Archive for the ‘Family Matters’ Category

A Facebook friend sent me a link to a wonderful YouTube video. The clip, which apparently has now gone viral with over 366,000 views so far, captures 3-year-old Hannah as she recites a freestyle prayer before bedtime. Her exhausted dad rests on the bed beside her while her mom records the proceedings and offers a running supply of “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” and “That’s right, Hannahs” from behind the camera.

The video starts off as one of those sweet little things that you see on YouTube (you know, like the little girl quoting a mashed-up version of the Twenty-Third Psalm or the little boy awaking from an anesthesia-induced fog following a visit to the dentist). But after a couple minutes, you realize that Hannah is not your ordinary precocious 3-year-old; this little girl is an evangelist-in-the-making who is literally preaching her bedtime prayer. Clearly, the child is speaking out of an anointing of the Holy Spirit—and I’m not one to casually throw around statements like that. This child is on fire!

Check out the video below.

After watching the clip, I was truly moved. But then I clicked through to YouTube and noticed some of the viewers’ comments. Most of the viewers were as awestruck as I was. Here’s a few of their comments:

WOW! The Bible says train up a child; I applaud this mom and dad and say” Well done.

Jesus asked us to come to Him with childlike faith. Hannah is a great example of this! You can tell she believes everything she’s saying with her WHOLE heart! We should all be like that. Keep praising Jesus, Hannah! Don’t ever let age take away your PASSION!!

God’s word and praise from the mouth of a baby! Praise God for Hannah!

This is amazing!! It’s always great to see the results of parents raising their children up with the Lord in their life. we need more kids around like this and then maybe things like Columbine wouldnt happen. Keep up the good work with your daughter!!

But then I began to notice a string of comments from viewers who were disturbed by Hannah’s prayer. They felt her behavior was evidence of brainwashing and of her parents pushing their religion on an impressionable young child. At least one compared it to abuse. Some examples:

I passionately oppose religious brainwashing on children… THIS IS CHILD ABUSE AND BRAINWASHING POOR KID.

The only thing this video is proof of is behavioral modification….normally referred to as brainwashing. It’s what cultists and Islamic Madrasas do to create the kind of unthinking obedience necessary to martyrdom. This kind of thing is disgusting and abusive. A child this age has no conception of what the words she is saying even mean.

This is not to down nobodies religion as I was raised a Christian…. What I DO have a problem with is fundamentalist thinking those want to convert others ESPICALY YOUNG CHILDREN into their cult. Im disturbed by this.

The kid doesn’t understand anything more than the feedback she’s getting from Mom. You can get a kid to recite the quotations of Chairman Mao like this. This is how the Taliban programs future martyrs. It’s ugly, unthinking nonsense.

I was dumbfounded. I’ve heard these types of arguments before, but as I watched that little girl share from a heart that was obviously overflowing with God’s Word and wonderful values from her parents that had stuck, it never crossed my mind that this little girl was being programmed to parrot her parents’ narrow-minded beliefs. Her faith looks real to me. She owns it.

At the same time, a child does not embrace a faith like that without the ongoing nurturing and encouragement and prayers of her parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, etc. After all, as Christians, isn’t it our job to pass along these values to the next generation?

But can we, as Christian parents, ever cross the line? There are certainly stories of children who have been indoctrinated into religious or ideological beliefs that have been damaging to their young psyches. I think of the news reports I’ve watched of little children who are growing up under the firm hand of white supremacist parents, or children who are being raised under the influence of any number of cult-like movements.

Then there are parents who raise their children under the religion of money, fame, and commerce. I think of little Falcon Heene being pimped out by his parents for the promise of a reality-TV show and driven to the point of vomiting on live television.

Or what about Marcus Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan?

Marcus, a freshman at the University of Central Florida, is currently causing his new school all sorts of grief with his insistence that he will be wearing his dad’s brand of Nike shoes during games rather than the Adidas brand that the college’s athletic teams are contractually required to wear. So far, UCF has been scrambling to accommodate its famous freshman (and that potentially lucrative link to his famous dad) while trying not to jeopardize its $3 million agreement with Adidas.

