Friday, March 9, 2018

Just a Hallmark Holiday

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Eph. 6:4
“Just a Hallmark Holiday”
That is the initial response, and that is the problem.
Let me explain. I’m fairly involved with my church body and district. I’m not much the political type, at least I’ve never seen myself that way. But shortly after I was ordained as a pastor and much due to the influence of Bo Giertz in my ministry, I determined to do what I could to help promote the cause of the Lutheran faith where and when I could. If that meant volunteering to serve in otherwise undesirable jobs, so be it. I’ve been a pastor now for fourteen years. I have been a circuit visitor for nine or ten of those fourteen years. It’s a rather thankless job in which you get involved with mediating conflicts between pastors, and pastors and their congregations. They don’t even pay mileage at the business rate. It ends up costing you money to serve. But then, I rather enjoy being able to do it anyway.
Doing what I can to promote the Lutheran faith also means attending conventions when possible. We have them every three years. People pass resolutions to try fix problems and chart the future efforts of the church to get the gospel out to people who need to hear it. Most of the time I think the resolutions are badly worded, and full of misspent energy. Three days of monotonous drudgery interspersed with tense discussions and arguments on the floor. Perhaps a few beers in the evening with friends. Still, I care about my church and so I like to go. Also, I generally like the pastors I serve with and seeing the elders from other congregations. Most years I don’t write resolutions and somewhat resent most of them I see. This year I wrote three and I’m up for a few elected offices. But I’m not attending the district convention in which these resolutions will be debated, and where I may or may not be elected. The reason? It’s over Father’s Day weekend, the Hallmark Holiday.
Actually, that is one of my resolutions. I resolve that we never make that scheduling blunder again. Let me explain. First off, my issue is much more acute then it is for most of my brothers, but then it also highlights a societal problem. I’m divorced. My son lives with his mother in another state. I don’t get to see him often. I can’t much afford it most of the time. I’m drowning in debt brought on by court fees, child support and my efforts to see him when the court says I can see him. I fought hard for that time with my son. I paid through the nose for a good lawyer. I work like crazy trying to find ways to make the ends meet. I write. I translate. I speak. Despite having a great lawyer, I still lost last time I went to court because having not moved to California meant that somehow I had moved away from California. I say I lost, but my son is the one who really feels he lost. I’ll spare you the details. I now get to see my son about three times a year. Sometimes for not much more than a day and a half.  However, Father’s Day weekend was one weekend the court said I could have my son. It normally starts my summer with him. I look forward to that weekend. So I was to say the least, a little incensed that this weekend was the weekend they decided to have the convention this year. I guess because the original date conflicted with the dates for a Lutheran Women’s Missionary League rally. I see irony in that, somehow.
So I wrote three resolutions. One was purely administrative. My current circuit is split between two political regions within the district. It needs to be consolidated into one. The second has to do with actually paying mileage so that our circuit visitors are compensated properly for their work. The third is regarding Father’s Day. And that is the most frustrating. I have come to see that the issue is actually much bigger than me and my particular case.
I am actually disheartened by it. Every time I discuss this resolution with fellow pastors they initially laugh. And this in a synod and church body in which one of the social hot buttons is that so many children these days are deprived of fathers. Supposedly, school shootings happen because there are no fathers in the lives of children. Yet when I discuss this resolution concerning Father’s day I get: It’s just a Hallmark holiday, and the convention isn’t even on Father’s Day. It quits at noon the day before.
Yes, it quits at noon the day before Father’s Day, so that at least half of the participants can make it home in time to work on Father’s Day. A good many of them have to drive or fly for the better part of that day to make it home in time to do that. So they cannot very well be expected to celebrate Father’s Day on Father’s Day. Perhaps a fishing trip should be out of the question for everyone on any Sunday. Perhaps a father’s greatest joy should be to have their family in church on Sunday. I know I cherish the Sundays I see my boy in church sitting with his stepmom. But now they cannot very well take their family fishing the day before either, can they? I could care less about fishing, but fill in your own favorite family outing if you like. Then imagine that this convention was planned for Mother’s Day weekend.
