Monday, December 22, 2014

How to Do Santa Well (If You're Going to Do the Santa Thing)

Photo credit: All-free-download.com

On my last Christmas-related article, “My Kids Will Believe in St. Nick (but They Won’t Believe in Santa)”, I received some contrary responses. I would like to clarify that it was never my intent to offend any parents who “do” Santa, nor did I wish to imply that parents who tell their kids Santa brings gifts are bad parents. I did want to make a statement on the underlying values and theology taught by the tradition of Santa, as well as to provide some questions to guide that thought process.

For those parents who are deciding or have decided, after deliberation, to continue the tradition of Santa in their household, I would like to share some tips for how to do that in a way that doesn’t take away from (but rather illuminates) the story of the birth of Christ.

Know what you are trying to teach them. The story and tradition of Santa is a great way to imbue in children the joy of giving, the beauty of Christmas, and the innocent wonder of stories. Keep in mind what you are trying to teach them, and you will find it easier to avoid what you’re trying not to teach them.

Talk about why Santa gives gifts. Teach your children that Santa gives gifts for the same reason we do: as a reminder of the greatest Gift of all, Jesus.

Use Santa for grace-based theology. In my last post, I mentioned that Santa promotes a works-based theology. Good little boys and girls get gifts, while children on the naughty list get only coal. When you talk about Santa, talk about how he knows when they do bad things, but he forgives them and gives gifts out of love for them. Talk about how this is like Jesus; Jesus knows we can never be good enough to earn heaven, so he came to earth and died for us. Jesus and Santa both give gifts not because we deserve them, but because they love us.

Don’t make Santa the be-all and end-all. Christmas should not be all about Santa. Christmas should not be all about gifts. If Santa and the gifts were to entirely disappear from the Christmas tradition, your child should still be able to recognize Christmas. You can work toward this by using Santa as a parallel for Jesus (as I said before), by attending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services, reading the Christmas story as a family, and having a Nativity scene up in your house.

There are lots of ways to do the Santa tradition well, keeping Christ as the center and using Santa to support and illuminate Christ’s birth. My husband and I still won’t teach our children to believe in Santa, but we would never condemn someone who does. Whether you teach Santa, St. Nick, or neither of those, the most important thing is that you remember and teach the true reason for Christmas. At Christmas, God became flesh. On Good Friday, God in flesh, the man Christ Jesus, suffered, died, and was buried for our sins. On Easter, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin and death once for all. Whether you do or don’t “do” Santa, do it for Christ.


For more ideas from someone who is “doing the Santa thing”, check out Barefoot and Pregnant’s post on Patheos.com, “The Great Santa Lie Truth”.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Recommended Post: Christians, Stop Staying Pure Until Marriage

Photo Credit: Captured by Kathy K
For those who anxiously await my weekly posts, I'd like to share something to tide you over until I get the next post up. This was written by a young woman named Sarah over at Tumblr, and it sums up my views of purity and marital sexuality perfectly.

As anyone would be, I was hesitant when I came across the title, but it was shared by a Christian friend and former classmate of mine, so I assumed it was at least relevant to my understanding of and belief in purity. I was happily surprised when I found out just how convicting and uplifting the post was...

But if you want to know more, I'll let you read it yourself. Head over, check it out, and let her know Dakotah sent you!

Christians, Stop Staying Pure Until Marriage by Sarah

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'd Rather Read "Game of Thrones" than "Left Behind"


A well-loved family member once told me that I shouldn’t be looking for doctrine* in fiction books, even Christian ones. “If you want doctrine, read the Bible,” she said. At first glance, that sounds like a solid statement. Why should we trust anything but Scripture to teach us our beliefs? If we want a good story, we should read a well-written fiction book, but if we want to know what to believe, we should read the Bible.

If only it were that simple.

Unfortunately, sometimes books give us more than just a good story. Every book ever written has underlying concepts and values, and whether we’re looking for them or not, we’re absorbing them. No matter our age, we learn from what we read. Becoming adults, we develop filters that let us determine whether we will incorporate the values we read into our own lives, but when it comes to doctrine, sometimes things slip past those filters.

