Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were young and still living with me and Mimi, they used to get into arguments.  They were seldom about anything really important, but to them, the issues were almost always big deals.  

They would raise their voices and twist the truth and exaggerate and say things to get under each other’s skin.  One of them would often get so angry and upset, they would end up squealing, “He’s making me sooooo mad!”.

I always loved it when that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to teach them one of my most favorite lessons.

I would look right into their teary-eyed, red-faced little mugs and say, “Your brother isn’t making you mad.  In fact, nobody can ever make you mad.  You make yourself mad.”  And they would always respond back to me, “Yes he is! Yes he is! HE’S making me mad.  HE’S doing it!  It’s HIS fault I’m mad!”.  

They always played right into my hands.

“Nope.  Nobody can ever MAKE you mad.  You make yourself mad.  It’s your choice.  You’re choosing to make yourself mad.”

That only made them madder.

“But he’s the reason I’m mad.  If he wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be mad.  Everything would be fine with me, if he wouldn’t have said that, and made me so mad.”  They just couldn’t let it go.  They would always fight my logic.  “Daddy, now YOU’RE making me mad!”

It’s a lesson they got taught dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.  Getting mad is a choice we make.  It is never the ONLY option.  There are always many others.  When someone says or does something you don’t like, you can get mad and yell or scream or fight or treat them poorly or talk about them behind their back or do or say something just as bad…or even worse…to them.  In fact, that’s usually what we WANT to do.

But you don’t have to.  You always have other choices.   You could choose to be quiet and listen.  You could try to understand their point of view.  You could react with kindness, instead.  You could choose to be patient and forgiving. You could step away and wait for things to calm down.  You could pray for them.

Getting mad is never the only choice you have available.  And even though it will probably be the easiest, it will never, ever be the best.

One of the greatest gifts God gives to us is our freedom to choose.

So choose wisely, Grasshoppers.

Papi

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Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey there, Farrasprouts!

I’m going to tell you something today that lots of people will probably disagree with, but I’m your Papi and this my letter to you.  Not anybody else’s.  And you won’t be able to use this information for another 12 or 13 years.  And even longer for you, Tatumonster!

There will come a time when your parents will have no influence over your decision to be part of a church family.  Most people call this “going to church”, but I’ll explain why I don’t ever call it that some other time.  Anyway, it will totally be your choice.  100%.  All on you.  When your daddies lived at home with me and Mimi…long before they met your mommies…we made the decision about church for them.  If we went to church meetings, they went to church meetings.  It’s what we did as a family.

They could whine, argue, fake being sick, or negotiate, but in the end, they pretty much did as we told them to. (Even though they sometimes complained about getting up early on Sundays or having to stay late because I was usually the last one to leave, they experienced many of the good things about church life and most often enjoyed being part of it.  We only strung them up by their ears, occasionally.)

But once they moved out on their own, they got to do whatever they wanted to do.  And that’s the way it should be.  And it will be that way for you guys, too.

So I want to tell you something while it’s fresh on my mind.  Here’s my advice for choosing a church family:  Find a small one.  Close to where you live.  Don’t get all excited about the things a church provides for you.  That totally misses the point of “church”.  Be part of something where you can help it to grow strong and healthy.  Don’t be part of a church family where you are not truly needed and genuinely noticed.  

Make sure it’s a place that poor people feel welcome.  There is a special place in God’s heart for people in need.  The more people of different races, the better.  Oh…and make sure there are old people and young people and they have lots of ways to become friends with each other.  Rubbing elbows and lives is the real stuff of church.

Don’t ever be overly impressed with the skills of the person that does most of the preaching.  It’s not the important thing.  In fact, he’s not really all that important!  And I should know…  Be impressed with the kinds of conversations people have with each other.  Listen carefully to the way they talk about people who are different.  Find a place where loving others is not just talked about, but it is what people actually do.

