Shouting at an Empty Chair, Father’s day 2015

Tyrone presented the family’s new puppy in for his first exam yesterday, and brought along his son, “To meet me.”  I was taken back by this comment, and quickly replied that I was so glad that he had, and then I said something about how I was sure he was glad school was out for the summer.  I asked if they had plans for the summer, and Andrew, reaching his hand out for me to shake it, said, “Yes sir, I’m working as a camp counselor at Wadeview Park.”

“Really?” I said, “That’s fantastic.  What a great summer job!  What kind of a counselor? Will you be teaching, like arts and crafts, or more like a coach, supervising athletics?”

Andrew, who looked to be about 15, respectfully looked me directly in the eye, and said he’d be willing to do whatever they needed, working with the underprivileged kids there. I looked over at his dad, and I said, “Good job, what a great person you’ve raised.”

Tyrone agreed, “He is a really good kid,” but shook his head, claiming none of the credit.  But I knew better.  If nothing else, he had been present for the boy, and done his best to be a really good man.

What makes some fathers step up and be “Dad,” and others walk away or stay around, but not really be “present,” is such an important question.  What, in fact, is a “good father?”

bodrahn

Do you have to be perfect, never letting your shield down to reveal your human-ness?  Should you lay down the law, and be the disciplinarian (because you used to be so wild and get into so much trouble).  Or should you strive to be their best friend, letting them drink beer and smoke weed, high five-ing over last night’s “conquest,” and providing the latest and greatest toys?

I’ve seen both extremes.  I’ve been both extremes.  OK, not really so much the last one, although at some level, I really wish I could have been “closer” as a friend to all five of my kids.  But we don’t get any do-overs.  A priest at Whitehouse retreat in St. Louis once told me:

We are (and more specifically, that I am) much too hard on ourselves.  “The world only has one Messiah, and you (thankfully and most assuredly) are not Him.  You are not perfect.  You are the way God made you – imperfect, but with the heartfelt longing to be as good as you can.  And that’s good. But you can’t go back and do things differently, with all your new-found wisdom.  Didn’t you always act out of love?  Didn’t you always do what you thought was the best at that time?”

“Yeah, but…”

Yeah but nothing.  By continuing to add that qualifier, Yeah, but…, you deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Redeemer, the one who makes all things new again.  We must strive to accept Him as our redeemer, and allow ourselves to be human.  You are how you are, and its so much better to accept that.  We are called to always strive to be better, even perfect, and we must try, day after day.  But we’ll never be perfect.  Not on this Earth.

You are made of blood and bones, breath and vapor.  You are the product of the genetics He orchestrated, and that imperfect nurturing from your parents, or lack of them.  Let Jesus carry the cross, you have plenty of other things to do.  As the song goes, “He is God, and you are not.”

A lifetime ago, I was doing everything I could possibly do to save my first marriage.  So in our first session with the marriage counselor, I proudly puffed out my chest and said I’d do anything to save the marriage, that divorce absolutely, positively was not an option.  Less than two months later, he was just as positive that it was the only option.  But we should continue on, to counsel with him, so we could be “better,” and so that we’d not keep “making the same mistakes” (presumably in our next attempts at a relationship).

And so, right out of his Gestalt theory textbook, the family therapist (sic) had me pacing around the psychologist’s office, shouting at my father, “seated” in the empty chair “What I really felt! What I needed so badly to tell him!”  When I couldn’t come up with enough garbage to dump on him, I was goaded and prodded, “Tell him about all those little league games, band concerts, award presentations, and wrestling matches! Tell him he should have been there!”  I continued to pace in silence.  “But shouldn’t I be shouting at his father?”

He looked at me like a deer in the headlights, “You’re enabling him, you’re giving him excuses, he wasn’t present!”

“Can’t I just forgive him?”

Fritz and Laura Perls' Gestalt Theory

Fritz and Laura Perls’ Gestalt Theory

“This will help you do that, you’ve got to put the blame on him!”

“But it’s not his fault.  I think he did the best he could do.”

