Sola Scriptura: Training a Child.

The biblical book of Proverbs is a poetic collection of wise sayings, often comparing the difference between prudence and foolishness. Many of these Proverbs are familiar to us regardless of religious background. Inside the church, some Proverbs are more popular than others – picking and choosing applicable verses.

For example, the beginning of chapter 22 addresses finances in one form or another. It begins with the claim a good reputation is better than wealth, then later it says the rich rule over the poor. The chapter describes both the wealthy and destitute as equal creations of God. It promises humility is rewarded with riches and generosity leads to blessings. It warns against sowing injustice (you'll reap calamity) and oppressing the poor for selfish gain (you'll come to poverty).

Christian culture has embraced the sixth verse from this chapter as the prescription for child rearing. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

If you ask a faithful Christian about how to raise kids, they probably know this verse. It is repeated to new parents in every denomination, read in church parenting classes, and is the advice offered by pastors to parents with rebellious teenagers. But if you ask those same individuals about the rest of the chapter, their knowledge is probably limited to the lone verse about training their child. Rare few people would quote for you verse eleven: "One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend." Even rarer, you will have an explanation of verse six in contexts of the surrounding passage or ancient cultures and traditions. This is the challenge of reading scripture with Western eyes.

Sola Scriptura is a doctrine common among protestant and evangelical denominations. It proposes that the bible is the one and only trusted source for rules, instruction, and practice. Question anything, the answer is found in scripture. Adherence to sola scriptura takes the bible literally and clings to biblical inerrancy - a teaching of the bible being free of error or fault. This is the culture in which I was raised: the bible is perfect, perceived contradictions is a misunderstanding of the reader, scripture is the only source of wisdom, and every word was literal fact.

As I got older, sola scriptura grew confusing and impractical, which brings me back to Proverbs 22:6. Train up a child in the way he should go. The NIV translation reads, "Start children off on the way they should go," and the NLT says, "Direct your children onto the right path." Train them. Start them. Direct them. All point to the same result: they won't leave it when they're older.

Taken literally, it made sense with my family. My parents were spiritual leaders for my brother and me. They insisted on church attendance. Prayed for us, read us bible stories, and theological issues with us. When we grew up, Aaron and I remained Christians; as adults, we have both been active in ministry. We did not depart from the path.

Statistically speaking, the Casey family is an anomaly. A study from the SBC indicated 70% of teens actively involved in evangelical youth groups quit attending church within two years of graduating high school. Other research shows a shrinking number of adults identifying as Christian and a growth among religiously unaffiliated citizens. Surveys have revealed many young adults abandoning the faith of their youth during or after their freshman year of college. Taking Proverbs 22:6 literally, we must assume their parents didn't train them in the way they should go.

My experience disagrees this interpretation.

It worked with my parents, but the same isn't universally true. Not all the kids I grew up with still believe in God. I remember their parents and what it was like in their homes. They instilled Godly values too. They made every attempt to direct their kids down the correct paths, yet their kids still strayed. Their kids abandoned the road. Their kids left the faith. Their results disprove scripture. They trained up their kids in the way they should go and their kids did not follow the path. Does that mean their parents didn't really train them up in the way they should go? It sure looks like they did. What went wrong that my parents got right? My folks made a lot of mistakes, so how did Aaron and I hold onto a faith so many of our peers abandoned?

What about PKs? Pastors and preachers should be better equipped to lead their offspring into a legacy of Christian belief. Yet the children of clergy can end up running away from faith as adults, and often do. Rebellious pastor’s kids are unfortunately common, raised on a path they refuse to follow.

How many devoted Christians have prayed reverently for the deliverance of their wayward children. Drug addicts, alcoholics, abusers, and apostates who once attended their houses of worship like good little children? How many of these faithful have agonized over where they failed, hopeless over their kid’s eternal fate.

What happens when you train a child and they rebel? That question has plagued me ever since I became a parent. That question led me to doubt sola scriptura doctrine. I mean, we can't possibly take this passage literally if the literal application doesn't work. It presents other issues too, problems beyond contradictory experiential evidence.

It is incompatible with doctrine of free will - the belief that God allows humanity to go our own way. It defies the teaching of Jesus: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Literal interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 insists the path you follow is not your decision, it is the result of how you were raised. With a literal approach, you’re incapable of choosing to enter the narrow gate unless their parents taught you to do so. Biblical literalism here also removes any opportunity for personal responsibility. After all, one could claim "it's not my fault my life is messed up, my parents didn't train me up in the way I should go."

