Sunday, December 09, 2012

Parenting Unrehearsed: Family liturgies for Advent and a confession from an exhausted Dad at Christmas

— adj

(of a play, speech, etc) not having been practiced in advance

I might also add off-the-cuff, in no particular order, results may vary.  For six(ish) weeks I'll share here  -- off the top of my head -- a few practices we may have learned in our twenty-one years of parenting four children. 

Chapter 1:  Your Kids Were Supposed to Have Perfect Parents

Chapter 6:

Family liturgies for Advent and a confession from an exhausted Dad at Christmas

Why the word "liturgy" instead of "tradition"?

In the last post (How to Keep Your Kids From Spending Too Much Time at Church), we considered the specific ways our family's daily habits add up to equal a particular pattern of presence in our culture.  The authors we discussed provided several valid descriptors for these chosen patterns:  gestures become postures (via Andy Crouch), steps become footprints (that would be my contribution!), meaningful routines and rituals become liturgies (via James K. A. Smith).  

We usually limit our idea of liturgy to only the formal, "high-church smells and bells" we've experienced or heard described by others. While a place of worship is the correct context for the term, we should not confuse the style of liturgy with the term itself.

Liturgy is the embodiment of our worship -- the way we act out our response of love. I think it's fair to say that like a sacramental life frames for us in the visible world the loving Presence of an invisible God, a liturgical life frames in our visible actions our love for God and each other.

This would be a good place to revisit the conversation James K.A. Smith begins in Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation) that we, being creatures created for desire given the freedom from our Creator to order those desires with all sorts of carnal liturgies that do not recognize him (see: mall as consumerist cathedral). 

I'm not going to take the time now because Brian's written something on a more personal level and I'm excited for you to get to read his words. For now, I'll say that over the next year -- as our family enacts our particular liturgies of worship -- I'll add another post to the series. 

Mostly, I wanted you to know that I chose the title "Family liturgies" with an intentional hope that you'd feel encouraged you as you form practices of love and worship within your own family. On its own, the word "tradition" does not connote the motive or spirit behind the action. Liturgy -- understood in it's wholeness -- equals action formed of and for loving worship. Our homes a place of worship, our liturgies an expression of love to the Good Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And now, as you read Brian's words, may I remind you how much I love him and how lucky I am to share the journey of parenthood with him?

Christmas confessions from an exhausted Dad

guest post from Brian:

Every year during Advent Tamara and I watch the 1946 classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. I have a visceral reaction to the part of the movie where George Bailey’s life begins to unravel. It’s right after Uncle Billy inadvertently hands the villain, Mr. Potter, eight thousand dollars that belong to the family business.

On Christmas Eve George returns to his loving home to find the family busily preparing for the big day. It is chaos. The four kids are being, well… kids –- asking questions, playing piano, running fevers, George is stressed, the cops are coming and all hope is lost.

What makes me cringe is the way George Bailey treats his children. He is grumpy, mean, remorseful and desperate. At one point he sputters, “Why do we have to have all these kids, anyway.”

I cringe because I am George Bailey, or I was anyway.

It’s not often that our worst moments get caught on film as a lasting monument to our pride. I am lucky enough to have two such monuments: wedding pictures with me sporting a mullet and a video of Christmas 1997.

Tamara’s family was on mission in Korea and we were determined to keep every family tradition with our four kids in front of the mounted video camera to send to Asia.

Bad idea.

One family tradition is to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 while the kids bring each character of the nativity to the stable at the appropriate time.

In our twenty-seven-year-old-parental-wisdom we decided to keep this beloved family tradition using the hand-painted ceramic nativity set that we received for a wedding gift and that we hope is used well after Tamara and I are gone.

Four kids, ages 6, 4, 1 and 17 days, a priceless ceramic nativity, a stressed out dad and a video camera.

Seriously. Bad idea.

I scolded, growled and snatched Baby Jesus out of the hands of an innocent child. At one point during the morning, I threatened to cancel Christmas. Yep, Christmas cancelled on account of kids being kids. I was George Bailey.

