28 November 2008

The Pastor's Children

Today the oldest daughter, age 3, was supposed to be taking a nap. My wife heard the child's bedroom window open and the little girl yell out, "Don't do that, it isn't even Advent yet."
The next door neighbors were putting out their Christmas decorations.
Upon returning home from a hospital visit and hearing the story, I must say I was a bit proud of my daughter's traditional sensibility regarding Christmas decorations. Of course she has been hearing this from me for the past week as decorations have been going up all around our neighborhood. But I wonder, do all pastor's children do such things?
We are attempting by God's grace to raise our children as Christians; of course they will be a bit different because they are the children of the pastor. As such, they are continually being filled up with all kinds of ideas that will seem strange or weird to some, not only the neighbors but perhaps even within the congregation.
While we are giving them things that are strange to the world, the Gospel of Christ most of all, I suppose I take some pride in what my oldest is already able to confess with her mouth. This is probably sinful, but it is hard not to be that way. Perhaps I should simply be thankful to the Lord for what He is doing. Berating the neighbors about their Santa display is, I know, not the chief thing to be thankful for; by God's grace she confesses much more.
At the same time, I worry about not spending enough time with them; not teaching them more of Christ and His gifts, instructing them in the Scriptures and also doing dad stuff. The oldest now doesn't like it when I have another meeting to go to or even an evening bible study to teach. Will the time quickly come when she won't be sad that dad is gone, but simply be resigned to the fact that I'm at church and not at home playing after dinner?
Anyway, any thoughts on the rearing of weird little Lutheran pastor's children?
BT Ball


wmc said...

Spend time with those yougins and their mother. Too many PKs (and wives) go off the deep end. Don't buy into this notion that you are married to the church and that the members are your children. You aren't and they aren't. Think of all that you say, or would like to say, to the fathers of young children in your congregation, and then lead by example. If you have to do evening stuff, then spend day time with them.

God bless you in your fatherhood and also your vocation as pastor, in that order.

Chuck Wiese said...

Don't be like the pastor in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyNyHLCppMA

organistsandra said...

Dear Rev. Ball,

Praise be to God for your catechesis of your children, and for their faith.

Your story makes me feel nervous, in a familiar Adventish way. Please don't hear my next comment as cynical or smart alecky - it's meant to sound honest and maybe a little weary.

As Lutherans, we often say we live "now and not yet". I love that phrase, as a profound description of our life on earth. When it comes to Advent, it feels like we dare not ever say "now". The only appropriate thing to say is "not yet". In fact, there is no worse thing to do than to celebrate during Advent. We are to be generous towards all, in all things. Except this.

I understand that Advent is a season of penitence and preparation, and thank you and other pastors for your faithful teaching.

Sandra Rhein

Rebekah said...

One time when I was little my parents were very excited getting ready for a big date to--wait for it--Ponderosa. I asked my grandma if Ponderosa had anything to do with Jesus and she asked what in the world made me think that. I answered that everything we did had to do with Jesus so I just figured Ponderosa did too, but I wasn't sure what.

The world will make every effort to make our kids think that its vices are normal, and even virtuous. I grew up as a weird PK and had some unpleasant times among inhabitants of the world because of it. But I can see now how valuable that weirdness was, and frankly I wish I'd had some more of it.

Plus all our weird kids can just marry each other anyway. Isn't that what Higher Things is for?

wmc said...

"The only appropriate thing to say is "not yet". In fact, there is no worse thing to do than to celebrate during Advent. We are to be generous towards all, in all things. Except this."

Thank you for this comment, Sandra. I'm not about to pick on a three year-old either, but I hope we all recognize that this is a three year-old's approach to liturgical/seasonal rubrics.

Here is the mature approach:

"One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God."

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

All I can say is, "Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants."

This is really a silly, silly thing to rip on. Pastor Ball--keep instructing your children. It reminds me of when my (then) 8 year old daughter was listening to my wife and I discuss what should be done with the remaining Communion elements. I was advocating that the best practice is to consume everything. My daughter then chimes in, "That makes sense. In the Old Testmaent reading the left over manna bred worms and stank. It had to all be eaten." Ah, yes. I loved it!


