A few months ago a friend of mine, Aaron, and I were discussing Vern Poythress, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Poythress had taken an unusual approach to raising his sons. Dr. Poythress essentially has borrowed from the Jewish tradition of training and ceremony that is the bar mitzvah and put it in a Christian context.
God gave me two boys to raise, Ransom and Justin. Ransom is now 14 years old and is already a Christian man. Justin is a Christian boy 12 years old, and is training to become a man before he is 13. What is going on here?
Something special. I believe that God has given to my wife Diane and me a special idea about raising boys, an idea that may be of use to you if you have sons in your family. We have created a special celebration and ceremony to introduce them to Christian manhood. This celebration we call “Bar Jeshua,” that is, “son of Jesus.” This celebration marks the point at which a boy becomes a man, a mature disciple of Jesus.
Is such a thing weird? We don’t think so. Let me tell you about it.
You can read the rest here. Having sons that we want to grow up to be solid, dependable Christian men, we want to get and keep them on that path. While it might not be the exact path Dr. Poythress has taken with this sons, there’s no denying his path is one of inspiration. So we took action.
Aaron, myself and several other men in our congregation all have kids in the 10 and under age range, so we decided to set up a night for all of us “men” (both way over and under slightly ten years old) to gather together and it happened a couple of Fridays ago at my homestead. It was great time. Started around 6 pm and wrapped up around 830 pm with more than half festivities being after dark — darkness being an important fun factor for the ten and under set. Even though it rained for at least a third of the time, it all seemed to be great fun.
Why do it?
When I looked at all these boys and dads together I couldn’t help but think: We will probably know each other for decades. Our bond? Not family. Not a hobby. Not a political party. Not a neighborhood. Something much more real. Our faith. As such these boys will be relying on us dads and each other to keep on the straight and narrow. Common sense tells you that works better when time has been spent in friendship and fun. Hopefully gatherings like this will happen frequently.
It’s good for the dads, too. My family and I have only been at our church for a year and with four kids to wrangle every Sunday it can be a challenge to get to know the fellow dads beyond the, “So how’s it goin'” level. The evening was a big help.
How to do it? (Or at least how we did it)
The structure of structured events can get in the way of genuine camaraderie. When we were planning this I asked Aaron, “Any ideas on what kind of activities for this?” His reply was something like, “I think their ages will be enough to keep them active.” (To his credit, he managed to say this without adding, “Don’t over think things, dufus.”) The boys did what boys do. Ran around, laughed and were loud.
What I’m getting at: it’s easy.
I’m blessed to live on a homestead that’s a few acres and half-wooded. Boys like outdoors. Boys love woods. The center of the evening was our fire pit. It was also the only source of warmth and food. (More about that later.) Don’t have a fire pit? Go to this Old School Rules post and build one. Live in a more suburban area? Pack a few coolers and head to the country for an evening.
When Part 1
Dark is good. I’ll say it again. Dark is good. Kids love dark. Sunset was seven o’clock. My friends started to arrive at six. The boys needed no structure as their inherent “boyness” supplied all the instruction they needed.
When guests started arriving the fire was already blazing. This is important. If you’re Les Stroud, TV’s Survivorman, you can start a fire with a caterpillar, a piece of tree bark and a Tic Tac. If you’re me, even at my Old School best, fire starting may be a problem and it will be a problem if it was drizzling like it was that evening. Starting the fire at five instead of five minutes to six was a big help in the peace of mind department. Plus, as much all the other dads are stand up guys, not one of them would have the strength of character to not mock me as I struggled. Of course, if you look in the Old School Handbook, it is required to mock a bud when he’s having trouble starting a fire.
Eats began around seven.
When you’re sending out the invites for the gathering, include this line: “If there are any food allergies or sensitivities present, give me a heads up ahead of time and we’ll do everything we can to accommodate them.” One of the little men has a strong lactose intolerance. His dad brought some non-milk chocolate for the s’mores and my wife picked up some soy chocolate milk so he wasn’t left out of the cocoa drinking. That way the little man could pig out on as much unhealthy man grub as everyone else.
Drinks: Hot chocolate, water. (Keep in mind, this was fall and about 55 degrees outside.)
Snacks: Chips & cheese puffs.
Side dish: Campfire beans with bacon given the Smokin’ Hot Wife treatment (that means she does something mysterious to them which makes them taste like the best beans ever), warmed in a Dutch oven pot sitting in fire pit. Served with a wood spoon. This type of bean dish is so Old School, every time you lift up the lid you can hear a cowboy playing a harmonica.
Main course: Hot dogs. If you don’t already have them, pick up a few campfire skewers (they’re cheap) so each kid can cook his own dog if he wants. The great thing about hot dogs as opposed to other meats is that they are precooked. In others, they are “unscrewupable”.
Dessert: S’mores (Marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers, fire)
When Part 2
This is where the dark comes in. My wife found these inexpensive battery powered LED mini-lanterns. Not enough to light up a campsite, but more than enough light up a tent or a path for a herd of young boys. Picked up ten of them. We gave the kids lanterns and set them loose on the wooded hillside. Did I mention there’s no need for structure? As the dads stayed near the fire pit (more about that later) we saw dots of light weaving in through the woods like a herd of giant fireflies. They screamed. Ran. Carried their lanterns in one hand and their toy guns in the other. If we let them, the boys would have run through the woods until they collapsed from exhaustion. It was at that exact moment I thought to myself, “This is good. Must do this again.”
There was a light drizzle (sometime not so light) through about a third of the evening. The kids didn’t care. We five dads confined ourselves under a large six foot patio umbrella for much of the rain. Thankfully, the kids were too preoccupied with fun to call us out on this lack of adventure. Oddly enough, back in January two of the men underneath this umbrella were part of the church camping trip in nine degree weather. Hypothermia? Bring it. Sogginess? Where’s the umbrella?!?!?
So if you’re a father of a young boy, gather up your buds and their kids and plan a get together.
And most of all, your boys deserve it.