Feb 25 2013
On the Chair Next to You

Each Sunday morning, Kumar sits on a folding chair, waiting for the rock band to start up, and the preacher to give a seeker-sensitve sermon. The chairs are partly filled, in a school gymnasium, just outside Washington, D.C.

He's a small man, from Chennai, India, and here, in the rows for the audience, he's part of someone's Big Vision. Like many others, the church start-up has a visionary, who hopes it becomes the next Big Thing, even hoping to buy 40 acres in suburban D.C. (Anyone got a half-bil for that?)

And Kumar, who's 36, drives each day to his office job at Sun Microsystems, where he spends a lot of time checking urgent email from very far away.

Friday night, I walked with Kumar, and our mutual friend, Woody, to a crowded Whole Foods Market in Alexandria. I made a salad about four times bigger than his, but when we got back to the hotel room, it took him a couple hours to finish. I kept asking questions. He kept answering.

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

Kumar was on a crowded bus in Chennai, India. He heard God's voice. "Unmistakeably," he says. I heard God say, twice, 'Seek Me.' That was it. Twice."

Just "Seek Me"?

"Just 'Seek Me'. And I knew it was God, but which God? I was Hindu. Was it Vishnu? Calli...? No idea. I just knew it was God. Somehow, I knew it. Unmistakeable."

And Kumar isn't the gullible type. He has multiple advanced degrees in Aero Engineering and Physics, for starters, from the M.I.T.-equivalent in India.

He studied and researched, but just wasn't satisfied that it was one of his familiar gods, and eventually found a friend with a Bible -- a "good luck charm" -- and traded a textbook for it. He started reading, got confused, but eventually was pointed to Jesus.

He became a Jesus-follower.

Costly decision.

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

His parents weren't happy. They scheduled an arranged marriage. Kumar met his wife-to-be on Friday, told her and his parents on Saturday about his Jesus decision, and got married on Sunday. "They thought it would blow over," he says. It didn't.

Six months later, there was an intervention. Her family, his family, neighbors, friends -- 150 people strong -- all telling him to repudiate his faith. He refused.

His parents, fearing for their reputation, said he should leave the area immediately. They would tell everyone that he was dead.

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Kumar took a job in the states. He drove to a big church building. "I didn't know what else to do," he says. "Nice cars everywhere. I liked that."

He walked in, and was taken aback. "It was a fancy church, and everyone was a black person, and they were quite animated. They were walking on their chairs around the room. I was confused, but they were happy.

"They had a testimony time, and I like microphones, so I got up and told them, 'I am so happy about Jesus! I do not want a Mercedes or a BMW! I want to go back to India to tell people about Jesus!' Everyone applauded me! I was the center of attention! But I had just lied! I did not want to go back. Actually, I did want to be rich. I did want a Mercedes."

But some brothers took him to a room and prayed with him, that his return to India would happen. "I did not want to go back to India..."

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

A few years later, he went back to India. Kumar took his vacation from Sun, and headed over... with no plan. He just went door-to-door, and told people about Jesus.

The first day, 45 people decided to become Jesus-followers. How'd THAT happen?

"I don't know. I just went door to door, and neighbors would introduce me to others, and I was amazed."

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Kumar still takes his vacations, two weeks a year, and heads to India. But things have grown. From those first 45, and from his trips over the past seven years...

More than 100,000 conversions. 139 communities. More than 100 pastors. Model orphanages for children suffering from AIDS Schools for Dalit children, the lowest-of-the-low in India. Shelters for little girls, now rescued from prostitution. Food. Medicine. Jesus.

They want to name projects after Kumar. He does not allow them. He spends hours every day, after work, praying and communicating and wondering what the next move is. He doesn't raise financial support. Not his style.

"God always provides. Children are dying in a project, because all we have is rice for them, and not much. Woody gave us some money for a down-payment on four acres with hundreds of coconut trees, and then several families who know us each called me, unaware of what we were doing. 'God woke us up last night, and we can't get you off our mind. Here's five thousand dollars...here's a thousand dollars...we got the forty-thousand we needed to buy the land. I am always amazed."

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

"Kumar...I don't get it. We made a quantum leap in your story. 45 people decide to follow Jesus, and now more than 100 thousand. Wha...? How...?"

We sit at our table in our hotel room, and Kumar starts laughing. I laugh, too! -- and then, I realize, he's not laughing. He's crying, and he can't speak.

"So many have died..."

Who has died?

"So many of our pastors, so many of our people..."

I look at Woody, who knows the stories, and he bites his lip and nods.

"They are beaten to death, they are killed, because they are talking about Jesus. It happens all the time in India, but the country is very concerned about image, very concerned about foreign investment, they pretend it doesn't happen.

"They are the reason this growth has happened. Their blood. I ask God, 'Why do you let this happen to these people who love you?' They have nothing. Our pastors are not paid. There is no money. But I realized, God is releasing them, at last. They have nothing, they are beaten, they are hungry, they live on the ground, in the streets, and God finally releases them to go home."

