Should children be allowed to read anything?

I have to admit I struggle with the idea of setting no limits on what we read in order that truth might manifest itself in the very abundance and depth of our reading (an idea proposed first by John Milton in “Areaopagitica” and later by Karen Swallow Prior in “Booked”). I hear that, but then my parenting radar kicks in. What about “garbage in, garbage out.” What about Paul’s warning in Philippians that “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things”? I’m not taking black markers to my kids’ books (yet), but I’m also not saying, “Pick anything from the library and have at it.” Not only because I don’t want them exposed to pornography or abuse or foul language, but because I also don’t want them exposed to poor writing.

I don’t enjoy submersing myself in evil, either. Especially evil disguised as entertainment. I doubly do not want that for my children, especially as they are still under the umbrella of my protection (which I believe means physically, emotionally, and spiritually). I think there is a reasonable line between freedom of speech (and freedom to read) and defense against heresy (and reveling in evil). But where that line lies I think is a work of the Holy Spirit individually in each soul, and individually in each set of parents.

The man who blacks out his child’s book is ridiculed as an example of censorship; but the parents who allow their young children to submerse themselves in soft porn and drug usage are heralded as heroes. I think the line lies somewhere in between those two examples.

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Truth in Books

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

I see truth dazzling clearly now as a parent when my children ask questions or make comments about something I’m reading to them, or something they’re reading to themselves. For instance, my 15-year-old daughter just read Nine Days a Queen and we had a great conversation about choices, both personal choices and those times when others make choices for you. She also just finished a book called This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years; the truth about her life and her abilities and her gifts is dazzling her.

My 8yo son fires up with indignation about how Henry VIII treated Catherine of Aragon as we read a book together. My 4yo asks “Who created God?” as we read Genesis together. Books incite our emotions and make us ask questions and challenge us and comfort us and entertain us. I don’t have to tell my kids they should dislike a certain character or ask questions about a certain event or cry at a certain part of the story. If the storyteller is any good at all, then the truth dazzles on its own without having to be pointed out specifically, no matter how much worldly experience my kids have or haven’t had.

And those books (or movies for that matter) that try to bypass the gradual dazzlement and instead exchange it for heavy-handed instruction, well those books usually don’t incite questions or intrude our thoughts. We read them, sigh, feel inferior or superior, and move on. The masterfully woven story leaves a mark on us. That is the mark that dazzles.

Forgive Me

Dear Children,

I sold my soul to the devil.

I bought into a depraved worldview.

I started to believe that children were burdens, and then I started treating you that way.

Forgive me, Lord. Forgive me, kids.

Raising you is hard work. The hours are hell. The pay is terrible.

But the rewards? They’re AWESOME! The benefits – eternal!

It’s just that the world keeps telling me the opposite. They tell me that you aren’t worth it. That big screen TV? That new car? That big, beautiful, clean, empty house? Totally worth it. Go into debt to obtain those things. And if you don’t have them, you have no status. You’re not worth anything.

And guess what? We don’t have those things. I don’t want those things. I never have. But I started to feel worth less because I didn’t have, and didn’t want, those things. What is wrong with me? Even in the church, people who don’t really mean to degrade children, do. By telling us that as we age, we should have bigger houses and fancier cars.

But honestly, what do I care about a car that will eventually rust and a house that will eventually fall down. Do I really want to spend my life chasing those things that are so… so… stupid and pointless.

Or do I want to spend my life building His Kingdom? Doing what He has told me to do. Taking care of what He had blessed me with. And some of those most precious blessings are you. All 6 of you.

I read a blog recently that stated that children are not blessings, they are people. And well, obviously, yes. You are people. (Regardless of another lie that the world is feeding us, you were people from the moment you were conceived.)

But you are blessings, in that the Lord chose to bless our family, chose to bless me, by putting you in my family. Now, I don’t know why some families are not able to have children easily, and this is no commentary about how those families are less blessed, because God’s blessings take on many forms.

But you are blessings.

And I need to treat you like the blessings you are.

Oh yes, there still needs to be discipline. And admonition. And boundaries.

But forgive me for losing the wonder. The awe. The excitement.

Forgive me for making it mundane and unbearable, instead of miraculous and beautiful.

I’m not sugar-coating it. But if God said that we should find joy even in trials, then I need to look for the beauty even in the difficulty. The miracle in the mundane.

I love you. Exactly as you are. Exactly as who God created you to be.

And I’ll be different than the world around me in order to guard that precious love for you in a world that tells me I’m loving all the wrong things.

I’ll open my eyes to believe that what God says is true, and He pretty much states that you are some of His greatest creations. (See Psalm 127, Proverbs 139, Matthew 18.)

And I am in love with you. And in love with Him. And so very thankful for you. And so very determined to live differently than the rest of the world. So bear with me. And forgive me.