I love Michael Jordan the ballplayer, but I can’t help thinking Michael Jordan the dad has apparently raised a son to believe that consumer marketing and product placement and Nike brand loyalty are more important values than humility and team unity and honoring the obligations of his athletic scholarship. As Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (who is a Christian) has said, “If you’re going to be on the team, you have to do what the team asks you to do.” You would think Marcus’s dad would be dispensing that same type of advice.

Or, how about the Ohio teenager from a strict Muslim family who ran away from home after converting to Christianity because she claims her father threatened to kill her for becoming a Christian? After seeking refuge at a Christian couple’s home in Florida, a judge ruled that the girl must be returned to Ohio. Yikes!

Parenting is no easy task these days—and neither is being a kid. There are so many dangers, toils, and snares—gray areas that will trip up even the most well-intentioned, well-prepared folks who have read all of Dobson’s books.

Having spent the last nearly ten years raising little people—or, perhaps more accurately, helping my wife raise them (just kidding)—I sincerely have to salute parents who are able to instill an enthusiastic faith and passion for God into their children. This, I believe, is one of the most important jobs in the world. As Chris Rock has said, “Sometimes I look at my daughter …  and I realize my only job in life is to keep her off the pole!” [Here’s the YouTube clip of Rock; beware of his explicit language.]

Anyhow, back to little Hannah’s prayer. I’m curious to know what you folks out there think about the video and the criticism that this 3-year-old girl is somehow being brainwashed or abused by her parents because she demonstrates such a strong and ardent faith in God. Should we rejoice or be concerned?


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Good Hair posterOne of the big conversations in my household this year has revolved around the question of whether my 9-year-old daughter is ready to get her hair “permed.” Some girls at her school have already been initiated into the world of relaxed hair, so the peer pressure is in effect.

On the one hand my wife, who spends an inordinate amount of time combing and styling our little girl’s hair each week, would love to reduce the strain and pain (on both her and my daughter) of braiding and curling and ponytailing. On the other hand, she’s not yet ready to subject our daughter to the extreme measures involved in chemically straightening black hair. Who would’ve imagined that there’s so much drama involved in styling a little girl’s tresses?

Well, Chris Rock did.

Read my full review of Chris Rock’s new documentary, Good Hair, at UrbanFaith.com.

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I suppose I’m asking for trouble by going here, but could someone explain to me the current controversy surrounding President Obama’s speech to American public school students on Tuesday? I’m serious. At first I thought the whole thing was just a minor stink, but as I’ve been reading posts on the Web and around the blogosphere, I’m realizing that this is major stuff. And as I look at some of the conversations happening among my friends and acquaintances on Facebook, I’m a little taken aback to find that some folks are actually afraid that their children will somehow be brainwashed or corrupted by whatever “hidden socialist messages” Obama will be delivering during his pep talk on the importance of education.

I know that there was initially concern about the wording of some classroom activities that the Obama administration was encouraging educators to use with their students during and after the speech, but my understanding is that the administration corrected the problem areas and that it will even post the speech at the White House website on Monday so parents and teachers can read it beforehand. Nevertheless, some parents and school districts are still making noise. The Valley View School District here in Illinois, where my two children are students, announced on Thursday that it would not allow its kids to watch the speech, and other districts are leaving it to individual teachers to make the call. Personally, I would’ve loved for this to be a part of my kids’ classroom activities next Tuesday, and I would’ve looked forward to chatting with them that evening about what they heard.

Again, can someone help me out here? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this latest installment in the ongoing Obama drama. I’ll hold back sharing some of my less-than-hopeful observations until I’ve heard from you.

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Mike & Kimberly Teel in their motorhome.

Mike & Kimberly Teel in their motorhome.

On Monday, public radio’s Marketplace aired a very poignant and revealing segment about a working-class Las Vegas couple whose suburban home went into foreclosure. If you’ve ever been tempted to jokingly think of someone as “trailer trash,” you’ve got to read or listen to this story.

