How Parents Can Use Brett McCracken’s Wisdom Pyramid
Parents, we don’t usually give advice on the Rooted blog, but here’s a strong recommendation, if you will: buy or borrow a copy of Brett McCracken’s new book, The Wisdom Pyramid. Read it out loud with your family and talk about what its guidance looks like in concrete and specific ways in your home.
We reviewed The Wisdom Pyramid a couple of weeks ago on the blog, but my purpose here is different. I’d like to offer some practical ways to implement some of the things McCracken suggests in the life of your family.
His premise is simple. Noting that the sheer amount of information available to us is overwhelming and unhealthy, McCracken suggests that we approach information consumption like we do food consumption. The Wisdom Pyramid suggests we take the “nutritional” value of each information source and build a pyramid, with the most important sources building the foundation of our information intake. The sources he lists, from order of most important to least, include:
At the risk of stating the obvious: read the Bible with your children often- daily, if possible. This looks different depending on the age of your kids. When my kids were little, we read Scripture at the dinner table or after bathtime. By the time my kids were teens, breakfast worked better. As they sat munching their Cheerios, I would read the Bible and a devotion over them. I got little engagement at that early hour, but I also had a thoughtful audience. Or maybe they were still asleep. Still, the message was there: these words are the food your soul needs, as essential as breakfast and supper.
Give your child a carefully chosen Bible suited to his or her age. Consider giving a new Bible every few years, possibly at “milestone” moments: graduating to middle or high school, a profession of faith, high school graduation. Maybe your family develops a tradition that each child gets a new Bible for their fifteenth birthday. Ask your youth minister for recommendations about which ones resonate with kids your child’s age; they are familiar with several editions and will be helpful guides*. Your child will move into adulthood with a small stack of Bibles to take with them to their dorm or apartment.
Let your kids see you read your Bible every day. Work on spending more time in its pages than scrolling through your phone. (There is grace for this, but we can work to move in this direction.) Hold family devotions, but also refer to God’s Word casually in conversation, letting your kids know that Scripture shapes the way you think and make decisions. If you are so inclined, take notes in your Bible during sermons on Sunday. The goal is for your kids to experience your engagement with the physical book and with its contents as a matter of course in your everyday life. This is not for show. Devoting yourself to the Word will show your kids how to do the same.
Demonstrate and articulate the fact that God’s Word is the most reliable source of information we have about God, our world, ourselves, and each other.
Belonging to a church body is not optional for the Christian believer. God’s Word commands us to worship, pray, learn, teach, and serve in a local community. McCracken’ Wisdom Pyramid is concerned with how we get information, and the church is second only to the Bible itself as a source of truth we need for everyday life as a disciple of Christ.
McCracken rightly asserts that the church is “an interpretive community” which frees us from trying to understand the Bible on our own. The “collective wisdom” of the church’s teachings, traditions, and individual members instruct us in how the Christian life is lived, and this is information our children need. We demonstrate the value of the church by the ways we let our belonging shape our lives. In full view of our families, we invest our time, money, and service to this community and the people in it.
Prioritize church involvement for your family. Yes, this means Sunday mornings and Wednesday night suppers, but it might also mean skipping a weekend party in favor of the youth retreat or making financial sacrifices for your child to go on the summer mission trip. Host baby showers and small groups for church friends at your home and get your teenagers involved in the cooking and cleaning. Have your new driver take a home-cooked meal to a shut-in from the congregation. Stay informed about what your child is learning in youth group or Sunday school (serve as a volunteer!) and find ways to discuss what your child is learning and what you hear together in sermons into daily conversation.
Your family’s commitment to the church will help shape your child’s mind and heart towards a Christ-centered adulthood.
During the early days of the pandemic lockdown, I saw the sun, rain, and temperatures all work together to produce the loveliest, most fragrant blooming my yard has ever seen. The cardinals and wrens threw a party every day at the birdfeeder (the critters didn’t have to worry about social distancing). Life slowed to the measured daily rhythms of an Alabama springtime; its beauty lifted my eyes to the glory of the Creator and tuned my heart to praise Him.