The Rev. BT Ball said...

Thanks for the post. Pr. Cwirla beat me to the punch in his brief response so - what he said. I am working on a longer post here for the Blackbirds on the good things about Advent patience.

Pr. Beisel and Frau Curtis-
weird kids are great.

Rev. McCain-
since I have struck out according to you in the fatherhood/pastor vocations.


At the time of the incident, my daughter was told by her mother she is never to yell out the window at our neighbors, as this is impolite and not neighborly in anyway. And she was told to put her head down and take her nap. I would have done the same had I been home, vigorously.

Also, I apologized to my neighbor for my daughter's outburst the first opportunity I had. We have wonderful Christian neighbors on both sides of our home. She was very forgiving and understanding and actually said that if she lived in CA (like Pr. Cwirla) she would wait. Had to get them up before the snow came, as it is coming today.

The main point of this original post was how to deal with the goofy things pastor's children do and especially how to live in the office of father and the office of pastor without wrecking such children. Knowing my own limitations in both offices, I was actually asking for some advice about this. I think that it would certainly be evidence of your Christian charity to offer constructive criticism or ideas about such things with a reply post here, as such was asked for, rather than using the post as fodder for your own blog to write about a pastor striking out in fatherhood (along with his child) ponderously lecturing, or whatever. I also think that it would have been charitable to post a link to the blog you alluded to on your own site. Christian charity is hard to come by in Advent, Christmas or anytime.

Pr. Ball+

organistsandra said...

The main point of this original post was how to deal with the goofy things pastor's children do and especially how to live in the office of father and the office of pastor without wrecking such children.

I understood that as the main point of your post, which is why I started and ended my comment with encouragement to you in your vocations.

Pr. Beisel – I’m not sure what to say. I wasn’t trying to be silly or to rip on a three year old. I'll try to be more clear: Pr. Ball’s post made me wonder about something, so I asked a question. Please hear that I wasn’t speaking against a dear childlike faith. It was a delightful story and I’m sure Pr. Ball is a faithful father and pastor. I did not intend to be critical of Pr. Ball or certainly not of his child.

Now – separate from that - I would simply and sincerely like to hear a little more about Advent piety, so I’ll look forward to Pr. Ball’s upcoming post.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Sandra, I believe that Pastor Beisel was probably responding to Rev. Paul McCain's criticisms of Pastor Ball and his daughter, and not to your comments and questions.

As far as your questions concerning the "now" and "not yet" of Advent, I guess I'm not sure what you mean, but perhaps Pastor Ball's follow-up post will be helpful. If any season of the Church Year is defined by that eschatological tension, it is Advent, which really sets the keynote for the Christian faith and life. Advent focuses on the coming of Christ then, again, and then-again; in His incarnation, in His means of grace, and for the final judgment, all according to His Words and promises. We stand in the joyous confidence of all that He has done and is doing, in eager expectation of what He will bring to completion at the day of His appearing, when we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like Him. It is precisely that tension between the "now" and "not yet" that is broken when the Lections and Propers of Advent Tide are not allowed to define and characterize these weeks prior to Christmas. But there is no lack of genuine celebration in Advent Tide, nor any lack of Christ.

It is not only three-year-olds and nursing infants, but also older children and (in my experience, especially) the youth, who really desire that there be clarity and consistency, an integrity to our practice, and that the things we do and say should mean something. Young people who have been taught, both by Word and example, by what they hear as well as what they experience in the life of the Church, are sometimes indignant at proleptic Christmas celebrations because they clash with the watching and waiting and quieter observances of Advent. With age and maturity they will learn to be more generous in their response to neighbors, more gentle of spirit, and able to discern whether, when and how a critique may be helpful. In the meantime, I don't think it is all bad to be insistent on observing the seasons of the Church Year, each in its own time.