We all know that there are real people behind the stereotypes and labels that we have in our minds, but I still need to remind myself of that fact from time to time.

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I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic lately. Could be that I’m turning the big 4-0 this year, or that things often seem better in retrospect than when you’re experiencing them the first time. In any event, I used to love watching Hee Haw when I was a little lad. Every Saturday night around 6 p.m. (I believe Lawrence Welk was scheduled opposite it on another channel, and he was good too, but Hee Haw was always more fun), my mom, dad, and I would tune in to watch Roy Clark, Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones, and the rest of the gang. For a (mostly) family-friendly hour we were guaranteed some great music and knee-slappin’ laughs.

I know this probably sounds crazy to some of you. You may be wondering, What was a black family doing watching a hillbilly show like Hee Haw? I wonder the same thing sometimes, even as I reflect fondly on that old program. The easy answer is, there wasn’t as much to watch on TV back then; I believe we only had three channels during that era when Hee Haw was appointment television for us. But, frankly, it also was great entertainment. And things didn’t seem as complicated race-wise back then–at least not to my young, prepubescent mind. In fact, Hee Haw was one of those ways that my family and I actually felt a kinship with the white community.

Ironically, programs like Hee HawThe Andy Griffith ShowThe Waltons, and The Dukes of Hazzard–shows that endearingly played on the redneck/good-ole-boy theme and rarely acknowledged the existence of black folk–were often the shows that helped me feel closest to white people. Without the experience of having grown up on some of those shows, I believe I might’ve been less patient (and probably more cynical) in my real-life relationships with white friends and acquaintances.

Conversely, I must confess, those shows in some ways misled me into believing that relations between blacks and whites were warmer and more honest than reality allowed. Thanks to television, I thought I knew white people better than I really did. But that’s another post.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade my Hee Haw memories. Seems strange to say that a cheesy TV show helped prepare me to embrace racial reconciliation, but it’s the truth. And, by golly, the music and jokes weren’t half bad either.

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We just posted a new article at UrbanFaith.com about the unique experience of a white mom and her black daughter. It’s a gentle little piece by a great writer named Wendy Bilen. Please check it out and let us know what you think.

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You probably never thought you’d be reading about girls’ dolls here at Reconciliation Blog, did you? However, the recent court case that sent MGA Entertainment, makers of the notorious Bratz dolls, down in defeat to the toy giant Mattel forces me to go where no RB post has gone before. I’m sure you heard this news last week, right?

In a long-simmering legal battle, the courts finally sided with Mattel, maker of the Queen of All Dolls, Barbie, and ordered MGA to stop producing the Bratz line and  recall all of its product after Christmas. Apparently, the original Bratz designer was employed by Mattel during the period when he came up with the idea for the Bratz dolls. When Mattel rejected it (fearing it would distract from its sacred Barbie line), an ex-Mattel employee took sketches of the concept up the road to the upstart MGA. And the rest is doll diva history. The Bratz line became a multibillion dollar sensation almost overnight.

Now Mattel is in the driver’s seat. Will it vanquish Barbie’s arch foe once and for all, or will the company be gracious to MGA (and its 1,500 employees) and find a way to work with it to keep producing the Bratz line? With billions at stake, I find it hard to think that Mattel will just erase the Bratz altogether.

But is this just a battle between two toy companies or something bigger?

Here’s the angle that draws my attention. The Bratz have long been viewed by parents as a skanky and materialistic alternative to Barbie—sort of a Bizarro version of Mattel’s classy and demure icon. Many parents probably celebrated when they heard the news of the Bratz’s potential demise. There’s one less worldly item to attempt to keep their little girls away from. (As a father of a 9-year-old daughter, I can attest that I was always a little uncomfortable with the Bratz—the same way that I’m uncomfortable with Sponge Bob; there’s just something about them that makes me suspicious.) And clearly, the Bratz’s blatant diva-ness and questionable attire are things any parent should be wary of.

