Yesterday was Father’s Day in the United States. For some it was a day to truly honor a beloved parent and to gather the extended family. For others, it was a reminder of how the cult of Family is sometimes exalted over the reality of human lives, a painful jab at those who were born and raised outside the cookie cutter model of the late 20th century, Western, intact and supposedly nurturing, nuclear family.
Elizabeth Kaeton has done a masterful job of bringing both perspectives to light, serendipitously with the Lectionary’s Old Testament and Gospel readings. I recommend her sermon it in its entirety, but the following excerpt is what, for me, hit the ball out of the ballpark:
Today is Father’s Day. For some, this is a day filled with exquisite pain, and this morning is filled with dreaded expectations of the same things which, for others, will be nothing less than pure delight. For still others, it will be a day filled with loss and grief, regret and remorse. Why? Because we are human. We make a mess of our lives as easily as drawing a breath. We hurt the ones we love. We are David and take what is not ours. We are Simon and resent what others are able to give.Today is Father’s Day and it is no coincidence that the scriptural message is about love and forgiveness. We all need to hear about love and forgiveness, but especially parents who, even the best among us, mess up from time to time – some, even more than their share. Today, especially today, many need to hear a word about love and forgiveness. For ourselves. For the ones who are or were our parents, especially our fathers. For the fathers we are. For the fathers we never were. For the fathers we’ll never be.
Love, Forgiveness and Father's Day at Telling Secrets. (Do go there and read the rest).
Elizabeth's words speak to the kind of experience most of us have lived in a variety of circumstances. Those of who find ourselves parents, in whatever kind of family we may end up raising children, face no easy task. We let ourselves and them down day in an day out, as we often feverishly try to do our best, papering over our flaws and weaknesses, all the while demanding more of them than we managed ourselves, or demanding something very different, some things that might have been beneficial for us when we were growing up, but may be of little or no use to them. Being a child of a flawed human being is not easy either. We don’t know what to make of the many mixed messages we get as our parent(s) inevitably preach some of what they do not practice and are sometimes blinded by the lenses by which they perceive us, our futures, and their pasts.
Learning to love and forgive each other is something that may take a lifetime to get nearly right, if ever. Sometimes it is harder with family than with friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, but, almost inevitably, it is where we all start. Family isn’t everything, and some families are so broken and hurtful that some bonds are best left loose. Yet whether we are born into them, find our own parents and children to honor and nurture, families are where we begin to learn to need and serve others, with love, compassion, and care, the best we can, with God's grace and the example of perfect love God has given us in his Son.