Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Why I'm Not (Even Trying to Be) the Greatest Parent

My daughter likes to tell me I'm her favorite dad. We laugh. I tell her she's my favorite Annie. And it's true. Occasionally, she'll tell me I'm the BEST DAD EVER (don't worry, she's not afraid either to tell me the opposite - haha). I don't always dispute her in real time, but she knows I don't agree, on principle. Even if she doesn't completely understand it yet (although I would not put it past her), she's heard me tell the story of Stanley Hauerwas' response to being named "America's Best Theologian" by Time magazine. "Best is not a theological category," he famously quipped. 

What to make, then, of the generalization of parenthood that occurs with Mother's Day and Father's Day? And the subsequent and unavoidable awkwardness of invoking absurd titles like, "World's Greatest"? The subsequent and poisonous insinuation that every movement, moment, decision, is taking you closer to or farther from the title? The demonic logic that would suggest that the success of your relationship with your parent or your child is comparatively determined? 

In a favorite Robert Earl Keen song of mine, What I Really Mean, the singer/songwriter describes to someone close to his heart but far from his travels the incredible adventures he's experiencing in his life on the road, each time saying something like, "You should have seen the crowd we drew in there!" Each time, though, he catches himself and says, "What I really mean is, I wish you were here." It's such a gift in any relationship when we catch ourselves leaning on clich├ęs we don't mean, come to our senses, and then say the next true thing we can only truly say to that one. On the same token, the thing about titles like "the greatest" that's so sad is that they invite us to say the thing we didn't mean and sit silent on the things we did. 

It's been refreshing to see the cultural pushback against the Hallmark holidays this year, with the sensitivity that recognizes that these days can be painful for lots of reasons. I think the holidays are potentially as harmful, though, for the message they communicate to those for whom the days are pure celebrations; the relegation of a relationship to a comparative context can only confuse the multi-faceted uniqueness that makes a particular relationship special. And it turns out what really makes the relationship special many times has a tremendous capacity to hold pain and brokenness, incorporate forgiveness, growth, and/or redemption, and invite us toward a place of knowing and being known, even as we disappoint and, sometimes, deeply wound each other.

In a recurring theme of The Jesus Storybook Bible, the author says over and over that God's people were lovely. And they were lovely, because God loved them. It is such a wonderful description of relationship rightly valued, and cherished, from the inside out. May we know ourselves beloved of God and be known in love to one another, where "to me you will be unique in all the world."

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