Make sure it’s a group of people who respect and teach the Bible, but they also make room for differing opinions.  None of us are smart enough to have the whole Bible figured out. Church people seem to have the tendency to believe they are the only “right ones” and that they have more understanding of “truth” than the other guy.  There are always going to be disagreements.  People are not always going to see things alike.  Be with a group of people who listen carefully and who make room for doubt and questions.

Choose to be with people who respect women.  History has not been kind to women, especially in the church.  So find one where women stand on equal footing with men and they are challenged to explore and express every bit of their giftedness for the good of others.  

And this is especially true for the three of you:  Find a church family that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Be with people who love to laugh.  Find some people to stand beside and link arms with.  Make sure that Jesus is their example.  

That’s my advice.  I hope it serves you well, someday.  There are lots of other important things, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be smart enough to figure them out as you go along.  How do I know that?  I know where you come from!

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts!

I gotta tell you, Mimi and I are still recuperating from the sleepover with the three of you this past weekend.  It’s crazy.  The moment you see each other, it’s like thunder and lightning crashing in a Texas summer storm!  The amount of energy and sweat and volume and messes and fun you guys produce is almost more than our house…and our hearts…can hold.

Every time we are with you, I am amazed by how much you are like your parents.  You are little expressions of who they are.  You are all three so smart, just like them.  When I see your creativity and problem-solving, I see them.  When I see your fire and competitiveness, I see them.  When I see your strong wills and push-back, I see them. When I see your genuine love and soft hearts, I see them.

When I hear you scream with glee or shout with frustration, I hear their voices.  When you pull pranks and manipulate and negotiate, I see the same mischievous looks in your eyes that I saw in theirs.  When you drop with exhaustion, I feel the same dead weight I felt when I laid your daddies sleepy bodies in their beds at night.  (I can only imagine what your mommies were like at the end of their days when they were little!)

I love your parents.  I love the kind of people your parents have grown to be, and when I see you, I can hardly contain my joy and anticipation of seeing what you will become as you grow up.  I see their handprints all over your little lives.  Their images are woven into yours.  It is one of the great mysteries of creation and science and how families grow.

There’s an amazing truth that has been around since the beginning of time, but it was made famous in another language many hundreds of years ago.  In another part of the world, they speak Latin, and in that language, the truth is called Imago Dei.  In English (the language you and I speak), “Imago” means image and “Dei” means God.  In English, Imago Dei means “the image of God”.

In the beginning of the Bible, it says:

So God created mankind in his own image, 

in the image of God he created them;

   male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:26-27

What that means is not only do you guys have the handprints and likenesses of your mommy and daddy on your lives, you also have the likeness or “image” of God stamped on you.  Human beings have the image of God.  Nothing else does.  We can see the greatness and genius of God all around us…in mountains and oceans and stars and clouds and forests and animals and birds and fish…but in people, all people, everywhere, throughout all of history, is where we see the image of God.

When I look at you guys, I see love and compassion and desire and spirit and purpose and joy and goodness.  I see trust and forgiveness and hope and tenacity and sorrow and patience (though not much of that right now).  When I look at you, I see freedom and choice and creativity and possibilities.

When I look at you, I see the image of God.  I hope you see that when you look at me, too.

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

If at first you don’t succeed…

keep-calmI’ve been thinking long and hard over the past month or so, about why it has been so hard for me to write (as some of you have noticed).  Some days I feel like I have real clarity.  Other days I’m just swimming in my personal abyss of uncontrolled thinking.  

Tonight is a little clearer, so I’ll give it a shot.  Here are some reasons why I think my writing here has been so weak and sporadic:

  • Writing a new sermon every week has become more difficult.  Maybe some post-surgery concentration issues.  Maybe due to trying to figure out a new routine to stay fresh after 44 years of weekly preaching and teaching.  Who knows?  But it’s a grind.
  • Some days I feel like, “Why bother?  Everything’s already been said.”
  • I don’t read Facebook much anymore.  Mostly when I get notified if people write something directly to me…or about me, sometimes.  It just feels wrong that I would want or expect someone to read what I write, but I’m not taking the time to read what they write.
  • I feel as if I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.  How did that happen?
  • I’m reading more than I am writing.  This has been good for me, though.  I’ve got six new books that are sitting on my end table and night stand waiting to be started.
  • Some days, I take late-night, rabbit-trail, web surfing to unknown levels of greatness.
  • My old buddy, depression, has shown up frequently in the past year.  It most often takes the form of staring, accompanied by undisciplined thinking.  Talk about a picture of productivity!
  • For the first time ever, I’ve let myself get sucked into following the circus of our presidential election process.  I have never, ever, done that.  It’s not who I am.  I have so many more important things going on in my life.  The majority of the time I think about writing, I have been drawn to react to things related to the issues of this political season. That generally stops my writing cold.  Dead in the water.

Most often, though, I find myself getting two or three paragraphs into a potential blog post, and then I get the feeling I don’t really have anything important to say.  I suppose it’s that simple.

So it’s time for a change.  After eight years of blogging for, essentially, the same audience and the same reasons, I’m going to try and breathe some fresh life into my writing.  For me. If you get something out of it, even better.  This is I want to do for my heart.  For my spirit. For my well-being.  Totally selfish.

Well, sort of.

I’ve decided to do the majority of my writing to my grandkids.  In the past, I’ve written occasional blog posts to them.  That has not been enough.  I really want to leave my story for them…to them.  I don’t expect them to read it anytime soon.  They’re too busy growing up.  But maybe someday they’ll want to know my story.  Maybe it will matter to them what I believed, what I felt strongly about, what my life was all about.  They deserve to hear it in my own words.

I wish I knew my dad’s story.  He wasn’t much of a talker.  Not a writer, either.  He was a hard-working man who showed his love and dedication to me and my mom by getting up early every day, putting on his work boots and his work ethic, getting in his Dodge pickup truck (three speed on the column), and earning a life-giving, life-sustaining paycheck for us every week.

There was never much time for storytelling.  I wish there was.  Oh, how I wish there was. There is a part of me that I will never know.  There is a part of me and a huge part of him my boys will never.  We all lose.

Just in case it matters someday, I want my kids and their kids to have the opportunity to know.  There is no guarantee I will get to tell them personally.

So I’m going to start writing to them, my little family tree.  I think I’ve got lots to say and right now I feel like I’ve got an audience, even though they don’t know it yet.

You can read it if you want.  It may feel a little like eavesdropping, but that’s ok.  Maybe you’ll read something that will be of value to you.  I know I will throw in some random posts along the way that might be of more interest to you, so it really might be worth your while to stick around.

I hope you do.

Btw…do you like the new background theme?  I think I do.

Letters to Holden…and Nolan.

i never knew my grandfathers.   they had both passed away long before i was born.   i have a couple of old photographs of one of them.   nothing of the other.

i don’t know their stories.   i know absolutely nothing about them.   i wish i did.

my dad wasn’t much on family history.   i don’t have any memories of him sitting down with me and telling me stories of his father.   he wasn’t real good on talking.   maybe it was just the era.   maybe it was just the way men were back then.   at least that’s what i’ve always told myself.

i suppose it minimizes the sting.

i made some decisions years ago that i would try to do better with my boys.   i would try to tell them stories and help them remember things that were important in their childhood.   in my childhood.   i always wanted to give them a sense of connection.   a sense of history.

that’s one of the reasons i started to blog.   writing is a way to get to know people.   writing is a way to get to know ourselves.   writing is a way to preserve history.   my writing is one thing i can leave behind.   so i’ve decided to leave some things behind for my grandsons,  holden and nolan.

children are sponges.   their learning curves are intense.   every day is full of wonder.   so i’m going to pass on some grandfather insights.   some truth,  as i have seen it and experienced it,  from the road i travel.   some genuine  papiwisdom.   maybe there will be something worth passing on to some of the weebles in your lives.

so here comes a short letter today.   i plan to write you guys weekly.   maybe even more often.

dear holden and nolan…

you have both been given an amazing gift.   each other.

