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In the world, but not of the world

Originally Appeared in : 9914-7/4/19
Leftover Chinese food and straight to bed sounds like a blessing to most adults and all parents (Magan: “Can I do that, every night?”), but a curse to any child less than two weeks into summer vacation.
 
That’s what stared Jesse straight in the face after an epic fail in attempting to draw a rise out of his older brother at a computer coding class hosted by our local library.
 
The library was an occasional stop for us when I was a child, typically to pay off a forgotten late fee or look over maps since the AAA wasn’t open for dad to pick up his free road atlas.
Now, most library patrons come for the free internet access, or to further their genealogy research, than to actually check out books.
 
We are contrarians in that regard, checking out so many books that the librarians recently raised our book limits to levels unheard of in the modern era.
 
Magan has also taken advantage of the library’s summer reading and activity programs to supplement and avert any summer swoon, hence the computer coding class.
 
When Magan’s phone rang and showed “Noah” on the screen, I picked it up expecting a report of Atari-style stick figures shooting a basketball or, those same figures performing some sort of bodily function. (They are boys, after all.)
 
Me: How’d they do?
 
Noah: They did okay. Jesse made a man with a bow and arrow and had it shooting at a man with an apple in his mouth. One of the moms said, “Well, isn’t that violent.”
 
Me: Do what?!
 
Jesse walked through the door with a sour look on his face, already aware that I was not very pleased.
 
“Jesse, why on earth did you code that?” I asked.
 
“I thought it was funny,” he said.
 
“Where did you get an idea like that?”
 
“The apple in the mouth was from Spongebob, but I thought it would make Simon laugh.”
 
“Well there’s nothing funny about that. If somebody didn’t know you well, they’d think you had anger issues. You can eat supper and go straight to bed.”
 
Jesse received a second talking to from his mother, who proceeded to use his digital retelling of William Tell to reinforce her disdain for the “blame thing” (TV). The collateral damage of Jesse’s choice was real, especially for his pops.
 
Simon had falsely assumed that his testimony against Jesse had served as a plea deal, but only delayed and distracted Magan and my attention from his own coding faux pas.
 
The usual recipient of similar constructive criticism and early trips to bed had survived the evening relatively unscathed until it was revealed that his stick figure had been coded to say, “Whoopsie, I (broke wind).”
 
“Simon Anthony, that’s unacceptable,” Magan said. “Y’all are going to have people thinking that’s all we talk about around here, and give homeschoolers a bad name. You should be ashamed.”
 
It was honestly hard for me to keep a straight face through all of it because I did much, much worse than either of our boys when I was their age, but Magan and I wanted them to understand that their vain attempts at humor said the wrong things about who they are as people, and also misrepresent their faith.
 
The boys were facing a challenge all of us have to constantly combat: to be in the world but not of the world.
 
Instead of being focused on pleasing others through vulgar humor, the Bible calls for us to put our focus on being pleasing to God in our thoughts, acts and words.
 
Psalm 119:9 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to your word.”
 
By the weekend, the dust had settled and a failed search for a new desk led to a stop for hot eats and cool treats. As our pile of people barreled toward the front door, Jesse broke away from the pack to open the door for everyone, including several other couples, and the store manager.
 
The manager was so impressed with Jesse’s chivalry, and our other children’s overall politeness, that he gave each a token for a free Dilly Bar.
 
I made sure Jesse saw the juxtaposition of his behavior from one day to the next, and how something far greater than ice cream awaited him in heaven if he kept focused on being a good example.
 
Then Isaac announced that he had broke wind, and I realized I’ll be having these talks for years to come.
 
Jason Halcombe has five sons and two daughters. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.
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