Add to that this. I mean, how do I say this? Ever wonder why PKs are notorious? I do not. I was a notorious pastor’s kid. I know full well the resentment a pastor’s kid easily develops because family takes a back seat to pastoral work. When Billy Graham died a few days ago, I read with a turning in my gut stories of Billy Graham not recognizing his children when they came to see him on the road. This is not a problem isolated to famous pastors. This happens to pastors in small towns. This happens to pastors in large congregations. It’s pretty easy for a pastor’s kid to get the feeling everyone is more important to their dad than his own kids. Pastors rarely get a weekend off to begin with. Mondays tend to be the days that pastors take off. Maybe a Friday, or a Thursday. Some take Tuesdays. Saturdays they have Bible Studies, LWML rallies, Funerals and weddings. A good half our congregations have Saturday evening services, which means dad is at the church about four o’clock getting ready, while his son is playing the last soccer game of the day for that weekend tournament. Or, the son is told he cannot play on that league because their games are on the weekend. The pastor rarely considers taking his children out of school to spend time with them on the day they take off. School is important, don’t you know. They might miss a test or mess up their perfect attendance and not get into Princeton or some other college the kid could care less about attending. The pastor is rarely even aware that this is what is happening. They have a job to do and they do it. The congregation is unaware of it too. After all, there are so many family-oriented events going on at the church. Of course, the pastor’s family just sees this as one more dog and pony show they have to endure. Maybe this time they will light the hoop on fire before the kid is asked to jump through it. You can imagine how long it takes for this to start sowing seeds of conflict between a PK and the fourth commandment.
The sad fact is that this sort of dilemma is not confined to pastors. I think it is pretty common for Fathers to wrap their identity up in work etc. I mean most of the male population knows the song “Cats in the Cradle” by heart, and usually begin to hold back tears about the second verse. It’s epidemic. Pastors and their kids are not the only victims. Perhaps that is why we, especially as pastors, should stop considering Father’s Day to be a Hallmark holiday, and start respecting it a bit more.
I mean, it is not too often that our society does something like honoring mothers and fathers, which actually celebrates anything enshrined in the Ten Commandments. However, on this day society asks children to honor their fathers, to do something special for them for the mere fact that they are fathers. Buy them a tie, and a cheesy card. On this day, society asks fathers to remember that they are in fact fathers to take their kids fishing or paint their daughter’s toenails. And that same father says, “It’s just a Hallmark Holiday.” Laughs at the tie and goes in to work.  This is the same society in which it is commonly known the father has no chance of winning custody of children in court, and fathers are told they are being selfish and foolish for even trying. This is the same society that often laughs and mocks men as being deranged if they point out a correlation between the lack of fathers in homes and the rate of incarceration of those same fatherless children. This is the same society in which abortion on demand is popular because being a teenage parent is regarded as worse than suicide. Is it any wonder that this is the attitude of society when the one day that that society sets aside to honor fathers is the day that fathers even in the church where the fourth commandment is supposedly honored, is a day that is laughed at and marginalized as “just a Hallmark holiday?” Just another day in which the fathers are asked to go in to work. A request to which they obediently comply because that resolution about contemporary Christian music at the youth events is more important than the pastor’s family, yet again.   
Father’s Day. It is still a few months off. I honestly do not know what I’ll be doing. I’ll probably have to give my son $20 so he can go buy a tie I will never find occasion to wear. One thing I do know. I will not be recovering from a convention. Somehow, I just think Our Father has other business for me to be about that weekend, a different house he has given me to tend to.      


Dana Brooks said...

Bror,I read your article in full, out loud, to Janet. I have to admit to wet eyes and a lump in my throat. I honor your commitment to John. Although you would not think this of yourself (or maybe you would - kidding!!) he is fortunate to have you for a father. Hang in there. YBIC, Dana

Anonymous said...

I have experiences of this. May God bless you. Jorma Ojala