The Four Hundred Years of Silence

Time for a Change

So here we go, off into the forest of the New Testament. As I have wrapped up on my thoughts on the Old as well as provided an update on my headspace, I wanted to instead turn my gaze forward to the future. And as such, it’s time for –

A SUMMARY OF WHAT TO EXPECT

…and also…

AN EXCUSE TO USE ALL CAPS TITLES

Let’s do it.

I WILL BE READING THE GOSPELS IN “CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER”

Bible aficionados refer to the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as the “Gospels,” which characterize the life, works, and death of Jesus Christ from the perspective of the titular disciple. Some may also know that the first three recount many of the same events. So instead of reading each one separately, I will read them in conjunction with one another, going step-by-step through Jesus’ ministry once. John is sort of the odd-one-out Gospel, containing many stories unique to its pages as well as a philosophical undertone throughout. I’ll read that one separately in one fell swoop.

SAY HELLO TO “THE LAW OF JESUS”

One argument against the legitimacy of the Christian doctrine is the contradictions that exist between the Old and New Testament. Additionally, much has been made about “what still counts” as proper rules for our modern society, and many cite the statutes put forth in the New Testament as “canon” while the rest have fallen aside, archaic.

Remember when I catalogued all of the Old Testament Laws, way back in the Torah? Well get ready for round two. As I read through the Gospels, I will take note and categorize every Law that Jesus says. Deflections and implications do not count – only the literal. Let’s see how it compares to Leviticus. (Disclaimer: I already know that Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so that won’t be a “shocker” or point of argument for me)

A SLOWER READ

The Old Testament contains over 75% of the words of the Bible, and yet I read it in a scant six months. I did this in order to spend more of my energy on the New Testament, which explains the vast majority of the Christian doctrine. So expect much deeper analysis of individual stories rather than the sweeping generalizations and summaries of historical events and prophecies. Those days are done.

MOVING TOWARDS SOMETHING

I feel it. I don’t know if its conclusive, but yes, I am moving towards something with this project. I don’t know what it is, but I do feel it.

See you Monday as we dive into Matthew (and Mark and Luke).

Onward ho!

Midway Check In: Or, “What Was the Point of All That?”

P90X-halfway-done-300x230That’s the halfway point, folks. Six months, I started this project as a way to reconcile my forgotten faith with my newly emboldened sexual identity, and while my aims of analysis and understanding remain, my expectations for the results have changed wildly. I have been surprised by the contents of the Bible so far, and also not-so-surprised, but each day of reading has added something indelible to my personal knowledge and wisdom about the Good Book as well as about the nature of God in general.

The Old Testament is behind me, and while I cannot in good faith make grand sweeping generalizations about the text, I feel confident enough in my comprehension and processing to share a few thoughts. Since I love repeating my methods, I have broken down my comments into defining characteristics about the Old Testament as well as applicable lessons and themes I could glean from its pages. Here we go:

The Old Testament Is…

Brutally Violent. Children get the PG-13 cut of the Bible stories – which tend to include mildly disturbing stories such as Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt and the plague of the first born in Exodus. The true text is far more disturbing. From graphic descriptions of animal sacrifice in Leviticus to eye gouging and nose removal, the Old Testament reads like a torture porn fever dream in some sections. After hearing about what a loving deity God is, I could not help but beg the question: Why all the brutal violence? I have an unsatisfying answer: God wanted to show that He meant business when it came to His laws as well as what we deserve due to our sin. I don’t like that, and according to the text, I don’t have to like it one bit. It was meant to motivate through fear. The spoils of faithfulness do nothing for you? Well try on this punishment for size if you wander. Plain and simple. 

Repetitive (Especially with Regards to Laws). Every single story is boilerplate of the same plot. God instructs man. Man does his own thing. God rebukes him. From Adam and Eve until the exile, we were caught in the same cycle of sin that always resulted in the same retribution. This is not even remotely surprising – these are moralistic tales that are meant to provide historical context as well as palpable lessons for living. This can make for a tedious read in some parts (some could even argue it counteracts its purpose through an unintentional numbing effect), but I found the material fascinating from a pedagogical standpoint. Intelligent people composed the Bible, and equally clever leaders arranged it into its current form. We learn through repetition – through examples. And regardless of what you may think about its spiritual nerve, the Judeo-Christian religions have survived and resonated for so long due to their (mostly) clear expectations and paths to salvation. And that is because it makes its point over and over again.

