Aug 15 2013
The Cost of Children

So the news media wants you to know: It's going to cost you dearly to have a kid.

$241,000, actually. And that doesn't even count college, and you know how costly college is! Pretty daunting, this whole procreation deal. 

Thing is, my wife and I didn't have the money, either. When we had our boy, Justice, I made $17,500. We rented a duplex, and drove two cars worth a combined - not making this up, this is what they sold for: $125. And this isn't the 50's. This is the 90s.

Foolish to have a kid? Mathematically, sure. And I love math, but math ain't everything. You can't play kickball with it or watch it giggle in the bathtub.

Turns out, my parents couldn't afford me, on paper, either. Maybe they're filled with regret. ("Wow, we paid tens of thousands and we wind up with BRANT? WHAT A RIP-OFF.") But I doubt it, because they seem to not only like me, they like the expensive humans my wife and I produced. (Full disclosure: There's a big downside to this having-kids thing.)

Ironically, on the same day the annual "Cost of a Child" study comes out, there's this guy from American Idol in the news. Justin Guarini was a star - he finished second to Kelly Clarkson in 2002. But now money is tight. Very tight. He wrote on his website that he's had to skip meals to make sure his family has enough.

There was a time when I could have thrown down cash for a house, and had any number of lovers in and out the door. A flashy car and clothes to match. An ego to trump them all.

Now, I rent a home filled with love. I have a wife whom I love and who loves me (me!) and who lifts me up. Children who give me cherubic-lipped kisses before I leave for work and who are the most delicious morsels of joy and peace and prosperity.

I am a pretty wealthy individual. 

And then this, his best line:

I have more riches than I can count. Most of them come in the form of smiles and drool... but they make me feel like a gazillionaire.

Justin Guarini, I didn't watch your season of "Idol", but I'm now a fan. You, sir, are on to something.

And so is Bruce Brander, unfortunately. Bruce wrote a terrific book, called Staring Into Chaos, and it's about how civilizations, you know, go down the tubes. And Brander notes a commonality: Declining civilizations look at children through a cost/benefit lens. They see them as a drag on our personal autonomy, or another personal accoutrement, to enhance our status. It's plus and minus, and minus and plus, and maybe it's worth having one, if it doesn't make me cancel my Bahamas trip.

(Is it incumbent on everyone to have children? Of course not! But you might want to root on those who do, and create a culture and policies that support marriage and families, even big ones. Other people's kids are wonderful, joyful things, too. For one thing, you need them to retire.)

Of course, this whole "kids are too expensive" thing has a funny familiarity to it, and by "funny", of course, I mean, "tragically unfunny". It's precisely where we are. And precisely why western civilization, demographically speaking, is most definitely, irreversibly, going out of business. The numbers don't lie. As a culture, we simply love ourselves too much to burden ourselves with little versions of ourselves.

And then there are those who will continue to see children for what they are: Miracles and blessings. But they are now the counter-culture. The good news is, the counter-culture doesn't just have drool on its carpet and a beater in the garage. It has a future, and that future is at a table, surrounded by the laughs and cries of our grandbabies.

Expensive inconveniences grow up, and have their own inconveniences, and, like Justin Guarini, wouldn't trade them for the world. What, exactly, was I going to spend that money on, anyway?

I know bargains when I see them. They make me smile.

And these two bargains can smile back.

Sep 24 2012
It's Time to Party

I didn't write this. Mike Yaconelli wrote this. And I realize this is the second blog entry in a row inspired by heroes of mine, both of whom died in car accidents.  I didn't do it intentionally. And I apologize if I'm breaking any laws by posting this. I had to re-type it all, because I can't find it on the web, anywhere. He wrote it years ago, in a now-defunct magazine, and I made a copy of it (another law violation?) and stuck it in a box in my garage. When I read it on the air today, we were inundated with requests to see it, so here you go.

I highly recommend Mike's book Messy Spirituality, by the way. He was a game-changer for me.

------

It's Time to Party, by Mike Yaconelli

 

Recently, my wife and I were having our devotions and reading our favorite devotional guide, Cosmopolitan. In it was another one of those mindless quizzes.  (You know the ones: How Responsible Are You? How Sensual Are You? Do You Have ESP? Will Your Marriage Last?) One of the questions caught my eye. It said:

Which would you prefer?

a) a wild, turbulent life filled with joy, sorrow, passion, and adventure - intoxicating successes and stunning setbacks, or

b) a happy, secure, predictable life surrounded by many friends and family, without such wide swings of fortune and mood?

I thought the answer was obvious. Everyone, I thought, would choose the first option. I was shocked to discover that a good majority would choose the second option. And then it occurred to me: I have been working with adolescents for the past twenty-nine years. And, when I ask them to describe adults, one word always comes up - borrrrrring.

As I began to think about it, I realized that most adults I know are boring. They don't have fun anymore. Oh sure, get a few drinks under their belts and they act alive for awhile. But that's not what I mean. I'm talking about being and acting alive all the time.

The truth is that games are wasted on the young. Little kids don't know how to play games. Remember when you were seven years old and you played hide-and-seek? You'd hide behind a telephone pole with half your body hanging out. No, hide-and-seek isn't for children. It's for people like you and me. Now that I'm 46, I know how to hide. I'm a darn good hider.