As far as individual Christians are concerned, they are free to celebrate whatever, whenever. But a pastor relinquishes a certain amount of his personal freedom when he is ordained to serve the Church and Ministry of Christ. I would suggest that following the Church Year is a beneficial means of confessing the Gospel of Christ. In any case, if it is the Word of God that establishes and determines the faith and life of the Church, then it ought to be the Lections and Propers of the Season at hand that characterize the pastor's preaching and practice within the life of the congregation. That means entering Jerusalem with Christ on His way to the Cross and Passion. That means hearing and heading St. John's preaching of repentance. That means waiting and watching for the hour of labor and delivery, when the time shall be fully come.

And for a pastor, even his personal life has a somewhat public character and consequence. The good reputation that he is to have in the world is not simply a matter of being a nice fellow, but a consistency in practicing what he preaches, an avoidance of hypocrsiy (notwithstanding that all of us pastors have our faults and fall short of what we should be and do). So, if he is to serve and edify his congregation by preaching and teaching the Word of Advent Tide, then he should best serve and catechize his own family in a way that is consistent with that.

It seems to me, Pastor Ball, that is the best answer to your concern and question. Having several vocations will sometimes mean that you are pulled in different directions. That is true for any parent, actually, but there is a weightiness to the Office of the Ministry, because of the responsibiilty to which a pastor is called as a steward of the mysteries of God. It is important to preserve time for your wife and children. You have the privilege, however, to serve them not only as husband and father, but also as their pastor. Thus, the very thing that poses a special burden upon a pastor's family, likewise bestows a special benefit and blessing. I'm frankly impressed that your three-year-old is able to discern the difference between Advent and Christmas. While her expression of that required the counsel and correction that your wife provided (and you would have), I rejoice with you in her childlike confession of that which she has learned from you; probably as much or more by what she has experienced in the life of the Church than by anything else.

What we do and practice conveys something significant. Children are particularly sensitive to this, and they want consistency because it helps them to make sense of their faith and life. They are learning right and wrong, fair play, honesty and good order, and it is unsettling when the rules are changed or set aside, or when things of importance are treated as though they meant nothing. Young people, too, are in the process of establishing their identity and taking adult ownership of their confession and witness in the world; they want their convictions to have clarity and integrity, and for this reason can sometimes be more passionate and adamant than propriety permits or conscience demands. They will learn tact and nuance with time, but hopefully not at the expense of their convictions or integrity.

Anyway, my point is to suggest that you are serving your daughter (and your family), not only by the time you spend with them at home (which is important), but also by serving them faithfully as their pastor. Your daughter's discernment and confession are indications of your faithful catechesis thus far, and there is every reason for confidence that catechesis and confession will continue in this same good way.

Robert said...

Bravo, Fr. Ball! I'm sorry that I did not respond much earlier. You are to be commended -- and your children praised (though we all agree that some fine-tuning is always in place in the realm of theological manners (a need that even a post or two here also evidence). I'm gritting my own teeth as I received, in the past 12 hours, an email from the Pope of the Springs, otherwise known as the CEO of Focus on the Family, who wanted us to know of the FOTF plans for a 12-days of Christmas event in the 12 days LEADING UP to Christmas! I want to roll up my own window and shout with your dear child, "It isn't even Christmas yet!"

Ah, Patience, thy name is "Scarce!"

A blessed Advent-tide and to you are yours, Ben!


wmc said...

"I'm gritting my own teeth as I received, in the past 12 hours, an email from the Pope of the Springs, otherwise known as the CEO of Focus on the Family..."

That's what junk mail filters are for.

Rev. Robert Franck said...

Regarding the "12 Days of Christmas."

The former senior pastor here was taking some presents to be mailed fairly close to Christmas, and when told that they would arrive after Christmas Day unless he sent them at a much more expensive rate, remarked that there were twelve days of Christmas. The post office clerk tried to convince him that that was referring to the twelve days BEFORE Christmas.

I wonder how widespread that misconception is.

organistsandra said...

Pr. Cwirla - good quote. I agree, in theory. I feel like being grumpy with you and protesting that I live in a community, where my observance touches other people, and theirs’ touches me. I’m not living and observing and honoring God by myself. The answer is probably: go repent, and then don’t fret over what you imagine others might be thinking. But you’ll have more profound words to go along with that prescription, and I’d like to hear those.