Worthy of the Gospel

Philippians 1:18-30 (The Voice) – Regardless of the motives behind the spread of the gospel, the fact that it is being spread is a cause for joy. Paul rejoices also because he expects to be released from prison soon, and plans to continue to speak freely and courageously about Jesus. Paul yearns for Jesus to always be glorified in him, whether in life (which is all about the gospel) or in death (eternity with Jesus). Seeing both sides, Paul debates within himself whether it is better for him to live and continue spreading the gospel or to die and be with Jesus. He decides that for himself it would be better to die, but for the rest of the world it would be better to live and serve, even through all his pains and weaknesses. Plus he wants to be around to witness the growth of the church (in number and in belief).

With his firm commitment to stay and watch them grow, Paul tells the Philippians he expects them to conduct themselves as worthy of the gospel: 1. continuing to stand; 2. united in one spirit; 3. single-minded in purpose as they struggle together for faith in the gospel. They should not be paralyzed by opponents, but have steadfast faith in the midst of opposition which is a sure sign of both salvation and the fact that the enemy is doomed. Paul reminds them it is a privilege to not only believe in Jesus but to suffer for Him, just as Paul has been doing. The Philippians, who’ve been watching Paul from a distance, now understand firsthand what it means to suffer.

Whenever Paul speaks, whatever the subject, he always urges his listeners (or readers) to have joy. Is the gospel being spread? Have joy! Are you suffering? Rejoice! Are you in prison? Be joyful! Paul always strikes me as so forthright and serious, speaking on such heavy subjects. Yet so full of joy! That is not something you see very much of in today’s world, where you can have a serious person or a joyful person, but not usually both.

After telling us how joyful he is, Paul goes on to debate whether he’d rather live or die. And in typical Paul fashion, it is not his own desires that determine his decision. If I get to choose, I want to live in order to see my kids grow up, get married, have children. Paul, understanding death is the ultimate prize, determines to live in order to continue to serve others and spread the gospel.

And then Paul lays out what makes a person a true and worthy citizen of the gospel – standing in unity, unfazed by the opposition, suffering for Christ (getting to know firsthand the pain of battle). All too often I find myself in division with other believers. All too often I forget I’m in the midst of a battle. All too often I fall victim to the enemy’s lies and propoganda.

Jesus, I’m sorry. Open my eyes to reality… real reality. Not earth’s temporal reality, but heaven’s eternal reality.  Even today as I go about cleaning up my very messy house, I want to be grateful for all your gifts, not frustrated by so much stuff.  As I labor to raise my children, I want to keep their eternity in mind, disciplining them to guide them on the path to You, not punishing them in anger but in love. Empower me to stand in unity with other believers against the enemy without fear. Fill me with Your joy when I suffer for Christ’s sake. It is a privilege to not only believe in You, but to suffer for You. You are the ultimate goal, the ultimate prize, the ultimate reason for everything!

Philippians 1:12-17

Observations: Paul wants to share his good news: his imprisonment has helped to spread the gospel to new places, because word spread through the guard and everyone around that he was in prison for his faith. Not only that, but his imprisonment has caused other believers to trust God more and to be bold sharing the gospel without fear; they share the gospel out of love and goodness. But there are some who are sharing the gospel out of jealousy and are driven by greed, rivalry, and personal agenda with impure motives. They are hoping to make it more painful for Paul in prison.

This is a little more about Paul’s prison story, but again because he’s fully surrendered to Christ, it’s not about how it’s affecting him but about how it’s affecting the gospel. Paul is more than willing to go to prison to spread the gospel, and even more than that, he calls his imprisonment “good” because it IS spreading the gospel. It’s also cause for joy because it is motivating other believers: to trust more, to love more, to surrender more, to share more. And to fear less. Which is ironic because you would think the threat of prison would cause others to be fearful, but through Paul’s example and encouragement, and through the Holy Spirit’s work, they are empowered. Paul’s imprisonment has also drawn out those who want to make things harder for him, who preach the gospel with their own agendas. (In the next section Paul makes it clear that wherever the gospel is preached there is joy, thus squelching their plans to cause Paul pain.)

Jesus, I want to trust more, love more, surrender more, share more. And fear less. I want to be like those who are boldly sharing the gospel out of true goodness, motivated by love. I confess that I at times share the gospel out of personal agenda. Please forgive me for ever trying to make your story about me or what I want, or who I want or don’t want, to see in Your kingdom. I surrender myself fully to You, Holy Spirit, to use as You see fit, wherever and whenever You choose. Embolden me and empower me to live out the gospel today in my actions and in my words. I love You and give myself fully to You and Your kingdom.

Philippians Chapter 1:1-11

I’m currently going through Philippians, trying to glean how to remain joyful no matter what the circumstance. And since Paul was pretty much an expert in that, I thought I should sit at his feet and just listen to him. (I imagine Paul as a type of Mr. Miyagi, trying to catch flies with a chopstick in a hazy, incense-filled room while I listen and watch amazed. FYI – this might not be a truly biblical picture of him.)

