Legos and Theology: The Joy of Knowing and Experiencing God

One of my favorite things is when my kids are interested in something so much they seek to learn about it for themselves. The more they learn about it the more they grow to love it, and the more they love it the more they want to know. A main way they do this is by looking up their topic of interest at the library. 

High on the list of great loves for my kids are Legos. A book often checked out is the Lego Idea Book. They’ll spend hours looking through it to gather more ideas. They love legos, so they want to learn more about how they can build great new creations. Their love for Legos leads them to learning, and then they put into action what they have learned.  

I want to cultivate that same kind of excitement for my kids when they are learning about God. But when we hear the word theology, many of us fall asleep. The word is almost a hypnotic trigger. What do you think of when you hear the word? Does it conjure up images of a stack of big, dusty books or is there something more?

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30 ESV

Theology is simply the study of God. It’s a good practice for us all, young and old, to continually be learning more about him. More about who he is, what he has done, what he desires, and who he says we are. Studying theology invites us not only to gain more knowledge, but to align our hearts and minds to God’s way of thinking and living. What an incredible inheritance we leave the next generation when we help them to love and treasure Christ! This is why our families and churches should strive to aid kids in learning about God in ways that are deep, engaging, and captivating. In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer says:

“We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian Fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything art or science can devise.”

Knowing Him leads to loving Him. The hope in developing a love of God through the study of theology goes deeper than kids purely gaining knowledge for its own sake. We want our kids to study theology because we want them to meet the One they are studying about. Jen Wilkin explains the connection between theology and loving God in her book Women of the Word, “If we want to feel a deeper love for God, we must learn to see Him more clearly for who He is. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God…...The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.”

Loving God will be caught. We must continue to grow in our own understanding of God if we expect to be able to challenge our children to do the same. The temptation for many parents and teachers is to introduce their kids to a list of information about God rather than modeling for them what a loving relationship with God looks like. But theology becomes a joy when it's an experience--like building with Legos. A friend of mine once told me teaching is more than seeing a child as bucket waiting to be filled with information. Kids need to know and experience what they are learning about. We must help them love God with their minds and hearts, guiding them to form a relationship with their Creator beyond knowing only facts and details. If kids know a ton about God but haven't experienced Him personally then all we have accomplished is growing Pharisees.

If our kids have a relationship with God he will change their hearts and they will want to know him more. They will want to start building. They will want to study about Him. And they will want to tell others about the God they know and have experienced.

What practices help your kids know and experience God?

The Importance of Imagination

Picture Source:  Rubin Pingk

Picture Source: Rubin Pingk

Last week on Twitter I came across a very sad and convicting picture of the comic strip characters Calvin and Hobbes. For those who are not familiar with this comic, it is a very endearing cartoon focused on a little boy and his world of adventures with his imaginary best friend: a beloved stuffed tiger. According to this picture, in today’s culture of electronic devices, Calvin's imaginative world would never have come to life.

 

As a fan of Calvin and Hobbes this was a horrifying picture. All of the fun and escapades Calvin imagined cease to exist - a sad result of Calvin playing video games all day. As a parent the picture reminded me of the need to be proactive and intentional in cultivating and encouraging my kids' imagination.

Here a few thoughts on how we can help imaginations thrive:
 

  1. Read to your kids. And have them read to you! Introducing your children to new places and characters is great kindling for the imagination. Chronicles of Narnia, Wingfeather Saga and Little House on the Prairie are good if you are looking for a place to start. 
  2. Visit Zoos or Museums. This may be difficult for those who don’t live close to a zoo or museum. Find time to go.....and broaden your child’s world to new ideas and animals.
  3. Engage in the arts. Music and visual arts are great ways for kids and adults to stretch their imagination. When my kids play with toys it is fun to hear them add background music to what they are doing!
  4. Encourage them to figure out what they love to do, and then find a way to help them do it!  Play games with them, take them outside, enter into their imaginative world. Ask them why they enjoy the games they play and encourage them to dream.

Why does imagination even matter?

  1. We are created in God’s image and He is a creator.
  2. We are to have faith. A strong imagination helps strengthen our faith.
  3. Several times when Christ taught he engaged people’s imagination. He used parables and fictional stories to help people think deeply and engage the heart.
  4. A strong strong imagination invites more enjoyment to life. 

What thoughts do you have about cultivating a child's imagination? Leave a comment below.

Discipleship is Like Jazz

Here is something that I’ve been learning from Pastor Daniel Montgomery and management professor/jazz musician Frank J. Barrett: Leadership–particularly discipleship–is like learning to play jazz.

You begin with basic instruction, but the goal is improvisation.

“The popular misconception is that jazz players are untutored geniuses who play their instruments as if they are picking notes out of thin air. But studies of jazz have shown that the art is very complex—the result of a relentless pursuit of learning and disciplined imagination. It’s that relentless pursuit and disciplined imagination, not simple genius, that allow jazz players to improvise—from the Latin improvisus, meaning ‘not seen ahead of time’—and it’s the improvisation that has become the defining hallmark of the art from.” —Frank J. Barrett, Yes to the Mess, (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), p. 7.

In a recent sermon, pastor Daniel broke this down into three basic steps:

1. Instructionlearning the basics. It’s like learning piano scales. Barret says it is “hearing patterns, watching gestures, and repeating and imitating. Jazz players build a vocabulary of phrases and patterns by imitating, repeating, and memorizing the solos and phrases of the masters until they become part of their repertoire of ‘licks’” (7). Great instruction affects knowing, being, and doing. It leads to an ingrained skill or a deeply held conviction.