I don’t think I went back to Dr. Tony after that session.

And so this father’s day I had much to reflect on.  And even more to let go of.  If I can let the old man off the hook, shouldn’t I do the same for myself?  It was a chair I’d sit in too soon myself.

Cullen's Empty Chair

Florida State University graduation, 2012

There are consequences to sins, and since we are social creatures, such consequences often impact others, including within the family and subsequent generations.  I think this is called Generational Sin.  The concept, I’d suppose originated with the “original Adam,” whose act of rebellion and disobedience resulted in our sinful nature, not coincidentally coined “original sin.”

Regardless of whether or not you buy into the whole Christian creation story, it’s a striking allegory.  Clearly, something happened along the lines of (I’d maintain, “designed”) human evolution and development where we as a species developed a sinful nature.  As a reasonably intelligent science based professional, I know of no other “creation” with the the willingness, or even the ability to choose to do evil.  And somewhere, somehow, we made the first act of defiance; Our greatest gift became our greatest curse.  Free will spawned original sin.

But God does not hold children, or present generations, morally responsible for the sins of their parents and ancestors. This is clearly laid out in Holy Scripture when the Israelites were blaming their troubles on the sins of their forefathers (see Jer 23:5-6, and Ez, 18:1-4).

Indeed, we need to look into our own hearts and repent so that we can find (and give) our own forgiveness and healing. God is surely not so unjust as to force children to “pay” in justice for the sins of others.

On the other hand, it is also true to say that the sins of our ancestors — right back to those “first parents,” do affect our lives today and leave us inheriting some pretty heavy baggage to carry around. With each passing day and event, I’m more convinced that we are connected by that “red thread,” or what ever you would call Providence, so that we can and do suffer both spiritually and bodily from the sins of others. We may think this unfair, but remember that the interdependence of the human race is also the source of most of our highest blessings, for example, the solidarity and intimacy of family life and the communion of love with all of us as brothers and sisters.

To make such supreme blessings possible to creatures with free will like us, our creator also had to permit us to misuse that freedom and interdependence, with all its tragic results.

This “interdependence” of the human race also means that the sins of ancestors and parents can affect us in other, more subtle ways. For example, some destructive conditions (such as alcoholism, depression, and hair-trigger tempers) can be passed down to us by genetic inheritance.

Moreover, the problems of our immediate parents and grandparents can be passed down to us in other ways, too.  If they set a bad moral examples for us as, sadly, people tend to do from generation to generation, or if they abused us or failed to give us the love we needed when we are growing up. In such instances, we can become “saddled” with emotional and developmental scars.

For instance, if we weren’t given the love we needed as children, we may spend our lives struggling to learn how to love others and ourselves. This does not make them fully “responsible” for our sins and all our problems today, of course, and we have the responsibility to take action to find healing for these generational wounds ourselves.

Furthermore, in a concept known as transference, we tend to see God the father much as we have had that model of fatherhood displayed by our own father.  If our’s was not forgiving, compassionate, and capable of unconditional love, it is extremely difficult to understand that our heavenly Father could behave in ways like this.  And how could we believe selflessness and unconditional love even exist, if we reject that Jesus came to show us that very thing?  St. Paul says Jesus brought this undeserved grace to the world as the “second Adam.” (Romans 5:12-21).

We did nothing prior to our conception to warrant or deserve original sin.  Likewise, Christians believe we do nothing to “deserve” this Grace that Jesus brings.  But we must accept it, we must open the door He’s been pounding on.  We must forgive, and accept His forgiveness, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Jesus the Christ came and suffered to show us how to love, what unconditional, undeserved love is.  When people fail to fully receive that gift from Him, through repentance and faith — i.e., if their contrition for sin and love for God was “half-hearted” in this life — then they remain in partial debt to God (still owing for, in theological jargon, “the temporal aspect of sin”).

