The Lies We Buy Into

Laying in the grass in our front yard last night, Paul and I were chatting about his 9th birthday. His birthday turned out great. Since his party is this weekend we just did the family thing on his actual birthday. After dinner, he blew out the candles on his birthday cake and opened his presents. He was surprised and smiling and happy.

At some point in the conversation I asked Kristen if she remembered what she got for her 9th birthday, 27 years ago. She didn’t remember.

Then I thought about that question for myself.

June 2nd, 1985

It dawned on me. On June 2nd, 1985, I got baseball cards for my 9th birthday.

I was into baseball cards as a kid. I saved all of my money to buy great big boxes of them at the comic book store in downtown Mishawaka, Indiana. I would open each pack in the box and categorize each card by team before cataloging them in a great, big box. I’d take the best cards and put them into a folder. Sometimes I traded them but mostly I just held onto them.

And on my birthday for a couple of years I got a full set of Topps baseball cards. I had full sets from 1984 – 1988.

And I still have all of them. I still have full sets from 1984 – 1988. I still have my precious binder from when I was a kid. And I still have that box of carefully categorized cards, complete with my 9 year old handwriting of each teams name.

Why do I still have them? Because I still believe a lie about baseball cards.

I believe that one day they will have value again. And that belief has lead me to hold onto them for 27 years.

They moved to Germany and back with me in 1992. They went to college with me in 1994. They’ve moved with Kristen and I several times in my married life. Three times I have paid to put them in a a moving truck and shipped them across the country just so they could sit in my garage again.

And all of it goes back to a single conversation I had with my dad when I was a kid. He said his mom had sold his baseball cards at a garage sale and he wished he still had them, they were worth some money.

My dad didn’t lie to me. He was telling the truth. But it was me that convinced myself that I could never depart with these things.

Trust me, Don Mattingly’s rookie card will never have the same value as Mickey Mantle’s. In fact, of the thousands of cards I have I’m positive that none of them are worth more than $5 individually.

So why do I keep them? Why don’t I just toss them out or put them on Craigslist? Why don’t I just give them to Paul & Jackson to play with?

Because I believe a lie that one day I’ll need them. I believe that one day, if I don’t have them, they will be worth a lot of money and I’ll be sad that I didn’t listen to my dad.

That lie defies logic because I believe it.

More than baseball cards…

I’m a smart guy. I make good decisions. And I still fall into the trap of believing some lies in my life. I can look at all of the evidence, I can know that the belief is silly, stupid even, but I just can’t kick it.

When someone lies to you, it hurts. But when you lie to yourself? It’s a trap.

Culture parenting

A culture of fear

walk-to-schoolLast night I got a Facebook wall post by a former neighbor and childhood friend. He posted some Google Streetview links to the places where we grew up, including the elementary school that we walked to. It didn’t take me long to get curious about our daily walk to and from James Madison Elementary School. I was a bit surprised to see it pop up and say .7 miles.

When I thought out my daughter, entering 3rd grade, I thought to myself “there is no way I’d allow Megan to walk .7 miles to school without an adult!“It’s too dangerous. Too many bad things could happen. Plus we would worry all day wondering if she ever even made it to school. Couldn’t the school call me when she got there? Would someone call the police on us for letting her walk?

Isn’t that an odd reaction? My mom was not cruel in making me walk to school. Nor was she considered a bad parent for not driving me. In fact, all the kids in my neighborhood walked to school! She would have been seen as a bad parent if she had driven me each day. Culture in 1980s permitted– demanded that kids walk to school.

But the world is way more dangerous than it was when you were a kid, Adam! crime-rate

That was my first reaction, too. Until I did some research and discovered that our country is much safer today than it was in 1985. While there is a general assumption in our psyche that things aren’t as safe as they were when we were kids… in fact, the world is a safer place. Less violent crime. Less petty crime. Even less violent crime against children.

The culture of fear in America

So why is it that we live in a safer society today but I would never allow my children to walk to school unattended? Why is it that it seems ludicrous to allow an 8 year old to walk to school with some friends? Why is it that I would be viewed as a horrible parent if I allowed her to do that?

The answer is that in the last 10 years we’ve allowed a new cultural more of irrational fear for our children to creep in. It wouldn’t be illegal for my child to walk .7 mile to school but it would feel wrong.

Culture mores are not always logical.

Cultural mores are not always reasonable.

Cultural mores are sometimes counter-productive for a society.

When I think back to my childhood most of the good stuff happened as a result of long periods of time without parents. We walked to school, we were at school all day, and when we came home we played with our friends. We spent epic amounts of time in trees or playing games or creating sandlot baseball tournaments. Now we take our kids to school, ask the teacher to report their behavior to us, and barely allow them any unsupervised time without us. In effect, normative parenting skills inhibit a childhood like I had.

Remember getting onĀ  your bike and riding around the neighborhood all day?

Remember going to the park with no adults around?

Remember disappearing into the woods to build forts?