I make jokes about the mullet – “ceremony up front and wedding reception in the back”. I’ve made rules about the video. No showing to anyone but family. No watching it when I am around. No taking it out of the house.

I was not a very good dad when my kids were young. I was selfish. I wanted to have perfect kids so people thought I was perfect. My heart was not for my children. My heart was for me.

Somehow we as parents need to imagine the kind of people that we want our kids to be and work to raise that kind of person. Easier said than done, right?

I want my kids to be human. I want them to be kind, helpful, faithful, funny, emotional, expressive and real. I don’t want them to take themselves too seriously, be afraid to fail or be perfect.

Christmas morning 1997 was a turning point for me as a father. I did not like what I saw on the video. I still don’t.

Tamara and I began to read and pray. We talked to friends and family whom we wanted to model as parents and respectfully ignored those we didn’t.

I sought counseling and emotional healing. I confessed my sin, shame and fatherlessness to God.

When our kids were old enough, I asked them to forgive me for that Christmas and other days like it. They did.

Our kids are now 21, 19, 16 and 15. They’re not perfect, but they are human.

We have a wall in our house with pictures of our kids. The middle of the collage reads, “We might just be the luckiest people alive.” It reminds me of the final scene in the movie. The crisis has passed, George wants to live again and the
town has rallied to help their friend. George’s brother, Harry Bailey, closes the movie “To my brother George, the richest man in town.”

And we never did break that nativity. Lucky.

Practice the quiet waiting -- and hoping -- of Advent

Why Advent?

(from my post last November)
"The liturgical year is the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ. It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are -- followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God. The liturgical year is an adventure in human growth, an exercise in spiritual ripening." (Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year) 
If you've ever considered following the ancient rhythms of the  liturgical calendar there's no better time to start than at the Church's New Year:  Advent.  Even if your church follows the civic calendar more prominently than the liturgical, you can follow along with your brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe from the quiet spaces of your own home.  You could create -- figuratively or, even, literally -- a family altar in your own home.  This does not have to be elaborate, time-consuming or expensive.  Simple tangible acts will impress themselves upon your hearts and minds as well as your children's for a lifetime:  a book or two filled with rich images and time-tested writings, mealtime prayers, a candle or two.  
"Advent is about learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us. Every piece of it, some hard, some uplifiting, is sign of the work of God alive in us. We are becoming as we go. We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well lived can possibly lead us to the fullness of life." (Chittister)
To read through my own coming-to-Advent journey over the past four years, click here.

Why waiting?
"For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm, but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing, and becoming…." (Bonhoeffer in a letter from prison to his fiancee at Christmas)
Simply put: waiting helps us to grow up.  Waiting forms us into a people who are more attentive to our own needs and the needs of others.  Waiting strengthens all sorts of character development.  Waiting connects us to the saints of all time who waited for Jesus -- first before He came as a Baby and now before He comes as a reigning King. 

Waiting helps us hope in God.

"Paul gives us an astonishing understanding of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson, "Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the  more joyful our expectancy." With such motivation, we can wait as we sense God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the child within her grew."  (Luci Shaw, God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas)

A few practices that are forming us in our family Advent liturgy:

1.  We try to spend some time being quiet:

Uneasy Advent:  A somewhat cranky post in which I share what I learned about practicing quiet my second year celebrating Advent

2.  We try to stay home more often:  

We try to listen to music, occasionally look at the stars together, dream about the feasting we'll enjoy at Christmas, anticipate the fun we'll have giving and receiving gifts.  

We also pray for and cheer each other on as each of us works to finish all the projects, deadlines and assignments that come with the end of the semester and calendar year.  This can be stressful so we encourage quiet naps, hot cocoa and old movies to enjoy together. 

Once in awhile, we even get crafty and make homemade gifts to give when Christmas comes.  Sometimes we just enjoy the ideas of making homemade gifts someday. 
"The Christmas season is domestic; and for that reason most people now prepare for it by struggling in tramcars, standing in queues, rushing away in trains, crowding despairingly into teashops, and wondering when or whether they will ever get home. I do not know whether some of them disappear forever in the toy department or simply lie down and die in the tea-rooms; but by the look of them, it is quite likely. Just before the great festival of the home the whole population seems to have become homeless."
-- G.K. Chesterton's excerpt for today in Advent And Christmas Wisdom
The point is we try to avoid crazy traffic, crazy stores and crazy commercials during Advent (really all year, but especially at Advent!).

