Honoring But Not Obeying Your Parents

When we men approach the powers of our boyhood kingdoms, our families and culture, we must wisely detach ourselves from its forces without succumbing to the false elusion that we have somehow left behind the junk.  One form of distortion is what van Kaam calls “Sociohistoricism.” This happens when we blame all of our woes on the failures of our parents or the trappings of our culture.  “Our culture hates men,” one fellow remarks, “and if my father would have been more caring, I might believe in God.”  I don’t mean to diminish these sometimes-tragic experiences, but as we walk toward the right cross, we will get sucked into the vortex of disappointment and depression if we blame the harshness of life on our traditions.

This is perhaps one reason why some men reject their parents outright.  When they do so, they cut themselves off from the likely reality that their parents did at least something right.  The good we inherited from our parents gets choked off as we react to our pain.  And men stuck here live their lives in a perpetually repeating tragedy.  We begin hating something we will never be able to shed.  Yes, we are the heirs of a mixed package, but the more we can learn to appreciate the situation into which we were “dipped,” the more we can shrug off the bad and enhance the good.  And when we come to see that honoring our parents as adult children does not always mean obeying them, we are free to react less allergically to the ongoing internal force that our culture and heritage have on us.

Setting Spirits on Fire with Affection for the Prophets…

Another story is told about a young man destined to encounter this powerful way through an old Christian man. The lad thought of himself as a “lover of wisdom” and nothing more. In his day, the boy had no Christian point of reference or roots. One day he found himself not far from the sea walking through the reeds atop its cliffs. The old man spotted the lad from a distance and followed him. When the boy finally noticed the old shadow maker, the lad confronted him. “Are you following me, man?” Without hesitation, the frail man suggested he was simply out looking for a lost member of his household.

The old man asked what brought the boy there. The boy answered that he was out to practice thinking, in peace. The old man replied, “Are you then a lover of words, rather than a lover of deeds and of truth? Do you not strive to be a practical man rather than a philosopher”? Now in deep conversation, the two discussed philosophy, justice, and the soul. The young lad eventually embraced the foundations of Christ’s Way that day and would become one of our well-known Christian apologists in the early Church. Justin Martyr, a Roman boy, who grew up in Samaria, lived in a day quite similar to our own. He shared his culture’s love of wisdom and helped his culture see that Christ’s way exemplified and transcended Greco-Roman life. It fulfilled all of its longings.

Shortly after his encounter with the old man, Justin—reflecting on that momentous day—remembered that his, “spirit was immediately set on fire, and an affection for the prophets, and for those who are friends of Christ, took hold of me; while pondering on [the old man’s] words, I discovered that his was the only sure and useful philosophy.” In our day, marked by the mingling of humanity amidst a growing urban jungle, the best of North American life must be of a kind that sets spirits on fire with affection for the prophets and love for the friends of Christ. Like Justin in the Greco-Roman world, I believe that the DNA of the Christian message has the power today to help create the best possible North America filled with the best possible North Americans.

What Happens When You Put an American on a Hot Crowded Bus in Sri Lanka

She was the end of my rope, this fat, bare-armed Buddhist woman. Before this I thought I could handle almost any challenge posed by the transportation world. I had mastered the art of tolerating airplanes and the odor of humanity wafting through.  I had endured a freezing sixteen-hour bus ride through the snowy Balkan Mountains. Just fine. I had settled in to the communal bunks of the Indian sleeper train well. I had even come to enjoy the places of our world where – when there is no room left on the bus – they find a way to fit thirty more bodies aboard.

But this was it.  I was sure to crack.

On the hottest day, on the middle of the Equator, in a packed city bus, this abundant woman stopped right in front of me.  My American judgments against obesity and my individual need for space collided in slow motion. But there was no time to react. Over her shoulder, she eyed the vacant half seat I was using for balance.  Then down, down she came.  I moved my arm just before she would have snapped it like a birch twig.   I felt our bodies melding together, her hips into mine, my thighs with hers.