My initial impressions: Paul and Timothy are slaves, and Paul is currently in jail. As Christians, we are set apart for Jesus. It is a gift to know fellow believers. Our spirits obtain lightness and joy when we pray in gratitude for other believers. We should partner with our pastors to spread the gospel. Jesus doesn’t stop mid-design but is constantly perfecting us. Stand with those who are defending the gospel. Love should grow in wisdom and insight, so we can determine the best from everything else.

Well, as Paul always does, he manages to turn the conversation away from him and onto Jesus and other followers. Paul could harbor on the fact that he’s in jail, he could talk about his confinement, his treatment, plead for prayers, but he doesn’t. He mentions it casually. He is so aware that his life and his circumstances are minuscule compared to Jesus, His work in the world, and Paul’s fellow workers. Versus me when I’m struggling with my one of my children (or with one of my parents or with a health issue or with financial issues) and I want to share every detail with someone, not to get actual advice or even to plead for prayers, but just to wallow in self-pity, sometimes to fish for compliments, but mostly just to talk… about myself. (Lest anyone accuse me otherwise, let me say right here that sometimes talking as a form of therapy is not wrong. BUT that is not the case with me, where my speech is not godly or helpful or encouraging, but more along the lines of “misery loves company”.)

The other thing that sticks out to me immediately is Paul’s absolute LOVE for others. He genuinely has heartfelt love for people. He cares about them, he spends time in prayer for them, he is constantly thinking about them and talking about them. Replace the “them” in the last sentence with herself and you’ll get a picture of who I spend the most time obsessing over. I have been convicted over and over again that I am so self-absorbed, but like an addiction, it’s a hard habit to break. (Insert Chicago song here.)

I am truly thankful that Jesus is not going to stop working on me, declaring me a failed project, but that He has His hands all over me molding me into that perfect vision He has in His head of me. And I will get there, because it doesn’t have anything to do with me, the clay, but everything to do with the Potter. And if I can wrap my mind and my heart around that, I think I’ll finally, finally start to realize the overwhelming joy that envelops Paul, Jesus’ slave, in the midst of a prison cell. So I determine and declare that today is NOT about ME, but ALL ABOUT JESUS! I proclaim this truth, with a view to God’s ultimate praise and glory.

Christmas 2015

I love Christmas time. I love decorated houses and Christmas music and parties and friendship and presents and stories and Christmas cards. It’s crazy, and I get overwhelmed because there are so many things to do. There are rehearsals and concerts and parties and cleaning before and cleaning after and family get-togethers. Schedules get out of hand and feelings are sometimes hurt and kids are overtired and parents are overtired and wow do I get tired of wrapping presents. But I still love it. Even through the chaos, I enjoy the joy.

But there’s something so much more important going on behind this season. I see what’s going on in the world, and I read what people are blogging about and facebooking about and tweeting, and I’m saddened. So many are so lost. And I’m guilty. I’m so busy with so much that is so unimportant.

I don’t know how to say this gently. Well, I do know how to but I just don’t want to. I want to shout it and be crazy and hold a sign on the corner and yell. There is a God. And there is a Son. And He’s real. And He’s loving. And forgiving. And He is IN CONTROL and no news events are shocking to Him. And yes He is grieved by events and still in control because He’s allowed us to make our own choices and so many of us are NOT choosing Him but then we’re so far away from the choice we can’t see that that is the real problem. Yes, Virginia, GOD IS FIXING THIS. But in order for you to see it, first you have to invite Him to fix you! It’s not guns or gays or guerillas that are ruining the world. It’s you! It’s me! We are broken! And the one person who will make us un-broken is the one person who we continue to reject. I have seen changed lives. MY life has been changed!!! I have felt supernatural peace in the middle of terrifying circumstances. I have felt His Presence and His love and I want you to feel it, too.

You have rejected Him. And I know it’s my fault. It’s the church’s fault. We are not good ambassadors for Him. We are selfish and self-absorbed. We like our own. We have made human ritual far more important that human lives. We are calloused and cynical, and we like security and comfort. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that you’ve been hurt. That I’ve hurt you either by my indifference or by my silence or by my animosity. But it’s not Jesus. He is reaching out to you. Sometimes supernaturally, but more often through broken messengers. You are so loved. He is calling you and alluring you and wanting desperately to comfort you and fix you. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, wanting to gather it to Him as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. I so want you to be gathered up like that. Not so we can be the same or so I can see you become like me or become like something I approve of. Jesus embraces you exactly as you are right now, with all your issues. I know this is true because He embraced me with all my issues and He continues to love me through all my issues.

The change in my life wasn’t liberal to conservative. That’s not what He cares about. The change in my life was lost to found, blind to seeing, dead to alive. He is teaching me, always teaching me, to see Himself in His creation, and to love it because of His love in it. To see His beauty in every creation, every creature. And to grieve for and care for others because I love Him so much and He is there. I am slow and stupid and I can’t express what I really, truly want to express and I’m sorry for that, too. But I just want you to hear from me now and every time I see you His voice. I want Him to speak through me and I beg for Him to open your ears to hear Him.

That’s my Christmas wish for 2015. And 2016. And 2017…