– Neil Gaiman
Teach Your Kids to Read, to Think, to Uncover, and so Discover.
If you don’t want to read another potentially long post, I put my point in one, the very first line. But if you’re interested in my winding way of talking about this one idea, read on.
Growing-up, my parents made what I now believe to be a wise decision of limiting our access to TV. For most of our lives we did not have cable and had to rely on books and outdoor activities to keep us engaged. The shows we did watch were usually videos, sports, and in our maids’ room – which had cable. So there Josh would be, in the maids’ room with a bowl of ice cream watching an NBA game.
This practice has directly influenced my current way of living. I gave away all my TVs, I don’t have cable (of course, what good is cable without a TV), and I don’t find myself media-starved at all. If anything, I still feel too connected because of my phone.
I really think it’s important that parents take active participation in the media their children consume. I use the words “active participation” because I don’t simply mean being a board of sensors. If all your kid thinks you do is tell him what to read or not, then you didn’t really help him discern did you? You just taught him what your preferences are. Instead, I encourage you to go deeper than that. Read-up on what they read, and prepare book lists for them to read, or even for you to read to them. Know what they’re listening to and listen to the lyrics. I’m able to add lyrics to my posts and journal entries because, unlike most people, I actually understand the lyrics – not merely hear them.
Teach your kids not only your preference, but to know how think and uncover, and so discover not just what you think they should be consuming, but how to live a life that is not superficial (such as “I just like the beat”), but is interested in going deeper.
You’ll enjoy your books, music, shows, and other media, when you have an appreciation for the production, for the talent (and you’ll be able to spot the lack of it), and you’ll teach your kids to curate and create, not just consume.
We need more curators, people who filter and think through the millions of offerings out there. We need more creators too, people who come up with new things, with amazing things. We need less consumers, people who always needing to be fed.
Now that my moral lesson is out of the way, what I’d really like to write about are the stories of childhood. Pretty much every night, before we went to bed, my mom or dad would come into the room my brothers and I shared, and would read us a story. In my opinion, spending bed times with your kids is one of the single most efficient moments available to parents. In this moment, you are able to have fun, entertain, teach, and bond with your child, and have them going into 8 hours of rest with you and your voice being the last thing they hear. Never underestimate the lessons learned right before a person slips into the unconscious.
Many of the stories we were told, were about animals…
Lions in Cages
My dad talked to us about how in each of us was a lion in a cage. This lion is tame and peaceful inside the cage.
But don’t be fooled by appearances.
Take this lion out of his bars and out comes a ferocious animal of destruction. He said that while we were kids and lived under his roof, he could tame us and guide us, but that someday, we would have to go on our own, and if that lion hasn’t been transformed, we’re going to cause a lot of damage.
Which is I guess what happened… HAHA!
Anyway, it was his way of telling us about the limitations of external government. That you can try caging a ferocious heart, but you haven’t changed it, you’ve only held it down. As soon as the external controls are gone, the true nature of that heart comes out. So the secret was to use the time of external boundaries to learn to change the heart.
I don’t know why parents think that ordering around a child they have no relationship with should actually lead to change? Does change precede forgiveness? Doesn’t forgiveness precede change? And what precedes forgiveness? Kindness. Because love is kind. Without that, this is a lion in a cage.
I don’t know why counsellors think couples who do not love, trust, communicate, and/or forgive each other can and should stay together because “it’s the right thing to do”. This, in my opinion (and this is my opinion, not my family’s) is simple minded. It’s simple minded to place an expectation of success without recovering the factors that contribute to the desired success. You cannot build a great building without a great foundation. Fixing what’s above the soil without fixing what’s under does not strengthen the structure. You just made a future-crumbler prettier. Instead, again this is my opinion, stop spending so much time on what “should happen” or “should be” instead spend the time on actions that build love, trust, communicating, and forgiving, starting with trust, because that’s the foundation. Without these, all the nice gimmicks and relationship advice are externals that only help when the fundamentals are set right. Without these fundamentals, you have a lion in a cage.
