Advice to a Child

child_learnWhat one piece of advice would you offer to a newborn infant? That was the question that kicked off our conversation at Pub Theology Holland last night. After a few quips like: “Go back!” and “A newborn infant wouldn’t be capable of understanding advice,” we decided to stretch it out to a child somewhere between 5 and 8 years old.

Then some real wisdom began to come out around the table. Here are a few of the gems that were shared:

Ignore borders
Be resilient, never give up
Keep laughing
Be content
Be honest and respectful
Display empathy, have compassion
Seek to include, rather than exclude

As a parent of young children, I was definitely taking notes! Later I thought, if I pass these along, better to not reveal the source. “Here kids, dad learned some good parenting techniques at the bar. No really.”

We then wondered if these weren’t also good pieces of wisdom for adults. Of course, they are. Sadly, we tend to assume that adults have moved to a point where taking advice or incorporating a new behavior is not something they are apt to do.

At some point, after a sip of a really good IPA, someone mentioned: “You know these things are all great, and we’d want to share them with our kids. But really, you have to demonstrate these ideas if you want children to learn them.”

Thud. Here I thought I was ready to move on to the parenting hall of fame once I began to unload these on my kids. Right. I need to do these things. Am I content? Do I play? Do I keep laughing? Do I ignore borders and seek to include? Am I respectful? Compassionate? Whew. That’s rough. I ordered a Brewery Vivant Pitchfork before I sank too low into self-loathing. (A good beer, by the way).

So it turns out that yes, these are very good ideals for adults to embody. And not only that, if we want our kids to learn them, it has to start with us.

Will adults ever learn? Crusades, ISIS, etc.

prayer-breakfastThe next item up on our sheet was an invitation to respond to the comments made by President Obama at the recent National Prayer Breakfast. To recap, the most provocative part of his speech was in the context of religious violence, such as we’ve seen from ISIS recently:

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.

We asked: Was this an appropriate comparison? Can you really compare the Crusades to the actions of ISIS? Does Christian violence of centuries and centuries ago compare to current actions by these Muslim extremists?

In the public, some responded to the President’s remarks with complete outrage.

Jim Gilmore, the former GOP governor of Virginia, called the comments “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime.”

Catholic League President Bill Donohue demanded an apology.

Twitter had an aneurysm of outrage encapsulate by Tweets like this one: “Hey Obama, the difference between the #Crusades & Muslims now, is that JESUS DID NOT COMMAND HIS FOLLOWERS TO BEHAVE THAT WAY!”

Lest you think that was simply a tweet fired off in the heat of the moment, Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, put a more extended comment on Facebook that concurred:

Today at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President implied that what ISIS is doing is equivalent to what happened over 1000 years ago during the Crusades and the Inquisition. Mr. President–Many people in history have used the name of Jesus Christ to accomplish evil things for their own desires. But Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness. He came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life. Mohammad on the contrary was a warrior and killed many innocent people. True followers of Christ emulate Christ—true followers of Mohammed emulate Mohammed.

One person at the table last night concluded: “What an enormous display of ignorance.”

But what is being said here? The argument seems to be, “Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness, which everyone agrees is good. Mohammad taught killing. So he’s bad. Conclusion: Christians are better. Christians win.”

The problem, of course, is that—as we’ve already noted—any good child will not care one iota what you say, if you are behaving in an opposite fashion. The things you say to them and try to teach them verbally will be of very little value if not backed up with actions that correlate.

Did Jesus teach love and peace and forgiveness? Yes, I believe so. Does that mean Christians are above violence, as at least one Fox News personality asserted? Not hardly.

After mentioning the Crusades, the President went on to say: “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

He could have also mentioned, from the last century: apartheid in South Africa, perpetrated by and large by Dutch Christians; the holocaust, one of the greatest genocides in human history, perpetrated in Europe, by Christians; the genocide in Congo under King Leopold II of Belgium in which an estimated 10 million people were killed between 1885 and 1905, perpetrated by, you guessed it, Christians.

And then there is our own history here in the United States, which was founded on violence toward the indigenous population. Not to mention that we rank no.1 among developed nations in guns and gun deaths.  And have we already forgotten illegal US violent invasions of sovereign nations in the Middle East? Drone strikes? Snipers? We could go on… (Understanding that not all people in these situations were/are Christians, yet the majority of the population was/is of the Christian faith).

But, that’s right, I’m getting way off track here. Jesus taught love and peace and forgiveness. So Christians win, right?


In the first place, the whole idea of trying to compete between which religion is better is the wrong thing to be focusing on. Violence of any sort is wrong. Rather than getting caught up in keeping score about violence, let’s get caught up in working together for peace with people of all religious (and non-religious) traditions. Touting a scorecard about who is more violent than the other sounds rather petty and… childish. If you really want to add up all that bloodshed, sorry Christians, you’ll probably be leading the pack.

Let’s hear that advice to children one more time: Play. Ignore borders. Be resilient. Keep laughing. Be content. Be honest and respectful. Display empathy. Have compassion. Seek to include, rather than exclude.

I would love it if my kids learned and valued these things. Yet they’re not going to learn it out of thin air. It starts with me, and with the other grown-ups in their lives.  So what do you think, adults? It’s not what we say, it’s what we do. So let’s do it. Together.

The children, and our world, are depending on it.

bryan-2Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, writer, and author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God.  He insists that good things happen when we sit around the table together and talk about things that matter, and what better setting than at the pub, over a pint.


3 thoughts on “Advice to a Child

  1. I thought the post was full of insight and got to the point through a creative means; your opening question. I am going to try the same at God on Tap tonight in Aiken SC.


  2. “IS members are jihadists who adhere to an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam and consider themselves the only true believers. They hold that the rest of the world is made up of unbelievers who seek to destroy Islam, justifying attacks against other Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” (BBC News, What is Islamic State? 26 September 2014, retrieved 11/02/2015).

    There is a reason these people are called ‘extremists’. Christian ‘extremists’ have behaved in very similar ways throughout history, not just 1000 years ago. Islamic State is thriving on terror and violence, much like the Nazi regime (and others to a greater or lesser degree in other parts of the world). We cannot demonise Muslims, nor can we demonise, as some do, ‘religion’ itself.

    I loathe seeing Christianity used for political ends; it’s vile. Whatever you think of Obama’s politics, I think he was right in saying that Christianity has been used for evil in the same way that IS are currently using Sunni Islam for evil.

    If the US is Christian and Christ was non-violent, how come the US spends more money on their armed forces than the next 99 countries put together? Could it not be argued that the US uses warfare (and the potential for warfare) as an industry? On the other hand, we may all of us find ourselves glad they do if we end up with an IS created WWIII (God, save us from ourselves!).

    Finally, yes, I agree. It’s no good having the right rhetoric if I don’t practice what I preach. This is my primary goal as a parent.


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