Tragic. Tragedy naturally comes with such widespread death and destruction, but I was surprised by the emotions some of these stories elicited. The Testament as a whole reads like some Sisyphean nightmare – a futile war with man against God and nature. Job disturbed me – a righteous man who is tortured by fourth-dimensional beings. Judah’s sons are taken away from him, put down by a vengeful God looking to make a point. Then, there’s the man that made a fire on the Sabbath and was stoned. And the entirely of the men and women (and children) slaughtered by Joshua during his genocide campaign. There is boundless tragedy within these pages, which is why I am looking forward to the entrance of Jesus Christ – the pacifist in the bunch.

Important Universal Concerns from the Old Testament Are…

How to Cope with Uncertainty. God has proved time and again that His will may not always be known, and within this paradigm, we can learn a great deal about how to cope with such chaos. I admire the doctrine of Christianity for teaching one healthy outlook – that we must sometimes stand in awe of creation and nature rather than trying to overtly explain it. For all my doubts, I do believe in this value. God is a great metaphor for chaos. There may be a plan, but it is unseen by our eyes. And anxiety over this is inane.

The Nature of the God-Human Dynamic. So we have learned to cope with uncertainty, but what does this say about how we should approach a relationship with God? The Old Testament explicitly dictates God’s desire for both our unconditional fear and love. I think these values can be summarized into a single word: reverence. We ought to revere power, I am convinced, because such an outlook will enable us to live successfully. There are extreme examples in the Bible – many involving the punishments for disobedience that I have mentioned above. A fearful approach should not inspire anxiety – and that must be a counterproductive emotion to feel when searching out God. But fear via reverence must be a good thing.

The Importance of Absolutes (in Equal Measure). Absolutes simultaneously frighten and comfort me, and I imagine others have a similarly contradictory response. It is nice to know that the sun will always rise, that gravity will keep our feet on the ground, but too many absolutes take the control out of life. More than that, it takes the fun out of life as well. The neo-conservative fear of the creeping liberalism in our culture is that someday, we will lose our entire moral backbone and devolve into something terrifying. Yes, this can be viewed as an outright bigotry – homophobia, xenophobia – but there is a human desire that exists beneath it. Culture and tradition are good things, until they aren’t. And I think they are due our respect as well, with a much needed side eye to some particularly outdated notions.

That is what I have learned in 155 entries to date. Here we go with the back 155.

The Last Word: Zechariah 11 – 14, Malachi

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’”
Malachi 1:2a (NIV)

We’ve made it folks. The end of the Old Testament. No more prophets and history. Gone are the days of floods and fire raining onto gay cities. Exiles are done; the poets are dead. No more plagues and global annihilation (sans Revelation, but whatever). Kick off the sandals, readers; we’re headed for Christianity.

And it wouldn’t be the Old Testament without a final round of warnings from our last Minor Prophet Malachi. Just so that all the returned exiles are on the same page, Malachi writes a list of all the ways they have broken their covenant with God, including:

…offering inappropriate sacrifices
…men divorcing their young wives
…allowing evil to thrive
…withholding tithes
…leading others away from God

Luckily for the remaining remnant, this does not exactly apply to them, since they were faithful enough to return to the Promised Land (and by proxy, return to God).

To round things out, Malachi pitches up one more warning for all the people of Earth:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (4:5-6)

Yes, the final word of the Old Testament is “destruction.” How fitting.

My commentary is sparse on this – call it biblical fatigue. For those of you who may have noticed (read: no one noticed this, but), I hit the halfway point in my little project a few days ago, and today, I am finishing the first “half” of the Bible. However, some of your diehard fans (read: no one) may know offhand that the Old Testament is nearly four times as long as the New. So I have been reading 10ish chapters a day for the past six months while I plan on reading on only two with the latter part.

Why? Because I wanted to spend more time studying the New Testament.
Why? Because it is more interesting to me.
Why? Because I grew up Christian.

Why don’t Christians actively engage in the Old Testament? Why is it so difficult to focus and study these books?

Well… I –

I will leave that discussion for tomorrow. And then onward we will ride to Jesus.

Life Lessons: Zechariah 1 – 10

“Return to me,” declares the Lord Almighty, “and I will return to you.”
Zechariah 1:3b (NIV)

My mother had several all-encompassing mantras that applied to any given situation. Mothers are good for that, especially Italian, short, raised Catholic now Protestant, tough mothers.

