Saturday, June 15, 2019

Father's Day

Apparently, the first Father's Day was held in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1908.  It was initiated by a man's daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd.  Her mother had died and she had been raised by her loving father.  While listening to a sermon on Mother's Day, she had the idea of honoring her Father who had given so much to her.  The idea spread to Virginia and then Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday.  Eventually, Congress got around to legislating it as the 3rd Sunday in June and to date we're stuck with it.

The Sad State of Affairs
Father's Day takes on a near oxymoronic quality in a nation where the abortion debate leaves fathers invisible in every discussion and where one recent national estimate found 30% of fathers owe back child support of an amount averaging $7,705(1). Add to this the vast numbers of people who have lost their fathers to death, had their fathers abandon them or abuse them, the fathers incarcerated, or fathers not even aware of their offspring and it would seem that more fathers are missing than are around to be honored on the day.  I believe every father has done the best they can with the cards they were dealt, and herein I acknowledge that the misfortune of the deal may well have left awful wreckage in the wake, wreckage that often plays forward into the next generation.

A Way Forward
If you are one of the many without a father, what does Father's Day mean?  How does that Father in Heaven theological imagery ring on your soul?  This is a Christian theological blog.  How can/do we respond as the Church on Father's Day knowing full well that a sizable chunk of our congregations have fathers who are missing in one way or another?  Too many churches gloss over the absence or abysmal records and "celebrate" fathers with token gifts as though all dads are "the best.".  It leaves many feeling irritated by the sham on top of the reminders of loneliness, abandonment, and emptiness.

Instead of playing into the social charade, I'd propose the possibility that the substance of healing with our fathers lies in the direction of discovering forgiveness.  I don't mean shallow lip service forgiveness. I mean the much deeper root of forgiveness that is entwined with our spiritual lives where rests a deep understanding about the nature of human brokenness.  To grasp this forgiveness one must go farther back in time than the relatively short span of our own disappointments, hurt, grief, or absence.  It goes back further than the life of our fathers... back to a time when God's love was complete and God's hope for human potential was greater than humanity has proven itself capable of living into. The Biblical witness portrays brokenness entering into the picture and like a long string of dominos tipping into one another, brokenness begat brokenness begat brokenness.  There are only two things that I can imagine breaking the fall of the dominos. One is forgiving the failings of our fathers begotten from the failings of their pasts.  The second is a firm resolve to claim and live out a set of healthy actions.  These include:

  • gracing ourselves with prayer,
  • taking regular deep soaks in God's Original Blessing & Mystery,
  • working to understand our family dynamics and systems and appropriately set safe boundaries while re-interpreting what we may have gotten wrong or misunderstood,
  • naming and processing our emotions with others who have understanding ears to hear, and
  • focused attention on our spiritual journey to live into the command to love one another while seeking the original hope God instilled into life.
All kinds of events in life can separate us from those we love (or once loved) - illness, death, alcoholism & multiple other addictions, shame, sexual abuse, mental illness...the list defies counting the ways.  But, we live in the faith and knowledge that the love Jesus demonstrated is the best course on which to align our life compass.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -- Romans 8:38-39
Let's reset our compasses and begin building a future in the New Spirit with an end to family dynamics that hurt and lessen us all. 

(1) Citation: Turner, Kimberly J.; Waller, Maureen R. “Indebted Relationships: Child Support Arrears and Nonresident Fathers’ Involvement With Children," Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2017. doi:10.1111/jomf.12361.

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