Sunday, November 9, 2014

dear "boy": a letter to my son before his birth


Dear "Boy,"

I would call you by name, but I would have to call you by several, since we only have a shortlist and not a finalist at this point.  Don't worry, we will figure that out before March.

It may seem strange, but I want you to know that I wasn't any happier when I found out you are a boy than I was when I found out your sisters were girls.  The sooner you grow to understand this, the sooner you will understand our family, and the better you will understand the world.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't any less happy to find out that you're a boy.  For me, finding out that your mother was pregnant was always the joyous occasion.  Gender was merely a logistical detail.

Again, don't mistake me, we believe in gender differences in our home, as passe as that might be in our society at this moment.  I will expect different things from you than from your sisters, and I will teach you different things.  In those ways you will be treated differently, but not better (not worse either, usually).

We love the girls in this house.  It started with your mother, who was, is, and will forever be the best thing that has ever happened to me.  Then, your sisters brought joy and love into our lives that has surpassed anything we could have known on our own.

You're joining a family where we look out for these ladies.  They may be physically weaker (that's a very strongly emphasized "may"), but they're each a force to be reckoned with.  Good luck keeping up with Charlotte.  She's more adventurous than your mother and I combined.  And Noie, she's quietly determined.  She may not make much noise, but she's always working a plan.

Our job is not to protect them as though they're delicate waifs who need fainting couches and servants to fan them.  It's to knock down anything that stands between them and the incredible women they are going to become.  In doing so, we will become the men that we are supposed to be.

I say "knock down" mostly metaphorically.  We're a family that strongly prefers words to fists.  But we also believe love is self-sacrificial, and, I reiterate, we love the girls in this house.

You should probably know that some weird things happen here because of them.  Hopefully, you will already be accustomed to random dance parties via in utero indoctrination.  This is entirely your mother's influence, but when you see the joy on your sisters' faces when we dance, you'll understand.  And you'll dance, too.

Since you're going to be smaller than your sisters at first, and Charlotte is a wiz with technology, you're going to be subjected to a lot of My Little Pony, Lalaloopsy, or whatever her ridiculously girly flavor of the week is.  I will do my best to make sure that none of us consume vapid entertainment in this home, but you're probably going to have to deal with the overly-feminine stuff.  Thankfully, my hard work introducing your sisters to dinosaurs, monkeys, tigers, and space has already paid off, and they are well-rounded connoisseurs of children's television.

You'll notice that dad watches a lot of "girly" shows with mom too.  Dad had older sisters too, what can I say?  My hope is that you will use these experiences as an insight into what makes our ladies special and different from us.  They might just make you quicker to use your heart and your words than you might have otherwise been.  When that helps you marry someone way out of your league someday like I did, you can thank me, and your mom and sisters.  Probably Aunt Azina and Aunt Amber too.

We will do lots of "guy stuff" too.  It's mandatory that you like Star Wars and Star Trek, and if you don't, you must pretend to until the day they put me in the ground.  Notre Dame is our football team - it's a long story that I'll explain someday.  Superhero movies are stacking up before you arrive.  We will enjoy the good ones and mock the bad ones (I'm looking at you, Fabio Thor).

The ladies are always invited to share our interests, but I'll make sure that just you and I skip school at least once for opening day of a movie as geek fathers and sons should do.

I'm more creative than athletic, but I'll make sure you don't look like an idiot in gym class.  If you take to sports more than music, writing, or photography, I'll support you, but we're going to have to call Uncle Ravi in to fill in some gaps in my knowledge.  No stupid "sports" like frisbee golf or hacky sack though.  If a stoner can do it, it's just a hobby.

Most importantly, you should know that everything we do is because your mother and I follow Jesus.  I have standards for you and your sisters that will help keep you from wrecking your life, but don't confuse that with following Jesus.  When you fail, and you will fail, it will only show you that you need what your mother and I have but can't give to you.  We hope and pray that our children find the peace, freedom, forgiveness, and joy in Jesus that we have, but it is something you must find yourselves.  We can only guide you to it.

I know that's a lot to take in, but we've probably got at least 18 years to figure it all out.

See you next year.

Love,
Dad

Sunday, October 5, 2014

this is her nightmare

photo: Worapol Sittiphaet

Tonight before dinner, I was doing a load of laundry in our in-home washer and dryer.  While this may not seem luxurious to most readers, my friends with young families appreciate how not having to share laundry facilities with two dozen of your "closest" apartment complex meth addicts friends makes you feel like the upper crust.

The top of our dryer was cluttered with various detergents and laundry supplies as it has been since we moved into our new place, so I started rearranging the shelves in the cabinet above the washer so the bottles and boxes could be stowed neatly out of sight.

As I tipped one of the shelves to slide it out, I heard a rattle as a small object sitting on top of the shelf slid down the tilted shelf. I reached up to grab the object, which I couldn't see because I'm a half-Indian hobbit.

The object was about the size of the metal hangers on the back of larger picture frames, but it was plastic, with a little bit of metal on the back. I rubbed my finger over the metal part, and, oh no, it was sharp.

Looking a little closer, I realized to my horror that it was the head off of a USED Lady Schick razor. Complete with little bits of hair stuck in it. From the previous owner.