Tornados always scared me growing up – it turned into an obsessive fear after some time. From May to August every year, my eyes were glued to the extended forecast on the Weather Channel. If storms lurked in distance, I spent the next week prepping for the occurrence, checking updates, watching radar, waiting, apprehending. A particular bad set of storms hit one evening. No one else took it seriously. I hid under the kitchen table. My mother crawled under with me, shivering and sweating, and told me that it was time to start wearing deodorant. I looked at her through my worry and asked why. She said:

Because cleanliness is next to godliness.

I thought she had made that up.

Another one: I rarely lied, out of fear of the wrath of the gods (my parents). My mother had a borderline psychic intuition that made any secret a time bomb. My first kiss was my sophomore year, to a young Asian girl from my art elective class. I walked her home. We kissed awkwardly. Then, I skipped on home with a giant smile on my face. I pranced straight into my living room – my mother looked at me dead in the eyes and said, you kissed a girl, didn’t you? I freaked out, shouting accusations and defenses. She laughed and playfully said:

Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Don’t lie, even if it’s out of embarrassment. Yep.
My parents never cursed. We were not supposed to curse – a stark and never-broken rule in our household. But that confused me one day when my mother told me:

When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.
What does that mean? I asked.
I think that’s clear, she replied.
I thought we weren’t supposed to curse.
Another mantra: A well-placed curse gets the point across.

Life lessons from the 1950s apparently.

Zechariah goes about establishing a new norm for the Jewish people, post-exile. The days of Nebuchadnezzar are over; the Israelites have returned to their homeland. And now, we have a new prophet who is tasked with informing these fallen men and women of where they have been and where they are going now.

He gives us this to munch on:

“These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord.
Zechariah 8:16-17 (NIV)

I do not mean to imply that the “Law” is gone as we have come to know it, but this is certainly a shift in the paradigm. These are guidelines to living a sound and healthy life – an encapsulated way to end the Old Testament. A loving God, happy with His followers. Maybe it means…

But before I can say it, I can hear my mother saying:

Do not mistake a loving God with a relativist God.

The end comes tomorrow.

Complaints and Questions: Habakkuk, Zephaniah, & Haggai

Habakkuk: The Complainer
Zephaniah: The End Is Nigh
Haggai: Where’s My Temple?

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Habakkuk 1:2a (NIV)

We’re nearing the clove of Testaments, and frankly, the “Minor Prophets” are appearing more and more like a forgotten appendix of the Bible rather than anything truly canonical. For the sake of summary, Zephaniah continues in on the “return of God” on Earth, otherwise known as the Apocalypse. Haggai, on the other hand, concerns himself with the lazy Jews who have built themselves lavish homes but have neglected to do the same for God’s temple (#OldTestamentProblems). Habakkuk, on the other hand, digs into some more universal issues.

Most young Bible scholars (read: elementary Sunday school students) know Habakkuk as the least pronounceable/most difficult to spell book of the Bible. Its contents are always good for a difficult Bible trivia question; if you took an honest poll of church-goers, I doubt even 10% would be able to recall anything of value about this or the other two books in question today. They’re short. They have no plot. They are difficult to pronounce and spell. Obviously, Americans are going to be immediately disinterested. But I found the book relatable, most notably for Habakkuk’s honest concerns about the God/human dynamic.

His book consists of two “complaints” followed by God’s responses; surprisingly, his recollections are sparse on any actual prophecy, a relief to this reader. After beginning his complaint with the lament above, Habakkuk asks two fairly simple questions, ones that any person alive has asked him or herself at some point: “Why do you make me look at injustice?/Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (1:3a) Why do good people die, why do you allow suffering, modern Habbakuks have asked to Almighty time and time again. This philosophical dilemma comes up often as an argument against any belief in God. If He’s so perfect, why doesn’t He sprinkle some of that perfection down onto us and just put an end to this nonsense?

God’s answer? “I am going to do something in your days/that you would not believe.” (1:5b) He then goes on to explain that He will empower the Babylonians to take down the Israelites and enact His due justice against them – all of which is a not-so-veiled reference to King Nebuchadnezzar’s rise. Gotta say, God, you didn’t really answer the question there, and in fact, only guaranteed more violence and destruction. This reply startles Habakkuk, as it does me, so naturally, there is a follow-up. “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?/Why are you silent while the wicked/swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” He asks (1:13b). The Lord responds with a lengthy diatribe about the nature of His works – that He is God and thus will of course even the scales eventually, just in His own time. Relax and wait, He says, You must know by now that I am perfect.