Pr. Stuckwisch – no fair. You know me, and my whole situation. ☺

You’re right that the youth get indignant. And intense. And we have quite a few of them at our congregation. I’d challenge anybody to find a more intense, jealous group of teenagers. :-) Thanks for the wisdom on that.

I’ve thought carefully about what specifically is bothering me, and have figured it out, and it’s incredibly pathetic, but it’s the truth, and it’s all I’ve got, so here it is:

There’s a joke that goes like this: After 9/11, half the women in America felt responsible for what the terrorists did.

As we enter Advent, good and faithful pastors all over cyberspace will be discouraged with the lack of understanding in the church (not to mention outside the church). These are pastors I care about and pray for. Like the pastors on this blog. I know you’re all simply trying to be faithful to your calling, and you’re weary, and it’s probably my fault somehow.

I don’t feel responsible for all the bad things in the whole world, but I do feel responsible for the bad things in MY world. blech.

wmc said...

But you’ll have more profound words to go along with that prescription, and I’d like to hear those.

I'm not given much in the way of profundities these days. All I can say is don't turn Advent into another Lent, of which one is quite enough. Advent is about restrained joy and sober watchfulness, like a mother-to-be eagerly awaiting the due date. Can't wait for the Baby to come.

I've written this elsewhere, I'll write it here as well. I make a three-fold distinction along the lines of the 3 ordos of the Small Catechism - home, society, church.

At home, we more or less keep the seasons. Sometimes more, sometimes less. This year the tree is going up a a week earlier because I like our Christmas tree and don't get to see enough of it. I don't decorate with lights outside because I'm busy and don't have the time or the energy. I really don't care what the neighbors think.

In society, I rejoice whenever I see a nativity scene or hear an actual Christmas hymn, even if it's the day after Halloween. With everyone trying to wipe Christmas off the holiday map, I don't need to help them. I'll gladly sing along with the Christmas carols at Home Depot and wish anyone a "Merry Christmas."

In church, we keep the seasons because they're good for teaching and discipline, and the Church knows how to handle symbol. The Christmas tree goes up when the Advent wreath comes down. One symbol at a time, otherwise the symbolism is lost. Advent hymns in Advent; Christmas hymns in Christmas. Except for "Of the Father's Love Begotten," which can be sung any time of the year. We do our Sunday School Christmas program after Christmas, this year on Jan 4th. Confuses the natives, but at least everyone is back from their travels.

I hold it all with a loose, joyful land, thankful that my life and salvation do not hinge on my keeping the seasons but on Jesus keeping the Law and dying in my stead.

Blessed Advent.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Pastor Cwirla gives good advice, more profound than he's willing to admit. I would basically concur with his way of looking at this, even though I differ somewhat in how I freely choose to exercise those principles in my own practice. I don't recall whether he has little ones at home these days; which, at least in my mind, does make a difference. I'm also reminded, by his three "ordos," that Lutherans used to work pretty hard at tying the life of the chuch, the household and the school together in close harmony; which goes along with the point that I attempted to make in my previous comments.

Of course it is true that our salvation does not depend upon keeping the seasons, and thank God for that. When I advocate this or that, it is certainly not for the sake of obtaining salvation; nor do I assume such a motive on the part of brothers or sisters in Christ who may be urging something or other in the way of practice. Life and practice, as Luther writes in many and various ways, are the arena in which we are bound by love to serve the neighbor, all the while we are perfectly free before God by faith. That loving service takes a variety of forms, including the confession of God's Word and faith; all of this defined in its particulars for each us by our respective vocations and stations in life. That was the point I was trying to make concerning a pastor, both in his preaching and practice within the congregation, and in his own home and family. I believe that also goes to addressing Pastor Ball's initial question and concern.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

OK, I'll enter the mix on this fascinating thread.

I especially agree with Pastor Cwirla's delineation of the areas of life.