Our bare arms and shoulders—I was sleeveless too—pressed into one another and stuck like a naked back on a leather seat.  I closed my eyes resisting every temptation to flee (where was I going to go in this sardine can?)  I needed something quick before I lost it; I was going to explode.

What if I had taken a few more classes on Theravada Buddhism?  Would it have prepared me for this moment?  What of intercultural theory? Could I have reasoned my way through it? No.  This was pure emotion and the unmasking of something buried deep inside.  It was anger. Though my wisdom has grown since, I doubt I could reproduce the miracle that happened to me that day.  No, she did not move to a different seat.  I found the will to love and abandoned myself to the ancient practice of appreciation.

As I centered my mind in that fateful moment, something happened I did not predict.  It was as if a flood of appreciative power swept over me. Where did it come from?  I had no idea. Not from the reserves of my own impatient spirit.  I knew that much.  My anguish turned to serenity. “I am touching this person, bare arm to bare arm”, I thought.  “How lucky I am to be able to touch another person.  How many humans in this world, in my homeland, live their lonely years without ever feeling the warmth of human-to-human touch?”  Don’t get me wrong.  This was not a perverted thought.  Trust me.  I was in no way attracted to this woman.  It was a letting go of the need for control.  It was a moment where I perceived the hidden nobility in this woman, and we shared a moment of unavoidable contact.  I experienced a form of power that day.  It was not the kind that demanded entitlements or sought to justify my superiority.  It freed me to love this life even when everything else seemed to implode. Appreciative abandon saved me on that momentous occasion, on a hot bus, in Sri Lanka.


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Manhood Dipped in Society

When Jesus suggested that his mother and brothers were those whoever did the will of his Father in heaven, he was seriously challenging natural affinities.  He had emerged into public life sometime earlier and was now building a movement.  Before it was too late, his Mother and brothers came to silence him.  When you follow Jesus, at some point, your mother and brothers will come to silence you.  He was at a party, a gathering and took the opportunity to show us something important about discipleship and secondarily about manhood. What was it about Jesus that allowed him at that moment to stand up under the greatest pressure: your family working the will of society and its demands?  And in what way is Jesus calling all men to a similar oaklike resolve?

In his theory on human formation, van Kaam gives ample place to the traditions of our homeland.  “Our life is not a blank, empty page on which people can write anything they want…social historicity touches infants deeply.  They are, as it were, dipped in it until it has saturated their little incipient personality.”[1]  Our parents pass on their gold and gutter material they inherited from their father and mothers.  And in the later years of our lives, no matter how far we run or how uniquely we adapt it, our heritage stays with us, impacting how we see the world or react against it.  On the journey to manhood, we cannot ignore force or scope of our social history.

How have you seen our American society get it right or get it wrong on true manhood?

[1] van Kaam, TF, pp 156-7.

Saturdays Through Ephesians

For me and my family, Saturdays are for rest and the Word of God.  For a time, I am dwelling in Ephesians, so I thought I would invite you along.  What you will read is my translation, which like Eugene Peterson’s translation, reads more like a paraphrase than a literal interpretation.  So, with that in mind, here’s hoping that Saturdays through Ephesians gives us both rest in a restless age.

Ephesians 5: 21-33

Wives should submit to their own men as to the Lord, because a man is the head of the woman like Christ is the head of the Church and savior of the body.  So, as the church submits to Christ, so also women should submit to men in all ways.

Men, love the women just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her.  He did it so that he might dedicate her, cleansing her in the word like washing with water. And in love, he gave himself up for her too that he might present the church to himself just as she should be: without stain or wrinkle or any of these things. His gave his love and his life so that the church might be holy and without blemish.

In this way also, men should love their own women.  You owe it to them as much as you owe it to your own bodies.  The one who loves his own wife, loves himself.

For nobody ever hates his own body but he feeds and cares for it just as Christ feeds and cares for the Church. And we are members of his body.  “Because of this, a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife.  And the two will be one in the flesh.”

This is the great mystery.  But I am speaking to Christ and to the church.

But, you guys, each to your own wife, give love to her as you would give it to yourself, so that the woman will have cause to truly revere her man.