Jersus at door 3

In His parable of the prodigal son, Jesus used the image of a family to teach us God’s love.  The “younger son” could not wait – and in demanding his inheritance, he effectively wished for a dead father, or at a minimum, felt that he was “dead to him.”  The only way for the father to allow his son to really learn to love was to allow him that free choice.  We all know how it ends, with the father’s unconditional love allowing the prodigal to return, but we often miss two points.

Is the father angry only grudgingly allowing this man to return?  No! In fact, from what Jesus describes, this father daily peers into the horizon, hoping to get a glimpse of his returning son! After all, he still loves his son!  In tears, he runs to welcome him home!

Although we play both of these character roles during our respective lives, it’s a harder concept for us to accept that more often than not we’re the other son, the good child.  Too many times, I shout up at Him, “You’re not being fair! I do what you ask of me.  I go to church.  I believe in you. I play by the rules!  And yet you allow this to happen to me? Yet I look around at other “prodigals” (from outward appearances) who have so much success and happiness.  Ouch.  The mirror is seldom a pain-free zone.

I was blessed to have a wonderful father. He was not perfect. He had his many faults. He didn’t lose his temper often, but when he did, I was sad and sometimes afraid and, now looking back, very disappointed, because I wanted our home to be “perfect.” Of course, it couldn’t be. But I knew absolutely, without a doubt, that my father loved me, and that he loved my children, and we were all blessed that he could show my oldest three just how much he loved them.

Jean M. Klein and my three oldest children

Jean M. Klein and my three oldest children

What is your story? Many of you have the vocation of fatherhood. Do unresolved issues with your own father or mother hinder your acceptance of God’s unconditional love? Do they cause you to have a negative relationship with your children? Do not let these keep you from experiencing the Father’s ever-faithful love.

Perhaps some among us desire to reconcile with our earthly father. We will need God’s grace either to ask our father to forgive us or to tell him that he is forgiven. If our fathers are already deceased, we can still do this, with or without the empty chair.

The prodigal son believes that his father will take him back, even if just as a lowly hired hand. Jesus paints a brighter picture: The father loves so much that he puts a ring on the son’s finger and kills the fatted calf.

We must believe that Our Father in heaven will do the same for us if only we go back to Our Loving Father. Pope Francis keeps reminding us: “God never tires of forgiving; we are the ones who tire of seeking His mercy” (cf. “Joy of the Gospel,” No.3).

The elder brother stands in the shadows with resentment and judgment, perpetuating his own cycle. But Michelangelo paints it so very clearly: We see how the cycle is broken: The prodigal son is on his knees, asking for forgiveness. We break the cycle on our knees.

Return of the Prodigal Son by Michaelangelo

Return of the Prodigal Son by Michelangelo

After all, we cannot help our sons become the men they need to be until we allow ourselves to return to the Father. We cannot help our daughters become the women they need to be until we enter into the kind of relationship which Jesus invites us to experience. Husbands here today cannot be the husbands they need to be if they are not coming before the Father like the prodigal son.

kneeling_head_down

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If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises From A Christian Pastor/Parent

I wish I had said this. Maybe I did.

john pavlovitz

KidsFiltered


Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have gay children.

I’m not sure if other parents think about this, but I do; quite often.

Maybe it’s because I have many gay people in my family and circle of friends. It’s in my genes and in my tribe.
Maybe it’s because, as a pastor of students, I’ve seen and heard the horror stories of gay Christian kids, from both inside and outside of the closet, trying to be part of the Church.
Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I interact with so many people who find homosexuality to be the most repulsive thing imaginable, and who make that abundantly clear at every conceivable opportunity.

For whatever reason, it’s something that I ponder frequently. As a pastor and a parent, I wanted to make some promises to you, and to my two kids right now…

1) If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.

My children won’t…

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May 15 Remembering the Greatest in France

Not Alone on my Camino

French folks have quite a reputation for being rude.  Last year, I noticed the Spanish so obliging that I felt humbled.  If they didn’t speak another’s language, they did what they could to communicate and be so very helpful.