It is incompatible with doctrine of predestination - the belief that God has already determined the destiny of everything before it ever happens. It defies the letters of Paul who wrote, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" and "He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ." Literal interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 insists it is parental actions, not God's selection that sets a course for a child's destiny. If we adhere to this, we supplant God's will with our own. If you truly believe in predestination, then it shouldn't matter what a parent does or doesn't do because grown up kids only remain on the path if it is where God ordained them to be.

Here is what I have determined: we (as humans) don't really know what we're doing. Our best option is to do the best we can do with the tools we've been given. I believe that is what my parents did. I also believe that is the choice made by the parents of my friends who did not remain devout. The divine fate between choice and destiny is something I will never fully understand. Looking at scripture alone to find an answer is absurd. If you tell me you interpret the bible literally, I want to know. What happens when you trained a child in the way they should go but they depart from it?

Does this mean I am rejecting or abandoning scripture? Of course not. I still see the bible as holy, sacred, and divinely inspired. However, I am abandoning many of the conservative and fundamentalist teachings about the bible. I am rejecting the idea that the way we've interpreted the bible is perfect.

So, I'll do my best. I will work to be the best dad I can be. I will teach my kids about my faith and lead them to the best of my ability. Then I will hope for the best outcome. Because if God has already determined their path, then what will be will be. And if the path they choose is truly their choice then I cannot be responsible if they decide something different than what I directed.

I might not believe in a literal interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 anymore, but I still take it seriously. It is my duty as a Christian father to lead my kids. Maybe they won't stray from the path. Maybe they will. And perhaps, just maybe, my idea of the path they should follow isn't the way they should go. I'm open to the possibility God has other plans.


Mourning a Maverick

After the death of a celebrity, from athletes to musicians and movie stars, they're instantly remembered for the better parts of their nature. Their sins and errors are quickly forgotten - even if only temporarily, and their post-mortem image in the public consciousness is flattering and uplifting.

The same isn't always true of political giants. Either they go the way of dictators and tyrants, whose ends usually come violently and given unceremonious farewells like Gaddafi or Bin Laden. Others are honored, occasionally elevated to mythical status, a civic sainthood for American heroes. History books remember these figures with kindness and generosity not reserved for normal people. For these legends, temporary amnesia is far more permanent than what is granted for other departed and famous. We forget failures and weaknesses never to discuss them again. In generations to come, text books and memorials will only highlight the good they contributed to our world.

Senator John McCain falls into this latter category, an American icon whose name will be listed among the greats like George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr. This isn't to say he was a perfect man, he was fully human. Rather, any dispute or critique is now irrelevant. Instead we're left with an immeasurable legacy. A military man, war hero, POW, and a figure who passionately devoted his life to the care of veterans. A lawmaker steadfast in his convictions yet was willing to work with individuals with opposing political beliefs to achieve shared goals. He was labeled a maverick because he would go his own way even when his party went a different direction. This balance of pragmatism and idealism ruffled a few feathers - especially among extremists.

image courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio

However, his approach created allies out of enemies and forged friends from nemeses. Most people would not handle competition with the grace McCain demonstrated. Instead of walking away bitter after devastating loss, McCain took the high road and celebrated his opponent's victory. He ran for president twice, losing to George W Bush and Barack Obama. These two men will be delivering eulogies at McCain’s funeral, a testament to the bonds McCain fought to build with his colleagues and rivals.

In death, McCain has silenced his critics and won the respect of his foes. While I could list the many ways I disagreed with his political stances or the policies he supported, my petty complaints don't matter. The life he lived was admirable and even in disagreements, I see a man who exemplifies the way I wish to be seen when my time comes. Despite our differences, I never doubted that he wanted what was best for his family, his state, and his nation. He was the last great American conservative and his absence will be felt for years to come. Regardless of political party or ideology, America needs more men and women like him.

Farewell Senator McCain. You lived well. May God rest your Maverick soul.

image courtesy of AP News


Two Towers

On the drive to work this morning, I noticed a cell tower standing in the field north of Cabellas. Actually, I saw two of them in the same empty lot - close enough that you could fly a paper airplane from one to the other. I've passed this plot of land more times than I could count and never recognized the two towers standing there to transmit my LTE signals. I've seen them, but I've never noticed them.

They're there. And they've been there for a long time. Yet I've driven by time and time again completely oblivious to their presence. They have a purpose, fully functional. I can make and receive phone calls because they exist. I'm usually streaming a podcast while I drive that stretch of road, which means my smartphone is accessing the internet carried by one of those cell towers.