Pause. And I can't talk, either.

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

Woody, who met Kumar at that seeker-sensitive church in suburban D.C., says I should let Kumar eat his salad. He's right. It's getting late.

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If you're reading this on a weekday, Kumar is sitting in a little room at Sun and doing his job, and answering far-flung emails while he prays. And on Sundays, he sits on a folding chair in a high school gym, and hears about the church's big plans. It will be costly, but just think what could happen, with a new building!

He admits he wonders sometimes...

"They have now added us to their missions budget. They give $1,000 per year. I guess I am happy for that, but..." and his voice trails.

But...the church has other priorities, and a Big Vision for another affluent suburb that, need we remind, needs Jesus, too.

 

Feb 19 2013
The Krusty Sage, on Sheltering Your Kids

(From Brant: This guy sure is cranky. But occasionally, he takes over my blog, and says some stuff, and I can't stop him. I just want you to know that I am thoroughly offended by his tone, and am already drafting a strongly worded letter to me about it. I'm more offended than you, even.)

 

"Should you shelter your kids?"

Yes.

Duh.

The Krusty Sage and the Mrs. Krusty Sage have homeschooled their kids.  (Mostly Mrs. Krusty Sage, to be straight-up honest, yo.) Now, the K.S. does NOT care whether you homeschool or not.  Don't want to?  Can't?  Whatev, man. Your kids, your situation, your call.

But please spare the Sage your concern that he "shelters" his kids.  Why yes, we do, and have.  Thanks.  Glad you're concerned.  By the way:  If you don't "shelter" your kids, you're a traitor.

Remember the Sam Kinison sketch on SNL?  He's a kindergarten teacher, and a shiny, happy mom and dad walk in for their first Parent-Teacher conference.  He tells them their daughter is seriously whack.  They can't believe it.  How?  Why?

He shows them a picture she drew, with a happy little house, and a smiley-faced sun in the sky.  "See this?!  This is insane!"  They don't get it.  So he walks them over to the class window.

"Look at the sun up there.  Can you see it?  Let me ask you a question:  IS THERE A SMILEY FACE ON THE SUN?"

He then launches into a tirade about sheltered kindergarteners, unaware of the gritty real world.  "That's why I've chosen THIS text," he says, slamming down a thick tome.  "It's about the REAL WORLD!  VIETNAM! Lying in a trench in the mud, watching your friend get his head blown off!"

Yeah, man, Vietnam.  The real world, man.  Get those kids exposed, now.  As if there's not a season for everything, as if childhood isn't fit for children, as if "sheltering" weren't one of the things you are precisely charged with doing as a parent.

If you don't shelter your kids, you're a traitor.  Maybe I mentioned that.  "Shelter", "protect" -- what's the dif, dad?

Maybe it matters what you show them on TV.  Maybe it matters that a six year-old may not be ready to watch the new Batman movie, or that your 13 year-old son is seriously wondering why you're not creeped out by watching a sex scene on TV along with him in the room.  Maybe your daughter actually does absorb foolishness from Seventeen and MTV, and maybe that matters.

("But I watched some sex scenes when I was a kid and some inappropriate shows and I turned out okay, and --"  Really?  You're "okay", huh?  You sure?  The K.S. wouldn't even say he's "okay".  But you are?  Neat.)

Maybe allowing your 14 year-old a computer in his room isn't really helping him learn the "real world", but about fake women, and he's in there sabotaging his future marriage, and you're letting it happen because you're a) breathtakingly naive, or b) you're not man enough to "shelter".

It's your job to shelter, pops.  And if you think the mindless entertainment/consumption lifestyle is somehow "the real world", the K.S. is going to get out of his big, awesome, wooden chair and hit you with it.

The K.S. has a friend who was seriously concerned about how the Sage family hadn't let his kids watch "Superbad".  Sadly, the same friend later said his dad had shown him porno mags when he was seven.  No sheltering there. I feel for him.

Another friend once worked at a pre-school with both Amish and non-Amish children.  They occasionally showed Disney videos to the kids, but the friend got a warning:  "Be careful and make sure you watch the Amish kids closely.  They aren't used to movies, so they can take things too seriously and get emotional."  Weird, huh?

-- except it's not the Amish kids who were weird.  They lived in a real world.  A different one, sure.  A "sheltered" one, sure.  But far, far more real than Ariel and Belle.   They aren't the odd ones.  They're children.  Childhood has it's own seasons, its own rhythm, its own implicit modesties, and, if allowed, its own sweet, and more real, charms.

So here's an idea:  DO show your kids the real world --  in time, in season, and informed by wisdom.  Help them to understand, from the outset, that some things aren't appropriate for them yet, but will be in time. Take them out of the country to the third world.  Give them lots of great (usually not modern) books.  Gradually give them more and more latitude as they demonstrate their own wisdom, with the goal of producing a well-formed, free-thinking, independent adult by their very late teens. (By the way, we steered our oldest to the largely non-sheltering environment of his new context of UC-Berkeley.)

