Channel surfing on my car radio, I stopped at a channel which instantly filled my car with screeches of protest from my children.
“Hey,” I said in mock firmness, “This is Christian music!” And like a parent pushing vegetables, I added, “It’s good for you!”
The singer sounded like an offspring of Anita Bryant and Lawrence Welk, and as my kids moaned with a confidence that communicated, that it couldn’t get any worse, I made it a duet.
Which was worse? Your dad listening to the song or the fact that he actually knew the words? What a conundrum. Not without sympathy however, I changed the channel quick enough to avert my oldest calling protective services for melodic abuse.
Yet, at the same time I was empathizing with them, there was a nostalgic feeling competing for my empathy. The same music that seemed stale and out of touch was recalling for me the “Faith of Our Fathers.”
The music reminded me that my faith did not implant itself. It had a vehicle. While I did not swallow my father’s faith, whole hog, his faith gave me a place to start my own individual search.
I’ve always preached that faith has to be an individual thing. It has to be a personal decision by each person who chooses to hold it. But lately, I’ve come to realize that “connectedness” has to be a component in faith development.
My faith is deepened and expanded in the knowledge that it is connected to the faith modeled by my father and his faith from his father – this despite the fact that his West Texas farmer father was not a “church goin’ fella.”
To emphasize this connectedness, there is a comforting liturgical phrase I use when I baptize someone whose family has been previously baptized. Just as I complete the baptism, I say, “The faith which first dwelt in your family, now dwells in you.” The phrase celebrates those times in which faith finds a vehicle of transmission in the love one family member has for another.
There is no rule or protocol that determines which family member will pass the faith. There are times in which the parent passes that faith on to a child and there are times when a child passes that faith to a parent.
It was on such an occasion that I was called to the emergency room. An elderly parent, near death, was brought to our ER after succumbing to the heat of a viciously hot day. He had lain in the sun for several hours and I was asked to gather the family so that final good-byes could be said.
In the midst of the tubes, IV bags, and a respirator, the family gathered around the gurney. Tearful sniffles of family members provided percussion for a stoic chorus of mournful sighs.
With a son on each side, one could see uneasiness building in their eyes. It was as if a nonverbal debate was being waged in their glances. Finally the oldest brother acquiesced and broke the silence.
“Dad!” he began. “We’ve tried before to tell you about God, but this time you have to listen. You may meet God tonight, and there may still be time to prepare.”
The room fell still as staff peered out from their masks looking for a response to the challenge.
“Dad! God has meant so much to us. I know you thought us silly to believe, but it has made a difference in our lives and it can make a difference in yours – even now.”
After a few moments of no response, the staff asked the family to leave and amazingly, the patient stabilized enough to be admitted. Over the next few days, he recovered enough to remember everything.
Unfortunately, however, the chaplain does not always get to see the rest of the story. I cannot tell you if the sons kept up their pleas or if their father ever became convinced of his need for faith.
I only offer the story as an illustration of the need for faith to be shared – to be continued – to be passed on. The faith that first dwells with family may continue as it is implanted and transplanted into other family members. Faith will evolve, mutate, and finally mature into something unique to the owner and still bear a passing resemblance to the faith of the transmitter.
One of the saddest things I hear is a parent who tells me “I’m waiting for my child to be old enough before I let them explore their spirituality.”
My response is to ask them how can children make a decision, if they have nothing on which to base that decision? These same parents don’t let their children wait until they are “old enough” before they decide to read or write.
Somehow all of this gives me comfort as this “Baptist” columnist sends his daughter off to a “liberal” Lutheran” school this fall. I have confidence that the faith passed and pollinated by her parents is now sprouting in her heart to form her own unique flower.
And I know this despite the horrific possibility that she may come home with a pre-ministerial Lutheran boyfriend in tow. I guess when and if that happens, I will resuscitate her grandfather, shake the boy’s hand and welcome him to his extended family of faith.