I got my first cell phone in 2002. It was a part of a T-Mobile promotion for DirecTV employees. I filled out the application on my lunch break, selected the device and calling plan - voice only, no texts. The only game I could play on it was Snake. In the years since then, as mobile providers expand their coverage and fight with each other to build the most reliable network, the population of cell towers have exploded. They now dot the landscape of every city, town, and village across America. They've become so common they're often overlooked.

Let's be honest though. It's probably best that we ignore the sight of the towers providing our cell reception. They're ugly constructions, not architecturally appealing in any way, shape, or form. They're hideous enough, some people attempt to disguise them as trees like the one near the Daybreak Coffee stand at Prairie and Ramsey in Hayden. However, the nature costume is clearly artificial looking; it's even more garish than the standard cell tower.

Whether incognito or undisguised, cell towers are an eyesore, one we have become so accustomed to seeing they blend into the scenery. On most days, we can pretend they don't exist.

As I turned onto Seltice to cross the Spokane River and continue my morning commute, I observed that which I've repeatedly disregarded. Two cell towers. For the first time since signing my contract with T-Mobile sixteen years ago, I pondered the existence of these towers I've long taken for granted.

It made me think about time travel. What if we jumped in our DeLorean and went backwards thirty years? In 1988, my dad is probably playing a pinball machine in Godfather's Pizza while the jukebox plays Richard Marx's Hold On to the Nights. Cinephiles were in line for tickets to see Young Guns after enjoying Die Hard and Cocktail earlier in the summer. Anyone using satellite service for their television had a twelve-foot diameter dish in their yard. Mark Langston had a great year as a pitcher despite the Mariners finishing last place in their division. A few individuals used cellular phones on a 1G network with bricks that took ten hours to charge and only provided a half hour of talk time. Cell service was a luxury at a cost greater than what most Americans could afford, and cell towers did not dot the countryside.

Could you imagine going back in time and trying to explain a cell tower to a resident of history? Or even attempting to describe one to a younger version of you? Or what if a traveler from the past came to our time and saw these ugly base transceiver stations lurking behind office buildings, attached to billboards, or freestanding in the middle of fields? What would they think? How would we justify their presence? Would they return to their era and convince everyone we need to rethink this cell phone thing?

I am thankful I'm able to carry around one small device in my pocket that replaces a multitude of gadgets my younger self would have never been able to manage. I am grateful my phone is also my camera, video camera, calculator, compass, altimeter, GPS, voice recorder, Walkman, planner, and so much more. I appreciate being able to read the news, listen to the radio, research for my book, watch a movie, take classes, keep in touch with old friends, and go shopping all from the convenience of my iPhone. It's amazing that I can do those things from almost anywhere. However, not all the wonders of our technological advances are beneficial or aesthetically pleasing. Sure, I'm used to seeing mobile phone masts scattered in every community. I've practically become numb to them. However, I sometimes miss seeing unobstructed views of mountains, forests, pastures, and rolling hills. Sometimes, I am disgusted by the towers and monuments of digital progress.

Days like these, I wonder what tomorrow holds. Will the archaeologists of a future society dig up the ruins of our civilization to discover ancient cell towers then describe our people as primitive for using such crude structures to communicate with each other?


The Struggle

By the time I joined the MPHS drama club, casting for Cheaper by the Dozen was complete. It was my sophomore year and I felt like should be playing a sport; instead of auditioning for the fall play, I joined the tennis team. I eventually walked into the auditorium hoping to be a part of whatever happened in there. Mr K, the director and theater teacher told me he didn't believe in understudies so there wasn't a role available for me. However, he allowed me to become the stage manager, a position I held through every drama club production for the rest of my high school career.

Cheaper by the Dozen is a based on a 1948 novel about a family with twelve kids and their father's unorthodox parenting strategy. During one of the dress rehearsals, Mr K stood next to me and pointed to one of the guys on stage whose character was an elementary-aged kid. He said, "It's a shame you didn't audition. If you had, I would have given you his part."

Mr K was pointing to a lanky kid named Daniel. He taller than most, over-sized for his character’s age. On appearance alone, I would have been a better fit. I was short, barely weighed 100 pounds, and looked younger than Daniel.

It's a good thing tennis practice kept me away from the casting call. Daniel was a damn good actor, and he used this role to prove his skill. He was given the lead role in almost every production after that. Harold Hill in The Music Man, Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon, Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac. Even in smaller roles, Daniel shined. His father helped build many of our sets including the elaborate stairway and second story balcony for Neil Simon's Rumors.