Habakkuk reveals something that we all have considered, a theme most exhaustively explored in the book of Job: How are we meant to maintain faith in the face of such ferocious uncertainty? This quandary confounds us all, no matter how earnest we may be. We may throw our hands up to the sky and yell, “Life isn’t fair!” But God’s reply is, “Oh yes it is, you just have to wait a long time and see.”

Or maybe God is getting at something else. To generalize, He seems to be saying… That’s life… The endless cycle of unknowing… The core value of His answer is devoid of any dogmatic proclamations. It is universal. To live is to not be certain. And how we go about dealing with that is up to us.

Enter Jesus? : Micah & Nahum

Non-Christian people made absolutely no sense to me growing up. Who would so willingly reject what seemed to be so obvious? The Christian theology presented a clear and unbridled gift to the afterlife, and the tenants of the religion, as I understood them, were filled completely with love (which I also learned was different from acceptance). Additionally, there seemed to be so much proof for God’s existence as well as Jesus’ sovereignty. The fellowship of church felt to me like the presence of the Holy Spirit – I left church each Sunday feeling a part of something and happy. And as for the “proof” of Jesus, so often I heard, “The prophets predicted the appearance of a Savior, and then Jesus was born.” The Old Testament – at least the portions that were taught to me – felt like a grand prequel setting the stage for the Great Redeemer. It was like The Hobbit before The Lord of the Rings. The second is obviously superior, but the first is equally necessary. After all, things need to be pretty bad in order to get better. And Jesus filled all the criteria laid out in the Old Testament. Jewish people especially confounded me. Why didn’t they get it? Jesus was right in front of them.

Micah drops a quick prophecy for Jesus in the middle of his book. The passage begins with this declaration:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans[e] of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”
Micah 5:2 (NIV)

The prophecy goes on to say that this rule will “shepherd his flock” and all “will live securely” (4).

Sounds like Jesus to me!

Additionally, “he will be our peace/when the Assyrians invade our land” (5).

Okay… Cool!  

Furthermore, “He will deliver us from the Assyrians/when they invade our land/and march across our borders” (6).

Hm… I don’t recall that… 

This is the first time ever that I understand why Jews are unconvinced of Jesus’ sovereignty, and it comes from a historical perspective on what leaders in the Old Testament world were known to do. Let’s remember that men (well, mostly men) of renown so far have performed very specific actions in order to establish the kingdom of God. Abraham literally created a nation that grew into a dynasty. Moses literally led the people from slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Joshua literally took back the Promised Land from foes and established the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. These were fighting men who trekked across the countryside, kicking ass.

And Jesus… did none of those things. I am not commenting on the nature of His actions – I rather prefer His softer hand and preacher’s demeanor – but for the first time, I get the disbelief.

But maybe Jesus brought something better.

Sins of Inaction: Obadiah & Jonah

[The Lord said,] “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:11 (NIV) 

I played Jonah in my eighth grade school play. I never fancied myself the acting type; that role in my family fell squarely on my brother’s shoulders. But he was not around the middle school anymore, so that left a big vacancy in the small drama department at Penn Christian Academy (with only 45 students in the middle school… well that was not too surprising). So when audition sign ups posted, I puffed up my chest and signed up. Who cares I couldn’t sing, dance, or act? There was no more shadow to stand in!

The play was “Go, Go Jonah,” a musical interpretation of the minor prophet’s trip into the belly of a big fish and then out again. Musical theater aficionados may recognize that title as being strikingly similar to the song “Go, Go Joseph” from another biblical production “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Well that’s because this play was a not-so-subtle rip off of that much more successful musical. Sheesh.

c-go-go-jonahAnyway after my audition, I was just as shocked as everyone else my name next to the title role. How could I, a musical theater shmuck, be given such a role? Maybe the surly drama teacher saw something in me that no one else did…

But at the read thru, I realized that I had been fooled. As I excitedly flipped through my script, I noticed that the character of Jonah, despite being the title character, had absolutely zero lines. He was presented as a mute with a burly beard that muffled all of his speech. The website for the musical states that “The Jonah is a non-speaking part, so any kid can be the ‘star.’” A noble goal, except that I distinctly remember the character description in the script reading: “Jonah is a perfect role for an eager youngster without traditional acting and singing ability.” Ouch.

I did the part, though I no longer felt motivated. My parents came and sat and cheered, like good parents do. But I don’t know, my taste for this classic Bible story grew sour after that experience. Yes, I have been holding a 13-year-old grudge against thus story.