Christians for the past 2000 years have believed in the inerrancy of Scripture—the Bible is absolutely true. When we read books that quote the Bible, then, it can be difficult to tell when those books are misinterpreting Scripture and distorting doctrine. Much of Christian literature distorts doctrine by taking Scripture out of context. This is the reason I read very few fiction books in the “Christian” genre.

I’m not going to address all the theological problems with the Left Behind books. As a matter of fact, I’m not going to address the theological problems at all. If you’ve read my Statement of Faith (or the About Me section), you know that I am a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and as such, my understanding of the books is in line with theirs. If you would like to know what the LCMS teaches about Left Behind, you can go to the page LCMS Doctrine FAQ on Left Behind.

You may not think that pure doctrine matters very much. Let’s look at an example that demonstrates why that’s wrong.

Some Christians believe that God created life on earth through evolution (a scientific theory known as theistic evolution). They believe that the six days of creation are not a literal six days, but rather a representation of the time it took to create life. This makes a lot of sense from a scientific standpoint, but theologically (doctrinally) it creates a conundrum that requires us to deny this theory of theistic evolution or deny two of the basic tenets of our faith, original sin and the inerrancy of Scripture.

If theistic evolution is true, creatures had to die before Adam and Eve evolved. If death existed before Adam and Eve, death existed before sin came into the world. If death existed before sin came into the world, sin did not cause death. If sin did not cause death, original sin does not exist. If original sin does not exist, Romans 6:23 is wrong in saying “the wages of sin is death”. If Romans 6:23 is wrong about the wages of sin, Scripture has error. Clearly, the doctrine of a six-day creation, which many Christians call a nonessential, actually affects doctrines essential to salvation, such as original sin. A little false teaching in so-called “nonessentials” leads to a lot of false teaching in “essentials”.

My claim in the title, that “I’d rather read Game of Thrones than Left Behind,” holds true. I’d rather read something that teaches no doctrine than something that teaches a little false doctrine. I’d rather eat an delicious, nutrient-lacking pizza than eat a delicious, nutrient-filled prime rib dinner that has a little rat poison in it. Sure, my body could flush out the rat poison, but the rat poison could just as easily kill me. In the same way, my discernment could flush out the false doctrine in some so-called Christian fiction, but that false doctrine could just as easily destroy my faith.

No matter how enjoyable Christian fiction might be, if it’s not doctrinally solid, I don’t want to read it. Secular fiction might not be building me up spiritually, but it’s not tearing me down like the rat poison of false doctrine found in some** Christian fiction.


*Defined as ”a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group.” For the purpose of this article, the “doctrine” referred to is that of the universal Christian Church. For more information on my personal beliefs and doctrine, please see my Statement of Faith.

**It should be noted that some Christian fiction can be found which has solid doctrine in it. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are wonderful and enjoyable, and I have not found any doctrinal problems in them to date. If you’re looking for something targeted more toward adults, Dr. Paul L. Maier has written two exciting novels I enjoyed, titled Skeleton in God’s Closet and More than a Skeleton. I highly recommend them—doctrinally solid, engaging, and challenging. (I just discovered he has written three other fiction books in addition to the two I have read, as well as six non-fiction and seven children’s books. See Dr. Maier’swebsite for more information.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Kids Will Believe in St. Nick (but They Won't Believe in Santa)

Photo credit: All-Free-Download.com
In the fourth century, in the far away land of Asia Minor, lived a young man named Nicholas. He was raised a Christian, ordained a priest, and became a bishop. He often gave gifts to poor children and used his wealth to help the poor, sick, and needy. We know him as St. Nicholas.

Today, in the far away land of the North Pole, lives a fat, white-bearded man named Nicholas. He spends most of the year watching children to see if they are good or bad. He always gives Christmas gifts to the good boys and girls of the world. We know him as Santa.

What is the difference between Santa and St. Nicholas? Besides the obvious difference (that St. Nicholas actually existed, but Santa is just a story), their tales are fundamentally different. St. Nicholas gave gifts to those who needed them; Santa gives gifts to those who earned them. St. Nicholas exhibited grace; Santa exhibits condemnation. St. Nicholas promoted righteousness by grace; Santa promotes righteousness by works.