i didn’t have any brothers or sisters.   i was an only child.   there were things about being an only child that were pretty cool:   my own room…undivided attention from my mom and dad…lots of presents…i almost always got what i wanted… never had to share with anybody…and a bunch of other things.

but i never had a brother.   so when your daddy got a brother  (your uncle corey),  it was pretty amazing…and really new territory for me.   i didn’t know how to help them become brothers.   they had to learn on their own.   i tried my best to give them tips and help them work out their problems,  but most of the time,  they just figured it out.

and you guys will have to figure it out for yourselves,  too.

but here’s a little advice i can give you:   you will never have a better friend than your brother.   so stand by each other.   don’t neglect each other.   make time to be with each other.   because someday,  you will need each other.

grow wise,  grasshoppers.

papi

Nolan

why is it that picture-taking of the second child is never as important as it was for the first child?   speaking of memories,  it’s pretty hard to believe it’s been 26 years since my second child was born.

i think the problem of picture-taking is the same for posting pictures on a blog,  also,  i suppose…

here are a few of nolan patrick farra.   the awesome  nolan patrick farra.   chris and melissa do pretty good work.

not bad.

…and in case you’re wondering,  i’ve also included an update of the great holden.

life is good.

i’m off for my annual trip to the colorado wilderness to spend time with youth ministers from around the country.   hard to believe that i’m still asked to come and talk to these guys year after year about their lives,  their marriages,  their youth ministries.   it’s incredibly humbling.

i’ll send some greetings from the mountains later.

Family or Relatives?

the older i get and the longer my journey gets,  the more i am able to see how different my life has been from the majority of people i have intersected with.   not better…not worse.   simply different.

growing up an only child made me quite a celebrity among my friends.   most everybody i knew came from families with multiple siblings and lots of extended family.   i was always looked at as privileged and pampered.   it don’t think it was true,  but i clearly had it better than most!

three of my four grandparents died before i ever met them.   my parents relocated from kansas to san diego before i was born,  so there was little or no interacting with aunts, uncles, or cousins during my childhood  (and beyond, for that matter).   i had a handful of moments with my one grandmother before she passed away.

my mom died when i was 33.   my father lived for another twelve years.   wanda’s family is not quite as small as mine,  but because of hard decisions we made when our kids were born,  interaction was limited for their good.   her father passed she was 28.   her mother lived for another 10 years.   my boys have little memory of their grandparents.    no aunts or uncles.   no cousins.

a few huge things happened to our family dynamic due to it’s size and lack of breadth:

first,  our circle of relatives has always been just the four of us.   no family reunions.   no awkward family holidays.   no pressure to blend our lives in with others.   simply the four of us.

second,  this has all changed for our boys now that they are married.   they now have to blend their lives in with the families they married into.   they inherited wonderful,  loving  extended families,  but this whole blending thing is still brand new to them.   we definitely didn’t prepare them for any of it!

third,  i have seen the incredible love that exists in many extended families.   there have been more than a few times that i have wondered what it would have been like to have a brother or a sister…or  aunts and uncles and a bunch of cousins.   there is no question that i would have loved to experience the joy of generational relationships with grandparents.   but it never happened for me.

fourth,  i have also seen the grief and guilt pressure and manipulation and drama and hurt feelings that so many families inflict on each other.   most of the time,  there is no appeal for me whatsoever…

finally (for tonight,  anyway…),  the role of the church in my life has been shaped and defined by my need for extended family.   the friendships and comradery in the church that i have experienced throughout my life and marriage and parenting mean everything to me. everything.

i had my friend kris remind me of a basic truth…one that is true for all of us:

relatives:   people who you are “related” to…people with whom you have a connection by blood.

family:  people you choose to let into your life,  some relatives,  some friends…people you can trust…people who will stand by you no matter what…people you love and you know will love you back…consistently and deeply.

do you know who your “family” is?

____________________________________________________________

for my friends and “family” who either don’t know…or forget…that i am really a grandpa,  here are a couple of new pics of the great holden:

 

 

 

 

 

i wish you could all know him…