I remember the story of Jonah as being fairly straightforward. God calls Jonah to prophesy to the people of Nineveh, but he flees on a ship to avoid the responsibility. Then, God sends a storm as punishment, and the crew throws him overboard where a giant fish snatches him up. After three days of prayer, the fish vomits him up, and he goes to Nineveh to finish the job. That’s it. Right?

As we have seen before, the children’s versions of Bible stories are often edited for graphic and adult content, and Jonah is no different. Jonah successfully ministers to the people of Nineveh, and they turn from his ways. Jonah proves himself to be a worthy prophet, right?

Wrong!

Afterwards, he laments to God about the lack of punishment for the people, saying that He promised to do it, and he ought to follow through. He goes as far as to say:

“Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (4:3) 

A deep depression falls over him, and the book ends with a sunburnt, abandoned Jonah in the wilderness, contemplating God.

My grudge is over. Here is a character worth studying. Someone who listens to God, fulfills a promise, and then wonders about the outcome. Sure, that outcome involved the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ninevites, but still, I find myself empathizing with the guy.

God gave him the lead role and then took away all of his lines.

Closing the Loopholes: Amos 1 – 9

“Go to Bethel and sin;
    go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three years.[m]
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
    and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
    for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.
Amos 4:4-5 (NIV)

Young Christian kids know how to work the system. Like if I wanted to lie, I would tell all of the truth and just lob off the lying part.

“What did you do with your friends, honey?”
Oh, we went to the park and got pizza… (and toilet papered someone’s car).

-or-

“Did you have fun at the movies?”
Yup! … (It was especially fun with the gin)

You get it.

Another strategy was to just commit the sin and then immediately ask for forgiveness. Do you really want to say the f-word? Do it, and apologize later! For the real risk-takers, you could just live a non-spiritual life all the way up until the end, and then accept Jesus into your heart. But this requires a slow and foreseeable end. Only apply if you live on the edge…

Catholics perfected this concept with the idea of confession. Go ahead and screw up all you want! Then, trot on down to your local priest, confess your sins, and receive your penance. Congratulations! You’re done! Welcome to Heaven (or Purgatory first, and then Heaven)!

Logically, this makes no sense. Can such behavior match up with a truly penitent heart? Or is it all about the action and not the heart?

This half-assed spiritual behavior is of particular interest to Amos, our latest “minor” prophet on the Old Testament homestretch. His prophecies concern the flailing Israelites during the final days of Jeroboam’s reign, right before God tears apart the nation. Amos sets his sight on the complacent followers, those who believe but do not act, those who sin and rely on God’s forgiveness to see them through to the end. He devotes an entire chapter to “woe-ing” these particular sinners, for putting “off the day of disaster” and lying “on beds adorned with ivory” (6:3-4). Amos is basically saying, “You’re relying on loopholes, Israel! You think you can be as bad as you want and just beg for forgiveness and live?!”

I never thought my Christian loopholes would work. God must be too smart for that, I thought. How could He actually accept someone who waited until his or her deathbed? The kid in me wants to scream out, That’s cheating! because it is. It is a technicality and does not really have anything to do with the heart.

I have not spoken much about my recent church experiences, because I simply need more time to attend and process. However, on my first week, the pastor – a lesbian woman by the way – said something that has stuck with me. She said that we have painted God to be quite stupid in interpreting our hearts, and we often assign Him the role of thoughtless executioner. Why do some think that homosexuality is not a sin? Because gay Christians believe just as much in Him as heterosexual Christians.

And God must be smart enough to see that.

You Know What You Did: Joel 1 – 3

“Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged?
    No, I will not.”
Joel 3:21a (NIV)

The Book of Joel recounts a rather simple story. A swarm of locusts befalls a tribe of Jews, leading to a severe famine in the land, and there is confusion about why God allows such a plague to ravage them. Joel enters the scene and tells them: “Because of your sin, you idiots.” Then we get the standard biblical-prophecy-of-Israel’s-ride followed quickly by the traditional prophecy-of-assured-global-destruction. Finally to wrap out, God declares, “The LORD dwells in Zion!” (3:21)

Wham-bam, end of book.

So for all pomp, this is just another standard book of prophecy. The structure is the same – problems, punishments, promises, prophecies. The only odd detail is the lack of context. Joel never mentions who he addresses, and historians struggle to pinpoint the time and location of its writing. Some place it well before the exile, back when Israel and Judah thrived; others throw it after the reign of Nebuchadnezzar when the exiles returned to the holy land.  http://www.insight.org/resources/bible/joel.html Interesting? Maybe to some.

