Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Family Forte: Navigating the Differences

by: Topher Wiles

Photo Credit: Closer Magazine
How do you navigate the myriad of family differences that exist in the political realm, the pandemic viewpoints, the religious spectrum, and more?  This important query stems from a middle-aged friend of mine whose child has a vastly different political viewpoint, bringing them to ask me how to handle this challenging family dynamic.  That is a big, messy, tough question that I’m scared to answer. Yet, as I dwell on this challenging situation longer, I think the answer to the question is simple and it was modeled by a wise man known in history as Jesus of Nazareth.  

In families, you value others by making time to dialogue with them and ask questions. 

Author Marvin B. Copenhaver states, “Contrary to some common assumptions, Jesus is not the ultimate Answer Man, but more like the Great Questioner. In the Gospels Jesus asks many more questions than he answers. To be precise, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 of which he only answers 3. Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings.”

As I’ve been reading through the book of John I notice many different types of people that Jesus gives value to through dialogue and questioning.  Obviously they didn’t view religious, political, & life situations the same way as Jesus did.  Yet this wise man whose time was heavily desired by all invested time in listening to others. 

Consider Nathanael the honest skeptic in first chapter of John who himself asked the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Yet Jesus valued this honest skeptic and his belief by investing time in dialoguing with him.

Take a look in the third chapter of John’s book that details a lengthy conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and religious elitist. Jesus asks him a though provoking question about understanding heavenly things before blasting Nicodemus with an earth shattering quote for this pious legalist when Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Pharisees struggle with the concept of God loving more people than just their chosen group so Jesus invests more time valuing Nicodemus, the religious elitist, by unpacking that statement.

Do you remember the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John’s writing?  Yes, as a Samaritan female growing up in a patriarchal society, she was likely the outcast, the oppressed, the outsider compared to a Jewish rabbi like Jesus. Yet Jesus values her when many would not by entering into a challenging question and answer period that resulted in many lives being changed.

The Jesus even shows us a completely different type of person He valued when He spoke with the Roman official at the end of John 4 about the healing of the official’s son.  If you were a Jew at this time, a Roman was basically your sworn enemy!  Yet Jesus gave value to the enemy of the state in dialogue.

Jesus even values the youth in his time.  There is a strong argument that many of the disciples were teenagers when they began following Jesus.  It’s possible that the writer and disciple, John, was only 13 years old when he began following Jesus. At the time of the Last Supper in John 13, we find this young disciple sitting in the place of authority at Jesus’ right hand as the group chatted about the upcoming betrayal.

As you read this great book of good news, I’m sure you’ll find more, but I bet you’re starting to get the point.  If Jesus values so many different people in dialogue, the honest skeptic, the religious elite, the outcast, the enemy of the state, and the youth, I know that you can value them too.  How do we handle differences of opinion within a family?  We give value to the people and we enter into dialogue with them just like Jesus did.

Might I suggest a few ground rules for family discussions that may help?

  • Begin by asking for a deliberate time to discuss your difference of opinion. Say, “Susie, can we carve out some time at dinner tomorrow night at dinner from 6-7pm to discuss our differing opinions on the upcoming presidential election? I would be glad to listen to you.” Asking permission as a parent gives them the opportunity to back out if feelings are already hurt and wounds are too raw to deal with right now. Setting up a specific time, such as a meal, can ensure the discussion has a beginning and an end. Value them by letting them know you will listen.
  • Set a rule that you will only discuss one topic at a time and give opportunity for everyone to share opinions on that topic before moving to the next. For example, do not start with discussing the pandemic then move on to debating nuclear warfare before both people have had the opportunity to share their viewpoints on the first topic. Value each other by sticking to one topic at a time.
  • If things get “too hot to handle,” anyone can call for a break in the discussion. Take a break for perhaps 15 minutes, or whatever time is needed, before discussing again.
  • Agree on the outset that you don’t have to agree to love each other. Their value to you is not dependent on them agreeing with everything you say. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is one of the most intrinsically valuable rules you can have.

Friends, we know that families struggle and differing viewpoints often bring discord and stress.  Remember to be like Jesus in valuing the differing family member by listening, asking questions, and engaging in healthy discussions with them.  You’ll be glad you did.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” – James 1:19 

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Family Forte: Brothers Handshake, Help, & Hug

by: Topher Wiles

     As I pen this Family Forte article I find myself sitting at the table in an RV parked in Jamestown, OH, a bustling cornfield metropolis of less than 2,000 people.  How did I wind up here?  The story begins with an oft repeated dadism, “Brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but brothers handshake, help, and hug each other.”

Even in 2013, you could see the difference in personalities!

   About three years into my foray as a father, I was thrown a curveball with my strapping young second son, Ethan.  Being two years younger than Gabriel, his secondborn nature showed a stronger and dominant demeanor.  As the two boys grew, they would often get into tussles with Ethan showing physical dominance over Gabriel who showed restraint.   Many scraps would end with the younger hurting the older and I realized my challenge as a dad was to teach these boys that they were not competitors, but that they were cooperative teammates. So as a father I laid down two ground rules to aid in the development of our family.

     The first rule was that the boys were never allowed to wrestle or box with each other, but only cooperatively against me.  Having been a high school wrestler and taekwondo student, I could allow the boys to test their physical strength with me in ways that challenged them but didn’t hurt them. Our wrestling matches on the bunk beds were epic events that often left my wife laughing over the organized chaos that ensued. A marvelous result of these cooperative wrestling matches that pitted Gabriel and Ethan against me was that they decreased their striving against one another focusing instead on working together toward my demise. We liked the result of the first ground rule and simplified it to, “Brothers don’t hit or hurt each other.”

     The second rule that I laid down from dad authority was that the boys were to focus their lives on agreement rather than differences, aid rather than aggression, and encouragement rather than trash-talking.  As they learned to compete with me, I directed them to focus their energy on encouraging one another on their successes, helping each other learn from mistakes, and ending each competition with respectful handshakes and hugs all around.  I distinctly remember one meaningful moment when this rule played out. 

     For a few years in sparring matches the boys were never able to land a single strike on me so I never wore a helmet even though I required protective gear for them.  My unprotected head learned a valuable lesson the day our sparring session ended with me blocking Gabriel’s roundhouse kick to the ribs followed by Ethan executing a textbook spinning backfist to my left temple, surprising me by the blow and bringing me to a knee to recover. As I shook my ringing head clear, I was blessed to witness Gabriel jubilantly high-fiving Ethan and hugging him all while verbally praising him for his deftly delivered shot. In return Ethan congratulated Gabriel on the perfectly planned roundhouse that caused me to drop my high guard for the session ending blow.  It was a proud dad moment for me seeing our second rule play out.  We simplified the rule to the short phrase, “Brothers handshake, help, and hug.”  FYI, I now wear a helmet when we spar.

     Brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but brothers handshake, help, and hug each other. This engrained mantra has grown beyond my now 11 and 13 year old boys to include the church in my life as well. 

     I believe that church is not an event but the church of Christ is a family.  That makes the men and women who are fellow believers and followers of Jesus Christ my brothers and sisters. The Bible is very purposeful in describing how church family should treat one another when it sums our conduct up in Peter’s first letter.  “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” – 1 Peter 1:22-23. 

     While the world struggles with complaining, grumbling, and nefarious methods of treating others, the family of Christ has demonstrated to me what true brotherly love looks like. When my children were born, Godly brothers in Christ were at the hospital to hug, handshake, and high-five my moments of joy.  When an acute back injury saw me struggling as my family moved to from Washington, IN, it was the brothers in Christ who showed up as working army helping move all my belongings into our new home in Sparta, TN.  When I made mistakes in life, my true brothers weren’t quick to deride or trash-talk me, but they strove to direct and guide me back toward God’s lighted path.  My church brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but my brothers handshake, help, and hug each other.  

     Thus I find myself in a motorhome parked in the middle of the cornfields of Jamestown, Ohio awaiting the outcome of a brother’s nearby back surgery.  This believer in Christ was quick to aid the Central Church of Christ family with many hours of volunteer labor in 2020. But life changed and his back necessitated a surgery in central Ohio. Our family in Christ responded by driving a motorhome with a comfy and safe bed for prone transportation of our recovering brother from the Ohio hospital back to Sparta for his continuation of recovery.  In life we’ve learned that the size and type of family does not matter, but what does matter is that brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but brothers handshake, help, and hug each other through life's challenges.  As you strive to build your family’s forte, may this dadism bless you as it has me. Sparta, we'll see you soon.

     “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:50

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Family Forte: For Love and Adventure

by: Topher Wiles

The slicing hard steel blade was mere millimeters away from my fumbling fingers.  How did I get in this position of dicing pecans while blindfolded?  It all comes down to two words: love and adventure. Today I’m praying that readers actively instill both in their marriage.  

Love is what attracted me to Ashley nineteen years ago.  No, it wasn’t love at first sight. (Truth be told, she liked me months before I knew it; I’m a little slow sometimes.)  Yet love grew from a loving friendly relationship in which I tried to serve and help her with her schooling at Lipscomb University, to a loving intimate and exclusive relationship where I chose to sacrifice for her to give her the life of her dreams.  Love is the primary reason we chose to have those four beautiful children that we invest so much of our lives into now.   Love is still growing in our marriage relationship today as she and I both choose to learn how to better serve, help, and encourage each other toward God.  After taking a little look at our marriage relationship, it was love that motivated me to strive to do better in our dating life. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, county storm damage needs, and general increase in church work, I realized that I was investing so much time in meeting the needs of others that I was failing to invest time in my wife.  Sure, I worked on her car, mowed the grass, helped her with dishes, swept the floor, played tennis with her, and ticked marks off my honey-do list, but for months I hadn’t done anything fun with my wife.  That’s right, I had forgotten to “date” my wife.  That longstanding part of a loving relationship in which you go do adventurous things together was gone, replaced with responsibilities at home and service to others. 

That’s where love comes in.  Back in the Biblical Hebrew culture, love wasn’t merely an emotion or a mental exercise, it was a choice and an action.  If I was going to honestly tell Ashley, “I love you,” each night before bed, I needed to choose to be loving and follow it up with an action.  Love is why I purchased “The Adventure Challenge” book.  Now, I’m not going out on a limb to say that I recommend The Adventure Challenge to you yet at it’s $40 price tag, but our first experience was a blast!

There are three versions of The Adventure Challenge book available for purchase online, one for families, one for friends, and one for couples.  https://www.theadventurechallenge.com/  The Adventure Challenge for couples serves as a catalyst for meaningful, fun, and adventurous interactions in a marriage, much like we had when we were dating.  In our younger years (pre-kids), Ashley and I would take last minute trips, go rock climbing, visit flea markets in little towns, and attend social spectacles like the RC Cola & Moonpie Festival in Bell Buckle.  Alas, with life changes those adventurous moments have declined.  The Adventure Challenge for couples contains 40 PG-rated entertainment ideas in a fun and mysterious scratch-off format.  That’s right, you take a coin and scratch away that familiar gray film to reveal your next couples adventure.  The rules of the book state that you have to do whatever it says; no backing out.  Out of love, I purchased The Adventure Challenge book for our marriage and an adventure is exactly what we had! That’s how I found myself blindfolded chopping up pecans!

Our first scratch off together was titled, “The Helpless Baker.” The surprising instructions read like this: “Make a homemade pie together! One of you must mix all the ingredients by yourself…BLINDFOLDED, while the other person gives instructions by leading with their hands.” Baking a pie sounded mundane, with a chess pie or fudge pie being too easy, so we settled on an adventurous Kentucky Derby Pie. This deliciously mouth-watering dish proved tougher as it combined the following ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, coconut, chocolate chips, two eggs, and chopped pecans.  There was nothing mundane in this adventure as it proved quite the challenge to do blindfolded!  Ashley is a marvel in the kitchen and she was patient as she guided my hands and tapped out “yes” and “no” on my skin when I asked questions.  I was excited after cracking the eggs (yes blindfolded!) on the rim of a bowl to hear Ashley clapping and letting me know I spilled lost no rogue egg shell into the mixture.  Then the chopping pecan challenge came.  Ashley shared that she was nervous at first as I used my left hand to slowly feed individual pecans into the slicing and dicing knife wielded in my right.  Deciding that method was too slow, I put both hands on top of the knife and attacked a pile of pecans on the cutting board, only shooting a few across the counter. With the chopping finished and mixture poured into the awaiting crust, she guided my oven-mitted hands holding the prize into the pre-heated oven.

Blindfold removed, we laughed and talked about that 30 minute adventure for the next couple hours as we washed dishes together, ate delicious pie, and wound down for the night.  It was love that caused us to actively seek new ways to date in our marriage relationship.  It is the new and unexpected adventures like The Helpless Baker that give us memories to share. 

Love truly is an amazing choice that brings so much joy into the life of a marriage, a team, a church, a business, and a community.  I share my experience in Family Forte in hopes that you will choose to lovingly seek ways to take your relationships into ever growing adventures together. May your Family Forte be blessed as you choose to love.

“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.