Now, reputation aside, what I have discovered here is an extremely friendly France.  No one has uttered an unkind or rude comment (not that I would know!), and frankly, I’ve felt quite welcome here, especially by the older folks in the country.  I even noticed a kind of excitement when they heard my accent.  The expression, “A Yank!” or “Yaunkey!” wasn’t with disdain, as a pejorative, but rather a bit of “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.”

French baby

But how could this be so?  Clearly, it wasn’t because of the money I’ve been dropping here.  The pilgrim travels in an austere fashion, often sleeping in an alberge for 12€ a night.  Could…

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Villarente, just past Mansilla, Thursday, May 2nd

As I prepare for my 2nd Camino, I’ve spent sometime looking back at my posts from last year (on CaminoWithCullen.wordpress.com ), many for the first time since I wrote them, which of course, brought back some emotional memories. I’ll be leaving May10th, so keep me in your prayers!

Not Alone on my Camino

IMG_4405 Today´s weather was just miserable, cold, windy, rainy, but I just really felt good.  It must have had something to do with the story Peter shared with me last night.  The wonderful night´s sleep in a room with 15 others, 2 or 3 always snoring allowed me to consciously process what he had said.  Wow, if he feels like he´s got so much to be thankful for, I REALLY do.

I am truly blessed with a wife that thinks I mean the world to her.  I have loving, incredible kids.  All of them.  I got to walk 19 years with our dear Cullen.  I have the utmost confidence that our loving God has him in His warm embrace in paradise.  I have a great job, I do for a living what many dream of, what I´ve always wanted to do.  I have a supportive family and a medical practice that allowed me…

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Road to Emmaus

I first posted this here exactly a year ago today, and it just feels fitting today to do so again

dogtorbill

behindme4

Everyone who knows me, knows that I have a horrible memory.  Not just, “Where did I put my car keys?” or “Crap, I forgot why I came in here” type of bad memory, rather more like, “I could hide my own Easter eggs!”  I could watch the same movie ten times and be shocked each time at the ending!

So, I dread seeing clients in public.  As a veterinarian, I form personal relationships with my clients, and get to know them, their children, and their pets – often a very real part of their family.  People appreciate when you connect with them, and I do genuinely love my job and (most of) my clients and their “families.”  So when I greet them by name and remember their kids, and that their cat purrs on Grandpa’s lap and the dog digs up the daffodils and enjoys leg humping Uncle Donnie, and never left…

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The Teenage Prank and the Angry Driver

A1A is a dangerous road to back into from your driveway. The middle-aged woman was late again for work as she quickly jolted the lever into reverse, placing her coffee on the dashboard and fumbled blindly to buckle her seat belt. Susan’s emotions were so focused on the fight she’d just had with her husband that her flash-glance right and left for traffic proved faulty. As she lifted her foot from the brake to accelerate onto the road, something quickly surged into her periphery. She slammed the brakes, just as the bicycle sped past, coffee spilling all over the passenger seat and down onto the console. His angry words were shouted before he saw her puffy eyes and wet face, “Ass hole!”

He was right, she thought. She was an ass hole, and she had almost killed someone Why couldn’t she and Gerry get along anymore? Maybe he was right too. Every day lately seemed to start like this. She just knew he didn’t care about her anymore and neither of them seemed to put forth any effort at all. Now most mornings seemed to start with these emotions. She would find herself snapping at everyone in the office, and acting out her own misery by causing theirs. This could not go on.

“Please, oh dear God, if you’re even up there, send me some kind of a sign,” she thought the words, hoping He was up there, and somehow could read her mind. Her own mother and now, just last year, her sister had gotten divorces because they were miserable. But they still seemed pretty miserable. Regardless, wasn’t Gerry supposed to “make her happy?” What was the point of being married if they couldn’t be happy? “You complete me,” how distant the memory of those words. How long had it been since he brought her flowers? She’d give anything for roses, or even a single rose. She had to stop crying and get her self together before she arrived at work, so she switched on the radio.

“Happy,” by Terrell Williams was just finishing up, and she snickered cynically just as the DJs on the morning show started talking about today, February 14th. Her anger and frustration now seethed into a depression, and her bottom lip quivered as she bordered on tears again. And she prayed again.

