Dear Jack: Your New Cross Necklace, Mustache, And 2nd Soccer Game

4 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack: Your New Cross Necklace, Mustache, And 2nd Soccer Game

Dear Jack,

Last Sunday in your Sunday School class, your teacher gave you and all the other kids a cross necklace. Needless to say, you were very serious about wearing it to preschool each day this week; nearly treating it with as much humanity as you do your stuffed animals.

Each day during your nap at school, I learned that you carefully placed your necklace in your cubby to keep it safe while you slept. You also explained to me how “the babies” in the younger class tried to take the necklace from you when they saw it.

You are seriously proud of that necklace!

Dear Jack: Your New Cross Necklace, Mustache, And 2nd Soccer Game

Apparently there was some kind of “Mustache Day” at school yesterday, because you came home with a big decorative one. Mommy insisted you try it on for a picture. You easily agreed. It fit you very well.

This morning as I was getting you dressed for school, you showed me how you stuck the mustache on the closet door so the door could have a mustache.

Dear Jack: Your New Cross Necklace, Mustache, And 2nd Soccer Game

You have now had your 2nd soccer game. You didn’t try even once to walk off the field early before the game ended.

The main goal at this point is still to get you to at least following the ball around with the rest of the kids.

This coming weekend will be a lot of fun for you as Nonna and Papa are driving up to see our new house for the first time since early February when they helped us move in.

Dear Jack: Your New Cross Necklace, Mustache, And 2nd Soccer Game

Mommy and I are going out Saturday afternoon and night for my 34th birthday; which is actually next Monday.

So you’ll get to just hang out with them while Mommy and I go to the symphony, movies, and dinner in downtown Nashville.

I won’t be surprised if you wear both your cross necklace and mustache for them!

Love,

Daddy

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Metaphors in Super Mario Bros. that Taught Us about Real Life

How many lives do you have left before it’s “game over”?

Something that Super Mario Bros. taught us first, more so than any other video game, was the concept of having “lives”.  If you fell in a hole (which means you instantly died; no chance that the hole wasn’t really that deep or that you could have grabbed on to a branch while falling), you lost a life.  If you touched an enemy, you lost a life (which is completely irrational; I wonder what would happen if Mario touched a “frenemy”?…). If you ran out of time, you lost a life (okay, I admit, that concept is somewhat lifelike).

However, if you accomplished certain goals to better yourself, like ate a healthy mushroom(this promoted organic a lifestyle), saved 100 coins (which causes the game to most likely be endorsed by Dave Ramsey), kicked a turtle shell that slid into 10 enemies (illogical and scientifically impossible on so many levels), or jumped to the top of a flagpole (because that’s normal in real life), you actually would get a “1 Up”, which means that you gained an extra life.

But the whole point of this game, despite collecting gold coins (which instantly disappeared when you touched them- could that be a metaphor symbolizing how money is meaningless?) and muddling through everyday distractions (like busting bricks with your fist because you thought there was a steel box with an “invincibility star” inside- choose your own metaphor for life on that one…) was to save the princess from the evil mutant dragon named Koopa.

If you could run under the dragon in the final castle when he jumped up while breathing fire and hammers at you, you instantly touched an axe that caused the bridge to collapse, therefore sending the dragon into the fiery lava pit (poor architectural planning, if you ask me…). In the next room, the famous princess was waiting to be saved from captivity.  In other words, despite being responsible by saving money, despite gaining power, despite becoming a hero to anyone, it’s all really about helping other people.

Cool Retro Sunday School Bonus!

And for those from a Protestant background, the Mushroom Kingdom represents the Heavenly Kingdom, the dragon symbolizes Satan who will be hurled into the lake of fire in the end, and saving the princess symbolizes sharing Christ’s message of salvation and loving others as ourselves, which is the summary of Ephesians 2:8-10, and in my opinion, the meaning of life and the whole point of Christianity.

Easy Like Sunday Morning: Christianity in a Nut Shell

Ah, the good ole days of flannel boards and McGee & Me.

Flannel boards will always remain in the warmest parts of my heart and childhood memories.  Nothing brought those Biblical accounts to life more than a cloth cut-out of a generic bearded Jewish man who could play the part of Moses parting the Red Sea, then less than a minute later he could be Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, or even Noah gathering all the animals on the ark.

And when the teacher was lazy or absent, we got to watch one of thirteen McGee and Me tapes, featuring Nick Martin and his crazy cartoon sidekick.  Lesson learned- you CAN beat the bully in a skateboarding contest, if even he cheats.  Also, if you sneak out to see a scary 3-D movie with your best buddy Lewis, you’re parents are going to find out and ground you.  And of course, it’s never a good idea to try to impress your friends by telling them that your Native American Indian neighbor eats rabbits.  Because he just needs a friend.

But eventually, my faith had to be able to grow beyond the entertaining and miraculous stories I heard each Sunday morning.