All gone. Not because we live in a society that is more dangerous or litigious. But because culture has taken these things away.

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

The Power of Fear

Up until fourth grade I lived in the city of South Bend on one of those quintessential small town streets where everyone knew everyone, kids played outside until the street lights came on, we all played at one anothers house, and we were all one happy family. Summer was all about riding bikes, fireworks, BBQs, swimming in Doug’s pool, endless games of football, and weekends at the lake. Winter was endless fort building and snow ball fights while avoiding shoveling the walk. At least, that’s how I remember it. I loved my street growing up. It was a safe place to play with friends.

Until the summer between my 1st and 2nd grade year.

One day I was riding my bike with a friend when we spotted something no kid could resist… wet concrete. The city had paved our street and replaced the concrete that went around a sewer grate right in the middle of my street, just a few doors from my house. The traffic cones were like syrens calling a weary sailor. We left our bikes in the grass, grabbed some sticks, and dashed for the land of the forbidden.

The first thing we did was write our names. Then, my friend started furiously writing cuss words. He was number four in an Irish-Catholic family of seven. With two older brothers and a fire chief father he magically knew millions of cuss words and how to spell them. Not to be left out I spelled out the only cuss word I was confident I could spell: Dam.

Proud of our vandalism we grabbed our bikes and took off to the park. Within minutes we had completely forgotten about our misdemeanor and moved on to other dubious acts like racing empty beer bottles down the slides and ghost riding our bikes down the hill of death.

The next day, on my way over to the same friends house, I circled my bike around that sewer drain to see how things turned out. I was fixated on my name. “Adam.” How cool was that? Forever in the lore of Tonti Street everyone would know that I had placed my name on that sewer. One day, archeologists would dig up our block and they’d know that Adam lived there. I was an instant legend.

Ecstatic, I jumped back on my bike. As I got a few pedals away, with my pride cutting through the summer air like a bottle rocket, I heard my name called out. I turned around to see one of the old geezers coming off his covered porch and waving me to come over to him. Our block was a mix of old timers and young families who had bought homes from estates of their former neighbors. I wheeled my bike around to gain momentum and sailed up his driveway to his front steps. Surely, he had seen my street art and wanted to congratulate the artist.

I was dead wrong. While I had seen him mow his lawn and trim his bushes I had never talked to this man before. His size and demeanor were intimidating. He came down his steps with a limp and put his giant hand on my 7 year old shoulder. I remember looking up at him but not seeing much further than the anchor tattoo of the Navy on his forearm. Every sensor in my brain was telling me to run. I was convinced that he was going to grab me and pull me into his garage where he’d chop me up with his hedge clippers.

Son, I see you and your friend wrote in that concrete yesterday. You know you wrote some bad things and you’re going to have to clean that up somehow.” 25 years later and I still have no idea how he expected me to erase words from hard concrete. A jackhammer was simply not in the arsenal of a 7 year old. “If you don’t take care of that I’m going to tell your mom.” If his firm grip on my shoulder hadn’t scared me, the threat of telling my mom that I wrote “dam” in concrete on our street sent my flight instinct over the top. I wiggled my way free, jumped on my bike, and got out of there.

The Power of Fear

Those 15 seconds put more fear into me than I had never experienced. Worse yet, I was now deathly afraid to go anywhere near that man’s house… and he lived 4 doors down and across the street! The sanctuary of my block came tumbling down. I had constant nightmares starring that man. He was my Frankenstein. I still remember a recurring dream where I woke up hearing his voice on my front porch talking to my mom. In the dream I ran downstairs with a John Rambo-styled machine gun and peppered him with bullets until he completely disappeared. As a young child living halfway between reality and fantasy, all of my fantasies had me as a superhero and him as the villain.

It’s amazing how 15 seconds of fear can terrorize you for years.

The effect of this fear was actualized in my behavior. From that day forward I never went down that side of the street unless I was convinced he was gone. If I didn’t see his car drive away I was certain he sat on his porch staring at me, waiting for his moment to get me once and for all.

I began riding my bike down the alley so as to avoid his glare. When school began, I didn’t go out the front door anymore, instead I climbed over the back fence and cut through neighbors yards to meet up with classmates for the walk to school. Halloween? Forget about it. I went to friends houses. On and on it went for more than two years. Those 15 seconds of terror changed how I felt about where I lived.

A couple of years later my mom told us we were moving from the city to the suburbs. While my brother was upset that he’d lose all of his friends I was happy to start over and get away from the scary old neighbor. Little did I know that the dark streets of suburbia had their own things to be afraid of… but that’s another story for another time.

My point here is that fear, no matter how irrational at times, often leads us to action. Sometimes that action is good, it protects us, while other times it leads us to do weird things like climbing fences to avoid the glare of an old man. Sometimes they are based in something imagined. While other times fears are based on something very real.

Fear is one of the root motivators of all of our actions. If you serve in ministry… getting to the bottom of what you are afraid of helps you a lot. More importantly, building trust with people so that they will share their fears will help you discover how to best serve them.