But this time she spoke out loud, for emphasis. “Just send me a sign, any kind of a sign God, and I’ll do anything. Our marriage was supposed to be different, not like all those crumbling around me! Really, I’ll do anything. It won’t be about me, I don’t even care if I’m happy. I am SO SORRY I’ve been so selfish, WE’VE been so selfish. It’s not about me at all, I DO still love him, and I’ll work so hard to show him. Then he’ll see the difference, and start giving for me. That should have been how it worked all along! We’ve been so selfish, so stupid. Send me a sign God, just send me a sign to let me know this is even possible!”

My son Noah glanced down at his new Nixon surfing watch to make sure he wasn’t going to get another “tardy note.” The neighborhood carpool sometimes fell victim to the morning lethargy of its riders, pulling into the high-school parking lot just as the bell rang, with the first class across campus. Sean ran across the grocery store parking lot, clutching the card and bouquet of roses he had procured for his “valentine.” As he charged through the parking lot, the bouquet accidentally met a rear-view mirror and ended up on the pavement. He quickly swooped them back up and slid into the car full of laughing adolescents.

As his sister Kaylie just made it through the yellow light, Sean smiled proudly at the ten-dollar bouquet, but then noticed one of the roses was now drooping down, because the stem had broken in the fall. Pulling that one from the bunch, he rearranged the rest, and said, “These are really pretty!” Everyone laughed, and his sister teased him mercilessly, and reminded him not to leave his trash in her car. The rejected bloom lay on the floorboard, and as they pulled up to the red light he reached down to throw it out the window.

As the window went down, they all looked over to see the woman in the car next to them at the intersection. They laughed hysterically at her angry face, as she seemed to be talking, no shouting at herself. There was no one in the car with her, but she was carrying out quite a conversation. With no one. Or whoever it was, she seemed so mad, or just upset with them. Kaylie pleaded, “No!” as Sean finished lowering the window and motioned to the crazy lady to lower her window. She just knew her brother was going to further torment this emotional looking woman. And perhaps he was, but as he saw the tears in her eyes, he tossed the single rose over at her, and said, “Smile, it’s Valentine’s Day!”

They continued to laugh as they sped off, because Sean’s aim had missed its mark. He hadn’t accounted for his sister’s acceleration, and so the rose hit the car door and slid to the ground. The laughter turned to howls as Noah turned to inform those in the front seat that she had gotten out of her car and picked up the rejected flower.

Having witnessed how this played out, the cars behind did not honk with impatience. This fleeting moment, this silly little adolescent prank had changed Susan’s day. Perhaps her marriage. Perhaps her relationship with God. That rejected rose now was now such a good thing. From out of nowhere, Susan had received the sign she had pleaded for, just seconds before. She smiled as she realized the work ahead of her.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (MT 21:42)

You think there’s no God? Or that you’re too small and insignificant? What’s the point of talking with Him? So many people really feel this way. I think we all do sometimes. But this would be a “vending machine” god – ask for something, and get it – or else its a “broken” machine – or an “imaginary” machine. Our Lord may indeed ZAP away a cancer, or change the trajectory of a bullet, but I think our everyday, subtle miracles are much more common than we think. We’re given choices to change our lives. If we pray for patience, we don’t wake up one day as Mother Theresa. No we’re presented, over and over again, with opportunities that require patience, so that we can choose that road, and develop that virtue. We can ask for Faith, but then we’re frustrated with our lack of faith, and then “come to our senses” that it’s all just a joke, some imaginary fairy tale for weak people. But didn’t we plead with God in our times of trial and our own weakness? Is it possible that we simply expected Him to ZAP us with the graces of faith, but ignored His response? All those opportunities He presented us with that required faith, would have enabled us to change our lives and grow.

I truly do believe we live in the midst of so many everyday miracles. We simply fail to see them, and grow frustrated and cynical.

This was a parable. But it was based on true events. Life is based on these very same truths. I pray that I may always see them.

Much Love.
wilted rose