Moves Like Jagger: A short update

The Jaggers have moved.   Well, that’s not news to most of you.  After 6 years in Kentucky and picking up 2 beautiful girls along the way, our time in the South is done (for now).  Our goal is to be living in Scotland by the start of October, with me heading there on September 1.

In the mean time, we are flexing our nomadic muscles and traveling through the Midwest to see family and friends before we leave.  I am doing some prep work for the PhD (including 19 books to digest) and working diligently on visa applications and finding accommodation (do you know anybody who will rent out a cottage near St. Andrews for cheap?)

So, what does a father and husband with PhD aspirations do while getting ready for such an adventure?

  • Try to teach Claire how to ride her bike without training wheels
  • Hold Autumn a few times a day and get as many smiles out of her as possible
  • Focus on the Historical Jesus with emphasis on reading some recent texts about him
  • Spend 6 hours on a Sunday making sure I’ve read the UK Student Visa policy right
  • Get addicted to the Voice and America’s Got Talent.
  • Become a Pro Tennis Star on Wii Sports
  • Steal some exhausted moments with Eve at the edges of the day
  • And appreciate the moments after a flood of high school memories come back and when I sense that the Spirit has handled me gently.

And for those of you who care (I think there are a few who do), I plan to keep blogging next year and will try to keep up some this summer as the words come out.  For now, I will be done focussing on Appreciation and the Will to Love.  Rather, I will be proving that “Thriving Among the Lilies” is indeed a manly title by posting excerpts up from recent writings on three somewhat divergent topics: Spirituality, Global Community, and Manhood.


Making all Heaps New: A Guest Post by Ruth Burgner

March 27th was a warm, spring-like day.  Greg and I made the short drive to a friend’s house to see the wreckage of a car.  It had been Greg’s car—his 1968 Easter-egg blue Karmann Ghia, a car he had loved and in which, apart from the grace of God, he would have died.  Greg’s head-on collision happened one year and three months earlier.  He has been mercifully healed, and now—finally—I wanted to see the car.

Our friend, Avery, has a work area in his backyard filled with resurrected (or about-to-be resurrected) old cars, including a restored 1957 Bel Air.  He’s a skilled mechanic who takes great joy in seeing old heaps come back to life.  Walking back to where Avery and his son were at work on Greg’s car was like walking into a surgical theatre of a great doctor.  By now Greg’s car had been disassembled so that the chassis was exposed.  Avery has plans for this. He’s going to make it into a three-wheeler.  And his son is going to make the rear end of the Karmann Ghia into a couch, if you can believe it.  The front half of Greg’s car was smashed to smithereens, (it’s unbelievable that Greg is walking, let alone living).  Another friend who has two Karmann Ghias is going to come and salvage some parts even from this wreckage.

It was a curious thing to me that I wanted to see the car now, of all times.  Maybe it’s because something good is being made of this awful, unthinkable thing.  The time we spent in our friend’s yard Sunday seemed somehow sacred.  Resurrection, redemption, restoration, mercy, friendship, care, rescue—all such life-giving stuff–seemed as present there as the old cars that surrounded us.

Of course, you can probably imagine where I’m going with this.  God is able to take wreckage and make it new.  We say that kind of stuff all the time to each other.  We read about it in our devotionals and in the Scripture.  But I’m thinking today that every day, like Avery, we get to participate in restorative, redemptive work.  We get to pour our hearts out to God and ask forgiveness for the wreckage we made of our yesterdays and commit ourselves freshly to walking with Him. We get to ask forgiveness of people in our lives and pledge to, through God’s grace, make a better go of things.  We get to select spiritual friends who will talk straight with us, and help point us to our roadblocks and blindspots, and help form us into the image of Christ. We get to participate in God’s healing and justice in the world.  (Just this month, a missionary friend has traveled to a war-torn African nation to adopt an orphan boy.)  At every decision of our day, every Y in the road, we get to choose a path that will lead to formation, rather than deformation.  We get to choose beauty and restoration and something new. With the resurrection of Jesus, the new creation has begun, and we get to be part of it!