One blogger, known as Noble Mother, did not hide her elation that the Bratz dolls might soon be off the shelves. However, I was most struck by the comments beneath her post, and one in particular by a mother named Suzanne. Here’s what she said:

I don’t particularly like the Bratz dolls, either, but I do allow my daughter to have some, and here’s why: my daughter is mixed (I’m white, her dad is black) and there just aren’t many dolls on the market that she can identify with. In fact, my daughter IS a Bratz doll…she has the doe eyes, the full lips, the big butt and she’s a knockout at 9.

Until the Bratz dolls came on the market, my daughter just wasn’t really interested in dolls of any kind. She and I have lots of conversations about ‘what she is’…and she’s decided she’s not white, she’s not black, she’s brown. She’s often asked why there are never any brown babies in the stores? There are white and there are black, but not brown. And I’m sure she’s not been the only little girl asking this question.

The Bratz dolls, while I have major issues with many other factors about them, have given my daughter a sense of validation of her color. Now, there are dolls on the store shelves that look just like her. She no longer has to decide whether she wants a white doll or a black doll…she can get one that looks just like her.

Very interesting insight, as is Noble Mother’s humble response. Please check it out.

So again, this Bratz vs. Barbie mêlée seems to be about much more than two toy titans clashing to protect their precious market turf. In fact, this whole situation could raise the larger question: Does Barbie represent an increasingly outdated notion of what “normal” mainstream culture looks like, while the Bratz signify a more multiethnic (or urban) aesthetic that is underrepresented among children’s dolls today? Even millionaire celeb Angelina Jolie, who adopted an African daughter, spoke up on this recently.

So, as much as it pains me to ask this, do we need the Bratz dolls? What do you think?




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Little Bill

If you haven’t read Linda Leigh Hargrove’s funny and thoughtful post about her recent reconciliation epiphany, please check it out. It concerns Little Bill, the gently instructive animated series from Bill Cosby that I used to watch all the time when my kids were younger. (I think one of the more bittersweet byproducts of our kids growing up is that we don’t get to watch certain TV shows anymore; I can’t tell you how much I miss VeggieTales and Blues Clues.)

In any event, I always appreciate Linda’s insight and vulnerability. For those of you who don’t know her, in addition to being a blogger she’s also an accomplished novelist. You can get info about her latest books here.

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I was buried in a writing project when the CNN special Black in America first aired a couple weeks back, so I missed writing about it then. I caught it in bits and pieces. If anyone out there has comments or reviews they’d like to share here, please do. Related to that special, CNN.com has an interesting story up called “Why Americans Prefer Their Sundays Segregated.” Among others, the article quotes Christian reconciliation leaders Michael Emerson (co-author of Divided by Faith) and Curtiss DeYoung (who, along with Emerson and others, co-authored United by Faith). The piece examines race relations in the church from the first century to the present day, and offers some good stuff to chew on, as we continue to grapple with the reality of racial division in the church.

Also, on a totally unrelated note, the ABC News site has a touching and powerful interview with singer Steven Curtis Chapman and his family who are still dealing with the accidental death of Steven’s little daughter Maria Sue back in May. When I worked for Today’s Christian magazine, we featured the Chapman family on our cover one year and did other stories on them as well, so it was particularly difficult to learn of Maria’s loss. But from watching this Good Morning America interview with the Chapmans, it’s clear that they are walking through this tragedy with their faith intact.

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There’s a poignant update from Tyson Aschliman at Leslie’s Journey. Thanks again to all of you who prayed for Tyson and his late wife Leslie. Leslie fought cancer boldly and, through the power of Christ’s resurrection, has conquered death. Now begins a new chapter for Tyson and little TJ. Please check out the update and bookmark Tyson’s new blog about his and TJ’s new journey.

Thanks, Tyson, for your remarkable faith and courage both during Leslie’s long struggle and now in the wake of her passing. You’ve shown so many of us how to follow Jesus faithfully, courageously, and honestly in the midst of suffering and trial.

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