A Child’s Highest Praise: ‘Let’s Do That Again!’

If you have been a parent for more than ten minutes, you already know that the single-highest praise a child can offer to any activity is something along the lines of, “I want to do that again…right now!” Although it can be physically and emotionally exhausting to a grown-up to repeat the exact same activity over and over again for the benefit of a small child who is still capable of delighting in “the smaller things” of life, we typically do it anyway simply because we love our kids and delight in their joy.

On our better days, perhaps we even capture that childlike joy for ourselves from a boomerang that is perfectly thrown, a well-designed Hot Wheels track that takes up the entire living room or simply wearing a cape and jumping back and forth from the sofa to the ottoman without cracking open our skulls.

Back in June, I posted a blog to ESI entitled, “The Ultimate Action Figure,” in which I confessed my somewhat-inappropriate level of interest in all things Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. I’m not sure if it’s sad or glorious trying to decide who is more excited about a newly-acquired toy, the six-year-old or the 51-year-old, but at least my wife and I had the good sense to try to leverage this nonstop interest in action heroes as the perfect moment in our son’s life to introduce him to the Ultimate Action Hero, the One who holds dominion over absolutely everything, Jesus of Nazareth. So it was that we agreed to acquire a copy of the ECPA Medallion of Excellence-winning, Sergio Cariello-illustrated Action Bible.

Clearly, without doubt, one of the best decisions we made in 2012.

When the book arrived at our house, I can admit that I was at least a little bit concerned that our son would find reading The Action Bible every night somewhat similar to eating one’s vegetables or flossing one’s teeth – “something you have to do that’s good for you…but not tremendously fun.” I needn’t have been the least bit concerned. After only a few nights of Action Bible at bedtime, our child began anticipating what would happen next with that foolish, crazy man Samson, or wondering “why Jesus gets to rename people” like Simon and Saul once they give their lives over to Him.

In addition to warning parents that their kid’s numerous questions may take them much further into Christian theology than they had intended at the end of a day, I thought it good to report that my son and I finished up Revelation this past week, looked at each other, and decided to start over in Genesis. For what it’s worth, I was fully prepared for Action Bible time to have run its course and to become a nice memory from the Summer and Fall of 2012. Whatever we decided, I wanted it to be an accurate reflection of what our son wanted, not an activity imposed on him by one or both of his parents. As we go back to God’s Spirit hovering over the waters in the book of Genesis, I thought it might help to report a few other highlights of this experience together in the Word of God:

  1. In our house, reading The Action Bible has very clearly become “a dude thing.” When I purchased this book back in June, it was certainly not with the intention that reading it would become exclusively an activity for my son and I to share; I had visions in my head of Mom reading to him as well. Perhaps my son picked up on how psyched I was when the book showed up on our doorstep, or maybe it became a natural extension of our dudely interest in action heroes, but for whatever reason, nightly readings of The Action Bible have become an exclusively father/son activity. On those rare nights when I am not home by his bedtime, my son’s preference is to hold off on reading further into the text “until Daddy is here to read and put me to bed.”
  2. It took less than four months for us to complete the book, Genesis to Revelation. Obviously, a great deal of “the Bible for big people” did not make its way into this illustrated version, that should be obvious. Nevertheless, this volume is fairly thick, and yet here we are starting all over again in Genesis less than four months later. We took a very relaxed approach to our nightly readings as well, trying as best we could to avoid being Junior Legalists about our Action Bible time. There were a few nights when I was not home by his bedtime, and there were a few nights when one or both of us were exhausted, struggling to be patient and kind, or just plain acting ignorant. (It’s a toss-up to decide which one of us those labels applied to most often.) So rather than force the situation or try to “grit our teeth” as best we could through another session with God’s Word, we would shut out the light and assure each other that we’d find out what happened to Esther tomorrow night.
  3. My son now knows several key biblical truths of which he was previously unaware. I’ve had a coloring page of Saul of Tarsus – getting knocked off his horse on the road to Damsacus by Jesus – hanging on the wall of my home office for years now. (Somewhat ironically, this particular coloring page was completed by my 19-year-old daughter as she helped other kids color in Crossing Kid’s Ministries…no matter!) This office decoration has hung by my desk for quite some time, largely unnoticed. Now that he knows the basic storyline behind the conversion of the Apostle Paul, though, our son is able to describe in fairly-impressive detail what exactly is going on in the drawing. In a similar manner, stories that have been adapted into various Veggie Tales episodes seem to have become “more real” now that he has been exposed to a “more flesh-and-blood version” of them. These are just two examples to make the point that my wife and I can both very clearly see “switches being thrown” and connections being made that are helping our son place biblical characters in the correct context and relating them to “bigger picture” items such as how we make God sad, how much God loves us even when we do bad things, etc.
  4. Interesting theological discussions don’t take place just at bedtime. Again, your mileage may vary on this point, but something else I have noticed is that my son’s questions or comments about God, the world, sin, death, renewal and ultimate restoration (my words, not his) now have a common touchpoint for further discussion. For example, a conversation about why our hearts tend to go bad can now be compared and contrasted with our mutual experience of Adam and Eve in paradise as we experienced it through our reading time together. Since we cannot possibly “engineer” our conversations to take advantage of the teachable moments that life brings about, it’s deeply helpful for the two of us to call to mind the same words and imagery that helped us understand why we sometimes say bad things, think bad things or inexplicably try to hurt others.
  5. We haven’t stopped reading about Batman, Spider-Man and other action heroes, nor do we intend to. In case you have not met me or my wife, we are not the stereotypical “By golly, absolutely everything must be Christian-ized!” couple. We might have a few Crossing T-shirts in our wardrobe here and there, but we do not hold “secular” offerings such as Batman and Superman in contempt, nor do we always have “Christian music” playing in our home. I am personally uncomfortable with the labels “secular” and “Christian-ized” because I believe that God is Lord over all creation, “the whole shootin’ match,” and because we tend to relentlessly image God even as we tell stories that (on the surface, anyway) appear to have nothing to do with Jesus Christ, everything God has created is good, and even just a little discernment can help us sift through just about anything the world has to offer in a redemptive context. (I’m sure the folks who created Bibleman meant well, but you know, there’s probably plenty of reasons why Batman holds more appeal for most of us.)

From what I have written above, it should be obvious that I am a huge advocate for The Action Bible, but above and beyond that I would say that I am even more of an advocate for spending the time together required for reading it from cover to cover.

My son is well able to read already, and indeed I have walked into his bedroom more than once to find him leafing his way through the pages of his Action Bible, but our experience of the book together was – for both of us – the commitment that truly “sealed the deal.” I suppose it is perfectly acceptable to buy a copy of this book for one’s child and hand it to them to read on their own, but in our house such an approach has become unthinkable. I didn’t just hand my kid a book and hope for the best; instead, I handed him a book, my own unmistakable enthusiasm and (perhaps most importantly) my commitment. I don’t often hit what I would call a home run in the parenting department, but that gift of my time just might have made it over the fence.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (ESV)
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”

Psalm 19:7-11 (ESV)
The law of the Lord is perfect,
  reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure,
  making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
  rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
  enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
  enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
  and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
  even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
  and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
  in keeping them there is great reward.

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