We know from Scripture that we can never be “good enough” for God. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says we have been saved by “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” We can teach our children that we will never earn gifts from God, but if we teach them that they can earn gifts from Santa, we will, in effect, be negating what we taught on gifts from God. By a child’s understanding, there will be no difference; if they are good enough to earn Santa’s gifts, they are good enough to earn God’s.

I don’t want my kids to think they can be good enough. I want them to see the story of the real St. Nicholas, minister and bishop, filled with zeal for the Gospel. I want them to see the example of a man who did works not out of a desire to earn something, but out of gratitude for his salvation. I want them to see that St. Nicholas gave gifts not to people who deserved them, but to people who need them, in the same way that God gave us His Gift, not to those who deserved His grace, but to those who needed it.

That Gift God gave us is Christ, the Christ that “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell, but the third day He rose again from the dead! He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty!” (Apostles' Creed) That is the gift I want my children to hear about. I can’t teach my children about that gift by teaching them about Santa, but I can teach them about that gift by teaching them of Nicholas of Myra. My children will believe in St. Nicholas. But they won’t believe in Santa.

I don’t mean to condemn those parents who chose to teach their children about Santa Claus. Before you make a decision either way, though, ask yourself a few things.

What are you trying to teach them by telling them about Santa?

Is the story of Santa supporting or taking away from the story of Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection?

If you teach your child that Santa and Jesus are both real, but later tell them Santa isn’t real, what conclusion might they reach about Jesus?

Can you use the story of Santa to make sure they hear the Gospel?

Intentional parenting is good parenting. Are you intentional in your Christmas parenting?



Photo Credit: StPetersList.com
When Santa Punched a Heretic in the Face: 13 Memes on St. Nicholas

*All Scripture passages referenced are from the ESV Bible*

Edit: It was brought to my attention that the above statement on "intentional parenting" is a bit unclear. I did not intend to say that parents who teach their children about Santa are being unintentional parents. My intent was to say that parents need to be intentional about making the choice. Parents who choose to teach their children to believe in Santa are intentional. Parents who chose to teach their children not to believe in Santa are intentional. Unintentional parenting happens when parents just let one or the other happen. I do not in any way mean to condemn either decision, merely to provoke thoughts on the topic.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure to check out How to Do Santa Well (if You're Going to Do the Santa Thing)!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Guest Blogger: This Isn't Your Parent's Party


Today, we have a guest post by my good friend, classmate, and colleague in ministry, James (Jim) Hutson! Jim is a father of two adolescents, studying Family Life Ministry at Concordia University. He also is the author of the blog A Modern Day Pilgrim's Journey, an ordained chaplain, and a passionate worker for men's ministry. He recently presented in our Youth Cultures class on the Youth Party Scene, and I asked him if he would be willing to change his presentation into a blog post to share with you. We'd both love to hear your feedback, so read, comment, and check out his blog, as well!

God's Blessings,

Dakotah




This Isn’t Your Parent’s Party!
By James A. Hutson

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  As part of my academic education at Concordia University Ann Arbor for the BA in Family Life (Church Work) minor Men's Ministry, I have been blessed to take an independent study class entitled "FAM431: Youth Culture.”  This is a presentation I gave on the topic, "Youth at Risk:  Current Attractions and Addictions" in which I spoke about the use of alcohol and drugs in the adolescent party scene.   Below is a paper based on the presentation and I hope that you are as alarmed, as a parent, as I was and am.

Back in the day, when I was an adolescent (yes, I once was), the party scene was less about drinking and more about socialization.  Socialization is the process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within his or her own society.[1]  In layman’s terms, socialization is “the means by which social and cultural continuity are attained.” [2]

Today, for the millennial generation, partying isn’t a social exercise anymore.  The average teenager spends over 44.5 hours per week in front of their computer screens…and some of that time is engaged in socialization, not just computer games and cat videos.  This generation is more socially savvy than my generation ever was, in dangerous and unfulfilling ways.  As one Facebooking teen says, “You know your life’s friends better than yourself” and it’s part of being “in the crowd.”[3]  This relatability between today’s adolescents is another topic, in and of itself, but the electronic and multifaceted means by which they engage has become the socialization process for the majority.