During our senior year, I began eating lunch in the auditorium, joined by Daniel and a few other students. Drama class immediately followed lunch as we prepared for our spring production of Into the Woods. We had great discussions while we ate, youthful debates on politics and religion.

Observing Daniel for three years on stage, I was impressed. If any of us had the potential to become famous, it was him. Through our interactions as peers and in those lunchtime conversations, I saw him as one of those kids who had it all together. It seemed like the fates were in his favor. The world was his for the taking.

After graduation, we lost contact. Social media didn't exist in 1997 and I only made efforts to keep track of my closest friends. In '99, I moved to Boise and my classmates became strangers and memories. For years, I knew nothing of what happened to Daniel or any of the other kids from Marysville-Pilchuck. Until Facebook.

High school wasn't the happiest era of my history. When I started connecting with former classmates through Facebook, I was (and still am) highly selective. While I do assign great nostalgic value to the music and movies of the 90's, I have zero interest in reliving my teenage years. There is no former glory to go back to, the best years of my life are happening now. The former classmates I've "friended" on Facebook are those who I am genuinely interested in knowing what's happening in their lives today. Daniel is one of those individuals.

When we first reconnected online, I was unsurprised by the kind of man he became. Married, lives in the Seattle area, embraces and celebrates geek culture, works in marketing, and looks like the kid I remembered from years past. Except he's bald now. I was also happy to see he's still acting. Daniel regularly performs in Shakespeare productions, is active in the local theater community, and has received several praising reviews. More than any of our classmates, he appears to be living out his childhood dreams. Over the past few years, I've found greater admiration and respect for him than I ever did when we were kids. Hopefully, someday soon, I can make a trek back to the west side of the state, see one of his shows, and meet him at some hipster bar for drinks to catch up on the lives we've lived for the past 20 years.

Even in Daniel’s charmed existence, despite those things he posts which fits within my preconceived notions of his personality, he occasionally surprises me. Last week, he posted the following message:
"I suffer from depression and anxiety. I've carried around a persistent sadness since as far back as I can remember. I'm not suicidal but these thoughts run through my brain on a near daily basis."
Daniel included a video of notes written by people who have suicidal thoughts while they're not suicidal. Statements like:

"It's having this numbing ache inside you don't know how to mute."
"They're fleeting but frequent thoughts that attack you even when you feel completely fine."
"It's like being trapped in a brain you're unfamiliar with."
"It's not really the thought, 'I want to kill myself,' but more, 'I don't care if I die.'"

image courtesy of The Mighty

At my lowest point, I had similar thoughts crashing inside my mind. I never felt suicidal. I never wanted to end my life. I carried too much Wesleyan guilt and shame to commit any form of self-harm. Yet I felt as if it would be OK if I perished in a tragic accident or as the victim of a random act of violence. The video Daniel shared echoed voices that used to haunt me. I knew I wasn't alone in my thoughts, thousands of Americans struggle with some form of depression. Yet I was surprised to see Daniel admit he was one of us.

I should know better. Artists like us are often prone to melancholy. Our talents are frequently borne from pain, from the darkest recesses of our psyches. Singers, musicians, painters, writers, actors, and other creative types. We all seek to exorcise our demons through our chosen craft. I also know that depression doesn't discriminate against age, race, gender, religion, or financial status. Success doesn't make you immune. Popularity and accolades do not inoculate your mental health. Achieving your dreams cannot protect you from suffering. Anyone could be struggling with anxiety or depression - even those of us who appear to be happy or have it all. Humans are complex creatures and there is more going on inside us than we ever display.

Daniel and I share a goal. It is the reason he posted the video and why I am writing this post. We both want to inspire someone in need of hope. We both believe mental health issues need better representation. We want to end the stigma against mental illness and create productive conversations about it. In my experience, the negative impact of depression lessened the more I talked about it.

When it was worst for me, I got help through counselling and medication. Daniel is in the process of doing the same. Our journeys look very different, yet we share the same message.

You are not alone.
You are valued.
You are important.
You are needed.
You are loved.
You are strong.
You are courageous.

Even if you don't feel like it, those seven statements are still true. Daniel and I stand as proof that there is light in the middle of darkness. Whether it is through a crisis hotline, a professional therapist, or a friendly face like mine or Daniel's, help is available.

If you need someone to talk to, please send me a message on Facebook or Twitter. You can also call the National Suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741-741.