December 19, 2009

What you learn from being a Dad... (or Mom)

From a piece titled The Gift of Authority, by Matt Teel, a former Episcopal priest, now a Catholic...

...Now, up until that point, I was not very happy with the lack of authority in the Episcopal Church. It seemed to me that anyone could do anything and call it legitimate. No one was really 'in charge.' The buck didn't stop anywhere.

With the Catholics, the buck stopped with the pope.

With the Baptists, the buck stopped with the Bible.

But we just muddled through and came to our own conclusions.

I remember one of my professors in seminary telling us, with some pride in his voice, that Anglicanism is 'Christianity for adults'—the implication being, of course, that we weren't like those 'children' in the other churches who needed to believe that they could get all the answers from someone. Only very weak people need to believe that the pope is infallible. Only very childish people need to believe that the Bible is infallible. We Anglicans don't need anything to be infallible: we are responsible for ourselves. Don't take your answers from some guy in Rome, we'd say, or some book (no matter how holy): forge your own path. Find your own way. Figure things out for yourself. This is Christianity for adults!

And as I said, I wasn't too enthusiastic about that, but I bought into it and I thought I could live with it. For a while.

And then I had my first child.
And it was the experience of having a child that forced me to the conclusion that that is a very sad way of exercising one's authority. Parents have a RIGHT to tell their child how to act, they have a DUTY to raise them right and tell them the truth, and they have a RESPONSIBILITY to give them direction.

Have you ever known a man or a woman who refused to take responsibility for raising their children? They don't want to tell the child to stop jumping on the couch because they don't want to be perceived as mean or grumpy. They don't want to tell the child to do his chores because they don't want to be perceived as a buzz-kill. They want to be the cool dad, the friend dad, the buddy dad. And what happens to those children? They generally act like brats and run roughshod all over everybody else and bring the whole family down around them. Which is basically what we see going on in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

It was the experience of having children and being a father that told me that NOT exercising the authority you've been given is actually very CRUEL.

Here's what I have learned in being a dad for twelve years: When you are speaking to your child, especially about something very important, you give them very clear and simple directions, so that they can understand what you're saying. And you tell them what the results will be if they decide not to follow through. And sometimes, that doesn't even require coming up with some elaborate punishment for them; sometimes, the results of their actions will be enough.

"Abby, don't stand on the coffee table or you'll fall and hurt yourself."

"Abby don't stand on the coffee table or you'll fall and hurt yourself."

"Abby don't—okay, see? What did I tell you? I told you you'd fall and hurt yourself and you did. Yes, I know it hurts. Yes, I still love you. But now you know, don't you?"

A good parent says, "This is what you need to do, and this is what will happen if you don't do it." Or he says, "Don't do that. And if you do, here are the consequences."

And it seemed to me that, no matter how much I loved Anglicanism—and she was a good mother to me in many ways—she had to do more than let me parent myself.

Here's another:

A good parent does not say something that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, unless it doesn't MATTER if it's interpreted a variety of ways.

My oldest daughter is a little Jesuit. We tell her all the time: she needs to go into the law as a profession: she will find the loophole in whatever direction you give her.

"I told you not to eat cookies before dinner."

"Yes, but you didn't say I couldn't eat a SANDWICH before dinner."

A good parent will frame his directions in such a way that he will catch the loopholes. Do you do that because you're the tyrant your children always say you are? No, you do it for their own good, even if they don't understand that.

Let me ask you: would you leave a morally ambiguous babysitter in charge of your children? Of course not. Would you leave NO babysitter in charge of your children? Of course not. But that's what I, as an Anglican, was asked to believe about Jesus: he left no one in charge. And if he did, the directions are so ambiguous they can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. Only a cruel or neglectful parent would do that...

Given the corrosiveness of human imagination and creativity and restlessness, it is simply not possible that Jesus could have left us without some rock-like infallible guide to conserve his message. Without that, the whole enterprise would be pointless.

People change things, sometimes out of sheer fidgetiness. And then they change the changes. And change the changes to the changes. And the people immersed in the changes become self-referential. The endlessly-mutated realm becomes the only reality they know, and they forget totally the original ideas. Reality drifts, and those inside the system don't even know it, unless they have some reference point outside.

Posted by John Weidner at December 19, 2009 9:06 PM
Weblog by John Weidner