After I considered bathing in bleach, I felt a twinge of compassion for our friend Taylor who has a severe aversion to the community laundry room on the college campus where we used to be neighbors.  Taylor, this dry heave's for you.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

why the church missed millennials: a millennial and pastor's response to Rachel Held Evans

photo: Raj Lulla

I realize that I am very late to the party, but we welcomed our second baby into the world three days before Rachel Held Evans' article entitled "Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church" when viral on cnn.com.

Nevertheless, during one sleepless night shortly thereafter, I penned the following open letter to Mrs. Held Evans in response to her missive.  Much ink has been spilled in critique of her article.  Most missed the point.  The best I read was from Alastair Roberts, who made the excellent point that we should pay more attention to churches who have successfully retained millennials rather than the words of millennials who might have left the Church regardless of concessions made on their behalf.

If I miss the boat on responding as I did in this case, I normally just let the post rot in my "drafts" folder until I realize the irrelevancy of the outdated post and mercifully dispatch it to the trash.  This post, however, has stuck with me.  I still feel as strongly about it as I did the day I wrote it six months ago.  Maybe one of you will connect with it too.

-----------------

Dear Mrs. Held Evans,

I have a unique perspective on millennials leaving the church because I am both a millennial and a pastor. I am also not currently working at a church and recently left a church that I didn't feel was meeting my needs or those of my wife. 

I know both how difficult it can be to find a church that speaks to millennials such as myself and how difficult it is for churches to reach millennials. 

While I agreed with much of your article, I feel you only scratched the surface of why this tension exists between millennials and the church in America. 

Rather than offering point and counterpoint, which only leads to pointless argument on the Internet, allow me to put forth a broader and deeper view of this disconnect. 

We millenials are unlike any generation that has ever come before us.  This is not to say that we share no similarities to other generations, but we are also unique in many ways. 

If we differ in no other way from previous generations, we differ in that we believe we are different. This can be both a beautiful and a dangerous thing. 

We simultaneously reject that we are, as the famous philosopher Pink Floyd out it, "just another brick in the wall," and embrace that life should have a meaning and a purpose. 

Unfortunately, we are also lazy.  The "you are special," everybody gets a trophy mentality that made us believe we each have a distinct and powerful destiny also blinded us to the fact that meaningful lives only ever happen to those who work unbelievably hard to attain and protect them. 

Couple this with the meteoric rise of new technology in our lifetime, and we are primed for an addiction to instant and easy gratification. 

And then there's the Internet. Our friend, our collective brain, our vice. The Internet blessedly saves us from taking up valuable brain space with things like metric conversion, but it also makes available to us every kind of evil imaginable with just a few clicks or taps. 

We can watch explicit sex, beheading of "infidels," robbery, looting, assault, and so much more from the comfort of our couch. Erwin McManus astutely described the Internet as the embodiment of our imagination.  It contains the unfiltered, unapologetic darkness of our human potential for depravity.

The Internet may not make you believe in God, but it sure can make you believe in evil. 

So what does this have to do with the church?

Our generation is soaked in pornography, gossip, slander, violence, and the worst kind of bitter cynicism you can imagine. For as much as we believe every human is a unique snowflake, you wouldn't have a difficult time convincing us that everyone and everything sucks. 

We need the church to help us believe something different. We need the church to show us that everyone really does have worth that is transcendent of law, affluence, lifestyle and geography. 

I agree with you when you say that we leave the church because we don't find Jesus there. 

Jesus would love us enough to challenge and offend us in the most inspiring way possible. He would want us to realize that we think too highly of ourselves and too little of him and others and that self abandonment is our best possible hope.

Jesus would lovingly confront us with the reality that our feelings are not ultimate truth, that he is ultimate truth, and he very much exists. 

Churches today don't realize the unspeakable evils that millennials have exposed themselves to, both on the Internet and in the real world. They don't know how much we need the blood of Jesus to have power over every form of human exploitation we have put in front of our eyes and been party to ourselves. 

This isn't just about adopting ancient liturgy or making churches more gay friendly.  Contextualized faith and an accepting environment are important, but they are not ultimate.

This is about proving that any sinner in any state of disgrace can truly find hope and peace in the arms of a loving God. Not only that, it's about guiding us in changing the world, overcoming injustice, and setting right the worst of wrongs. 

We need the church to be the kind of place that turns us into Bonhoeffers, not Osteens.

We need the church to give us a compelling vision for our lives, and we need the church to remind us when God is telling us we need to get over ourselves.

We need the church to be Jesus dressed up in different races, ages, genders, mistakes, political views, personalities, and quirks.

It is easy to point out everything that the church isn't. Pastors with any hint of self-awareness see the church's flaws better than anybody.

What is difficult, is diving deeply into worship, fellowship, and discipleship, bringing others along with you in helping make Jesus' bride as beautiful as he sees her.  What is difficult, is getting far enough outside ourselves to see that we don't even really know what we want or need and that a church attempting to accommodate our desires would be truly lost.

I eagerly await, as I'm sure you do, the day when churches in America can speak the language of our generation more fluently without selling its soul.

I believe those churches will show us Jesus.  Radical, righteous, kind, offensive, holy, compassionate, strong, humble, Jesus who defies our expectations in both his ability to love and his unwavering truth.

Let's hope that when that day arrives, it shows us Jesus as more beautiful than even what we think we want.

God bless,
Raj

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