I admit.  It’s not easy anymore for another human being to “challenge me” in my thinking, regarding my faith.  I can spit out a hundred cliché Sunday School answers whenever I’m asked anything Christian related.  Because for those of us who “grew up in church”, we do know all the answers.

At least all the answers for the questions we are tiredly asked again and again by Christian leaders in a church setting.  You just can’t go wrong with “God”, “Jesus”, “the Holy Spirit”, “Heaven”, “good”, “bad”, “Satan”, “hell”, “pray and read the Bible”, “invite them to church”, or “tell them about Jesus”.

Typically, I don’t spend money or time on Christian marketed items.  Books that generically tell me I need to stop being “downtrodden by the world” and “stand on God’s promises” to “expand my territory”.  T-shirts that illegally parody business logos and make them “cute” by throwing in the name of Jesus.  A sticker to put on the back window of my car that arrogantly boasts “straight pride”, picks fights with atheists and Pro-Choicers, or announces that God is Republican.

Besides, I think most Christians know by now that God has switched His allegiance from the Republican Party to Ron Paul.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

But thank God, in the past two years, I have been challenged in my thinking, regarding my faith, more so than any other time in my life.

How?  1) I got married.  2) My small group from church read a book called The Hole in the Gospel.  3) I was asked an allegorical question about a bicycle.

Getting married to a faithful Christian has helped me to mature not just because of her confidence when mine is sagging, but also because marriage shows me how selfish I can be with my time and space.  Two years later, I’m much more easy-going about stuff that only mattered in The World of Me.

The Hole in Our Gospel is the book that my Wednesday night small group (Bible Study) decided to read.  Seriously, it is the most life-changing book I’ve ever read.  The Bible is the most influential.  But the Hole in Our Gospel has actually helped me to personally identify what the Bible and my purpose in my life are all about.

For me, my faith had always come down Ephesians 2:8-9 in the Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast.

That Bible passage has everything a Baptist likes to hear, regarding one’s spiritual wellbeing: “grace”, “faith”, and “gift of God”.

It doesn’t say anything about helping other people, doing good works, or giving away our time, money, and energy.  Because as long as we splice in “Jesus loves you, died for you, rose from the grave, and will give you eternal life in Heaven if you say this three sentence prayer…”, then we are fulfilling our duty as a good Christian.  Get people to say a prayer and go to church.  Get them to stop cussing, drinking, and smoking- because that improvement shows their “spiritual fruits”.

As a Baptist, I had always been leery of the phrase “works”.  Because it had been engrained in my brain fibers that God’s salvation couldn’t be “earned”.  I understood from the book of James (2:20) that “works” were necessary to prove that my faith to be sincere.

The problem is that I, along with many Protestants just like me, naturally had been led to believe that “good works” means “good behavior”; and “good behavior” is a list of things Christians don’t do- including watching R-rated movies (unless they’re war-based: What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get?) and drinking anything with alcohol (both vanilla extract and Nyquil are approved, fortunately- and though participants should keep it on the down low, drinking wine is permitted for special private events like wedding anniversaries: Water into Wine).

But what really opened up my mind was reading (and eventually memorizing) the verse that directly followed my convenient “faith is all you need” Bible passage.  The next verse, verse 10, says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared behforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Created for good works?  Not good behavior?  It’s a lot more serious if I truly take the words of Christ seriously when in the Gospel of John (13:34), Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

And finally, it hit me: Oh, Jesus actually cares about people starving in poor countries, despite their “wrong religious beliefs” and “stupid civil wars” and “corrupt governments”.

As hard as it was for me to process, God cares just as much that I as a Christian do my part to physically help those people as He wants me to in some direct or indirect way (supporting missionaries) learn about Jesus.

That financially helping these random, dying, desperate people across the world actually equates in God’s eyes as me loving them as He loves me.

With that being said, I no longer believe that a person goes to Heaven just because they said “the sinner’s prayer” when they were at a Vacation Bible School when they were in the 5th grade.  I believe, like Jesus’ half-brother James wrote in his book (2:20) that faith without works is dead.

And works means that I help people who are less fortunate (even if they themselves in deed got themselves in that situation), because that shows them God’s love, and I don’t necessary have to preach to them as I’m doing it.  I just need to start by helping them.

True, no one can earn God’s love or salvation.  Nor does believing in Jesus mean a person doesn’t go to hell.  Jesus himself said in the Gospel of Matthew (7:21): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”

So what is the will of God for us?  What does He want us to do besides obey His law, read the Bible, pray, and tell others about Jesus?  (All of which are “Sunday School answers” I referred to earlier.)

For a start, my wife and I knew it meant sponsoring a child named Gueslin in South America.  So now we have this postcard hanging on our fridge with a picture of a sad-looking 5 year-old boy who I wish I could take care of myself.  We send him money every month and pray for him and his family as we think about him.