But with Sandra's "The only appropriate thing to say is 'not yet'" I'd issue a caution. The epistle for Advent I reminds us: Now is the accepted time.

Hence I'd echo the sentiments against making this a matter of strict legal requirements, though I certainly agree that Christmas carols should not be sung in church until Christmas. At home, however, we have the Christmas music on while we decorate the tree, and our outdoor lights are already up. Sorry, folks, but if you're going to get ready for Christmas, you can't do it all the day before; and besides, I think the lights are sublime and wonderful.

More to the point, Advent is preparatory, and so on the one hand is penitential (its color should therefore be violet, not blue, but that's another matter), and must be patient about the coming of Christmas.

On the other hand, since it is not as deep as Lent, there is also the element of hope (which, I suppose, is behind the shift to blue, but that had the effect of usurping the Marian color, and more importantly, of de-emphasizing penitence).

Since Advent does have the element of expectation, therefore we have Advent wreaths. As the wreath is brighter with each new candle's lighting from week to week, so we, in our church, have taken to gradually decorating the nave.

Advent I: the wreath alone has gone up.

Advent II: there will be some garland and other decorations.

Advent III: the tree will be up, but unlit.

Advent IV: the tree is lit.

Christmas Eve: poinsettias, and everything else that has been left out. And now we sing the carols too.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

This has been an interesting thread of discussion, and largely helpful, too, although it has mainly missed the point of Pastor Ball's initial question. That is how things go. I'm still impressed that his three-year-old is able to discern the difference between Advent and Christmas; I would not describe that as "goofy" at all. We've all agreed that her behavior was a tad inappropriate, but also that a three-year-old should not be held to the same standard as an adult.

Concerning Advent, I've certainly never said that it is Lent, nor that it should emulate Lent. We don't have a general category of "penitential season." Rather, we have the seasons of Advent and Lent, each of which happens to be penitential in its own proper way. As far as I can tell, and in my own opinion -- which won't save or damn anyone -- the penitence of Lent is typically overdone among Lutherans, as though it were a 40+ day Holy Week, while the penitence of Advent is all but ignored. But to each his own.

If Advent isn't Lent, it isn't Christmas, either, and that has been my primary point. Each season is whatever it is on the basis of the Word of God and prayer; that is to say, on the basis of the Lections and Propers and the Liturgy that are confessed and prayed by and among the people of God. That is the main thing that I care about, and everything else is adiaphorous trimming to me. I'm not opposed to celebration; although I would disagree that the only way to "celebrate" is with an evergreen tree, electric lights, pastries and shopping binges. I don't object to manger scenes; we used to keep one up in our home all year long -- as appropriately, I warrant, as displaying the cross of Christ our Lord ever is. But I do long for Advent to be Advent, and then for Christmas Tide to be celebrated as such by people who are not breathing a sigh of relief that it's "finally over."

The world will go its own way, of course, but I wonder if the church is no longer supposed to call the world to repentance. St. John the Baptist did, and at least the Advent Proper Preface would suggest that his preaching of repentance has something to do with this season. It may even be possible that there were Christians among that crowd of Wal-Mart shoppers who trampled that poor man to death out in New York (who then complained when their shopping was interrupted by the police). I don't insist that anyone fast during Advent, and I'm not good at fasting myself, but it seems the polar opposite of fasting to be so driven by the spending of money on extravagance of every kind.

It is the Word of the Gospel and the Body and Blood of Christ, "for you," that comprise the Christ Mass. And we are gotten ready for that feast by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Penitence, after all, is not confined to Lent, nor even to Advent and Lent, but characterizes the daily life of the baptized.

wmc said...

Penitence, after all, is not confined to Lent, nor even to Advent and Lent, but characterizes the daily life of the baptized.

Amen to that! The seasons, each in their own way, are fine outward training in the baptismal life of repentance, faith, and love.

organistsandra said...

Pastor Cwirla gives good advice, more profound than he's willing to admit...

As do you, Pastor Stuckwisch.

It's been helpful to hear all of you express the way the restrained joy and sober watchfulness of Advent looks in our lives. Thanks!