Saturday, August 04, 2012

Some Thoughts About Honor And Fatherhood

Shortly after I had become a Christian, I found myself spending a great deal of time with people who identified themselves as "Jesus freaks" or "Jesus people". Some of those people were older than I, sometimes by as much as ten years or more. There were exceptions, of course, but in general, I found people in my own age group to be pretty boring and uninspiring people. The older Christians with whom I had begun to spend time made me feel loved and valued.

In theory, my father ought to have approved of the way I was spending my time. I could have easily spent my evenings doing drugs with kids from the high school I attended, since such things were hardly unknown. My father had spent at least 6 years of my early childhood behind the pulpit of two United Methodist country churches, and I suspect that the years I'd spent admiring him from the front pews of those churches had played a major role in making me sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

But by the early seventies, those things had become inaccurate indications of where my dad's mind was at. My father had begun to chafe at the bit, and he was showing signs that he resented playing a role which he seemed to regard as the role of a "goody two shoes". (I know this for a fact, thanks to a little drive he took me on one night in the subdivision where we lived at the time. Even though he was a member of the clergy, he made it clear to me that he was questioning the basic tenets of the Christian faith.) In hindsight, his ministry as a Methodist "lay minister" seems to have been motivated by self-centered reasons, not by any passion for people or for Jesus Christ. So when he saw evidence of my growing faith in Christ, he seems to have felt threatened, to the point that he clamped down on me and set restrictions which hindered my ability to fellowship with the very people who helped to nourish me spiritually. In particular, I remember that he told me one night that he no longer would allow me to attend a local prayer meeting at a place in downtown Springfield, MO named The Jesus Place.

I tried to be an obedient son for the most part, but it seemed to me that he crossed the line when he demanded that I relinquish the very relationships which had caused me for the first time in my life to be genuinely excited to be a Christian.

So when he forbade me from going to the Jesus Place, I disobeyed him and went anyway.

Years later, I spoke with a Christian "friend" in Springfield, MO, named Rick Armstrong. Rick had his good points, but I thought he was absolutely wrong when he chastised me for what he saw as my disobedience, after I had told him about that earlier incident. In Rick's view, parents reigned as absolute authorities, and believers ought not to ever disobey their parents for any reason. I repeat: FOR ANY REASON. (Ironically, Rick, the paragon of virtue who ostensibly would never disobey his parents, had at one point in his life been a dealer of crack cocaine. I'd never even smoked a joint.)

The implications of that extreme view were recently brought to my awareness once again after I borrowed a friend's DVD for the Viggo Mortensen movie entitled "Eastern Promises". The movie begins with a scene in which we see a guy sitting in a barber's chair at a place owned by a Russian guy named Azim. Azim and his customer are having what appears to be the sort of conversation which takes place at barber shops all over the world. The barber's son walks in the door, and the conversation turns to the subject of disobedient children. Azim tells the customer that his son is a disobedient young man, and cannot or will not even do a simple thing for him. The customer defends the young man, in essence saying that Azim should give the young man a break. Then Azim's speach becomes more harsh as he rebukes his son for his disobedience. He hands a straight-edge razor to his son, and commands the son to do what he was told to do. Too late, the customer experiences comprehension (and probably terror). The deed Azim wants his son to do is to take the razor and murder the customer, which the son does by slicing the customer's throat as blood spurts out, and as his father holds the customer down. (Shades of Sweeney Todd.)

It ought to go without saying that one's moral responsibilities to one's parents does not include the duty to commit murder. Such situations are not common, but they do happen, as many children of mafioso have attested over the years. The existence and perpetuation of crime syndicates has long relied upon a misguided and perverted sense of family loyalty. The mob often uses words like "honor", but it's clear from that organization's manner of operating that mobsters wouldn't recognize real honor if it bit them on their behinds.

Thank God, my father's immorality did not go that far. The worse thing my father ever asked me to do was to refrain from criticizing him when I came to realize that he had been committing adultery and betraying his marital vows. But I think that the fundamental point ought to be clear: No believer in Christ has the absolute responsibility to obey his or her parents in any and all circumstances. There may be times when one's faith comes into conflict with one's family obligations, and in such cases, one's priorities are clear.

One's obligations to one's heavenly father usurp one's temporal obligations every time. When we stand before God on Judgment Day, God and God alone will determine how we will spend eternity.

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