I don’t know why people think that they can get fit and healthy by joining the latest health craze. In my experience, the ones I see who are really healthy are the ones who eat right, drink a lot of water, stay active, and don’t stress a lot. There’s nothing sexy about that, but it works. Most people think they can put their lack of discipline in a cage called a “program” and that will make them healthier. Um… No. It may help you in the short run but as soon as you don’t have a program or a trainer you’re back to snacking, to eating whatever looks good, stressing out, and living dehydrated like most people. Just another example of a lion in a cage.
Another example is religion. Religion is a beautiful thing. To have a legacy, to have traditions, to have orderly ways of experiencing the spiritual is a gift. But if inside a religious person is a heart unloving, proud, and unkind, and selfish, then religion not only becomes useless but dangerous. For the weak it becomes trapping. For the strong it becomes a tool for oppression. That’s why Christianity was supposed to be different. It wasn’t a religion for the weak to fight back nor the strong to lord it over. It was a religion for the loving. It was a way of living out your spirituality in as loving a way as possible. That the strong loved and lifted up the weaker. That the weak loved and served the strong. Without this heart of love, we have lions in cages – people trying to behave and cage their most natural instincts to become someone their “cage master” tells them to be. As soon as they’re free of that guess what will happen?
Nowadays, when I view and discuss social problems, I use this frame of the lion in a cage, and instead of thinking about how I can cage and control people, I spend more time thinking about how they can be transformed.
Some simple minded person will say, “They just need to become Christian.” And my response is: What does that actually mean? How many of us Christians claim to have Jesus but still act like lions in cages? I know I’m one. I dislike these bumper sticker answers that are not operationalized into actions.
I believe that transforming the lion means capturing his heart. Capturing someone’s heart is done with beauty – with excellences so attractive – he, on his own accord, embraces you. And there’s nothing more beautiful to someone than to be loved faithfully, devotedly. What does that look like in action? It means being patient, kind, gentle, and so on.
It means being all the attributes I’m not know for. HAHA!
Caging a lion doesn’t change a lion. I don’t think God designed us to live mindlessly ferocious BUT I also don’t believe He designed us to live in cages – not worldly, nor religious.
People need to fall in love and be transformed.
It reminds me of my mother, after years of struggling with me and how to get me to obey, behave, harness my will, sat me down and said, “You know David, I’ve realized that the reason why you’re so strong-willed is because someday, like your name-sake, you’re going to have to face giants and you’re going to have to be strong and brave, and you’re going to win. You know that your second name is Michael, we named you after the arch-angel who led the angels against satan and his demons. God gave us your names, and I know you’ll live them out.”
To be honest, it didn’t transform me instantly. There were a million more spankings and disciplinary actions that followed. But I still remember the feeling of having my identity explained to me. Through the years that memory has helped me fall in love more and more with the role I have to play – a role I must admit I’m not exactly the best candidate for. But this change of direction by my mom, from always just presenting the rod, to presenting the vision, the beautiful future the was waiting for me, changed me. Through the years, whenever life is especially difficult, among the things I remember is mom’s voice, “…you’re going to have to face giants and you’re going to have to be strong and brave, and you’re going to win.”
It’s a memory that tells the lion in my heart to be still, I’m going to win.
It’s the same with my spiritual life, I hated being told to read 4 chapters a day by people I thought had the luxury to read it because they actually liked reading the Bible (and not much else) and had nothing better to do. But I read it anyway.
I was a lion in a cage, a proud lion in a cage.
Until, not so long ago, my eyes were opened to a simple truth: Jesus loves me. Period. All of a sudden I reread C.S. Lewis’ classics, consumed some Peter Kreeft, GK Chesterton, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and ton’s of Timothy Keller media. What changed? I couldn’t read my Bible without drooling on it, now I was I eating it up.
To put it simply at the risk of sounding corny, I fell in love.
And just like my parents did when I was a kid, telling me stories that went straight to my heart, I’m giving this idea of transformation more time in my reading, spending more time to think about the noble, the good, the honorable, the praiseworthy, to set my mind on things above, hoping this lion heart will one day be completely His.