I have suggested a game of hide-and-seek to many adult audiences and I am always amazed at the response. I see adults all throughout the group nudging each other, quietly discussing a great hiding place they just thought of, secretly planning a game with their children. It doesn't take much to make most of us realize that we have become too serious, too stressful. The result is that we hae forgotten how to live life. It seems like the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to enjoy living. It reminds me of a description of life given by Rabbi Edward Cohn:

"Life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time, all your weekends, and what do you get at the end of it? ... I think that the life cycle is all backward. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live twenty years in an old-age home. You get kicked out when you're too young. You get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You go to college; you party until you're ready for high school; you go to grade school; you become a little kid; you play. You have no responsibilities. You become a little baby; you go back into the womb; you spend your last months floating; and you finish up as a gleam in somebody's eye."

It's hard to imagine we were a gleam in someone's eye once. What happened to the gleam in our eye? What happened to that joyful, crazy, spontaneous, fun-loving spirit we once had? The childlikeness in all of us gets snuffed out over the years.

A.W. Tozer once said, "This society has put out the light in men's souls." He had it right. The more pagan a society becomes, the more boring its people become. The sign that Jesus is in our hearts, the evidence of the truth of the Gospel is... we still have a light on in our souls. We are alive, never boring, always playful, exhibiting in our everydayness the "spunk" of the Spirit.

The light in our souls is not some pious somberness. It is the spontaneous, unpredictable love of life. Christians are not just people who live godly lives. We are people who know how to live, period. Christians are not just examples of moral purity. We are also people filled with a bold mischievousness. Christians not only know how to practice piety. We also know how to party.

I believe it's time for the party to begin.

 

Sep 17 2012
Rich Mullins Died 15 Years Ago. He Was Like Us. But More So.

(I wrote this at the 10th anniversary of his death. I missed him. This week marks the 15th.  And nothing has changed.)

I was sitting next to Rich Mullins, and so I had to think of something cool to say.

"So...what artists do YOU listen to?  When you and Beaker are traveling, what do you listen to?  Do you have influences you like to listen to for songwriting inspiration?  Who do you listen to?  Just wondering.  Who do you like to listen to, you know?  I was just wondering."

Pause.

"I like silence."

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

Man, I loved that guy.

Didn't know him, really, and the two times I'd talked with him, he was brusque.  But once I was talking to him while he was trying to tune his dulcimer, and then there was the "I like silence" episode.  Maybe I didn't hold it against him because I wouldn't want to talk to me, either. 

But mostly, I think, it's because I would've been disappointed if he were anything but interesting, anything but intense, anything but flawed, anything but -- as one Rich-friend put it -- "like us, but more so."

I want me to be quiet, too.  He's like me, but more so.

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

I'm tired of the word, "Christian".  It was originally something of a put-down, something applied to followers of The Way by outsiders, now adapted, awkwardly, proudly, by the followers themselves. 

I confess to wondering sometimes, "Why am I doing this...?" and then I hear the first few notes of "Peace", and I remember.  Oh -- yeah.  Of course. 

Jesus.

Rich Mullins reminded us that we worship a God who came in the form of a homeless man.  I can love a God like that.

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

I got the impression the beautiful, righteous-seeming people in the music industry really didn't want him crashing their party.  I may be wrong about that.  True, he was given a "Best Artist" award in the Christian genre -- eight months after he'd been killed.   He was, at times, embarrassing.  Wonderfully embarrassing.

A friend of mine told me about hosting Rich's band, the Ragamuffin Band, at his home near St. Louis one summer before a concert.  He said they got in a fistfight in the swimming pool.  I remember thinking, "Now, THAT'S a band." 

If you can't picture a band getting into a pool fistfight, well, that's not a real rock band.  The Police?  Yes.  Simon and Garfunkel?  No.  Ragamuffins?  Yes.  Philips, Craig, and Dean?  ...no.  The Gaithers?  Oh, yeah.  Heck, yeah.

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

I'm from Illinois, raised in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, so you know I saw Rich Mullins a lot.  First in 1985, when my then youth minister (a very cool Hoosier who reads this blog) just had to take us to see him at Lincoln Christian College, the regional epicenter of our denom -- ahem -- non-denomination.

I'd love to say U2 has been my "life's soundtrack", but I won't, because it's kind of indulgent, and it's not true.  They're from Ireland.  Rich Mullins is it.  It was Rich playing in my '81 Ford Mustang, while I sat on the side of the road -- my Mustang's natural habitat -- waiting for a tow truck.  It was "If I Stand" that I sang, a cappella and off-key, at my brother's wedding. 

U2 is the coolest.  But Rich?  Rich was midwestern, socially awkward, a "born dissenter".  Rich was my people.  And I don't think I'm special for saying so. 

I think a lot of people reading this right now would say the same thing.

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

My former youth minister, ironically, has changed his views quite a bit.  In fact, he says Rich Mullins is practically his only connection to Christianity right now, besides this blog (both terribly honoring and terrifying) and I can sure understand that.  Except for the blog part.  Lord have mercy.

But he's got his doubts, and I've got mine, and, thank God, I know Rich had his.  It's a nice little club, the three of us, separated, by culture and miles, and a gulf between us and Rich that we can't traverse for now.  I sometimes wonder how we can.

But, from what I hear, there's a wideness in God's mercy, I cannot find in my own.