3.  We look for ways to serve others

There's no better practice to give to Jesus at Christmastime than to serve the hungry, lonely, poor and sick.  

This looks a little bit different every year but our hope is that during the four weeks of Advent we will have collectively served others with our time, energy and money.  Sometimes we do this in secret, other times we join with others in a larger serving event.  

You know better what types of local projects are needed in your area (I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!) May I encourage you to think creatively and give not just money but face-to-face presence as well?  My mother always invited neighbors she knew did not have family to visit them for a beautiful Christmas dinner during December. These are beautiful memories for me.

For global-focused projects, here are some of the organizations we've partnered with during Advent:

Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog

Live: 58 (Compassion International)

Operation Christmas Child

4.  We light candles, look at art, sing hymns, pray and read Scripture together and we try to do that everyday (but we're more like 4 out of 7 days):  

As far as I can tell, the family practice of lighting candles and reading Scripture together is most often celebrated every Sunday in Advent.  We tend to go overboard a bit around here but it's working for us!

Best tip for you if your family feels awkward doing this:  Turn the lights off!  Advent is about waiting for light anyway so it fits.  There's nothing like sitting in the dark looking a few flickering candles to break the ice of awkward family Bible time!

If it may be of help to you, I've included a list of favorite resources our family has used the past several years.  

Before you read further, let me assure you if this sounds all holy and somber that is not exactly true to life.  If you know us in real life,  you've already figured that out.  Take for example, the plastic zebra and the 'I heart Bingo' sign that showed up on last year's wreath.  It's a long story, but I'm blaming Chesterton's influence for that one.

Advent devotional books:

  • God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas:  This is my favorite, favorite, favorite advent devotional.  It covers the weeks leading up to Christmas, goes through the 12 days of Christmas and moves into Epiphany.  The full-color artwork is gorgeous and the writings include authors like Eugene Peterson, Scott Cairns, Luci Shaw, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus and Kathleen Norris.  We put this book on an easel next to our nativity along with some Bibles for people to pick up and read when they have quiet moments. (see photo above)
  • Devotions for Advent (Mosaic Bible):  We have both the Bible and the handy Advent and Lent devotional booklets.  The readings are the same, but the small booklet is great for carrying in a purse or sharing with a friend or family member.  The booklet is only $1.99 and includes the same full color artwork as the Mosaic Bible.  Wonderful resource for a family, small group, Sunday School class, or an entire church community.

The Cradle to Cross Wreath handmade from the Voskamp family.
  All proceeds go to Compassion International. 

Advent wreaths:

  • The Cradle to the Cross Wreath:  I've mentioned before how much we've enjoyed using this wreath for our Advent, Lent and Pentecost celebrations.  You can go to Ann Voskamp's site to see how her family uses the wreathe for Advent.  We have enjoyed it so much, but also do recommend using dripless candles!  I'm not sure how many orders they've received and whether you'd be able to get yours in time for the beginning of Advent, but I encourage you to order it anyway.  Worst case, you'll be all prepared for Lent 2012!
  • Advent Calendar from The Ambrosium:  I've raved about this new addition to our family Advent celebration here.  (if you order by tomorrow - December 10 you can still get one this Christmas!)
Christian Activity Advent Calendar, Nativity Images, Bible Story Cards, Angel Art, Vintage Illustration, Prayer, Service,  Christmas
photo credit: The Ambrosium
 Click here to visit a site with all sorts of Advent information and resources.

5.  We sing this song.  A lot.

Blessed Advent to you and yours!

Next time on Parenting Unrehearsed: 

I love to hear from you!  For example, what are some ways you've both learned and taught healthy practices of waiting and Advent?  Also, please feel free to share the sorts of questions you've been asking about parenting.


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*Thank you to the lovely Lindsey from Lindsey Davern Photography for capturing the hilarious -- and unrehearsed -- family photo I'm using for this series.*

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