At a time when bad news was relentless, I found tremendous comfort in being outdoors, because “nature reminds us that the world is bigger than the one we’ve made” (p.101).
The natural world reveals so much about our Creator, and our kids can learn at a very early age to see God’s fingerprints all over it. I learned to garden at the hip of my grandmother, who told me Jesus’ parables as we sowed seeds into cool soil. We pondered what God was doing when He made everything from earthworms (to work the soil) to owls (God’s pest control team). We made crafts from pinecones and harvested figs from my favorite climbing tree. Nature connected me to both God and my grandmother. We as parents can follow my grandmother’s example.
Neighborhoods, parks, greenways, and nature preserves are ideal places for family walks, picnics, and hikes. Yard work and outdoor community service will hep kids learn practical skills and feel the good-tired of a hard day’s work. Pets – even goldfish! – help our kids learn responsibility, stewardship, and tenderness. Even nature documentaries can provide a way in to conversation with our kids about what God is revealing about Himself, and about our place, in His creation.
As a former English teacher, I lament the fact that schools are not only teaching fewer classics, but by and large school systems are not replacing classics with well-written books that actually interest teenagers. Parents can have influence here. Christmas, birthday, Valentines’ Day- give your kids books. Make sure they have a library card. Through books, our kids confront the unfamiliar and imagine the unimaginable, all in the safe confines of the couch in the den. Nonfiction books about history, science, and culture help our kids develop interests they may not pursue in school. Good stories found in fiction are an unparalleled vehicle for developing empathy and integrity because readers must “walk” a few hundred pages in the characters’ shoes. Give them biography and memoir, too, so they can meet powerful, admirable, and fallible humans from history.
Seeing your nose in a book will spur your kids’ curiosity. Talk to your kids about what you are reading. If your children get the idea that they will graduate from books when they graduate from school, they won’t develop a reading habit that will enrich their hearts and minds for a lifetime.
Beauty is everywhere in both nature and good books, but other forms of art also instruct us in wisdom. McCracken writes, “Beauty is beautiful because it demonstrates man’s creative capacity to make new things out of the raw materials God provides” (134). He cites Van Gogh’s Starry Night as one man’s vision of the evening which God created. The great music of Bach and Mozart was written to be played on instruments created from God’s trees.
Our teenagers experience beauty through concerts, galleries, museums, and performances, but we can invite them to participate in creating beauty. In doing so, they are living out the image of their Creator and experiencing the joy He wants to give us in the creative process. If a child has a talent for music or dance, wonderful! Help them pursue their passion. But art is also the perfect place to help your child experience joy apart from natural talent or performance.
It doesn’t matter at all if your child can paint a beautiful sunset – if he likes to paint, get him some supplies and set him up in your garage and let him paint. If your daughter can’t carry a tune in a bucket but she loves to sing, drive her to choir every week and don’t miss a concert. Don’t pretend the child has special ability when she does not but do celebrate the happiness she feels while she’s creating. Set her free from having to perform at some level of excellence and allow participation in creation to be beautifully satisfying.
The Internet and Social Media
I will not be prescriptive here. Suffice it to say that the internet occupies the same space in the wisdom pyramid that fats and sugar occupy in the food pyramid: use sparingly. Just like Oreos and French fries, social media fills without nourishing. McCracken rightly notes that all the levels of the food pyramid are necessary, in proper proportions, while in the wisdom pyramid, only the Bible and the church are essential.
Each individual family will come up with guidelines for internet and social media use, hopefully developed with wisdom and prayer. If we engage our families with our Bibles and our churches, the beauty of nature and the wonder of good books, our children will be so captivated by the glories of real life with God that online unreality will taste bland in comparison.
*A quick text to minister Chelsea Erickson got this reply: “We give our sixth graders the NIV Study Bible with notes by Phillip Yancey. I like the NIV for students. Language is a little easier and it says, “brothers and sisters” wherever it’s true to the Greek.” Your youth pastor is a wealth of helpful information!