2. Integration—growing in experience and then making connections that weren’t there before. “After years of practicing and absorbing patterns, musicians recognize what phrases fit within different forms and the various options available within the constraints of different chords and songs. They study other players thought and processes and learn to export materials from different contexts and vantage points, combining, extending, and varying the material, adding and changing notes, varying accents, and subtly shifting the contour of a memorized phrase.” (7-8).  In discipleship, integration involves connecting what you’ve learned with your personal experience and thinking about the possibilities. It’s like playing a song that you already know but playing it in a new arrangement or playing it for the first time with a friend.

3. Improvisation—creating and finding my own way by putting newly imagined ideas into practice. It’s like jamming with a jazz band and creating a new rift on the fly. “The goal of improvisation is to be mindful and creative, making up ideas on the spot that respond to what’s happening in the moment” (7). The disciple who can improvise is able to apply his worldview on the fly to a new ethical dilemma or a new relational challenge.

I don't know about you, but I don't just want disciples who can repeat the catechism. Disciplined instruction is necessary. But working it out on the fly is the goal!

The Art of Storytelling

Back in February of 2010, I had the opportunity to hear Andrew Peterson lecture on "The Place of Imagination in God's Kingdom" at Southern Seminary's Institute for Christian Worship. Peterson is a Contemporary Christian music artist and the author of the Wingfeather Saga, a fantasy fiction series for young adults.

Here are links to the audio versions of his two lectures:

My biggest take away from Peterson's lectures were six points he made about the art of great storytelling.  I've kept them, and I like to regularly review them and consider my teaching. As we think this month about telling Old Testament stories, I think it's time to review them again. Here we go:

1. All great stories have a “joyous turn.” That's the point at which you think the bad guys are going to win the day and good is going to be vanquished forever – but suddenly everything changes! The incarnation of Christ is the “joyous turn” in the human story, and the “joyous turn” of the incarnation story is the resurrection. It is the decisive moment everything turns around – death is defeated and God’s new creation is ushered in. From this point forward, the enemy’s end is certain. All good, engaging stories work like this! Even twisted horror stories – like the great ones by Stephen King  – are so excellent because they play on our expectation that a story should have a joyous turn. But, in the horror story, the turn takes you in the opposite direction. 

2. Life itself may be best understood as a story. We understand our place in God’s kingdom better when we understand we are characters or players in the Author’s larger epic. For this reason, good stories illustrate a deep and profound truth about all of life – there is hope to be had in this world, despite all appearances, because the last great enemy has been defeated and resurrection awaits both believers and the entire creation. The great joyous turns of life are written into life’s very fabric. As Luther has said, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone but into every leaf in springtime.”

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone but into every leaf in springtime.
— Martin Luther

3. You cannot have a good story without conflict.   Writing great stories, as Donald Miller has said, involves chasing your main characters up a tree and throwing stones at them. On a more personal level, you begin to understand your own story better when recognize this profound truth. We begin to understand and find comfort in the midst of our own suffering when we discover a way to reconcile where we find ourselves in this world with what the Author of our stories tells us about himself. He tells us that he’s good. He tells us he is at work in all things to bring about good for us, and he tells us we should trust him. Seeing how a story works gives us the ability to see above the fray and imagine what God could be up to. Stories remind us that our lives and our suffering too are going somewhere.

4. Stories open our eyes to the real world beyond our sightIf we adults are honest, most of us do not use our imaginations in the ways that we did when we were kids. We may daydream about a new job, a new iPhone, or a new home, but we certainly don’t spend our time thinking about dragons, fairies, swords, and giants. As we grow up, we start to forget what it’s like to use our imaginations for good both because we think we’ve got the world figured out and because we begin to lose the sense of wonder that captured us as children. The older we get the more our eyes are drawn only to what’s in front of us, and we fail to remember there is an entire world beyond what our eyes can see! We often fail to remember there is a real battle raging in the spiritual realm—even when the fruits of this battle are being played out in our fantasies.  Because we’ve forgotten to dream about fighting against the powers of darkness, we forget this is what Christians do. Fairy tale darkness experienced through great stories is meant to shed light on life as it really is in the present—life in a fallen world, which is presently ruled by evil principalities and powers, with whom we are at war.

Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.
— G. K. Chesterton

5. Stories inspire hope by giving us a “peek” at the end. Despair is not just a sin theologically—because it assumes that the grand story is about us.  It’s also a mistake because it assumes we know the end of the story. In her book Spiritual Parenting, Michelle Anthony wrote, “We often don’t tell our kids about the end of the story… Maybe we think it’s too bloody or too intense, or maybe we don’t understand it all, but in reality it makes Jesus the kind of hero worth living and dying for. Knowing that Christ is the ultimate victor gives each one of us the courage to walk with Him on the journey.” For kids, knowledge of darkness is sometimes intuitive, but they need to be told darkness can be defeated. Perhaps, G.K. Chesterton said it best: “Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.”  When we are reading Revelation and we see the king and the white horse and the dragon thrown into the pit, we can step lighter and smile wider. Peeking at the end makes us optimistic. As the old hymn says, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

6. The hope we glean  from knowing the larger story (and even smaller ones) inspires us to step into others’ stories with courage and love. Since we know how the story ends, we can “rejoice that our names are written” by persevering through trial and stepping out in love.  This doesn’t just mean talking about heaven but also bringing heaven here—pushing back the effects of the fall and casting rays of hope into the middle of the pain, the sickness, and the sorrow. Knowing how our own stories are intertwined with the story of God gives us courage to tell our own stories to those who need inspiration. Having hope inspires us to shape the stories of others.

What have you been learning lately as a storyteller? Leave a comment below to let us know.