So why is The Party still part of our youth’s social scene?

No matter how you view it, the millennial generation has been bereft of leadership and guidance from the generation before it, the Gen-Xers.  I believe this is because when we [the Gen-Xers] rebelled against our parents, the Boomers, we did so with the idea that there was a promised land and we’d find it at the end of our tethers and restraints that we felt our parents kept us on.  Unfortunately, we didn’t, and so we are embroiled in the chaotic blundering in the proverbial desert of our lives, seeking meaning in the rebellions of our youth.  We have, in the words of Chap Clark, corporately abandoned our youth and have left them to ‘figure it out themselves.’  Maybe [it’s] because we don’t want to restrain or inhibit our children as we once felt we were, but whatever the reason, this hands-off [philosophy] has left a generation without a sexual identity that they will use in the social world they are coming to age in.

And it is these teenagers that are partying.

Far beyond the means by which they ‘party’, these adolescents are coming together to party for the sake of community; to belong, to be accepted, and to be loved.  That “mysterious, miraculous, and unfathomable” phenomenon of the human species, community.[4]  Community, too often interchanged with socialization, is the “feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of common attitudes, interests and goals.”[5]  Instead of learning, they are seeking.  And therein lies the dangers of the modern-day party scene of our youth.

“There is no celebration unless we can falsely create one by altering the state of our lives and even our relationships” is the expectation of the youth that are into the party scene, according to Chap Clark.[6]  To reach this ability to transform their lives into a celebratory event, youth use the ‘traditional’ methods involved at parties, alcohol and drugs.  But, they aren’t the drugs you think and the way you think alcohol is consumed.

Simply put, the party scene is about sex; sex seeking love, attachment, value and caring from peers that seek the same thing….unfortunately, in dangerous and disastrous ways.  Instanteous, if temporary, gratification for their basic needs without intimacy.

The dress apparel of the party scene is to dress as slutty as possible, so that you can be a player in the games.  No, I’m not talking about the party favorites of “pin-the-tail” or “poker,” but games like “Two Article Night” and “ABC Night.”  Nights where you can only wear two articles and where you have to use material like duct tape or red solo cups to make an ‘outfit.’  Or “Color Party,” where one wears a corresponding color to the level of their sexual experience and seek out others of either sex, depending on their preference, that has the same level so that you can experience the next level of sex.  The dance floor is no longer for the enjoyment of rhythm and music, but a grounds for the ‘hook-up’ where you basically ‘bump’ into someone else and dance until the evening ‘progresses.’ 

Remember Clark’s description of celebration?  To loosen their inhibitions and fears, adolescents are using the ‘traditional’ party tools in dangerous ways to create an environment where they are not responsible for, or held accountable by their peers for, the actions they engage in.

Drugs and alcohol are altering our adolescents perceptions.

“Pharm Parties” are used to ‘alter their perceptions’ so that the experience can be maximized for effect.  But it isn’t the drugs of the Gen-Xer generation, hard drugs like hash and rock cocaine, but prescription drugs like Oxytocin, Ritalin and other narcotic painkillers and stimulants that alter perception and lower inhibitions.  “Experimentation” is the method of choice for ‘new experiences’ and things like vaping (electronic cigarettes) and “herb” snorting have become equally as dangerous.  Drugs that produce a strong ‘perception-altering’ effect are sought for, but the danger of overdose is overlooked or unrecognized, especially when mixed with alcohol. 

Of course, this leads us to the most recognized and abused substance of any generation’s party scene: alcohol.  The Millennial, being economically savvy and fiscally responsible, has improved upon how alcohol is used in the party scene.  They simply ‘pre-game.’  Pre-gaming is where you “drink with some purpose” (usually to save money, increase the availability of your supply or simply ‘get your buzz on.’  And drinking games are the mainstay of the pre-game festivities; beer pong, quarters, truth or dare that ‘force’ the participants to drink once a condition agreed upon (missing a shot glass, failing to knock down a cup) is reached.  Another ‘traditional’ means of obtaining alcohol for the pre-game or party has developed with the times as well.  The ‘fake id’ can be bulk ordered from China and is 70% undetected…a far cry from trying to convince the clerk the photo is actually of you and not someone else.