We know that raising our own child (due in November) in our faith is what God wants.  We know that helping anyone in need is what He wants.  And we know that we can’t always wait for those opportunities to come to us.  I’m working on making it a new obsession: Finding ways to help people.  Because God likes that.

So where does the bicycle come into the picture?  A few months ago someone showed me a Xeroxed copy of a bicycle and asked me: “Which tire is faith and which tire is works?

The back tire is associated with the power while the front is associated with balance and steering.  Both are very important and necessary.  But if a bicycle would only work if one tire was faith and the other was works, which tire should be the front and which should be the back?

I was actually asked this in a group of people.  Half of us believed one way.  The rest, the other way.

My answer: The back tire is works, the front tire is faith.

Because if faith is dead with out works, so is a bike immobile with no one to actually pedal the thing.  The front tire only moves because the back one does.

And basically, if I’m actually understanding what Jesus said, loving God means loving other people the way He loves me.

I can’t rely on reading the Bible and praying to move me anywhere in my faith.  That’s what steers me.  Instead, I actually have to move my feet.

To Catch an Audience/The Center of Attention

It’s fun to pretend we’re psychologists. To think we’ve got someone figured out based on their OCD or their “middle child syndrome” or their relationship with their father. We can look at personality traits and family history as clues as to why a person thinks they way they do. And often when we do this, we can correctly analyze them. Without a psychology degree.

I am one of those people who likes to study personalities as hobby. Currently I am on my 2nd book written by Dr. Kevin Leman, who specializes in birth order and how it determines a person’s personality. While it is fascinating to learn about everyone else in this world, it’s also interesting to learn about myself. I want to know why I think and behave the way I do. What sets me apart from others in my unique perspectives?

Here is what I recently learned from Dr. Kevin Leman:

Some people need an audience.

That is me.

But here’s what sets me apart from the obnoxious “attention hogs” I’ve met throughout my life. Because of my drive to constantly accomplish something admirable through hard work to gain the approval of adults (a first-born burden), I only want to be the center of attention if I’ve earned it.

I know when to be quiet. I can easily go long periods of time without speaking. I do not speak in a group setting unless I have something relevant and worthy of saying. I, unlike many centers of attention, do not like the sound of my own voice. I am “a” center of attention, not “the” center of attention.

Looking back on my life, here are some of the things I’ve done to make sure I had an audience: In Elementary School, I created my own cartoon characters and stories as a kid (eventually getting published in the school newspaper in 4th grade), as well as headed up the Nickbob Ability Test (click here to find out what it is http://wp.me/pxqBU-r9). In high school I fronted an alternative rock band (and for what it’s worth we played out of state a few times). During college I taught elementary school and Junior High Sunday School, while recording three CD’s of music I wrote, playing small shows in the coffee shop circuit. And for the past 4 ½ years, I’ve been writing my “commentary on life” web posts. And of course, as mentioned in Stage Presence (http://wp.me/pxqBU-2m), I grew up being in plays and musicals.

There has always been an audience. My subconscious had made sure of this.

This past weekend as my wife and I were reminiscing how it was three years ago this month that I asked her on our first unofficial date, she said it was the fact that I always had something interesting to talk about that made her feel so comfortable with me. A lifetime in training of capturing an audience ultimately led to me meeting and marrying a girl I have always felt was out of my league. It paid off.

It’s always been hard for me to understand America’s fascination with sports and particularly a man’s ability to keep up with all that trivia about which teams played each other when and the scores and the names of the players. Another Jewish trait I have is that I’m not good at sports (and never cared about them). So I’ve channeled that energy into entertainment.

I have made myself an expert on 1983, the heights and ethnic background of celebrities, the meaning behind all lyrics of the Beatles, holistic and clean living, Intelligent Design, and Jews in American entertainment, just to name a few of my specialties. I always have “random conversation material” in the archives and in the works.

I was quite hesitant when I first tried to process that idea I have to be the center of attention. Because it makes me think of conversation hijackers, drama queens (and kings), and any person I’ve ever met whose whole demeanor screamed, “Look at me! Look at me!” People who appear needy.

I have to be found. That’s how I operate differently. People have to find me. They have to come to me. Because typically those are the exact people I want to entertain. Takes one to know one.

In a party, I’m never the real center of attention. I wander to the back corner of the room, next to the food, and recruit party guests for random conversation. I have this desire to be the alternative choice in entertainment.

In fact, there have been times where people have tried to elevate me to the center of attention position, and I have escaped it. I have to be able to think in my mind that I earn when I get. For example, in high school, one of my good friends Allison Hardin was planning a surprise birthday party and I found out about it. I found a way to keep it from ever happening. Because I strongly resist the idea of being the center of attention when it’s obvious that I am.

I don’t want to be the official man of the hour. It’s too much pressure. I function best in my ad-lib form. Recruit, entice, inform, motivate, entertain, and provoke thoughts in others. On my own terms. That is my niche.