But there is something else beneath the surface here – a slow-burning taunt. The first half of this three-chapter book focuses on the sins of the little culture and their due retribution in the form of plague. “You know what you did,” he says over and over. And then, we transition rather suddenly into the end-of-the-world prophecy, told in very vivid fashion. For the first time, we are treated to some of the actual events that will lead up to the inevitable judgment of all humanity. There will be “blood and fire and billows of smoke,” and “the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” (2:30-31). Then, we will all participate in a global war, ending in the “day of the Lord.”

The imagery is grotesque and violent. Darkness and fire and blood in the streets. The day of the Lord will not be a fun day.

Joel structures his testament brilliantly. First, a real-world example. Look at the locusts – now recall your sin. One resulted in the other. And then, he has the application laid out for the rest of us. “See what happened to these people when they sinned?” He asks. “Now recall your sin, and guess what will happen to you.” An effective strategy. It forces the reader into paranoiac reflection. What have I done? We ask. And do I deserve what comes next?

A taunt and a warning. End of the Book of Joel.

Meditation on the Disappointed Parent: Hosea 8 – 14

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
Hosea 11:1-2a (NIV)

Consider the way he runs to the school bus every morning, and infer what it says about his nature. Is it frantic in step and pace, off-kilter, clumsy? Or is it oddly graceful, sure-footed, each step on a rhythm like congas, one-two, one-two? What’s his backpack doing – is it hopping, or is it still? Consider the backpack itself – brightly colored or matte, with clinking key chains – or still? Now, his gait. Close together? Waddling? Trotting? Prancing? Does he smile when you make eye contact or dart away at even a glance? Let’s say that his face looks neutral, but what does it imply? Is it dread or intimidation? Or is he lachrymose or unsatisfied? Or is there nothing going on at all? Does he rush inside the doors when the driver pulls the lever? Does he wait to be last, letting the mound of children ahead of him? If he does wait, is that fearful or chivalrous? Does he empathize or terrorize? Is he terrorized? The truth is that you will worry no matter which way it goes. Anything can be proof of everything. So, you worry, but are your worries founded?

What kind of boy is he and how does he show that to the world?

Now, consider tackle football. He is both tall and wide and at the top of his weight class, which makes him a valuable asset. The coach takes a shot on him and places him at center – he’s a keen listener and follows instruction and does not let anyone through to his quarterback. Every play starts with him, and you love to remind him of that, to mention that to the other parents sitting next to you. The coaches love him – it is his great attitude. He always makes key plays. It must be his parenting.

But the tears always flow on the ride home; he whines endlessly and never lets you forget it. Because you forced it on him, you know he does not want to play anymore. He did, at the beginning, when it was only flags and darting around with friends, when it was merely a social club that involved football. He never wanted to tackle and still doesn’t. He keeps a lid on it during practice, because he has respect for the authority of the coaches. He does not look sideways between the hours of 6 and 9 pm, Monday thru Thursday, and during the games on Saturdays. He keeps his damn gaze straight, because you tell him to. He respects your authority as well. For five years, the balance weighs in your favor, and he plays. He plays well.

Consider your love for him and where it came from. Did he earn it, or did you endow it? He is your creation after all, and he represents you without even knowing it. Is he a reflection on you? Yes. Is that negotiable? No. So you feel the weight of that responsibility, not only for your sake, but also for his. If you see the warning signs, you better damn do something about it. Have the prophets taught you nothing? You are the course correction. His head is your head. That is a part of the love.

But you waited too long, and you have lost your influence. What can your authority muster when he is no longer near you? He does not live in your house or even your state. He gallivanted off to the furthest part of the country; he does not even come home for Christmas. You soften. Was it a mistake? You strengthen. It was your duty. You loved him with all the words and support, and now he balks at it, forgetting all that you have done for him. He is selfish, and you ought to call him out on it. What are his values? Does he even have any? It tears you to shreds. You would rather he dig ditches for a living.

So naturally, you are disappointed. It is more than just your gut reaction; it is strategy. Quiet disapproval works. You don’t bring it up anymore – everything seems fine. Your conversations flow. They are even happy. But beneath everything is a palpable subtext. You are disappointed, and you never say it. You are disappointed, and he knows it.

You are disappointed, and it tears him to shreds. And so you can say that you are doing all that you can.