Despite the pre-game, party and accessibility of deception for purchase, alcohol consumption is on the decline for the past several years.  Only 3.5% of eighth graders, 12.8% of tenth graders and 26% of high school seniors reported alcohol use in the past month.  I believe it is because they are mixing drugs with alcohol for effect and therefore use less.  What bothered me the most about my research into the alcohol use of millennials was the stat, “3.5% of 8th graders”…middle school children!

So, what are we as parents to do about this?  How should we respond?

As parents.  Responsible, concerned and caring parents.  What is a parent with those characteristics?  An involved one.  A school site listed several ways we can engage this millennial generation in positive and effective ways. 
  1. Be prepared to talk to you teen about the issues; drugs, alcohol and sexual activity.
  2. Communicate!  And make sure the lines of communication stay open and unrestricted.
  3. As corny as it sounds, teach and practice with your teen the art of saying no.  It’s easy, “No.”
  4. Set firm rules, and discuss consequences of violations to those rules.
  5. Be involved, follow up with adult or responsible party about time and location of party.  It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of responsible parenting.
  6. Discuss exit strategy with teen when party is unsafe due to drugs/drinking or sexual activities and use it.
  7. Practice scenarios about what your teen’s response should be to other’s illegal behavior.
  8. Be awake when your adolescent comes home, don’t just say “Hi, glad you’re home safe,” but touch base with them about their experience.  (Remember number 2).
  9. Discuss safety code.  How will your teen let you know they need your help if they are in a position where they cannot clearly state it.


If you are afraid of upsetting the ‘delicate’ balance of your adolescent, remember this…You are the greatest influence on your child. The Bible tells us to ‘raise our children in the way they should go,” and teaching is only part of that process….maintaining the standards and expectations of behavior and responsibility ourselves speaks volumes to our children and help them emulate them on their own.  How will you know you are being effective in the modeling? 
  1. By knowing your child, being involved with them and knowing what constitutes ‘normalcy’ in their world. 
  2. Stay in touch with them and their peers, know their friend’s parents.  Who knows, you might find an ally in this battle for your adolescent’s health and welfare! 
  3. Keep aware of legitimate drugs/alcohol in the house and amounts.  It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a determent of temptation.
    And lastly,
  4. Do not allow any unchaperoned parties (or other gatherings) to be attended.

It isn’t that you don’t trust your child or a matter of thinking that they cannot handle the world around them; it is simply a matter of being a parent to your child and raising them in an environment where they can learn, grow and be healthy in their physical, social, sexual and spiritual identities so that they can raise their children in the manner in which they should go.

Footnotes:

[1] Clausen, John A. (ed.) (1968) Socialization and Society.  Little Brown and Company. p5.
[2] Macionis, Gerber.  Sociology.  7th Canadian Ed. (Pearson Canada, 2010) pg. 104.
[3] Charlotte.  New York Times: The Learning Network. Do You Spend Too Much Time on Facebook? Comments section.
[4] Peck, M. Scott PhD. (1998) The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.  Touchstone, Simon & Schuster Inc.
[5] “Community.”  Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster.
[6]  Clark, Chap. (2004). Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers.  Baker Academic.  Grand Rapids, MI.

Resources used, if not footnoted:

Jefferson County School Board. (2014, November 17). Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Retrieved from Jefferson County Public Schools:             http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/Departments/SafeDrugFreeSchools/parents/ATODparties.html
JOIN TOGETHER STAFF. (2005, July 25). Youth Trade Drugs at 'Pharming' Parties. Retrieved from Partnership for a Drug-Free Kids:      http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/youth-trade-drugs-at-pharming-parties/
Levenson, E., & John, A. (2014, April 9). How the Kids Do It Now: Partying. Retrieved from TheWire.Com: News from the Atlantic:          http://www.thewire.com/culture/2014/04/how-the-kids-do-it-now-partying/360367/
Nauert PhD, R. (2013, September 4). Partying on Facebook May Spur Teens’ Risky Behavior. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/:           http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/09/04/partying-on-facebook-may-spur-teens-risky-behavior/59175.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014 January).  High School and Youth Trends.  Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse.