I received a fascinating missive the other day. It was from a father—and a well-meaning father, at that—who was attempting to restore harmony in his household. Because this is a common desire for much of the world, both in our homes and in culture at large, I feel it’s my Christian duty to share both his letter and my response.
First off, this is so bizarre! Here I am writing you a letter to you, Evan Koons, when you are guy who writes letters to us! Too weird. Second, thank you so very much for “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.” It is absolutely wonderful. I’ve only made it through the first three episodes (and I’m totally hooked), but I’m most excited to dig into Episode 4: The Economy of Order—especially with all the changes taking place around our house this week. You see, we have a new guest living with us. His name is Mark. He’s from the National Guard, and he’s just what we need to keep our house running smoothly (see attachment).
Allow me to explain. You see, for quite some time we’ve been having trouble keeping our kids in line. Thomas, 5, has a developed quite a penchant for karate chopping his sister Lucy, 3, in the head. We have no idea where he learned this, possibly Netflix. He also refuses to brush his teeth. Lucy, in turn, is incredibly possessive. She simply will not share—even if the objects in question are not hers. From car keys to the spaghetti strainer, if she’s got it, we’re not getting it back. Also, she will only eat sprinkled donuts. What’s more, neither of the children will sleep in their own beds (I won’t get into the details of how that affects my relationship with my wife, but I can assure you it isn’t good).
Be that as it may, I was tossing and turning on the couch one night, listening to my kids run amok in our bedroom upstairs, the faintest bit of burning plastic in the air, and I thought to myself, “I need to think way outside of the box on this one. Get creative. What this family needs is more order, more authority, a more forceful and disciplined presence to set us straight.” And then it hit me, “What we need is the National Guard.”
The very next morning, after popping a couple aspirin and dislodging an action figure from an upstairs outlet, I pulled together the last of the moneys left us by my Great Uncle Harold, and called National Guard. True to their motto, “Alway Ready, Always There,” Mark and several of his heavily armed buddies arrived at my doorstep within the hour. I’ll never forget the joy of seeing all those laser-sites steadily fixed on my chest. I knew, right then and there, I made the best decision for my family. Full disclosure: in my phone call to the Guard, I may have mentioned that the their presence was an “urgent matter of national security”—which would explain the additional troops, a few FBI agents, and members of the local SWAT Team. Once we got the semantics all figured out, though, boy, did we all have a good laugh. I’ve been told that charges are pending—whatever that means—but I’m pretty sure that Great Uncle Harold’s several briefcases of cash went along way to keep Mark in our home and put any remaining miscommunications to rest.
In the week since Mark’s arrival, I must tell you, a lot has changed. Mark wakes my kids up at 4:30 A.M. every morning, and after a recitation of the pledge of allegiance, they’re off on a brisk four-mile run. Then they nap until lunch. Demerits are doled out regularly for unkempt footlockers—usually in the form of push-ups. At last count, Thomas can pump out about 75 of them before he even breaks a sweat. That’s my boy! Oh yeah, and now they have footlockers. Any of the kids’ things that didn’t fit neatly in them were promptly thrown out. This had quite the affect on Lucy and her possessive nature. Additionally, Mark is now teaching her the ins-and-outs of hand-to-hand combat to thwart the advances of her older brother, who is becoming quite a formidable force from his push-ups. She keeps telling me she can’t wait to put her new skills to use!
As for my wife and I, we are having the time of our lives. Mark is such a great babysitter. Who knew!? My wife and I have been able to go out and talk so much this week that we’ve pretty much run out of things to talk about!
Don’t get me wrong, though. There have been some growing pains. Change is never easy. We’re still getting used to the armor-plated humvee in the front yard. The neighbors are, too. Mark assured us, however, that the surface-to-air missiles mounted on top are “just for show.” And, while the kids are now sleeping in their own beds every night, I’ll admit having Mark constantly stand guard at our door is a bit off-putting. I do admire his vigilance, though. Also, just yesterday, I heard Thomas call Mark, “Dad.” That unsettled me for a moment, but I’m pretty sure it was just a slip. Finally, we’ve also run into some additional costs maintaining this new lifestyle. It turns out we’re going through an exorbitant amount of Lucky Charms and Coors Light. I hadn’t anticipated that. In the end, however, it’s small price to pay for order, a small price, indeed. And, while, I have yet to see the lasting fruits of this endeavor, I remain increasingly optimistic.
As we continue on our journey to justice and harmony in our household, I would cherish your insights. Perhaps you’d like to document our family as a case study for success? Maybe it could even be a part of a For the Life of the World II documentary? There are a slew of families out there, I believe, who could benefit from our bold and fearless approach to restoring order in a broken world. I eagerly await your response. Now, off to watch the kids army-crawl through a live firing range!
Wow. Thank you for your letter. Please watch Episode 4: The Economy of Order as soon as possible. Then, it might be a good idea to watch Episode 2: The Economy of Love, again. I’m guessing Mark would benefit from the screenings, as well.
Todd, I can honestly say that your tenacity in bringing order to your family is unparalleled. Your ability to think way—WAY—outside of the proverbial box (I mean, you’re dimensions beyond realms of mere boxes) is shockingly marvelous. And, while I can sense your intentions are sincere and earnest, I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, they’re a little misguided. A bit left of center. I might as well say flawed. As a result, unfortunately, I cannot endorse your current methods of achieving order in your family. If this comes as a shock, please hang with me. Hopefully, my response will clear some things up for you.
There’s this interesting concept we allude to in Episode 4 called Sphere Sovereignty. It’s in the “Garden Scene” with Dr. Anthony Bradley (See attachment 1).
Dr. Bradley talks about how plants all have unique and distinctive way they grow best. Some need sunlight, some need shade, some need very little water, some need a ton. They each have a way they grow best. According to Sphere Sovereignty, it’s the same with the different areas of life: family, community, business, education, government, etc., etc. etc…they all have a certain way they work that differs from every other part of society. And, God created them that way. For example, most parents probably shouldn’t run their families like a business. Firing your kids for continued misbehavior or performing poorly at a piano recitals isn’t really a good idea. Having them fill out Purchase Authorization Requests for additional reams of paper in their craft boxes is also just a bit out of character for the way a family works. Make sense? Families have their own way of dealing with problems, as do businesses. Very—VERY—rarely are they ever the same.
So then, how do we adequately deal with breakdown in these areas, or Spheres, of life? This is where I’d like to introduce you to the idea of Subsidiarity (see attachment 2).
Subsidiarity is very much like Sphere Sovereignty in that it identifies the various spheres that make up a society, but it also advocates that each of these areas have their own particular ways for addressing breakdown within them. So, a family has the best ideas and solutions to breakdowns within a family. If the breakdown is too severe for the family to handle, Subsidiarity purports that the next closest sphere of life should step in to help. So, if the family has a breakdown, the community (churches, organizations, neighbors) surrounding that family has a the next best approach to addressing the issues. If they are ill-equipped, then the city and county may have services and solutions. If not them, then the state may have assistance to lend. Finally, if not the state, then the federal government.
If we look through the lens of Subsidiarity at your current predicament, well…you skipped a couple spheres and went right to the National Guard. They operate in more of the state/federal spheres of society. In hindsight, perhaps a phone call to your mom (family) for advice would have been more appropriate, or maybe visiting a neighbor with kids (community), or chatting with elders from your church (community, here, too), or a therapist (community, again!). There’s a lot of good books out there for raising kids, too. Perhaps a trip to the local book shop is all you need. Here are a few titles you may want to check out:
- The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them
- The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
- Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems
I hope what I’m saying is making some sense. If it is, I hope you’re not beating yourself up too badly for calling in the armed forces to raise your children. It happens a lot. Take this example of a wayward boy in need of some direction:
Thank you, Jenny Jones. I get choked up every time I watch that video. Seriously, every time. Highfalutin ideas like Sphere Sovereignty and Subsidiarity aside, this video reminds me that all pursuits of order, justice, harmony, Shalom—whatever you want to call it, wherever it is needed—they all require an intentional, highly personal presence, a listening, attentive ear and active participation. To put it plainly, justice requires our love.
Martin Luther King, Jr. writes of this love in his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story:
Agape love: Understanding, redeeming goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of object…agape is disinterested love. It is love in which the individual seeks not his own good but the good of his neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:24). Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes…therefore, agape makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is directed toward both…It springs from the need of the other person – his need for belonging to the best in the human family. (p. 92)
This agape love is the foundation of every redemptive work, and indeed, the greatest redemptive work, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
What’s more, Todd, when I look at the lives of Jesus and Dr. King, something else becomes remarkably clear: the pursuit of justice and order (in family or anywhere else) will always make us vulnerable. It will bring heartache. It will demand sacrifice. For justice to reign, we will have to suffer. These are not attributes often associated with the American Dream, but I think that’s a blog post for another time.
Todd, thank you for your letter. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I hope you’re thinking more about this stuff, too. More importantly, I hope we both can start finding the courage to live it out. There is much work to be done. Now, go hug your kids and send Mark home before someone gets hurt. I have it on good authority that those missiles aren’t “for show.”
*posted with permission/names changed to protect the innocent