Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Tag

How Trump & Hillary are (sort of) like God

unilad-donald-trump-bible6Donald Trump has been affecting how I think about God. Really. His popularity baffles me, but a new theory explaining it is making me think harder about what kind of God is revealed in the Bible.

Stick with me…

George Lakoff, UC Berkeley neurolinguist and author of Don’t Think of an Elephant!, believes current U.S. politics can become understandable if we think in terms of parenting styles. Here’s how it works:  In American parenting, there are two main styles which differ in their belief about what children need if they are to mature into responsible adults. The “Strict Father” style values clear rules and strict accountability above all else, while the “Nurturing Parent” style values empathy and people caring for one another above all else. For the record, I know great parents (and great kids) in both camps.

What kind of family should our country be? What is our gut-level vision of the kind of leader our national family needs?  People who want a Nurturing Parent tend to be more liberal in their politics, while the Strict Father types tend to lean more conservative. And for the record, I know great people in both camps.

The point that explains current conservative politics is that not all Strict Fathers are the same.  Some are strict non-interventionists, giving people space to explore and experience the consequences of their actions, regardless of how bad those consequences might be. But other Strict Fathers are more like kings –- setting rules and impartially punishing anyone who breaks those rules. When we understand that BOTH of these qualify as Strict Fathers, we can begin to understand why conservatives are backing a candidate as un-conservative as Donald Trump. He may be a bit dictator-esque, but at least he’s a Strict-Father, Law-and-Order kind of guy. Very deep down, he fits the conservative image better than that Nurturing-Parent Hillary (George Lakoff’s essay about this is the first explanation of the Trump phenomenon that has made sense to me, and I highly recommend it).

But believe it or not, this is not (supposed to be) a political post but a theological one. From here on, at least….

As Trinity and Humanity dwell together with our Father in Christ through the Spirit, what kind of family are we? What is our image of the kind of God/Father we have?

We, the People of Yahweh, have been arguing about that question for thousands upon thousands of years. Our Scriptures contain two voices, often at odds with each other, talking back and forth about which kind of God we have. And it’s not as simple as the difference between the Old and New Testaments, either.

In both testaments, we can observe Yahweh as a Strict Father who (in response to rule-breaking) punishes his children with natural disasters, disease, starvation, and invading armies. Jesus spoke of the same Yahweh, who would within a generation come in fire and judgment to Jerusalem, where not one stone would be left on another (which is exactly what ended up happening).

Yet, in both testaments we can also see Yahweh as a Nurturing Parent who protects his children from their own foolishness, who lets his children argue with him, and on their advice chooses to cancel well-deserved punishments.

Sometimes we see this tension displayed as coming from within Yahweh himself. For example, the first 10 chapters of Hosea are Yahweh’s extravagant description of Israel’s sins and the brutal punishments coming her way, until abruptly without warning in chapter 11:  “How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will not execute my fierce anger…for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11.8-9). In the same self-conflicted mode, Jesus speaks of Jerusalem as a fruitless fig tree that will soon be chopped down and burned, and then proceeds to weep over his longing to gather the city under his wings like a mother hen.

What kind of God are we dealing with?  A Strict Father or a Nurturing Parent?

I used to think Jesus settled and ended this argument, that he once and for all revealed God to be “nice” and not “mean.”  But in recent times, I have come to see that as too easy an explanation, one that fails to take Scripture with adequate seriousness.

In Jesus we find revealed a God who is Father, Son & Spirit in holy eternal communion with one another and with us. Love is the final Word.  This is a settled fact of the gospel, not under question here.

But as I have discovered in my own parenting journey, Love lives in a persistently unsettled tension between Strict and Nurturing. Real-world Love is both tough and flexible. Consistent yet merciful.  Compassionate but not codependent.  As a Dad, I have no formula or equation for when I should be hard and when I should be soft. You could say it’s a constant fight between my Inner Trump and my Inner Hillary.

The fight doesn’t end. AND IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO.

This is precisely what the agony of parenting is all about. And it is here that I recognize this strange One of the Bible. When I let go of my ideas about GOD and his omni-this and omni-that, I can glimpse in the Bible someone like me –- a loving parent who is finding that Love in the real world is really really COMPLICATED.

I have decided that THIS is the God I believe in –- the God who is so human that he has to argue with himself about how best to love his children.

Even if that means he sometimes acts a little Trump-y and other times a little Hillar-ish.

And I’m going to say it: This God is the MOST HUGELY CLASSY GOD YOU’VE EVER SEEN, AND BELIEVE ME, HE WILL MAKE HUMANITY GREAT AGAIN.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

On Step-Fathering

Traditionally, the second week of the Christmas season focuses on ‘the holy family’—Jesus with Mary and Joseph.  If there is a patron saint of step-dads, it should certainly be Joseph.  He did the holy work of fathering another guy’s kid.  Joseph was not the father who gave little Jesus his origin or his destiny.  I like to think he understood that it was important that he not impose his own agenda on this boy he was tasked with raising.

That makes me think of how I raise my sons.  I am their biological father, so it’s not the same, but it’s not entirely different, either.  I am not their ultimate Father.  My boys do not belong to me in the way they belong to Father.  I have begotten them, but I have not in any sense created them.  My status as ‘Dad’ to them is about stewardship rather than ownership.  Father has granted me the opportunity to ‘play dad’ to two of HIS beloved sons.

Step-fathering requires a certain restraint that comes from knowing ‘This kid is not MINE, and I must not treat him as such.’  As I grow to identify more with Joseph, I am learning to adopt that mantra as my own.

As spiritual stepfather to my biological sons, it is not my place to have an agenda for them.  Whatever my unfulfilled dreams are, woe to me if I foist them onto my spiritual stepsons.  Their destiny does not belong to me, not even a little.  Their True Father has his own agenda for them, an agenda for their glorious freedom and joy, an agenda He has sworn to accomplish.

Thank you, Father, for giving me to share in your work of parenting your sons.  Help my lingering foolishness not to get in the way too much.

~ John Stonecypher

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