Here's the downside:  In order to do this, properly, you'll actually have to know them -- really know them.  May mean giving up your awesome car or house and getting a different job.  Sorry.  Also means you can't watch a bunch of garbage on TV yourself.  Sorry. 

That's one problem with helping people grow up:  You have to be a grown-up.

Feb 10 2013
Parental Warning: This Blog Contains Actual Bible Stuff

 

So is the Bible "family-friendly"?

I asked the guy from "Focus on the Family" that question. A great guy. Totally appreciate what they do at "Plugged In Online", where they review the content of movies and such, since I've always been strict with what my kids see and hear. But his answer was wrong.

"Yes."

You guys rate things on a family-friendly level according to "stars".  Given the content of the Bible, how many "stars" would you give it?

A pause. "Five."

Really? So, if there was a movie, realistically showing the actual stories in the Bible, you'd say it was appropriate for all viewers?

"Yes."

Man, I wouldn't take little kids to see Lot fathering his daughter's children. Maybe I'm more media-conservative than Focus on the Family...?

----

I know he gave the political answer, and the one he had to give. (Imagine Focus on the Family getting complaints, "The Bible's not 'Family-Friendly'???") But with due respect:  You gotta be kidding me.

"Well," you might say, "it's family-friendly, because I read the Bible with my little ones every night…"

Well, you read SOME of the Bible.  Parts of it.  Why?   Because you're a smart parent, and don't really want to be explaining what "like the emissions of horses" is all about, right before lights-out.  That's Ezekiel 23, and that's for starters.  Nevermind Lot getting his own daughters pregnant, or Samson taking advantage of prostitutes or Noah getting naked and trashed, or Song of Solomon's well-known lusty stuff. Kids have a sense of modesty, and wise parents protect that.

Here's another reason it's obvious: The Bible isn't family-friendly, because there's plenty of content that I couldn't share on the air without a disclaimer. Or at all. I can read direct quotes from Jesus, on a Christian station, and send people to their computers for emails of complaint. "My kids were in the car, so I don't appreciate you talking about how prostitutes will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven before the religious leaders."

Other people notice the decidedly unclean, non-family-friendliness of the Bible. Many Muslim leaders criticize it for being full of "abhorrent tales of sexual escapades as done by the Bible's 'holiest' men."  And, indeed, these stories ARE abhorrent, they ARE horrible, they ARE scandalous in the worst way if...

IF...God's ultimate, highest call on our lives is for us to be "family-friendly."  

But it's not. Not even close.  

-------

"Well, okay, but but the Bible IS family-friendly, because it shows us the best way to put our families first, and..."

Actually it doesn't do that, either. The Bible doesn't buttress the primacy of the family. It threatens it.

For those who want to idolize the importance of the nuclear family, Jesus, himself, is a threat.  He turned the entire idea of family on its head.

He says his kingdom matters more than your family, and my family, in Matthew 19. He does it again, in explicit terms, in Luke 14.

He says the poor, the imprisoned, the sick are his brothers and sisters in Matthew 25.

Shockingly, in Matthew 12, he compares his - what we would call - "real" mother and brothers with the people who were following him.  And he said the LATTER group, anyone who "does the will of my Father" is his real brother, and sister, and mother. He redefines family, itself.

"Yes, but that was a different time, and family is much more important now, in these troubled times."

I've thought that before, too, but... it's exactly wrong.  Family was your very IDENTITY at that time. Your past, present, and future, all in one. It was ALL about family. And Jesus, God among us, redefined it.  And no, it didn't go over well then, either.

For the believer, the Jesus-follower, "family" is redefined, and the centrality of our nuclear, physical family, is threatened. Like the old western, Jesus walks into town, confronts our worship of other things, even good things, like our families, and says, "There ain't room in town for the two of us."

-----

I thought about ending the blog, here. But then I anticipated the responses, attempts to take the shocking reality of Jesus, and simply make it fit what we're already doing. "Well, thanks, Brant! This is all true, of course, etc., but it doesn't mean we shouldn't care about our families, and…"

Yes, yes, of course. But don't use that as a means of escaping what Jesus is saying, here: If you are a believer, you are part of the body of Christ, and that means integrating your life, with others, in a way that recognizes this new conception of family.

It does not mean retrofitting the radical teachings of Jesus to keep doing the same thing. And that's good news, because the way of Jesus is BETTER, even if it doesn't fit our idea of what a "good Christian" looks like.

Imagine: Your money. Your time. Your home. Your everything, woven with the lives of others. Less isolation, less stressful relationships in the home, more healthy marriages, and true families for the lonely, the orphan, the widow, the divorcee, the single, or the misfit.  Jesus has a plan, and it's a good one. Don't short-circuit it by defending your status quo. (Frankly, as America becomes more post-Christian, we may find ourselves, by necessity, rediscovering just how great this family, his Real Family, is!)

No, by our definition of "family friendly", the Bible doesn't cut it.  Once again, Jesus takes our little categories and leaves them in tatters.

And once again, he threatens us, because he loves us too much to let us stay the same.

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