10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

This book lays out ten great ways to destroy your child’s imagination. It’s like long-form satire, the opposite of the argument being the actual position of the author. Kind of like The Screwtape Letters, but less smooth in execution. Here are some of the main themes Esolen deals with: the power of truth (even just facts) for nurturing the imagination, the wonder of the outdoors, the importance of heroes and patriotism and virtue and fairy tales, the magic of romance and love, and the need for the transcendent.

Esolen is a gifted and provocative writer. He makes his points sharply and unapologetically. At times he overstates his case, but he is largely right and has much to offer anyone engaging in the bewildering activity known as parenting. And parents today are indeed bewildered. Let me give you 2 quick reasons off the top of my head.

First, we have the alienation between the generations driven by rapid cultural change. Now more than ever, every new set of adolescents feels further from their parents culturally. The common cultural touchpoints are fewer and fewer, and they increasingly live in separate worlds. This is slightly less the case in religious families but they are by no means exempt from this dynamic.

Second, the epidemic of broken families leaves new parents with no positive model to build upon. Children of divorce hesitate to get married for all kinds of reasons, but one of them is that they have no success narrative to emulate. And even more difficult to overcome are the patterns of learned attitudes and behaviors that they absorbed in dysfunctional and toxic relational environments. It’s hard to overstate how massive a challenge this is, and by contrast what an advantage a healthy two-parent still-married family history for those forming their own families. All this to say then that books on parenting are needed now more than ever.

Esolen has a firm grasp of the classics and is constantly making reference (or re-telling portions of) these foundational stories, as well as Biblical narratives and countless anecdotes from history. He throws in a bunch of C.S. Lewis for good measure. So as he’s making his points, the reader’s familiarity with these works stretches and grows. This is characteristic of all of Esolen’s writing and teaching – it is guaranteed to be a mini-seminar in the classics and liberal arts.

The highlights of the book for me were the dozens of passages where Esolen calmly dismantles the modern secular soulless approach to childhood by laying it side by side with a fully human joy-filled alternative. Reading these passages is at once inspiring and sobering, for it is impossible to miss how far we have fallen.

For anyone fully immersed in our modern world, putting these truths into practice is an exercise in swimming upstream. But it is an also an exercise in truly living. What a refreshing vision of life fully lived, with our faculties engaged and aware and amazed at the incredible world around us. As Chesterton said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

Esolen helps every parent who wants to be fully awake to the paltry state of childhood and fully alive in pursuing something much better for oneself and for one’s children. Although the book was first published in 2010, the last few years of cultural upheaval in the West have perhaps primed a greater readership than ever for its bracing message. Parents seem to be waking up to the inadequacies of the education systems, as well as their increasing ideological bent. And with skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among school-aged children, it’s hard to ignore that the kids are not alright.

It’s almost as if their imagination – and perhaps more – has been largely destroyed.

My Big Beef with Car Culture

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved cars.

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They’ve always been able to tug at my imagination, to capture my fascination, and I’m not sure why. Other people don’t seem to have this reaction at all when they encounter a motor vehicle. To them it really is just a collection of metal, rubber, and plastic. Perhaps the simplest way to describe what it means to be a car person is that a vehicle is more than the sum of its parts, and that it evokes something from within.

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A car, as a product of engineering and design, is not merely functional, but a work of art. It may be a poor work of art, or the art may be more in its functionality than anything else, but the shaping and moulding of panels, the calculating of proportions and angles and sight-lines, the tone and growl of the engine and exhaust, all require at least some measure of esthetic intentionality. It may look like a cross-eyed bullfrog but you know that someone somewhere presented that design to some decision makers who decided to make that hideous car.

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This is why we can begin to speak of a car’s personality, stance, face, rear-end, or ethos. Some cars exude power and aggression, others confidence and class, and still others just scream “I’m a Korean-made sub-compact from the mid-90’s and I’m utterly terrible.” Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got nothing against the Koreans – in fact they make some very fine cars now – but don’t ever buy a Daewoo, or a mid-90’s Hyundai. When you contact Daewoo to tell them that your driver’s seat fell through the floor of the car and the gear lever came off in your hand, they will simply laugh at you and say: “Hey! What you expect? You buy Daewoo!” Or that’s the rumor at least.

We all know that cars can be an endlessly fascinating subject of interest and conversation among men. The majority of those people who have an above-average interest in cars are indeed men. But like anything in which the majority of participants are men, there are some problems, and I’d like to talk about one of the major ones.

For a long time, I’ve wondered why it is the case that many magazines and websites which feature nice pictures of nice cars, will also contain sexualized pictures of women models. This is predominantly true of anything in the tuner culture, but is also more broadly applicable. If it isn’t outright portrayals of women in sensual poses, the same spirit is there in the sexist jokes and comments that presenters or writers make. Regardless of the form it takes, there is a pervasive attitude in much of this sub-culture that women, like cars, are pretty playthings that exist for men to enjoy.

This is done so casually and thoughtlessly, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to have some woman in her underwear standing beside a car. As the father of a daughter, I feel very strongly that this is not a natural thing at all. Say what you will about the decisions and career choices that these women have made, but I wouldn’t wish for any woman to have to take off her clothes in front of leering men in order to make a living, or to have worth in people’s eyes. I want my daughter to be valued for her character, personality, and spirit. For a long time, I didn’t really understand why this association between cars and women was so ubiquitous in car culture.

Then one day it hit me.

Men like cars for many reasons but one of the main ones is that they are good looking objects. Well then it only makes sense to have another good looking object to go with it.

Never mind that this second ‘object’ is a really a human being with a heart and soul and is of precious worth far beyond that of any Ferrari of Bugatti.

Never mind that all the men leering at the pictures of these girls wouldn’t want their own sisters, wives, or daughters displayed like that for all to see.

It’s just one of a hundred thousand ways in which our world doesn’t see or portray women as full and complete human beings, worthy of dignity and respect. It’s not right, and it’s not okay.

I’ve always told myself that I would love whatever my kids love and not try to get them to be interested in my own interests. So I don’t know if I failed at that or if my son really came to love cars by himself, but anyways he really loves cars and trucks. He’s only two and a half, and already (with a bit of coaching from me) he can tell the difference in his toy car collection between the ‘Porsche Nine Elebben’, the GT-R, and the Audi, as well as between the Jaguar E-Type and the Toyota 2000GT, which look quite similar at 1:64 scale. I want to be able to take him to the annual Auto Show when he’s a bit older, but it makes me sad to think that I will have to explain to him why there are women dressed in really small, tight dresses standing around in the modified cars section.

We need to do a better job of guarding the honor and dignity of all human beings, especially those whose honor and dignity and humanity are so often dismissed.

And we also need to treat objects as objects. I did go to the car show this year, and although I really loved seeing all those gorgeous cars, pulling open the back door of a $500,000 Rolls Royce (I wasn’t supposed to, but how often do you get the chance?!), climbing into the trunk of a Toyota Echo to test out the emergency release cable they’ve installed in there in case of kidnapping, and pushing all the buttons and knobs in the Jaguars and Audis, I left the conference center feeling quite flat about the whole thing. At the end of the day, it really is just metal and rubber and really nice leather, and we would do well to remember it.

The sad reality is, for many people walking through that auto show, they had a far more human interaction with their dream cars than they did with the ladies who were put on display. They were far more conscious of the personality and soul of that new Audi than of the eternal value of each of those girls.

Dear car culture, you’ve humanized the object and objectified the human, and that is my big beef with you.

Just Keep Swimmin’

It’s been a few weeks of straight-piped no-foolin’ craziness around here. Kids and babies getting sick and spewing bodily fluids in every direction. Parents going down in tandem like tightrope walkers tied to each other with electrified bungee cords. Why gosh darn I tell you it’s a front-line field hospital that’s as messy as a school cafeteria after sloppy joe Wednesday and national food-fight day happened to be on the same day.

Just when you make it through one endless day and have some time to recalibrate your sanity-machine by injecting it with coffee and multi-syllabic ‘grown-up’ conversation, you realize you have less than seven hours before the one that can walk gets up and walks out of his room, demanding sustenance and entertainment. And those less-than-seven-hours are by no means guaranteed or uninterrupted – nooo – expect to be called upon more than once to get up, make a bottle, change a diaper, fill up a water glass, paint a picture, and wax the car. Well maybe not those last two. So with the prospect of not very much not very good sleep, here I am throwing an open-house pity party with free whine and cheese.

One does well in times like these to remember those words which alone can summon that superhuman level of commitment and perseverance:

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Alright I think I got it out of my system now. Some weeks are just like that, you know? We seem to be making a habit of taking about a month of winter around the January-February mark and just writing it off with a self-propagating cycle of sickness through mutual infection. We even took our little show on tour this year and went to Ontario and visited a whole bunch of our friends, making sure that they were left with something to remember us by such as laryngitis.

But although it’s been hectic, there have been many recurring evidences of profound blessing. Life is such that while you’re trying to tear your hair out you can also have your heart melted by the precious sweetness of family life. Love also shines a little brighter in dimmer circumstances: selflessness, service, hugs, life-giving words of affirmation, these things are that much more special when you really need them.

Friendship, too, is that much more meaningful in such times. I’ve had the words of author Tim Keller on the subject of spiritual friendship in my mind lately. He says that friendship blossoms out of commonalities, but that spiritual friendship in a Christian context can happen between any two believers. The strongest and most fulfilling friendships, however, are when those two aspects dovetail together so that not only is there a spiritual bond borne out of similar beliefs and experiences, but also that simply human connection that happens when personalities and passions agree. It is a rare gift but one that I have had the great fortune of experiencing repeatedly along our journey – foremost with my wife, who is my closest friend in all the world, but also with others. These kinds of friendships are worth nearly any amount of time or money required to keep them alive, and the dividends are not measurable in this life.

This post isn’t really about anything, so I’m having a hard time drawing any satisfying conclusions about it. But there you go, another life lesson: sometimes things just happen and the purpose is inscrutable.

That’s okay, some blog posts are like that too.

Of Interrupted Date Nights and Spiritual Pathologies

We had it all planned out:

A stay-at-home date.

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Put the kids to bed at 8pm sharp, dress up a little bit (as in something you could wear to an upscale mall but which would make you look only slightly overdressed at Wal-Mart), throw some product in the hair, get out the coffee and chocolates and curl up on the couch to watch a mutually favorite show; which, I don’t know about you, but that in itself is nearly a miracle – usually there is some measure of compromise from one party which will be leveraged later when the viewing options are discussed anew. In this case, we were watching the HBO Sports special series 24/7 NHL Road to the Winter Classic, the fourth and final episode. The reason we both love this show is that it happens to feature both our favorite teams: The Toronto Maple Leafs (hers) and the Detroit Red Wings (his).

Things were just lovely for the first while, and then we heard our 3-month old daughter crying continually for a few minutes. Finally Kaitlyn got up to go and get her, but as these things go, the girl quieted down at that very moment and my wife stood listening just outside the door and then we looked at each other and shrugged and she came back to sit down. About 37 seconds later our daughter was screaming again and Kaitlyn went to get her.

Sit. Rep.: Extraction successful, but child #2 still fully awake and witnessed the entire scene. Given the child’s current mental capacity for comprehension, logical inference, and imitation, we have only a few minutes before child #2 attempts a re-negotiation of bedtime terms.

We resumed watching the show and then about ten minutes later we heard the kids’ bedroom door open. I got up quickly to intercept child #2 before he could come out and decide for sure that he was going to join us, but as I thought about how ridiculous this date was already, I decided to throw in the towel and bring him out with us too, to watch the last few minutes of the show.

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We all had a good laugh and then after a while we chucked those kids back into bed. That’s when we shut off the TV and really started talking. What a thing. It really is remarkable how long the substance of life and relationships can be kept beneath the surface by the tag-team of responsibilities and distractions. Run around for most of the day caring for two kids with runny noses and dirty diapers and empty stomachs and then when the few spare moments come you turn to a book or a computer or a TV show to relax and before you know it it’s 11:30pm and the whole thing is slated to start again in less time than it takes to be rested enough to face it all. It’s enough to leave you out of breath and begging for more punctuation.

So that’s why it was remarkable to have long uninterrupted conversation with my wife on the couch. We talked about life, our goals for this coming year, and our feelings about where we’re at as a couple and as a family. We talked about faith and our relationships with God, the striking difference between the palpable intimacy we felt after our conversions and now. It was good, very good.

And then Kaitlyn said that she had read something yesterday on facebook that had been oppressing her ever since, and as she said this, tears came to her eyes. It was a quote from that venerable 19th century theologian, J.C. Ryle, that I had also read. It is basically a clarion call to fight against any spiritual apathy. It is an excellent quote from an excellent teacher and preacher of the Bible, but – and this is where I’ve been going with all of this – in my wife’s case it was being used to beat her down and condemn her. Here’s a woman who sacrificially loves and serves her children and husband from dawn til dusk and has a profound love for God and the Bible, but who is also seriously sleep-deprived, prone to processing things emotionally, has a tender conscience, and is still recovering from a severe burnout in ministry. All that to say, she is ripe for discouragement.

She shared with me that she had recently been enjoying a measure of peace, learning to rest in God’s grace, and that through this quote she felt she was being told that all that peace and grace she was enjoying was not rightfully hers because she wasn’t fighting enough. But as she told me this, she also realized that the voice was one of condemnation, not loving conviction. It was life-robbing accusation, not life-giving correction. And with that distinction clearly made, the source of it all was evident.

When I first became a believer, I devoured books, articles, and sermons like a Grizzly bear with a glandular problem devours salmon; or, apparently, like I devour White Cheddar Quaker Crispy Rice Cakes when I’m writing a blog post at midnight. I just could not get enough, and the more intense the better. My kindred spirit during this time was my cousin Joel, and we were always on the hunt for the next hammer-dropping, pride-shattering sermon to rock our worlds. After a while we came to see that there was an imbalance in our pursuit. He put a name to it and called it an addiction to conviction.

It was a pathology born out of a personal zeal for growth and a love for good teaching, especially reformed teaching which places a heavy emphasis on the holiness of God and conviction of sin (and rightly so, I might add, for these are the necessary preconditions for spiritual renewal). At that point in my life, one of the main ways that I felt assured of God’s working in me was when I felt convicted, guilty, and humbled. The problem was that I was exposing myself to so much conviction-inducing teaching that it was really impossible to even begin to process all of that truth, internalize it, and make the necessary course corrections in my heart and life. Make no mistake, that is hard work.

I can imagine that to many people this would seem like a strange problem to have, but from what I’ve seen it’s not as uncommon as we might think, especially among younger people.

There is something in the desire to have a teachable heart that can make us vulnerable to the evil one’s ministry of accusation and condemnation, especially if we have a lingering insecurity about God’s unconditional love for us.

Many a Christian has been brought low to a state of weakness and defeatedness that was neither born of the Spirit nor led to growth in grace because the whole thing wasn’t rooted in the gospel. If feeling convicted and guilty is a way to ingratiate ourselves to God, then there can be no fruit in it because in its essence it is works, it is meritorious, it is anti-gospel, and it calls for that searing insight from the apostle Paul: “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Let the seeds of conviction and zeal and sanctification be planted not in a dry bed of insecurity and doubt but in that fertile soil of a heart fully resting in the irrevocable forgiveness we have for all our sin and the unimpeachable righteousness which is counted as ours.