately interrupted him and scolded, “Stop singing that! Your Lord would not appreciate it!”

4. A quote from The Shaping of Things to Come
“An incarnational ministry draws not-yet-Christians toward God by exciting curiosity through storytelling, by provoking a sense of wonder and awe, by showing extraordinary love, by exploring how God has touched our lives, and by focusing on Jesus.”

5. My facial hair has grown into an homage to Castro’s Revolution

6. I called our new puppy “the pooper.” Ione asked why I called her that and I said it was because she (the puppy, not Ione) looked like poop. Ione thought that was ridiculous because the puppy is black and white. I asked her, “Haven’t you ever pooped black and white?” She looked incredulous and answered, “No! You only poop black and white in Canada!”

7. I made Thelonious sit at the dinner table for an hour and fifteen minutes and then go straight to bed because he wouldn’t eat three green beans. I think Erika was more angry at me than he was.

Now that I have all that out of my system, I might start writing more.

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In honor of the oppressed who gained some level of voice and empowerment in last night’s election, I decided to wear my Clash “Know Your Rights” t-shirt today. Ione and I were brushing our teeth (actually, I was brushing my teeth and she was just hanging out on the toilet) when she saw my shirt and asked, “Daddy, does your shirt say ‘now your rights’?”

“No, sweetie, it says Know. Know your rights.”

“But, daddy, you’re a left.”

Speaking of rights, this morning I came to the realization that I don’t have to be friends with anyone – on facebook that is. See, I’ve been getting riled up about what some people have entered as their “status.” I rile easy, and I de-rile with much work over a long period of time. So, avoiding the initial riling is important for my spiritual health and well being (not to mention the class project due tomorrow). After my blood boiled over one particularly shameful jingoistic “status” I read this morning, I was prepared to explode – figuratively and literally. And then, it occurred to me. I do not have to be facebook friends with individuals who express their vitriolic fear through jackassery. So, I deleted them and feel much better.

Speaking of jackassery, for many years I thought that word had been invented by my friend, Bill Power. Just a few years ago, I discovered it is a real word! I read it in a scholarly theological work on sin by Cornelius Plantinga. Who knew?

Speaking of Plantinga, he understands sin as the lack or absence of shalom (or, “the way things God intended them to be”). I think in last night’s election, a little bit of shalom was restored and the kingdom of God was made visible.

I’m super cranky. I watched “the future is unwritten” last week. It’s a documentary about Joe Strummer of the Clash. I’ve been trying to blog about it ever since, but I haven’t been very successful. Why? I can’t put into words what it is Joe Strummer has meant to me. And, that is making me cranky. So, here is all I am going to say…

My first memory of Joe Strummer is from Christmas of 1982. I was 11 years old. My dad gave me a stack of LP’s which included the Clash’s Combat Rock. I saw that Travis Bickle mohawk and instantly knew my life was about to change. I remember putting it on the record player for the first time. “This is a public service announcement! … with guitar!” What was my dad thinking?!?? 25 years later that song, that record, that band, and that man are still influencing me and my theology.
___________________________________________________

This is a public service announcement
With guitar
Know your rights all three of them

Number 1
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a crime!
Unless it was done by a
Policeman or aristocrat
Know your rights

And number 2
You have the right to food money
Providing of course you
Dont mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers
Rehabilitation

Know your rights
These are your rights
Wang

Know these rights

Number 3
You have the right to free
Speech as long as youre not
Dumb enough to actually try it.

Know your rights
These are your rights
All three of em
It has been suggested
In some quarters that this is not enough!
Well…………………………

Get off the streets
Get off the streets
Run
You dont have a home to go to
Smush

Finally then I will read you your rights

You have the right to remain silent
You are warned that anything you say
Can and will be taken down
And used as evidence against you

Listen to this
Run

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week about being a Christ follower. Unfortunately, a lot of this thought was triggered by some unpleasant blog exchanges about whether or not Rob Bell is a heretic. My more conservative brothers and sisters pushed me to a place where I had to ask myself what I consider the very basics (as far as doctrine or theology) and what I consider to be “electives” (not “elected” – I don’t believe in that crap). For instance – can one follow Christ and not believe in Hell? If you answer that question “no” then my question becomes, “what saves – the acts and words of Jesus or belief in Hell?” Then, I ran across this cute lil quote…

There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief.

In the end, my answer was that one only need believe that Jesus is both God and human and that He died for our sins.

Does our salvation depend on anything else?