We did not sit in our father’s chair

Monday Musings for August 31, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

A Christian friend of mine had recently immigrated from French-speaking Africa to the USA. It was coming up on Father’s Day and we were having a father-themed men’s Bible study — the type that was likely happening across the USA in evangelical churches like mine — among people of European ancestry who hold Western cultural perspectives.

Now, our friend was dealing with a language barrier, but his eyes told us that there was something more going on... so we let him tell his story. His family still lived in Africa, and they were not Christians. His father had multiple wives, and our friend was one of twenty-one children!

In retrospect, I see the problem... why my friend wasn’t connecting with what was pretty standard stuff for a Bible study in the USA. The issue was honor — or rather, the lack of it. America has honorable people... but we are not an honor-based society. We are — and unabashedly so — a practical people... so it should come as no surprise that America’s default philosophy is Practicalism... and yes — that’s a real thing! ... and we should own it!

The downside to being philosophically practical is that we honor efficiency over institutions — but we’re not total barbarians. We officially “honor” our fathers on the third Sunday in June. But do we honor them in a meaningful way? My African friend was not convinced. That was an element from his life in Africa that was better than what he was experiencing in fabled America.

Let me be clear: my friend did not have a bad life in Africa. It’s just that he had a business degree, and his country didn’t have the same opportunities as the USA... so he came here. But also, his native land was not flooded with goods as is typical in America — so the comparisons I’m going to make are inexact... but stick with me here.

When I go to sit down, there are always enough chairs. But this is not necessarily true in developing countries — and this might be an acute issue in a household with multiple wives and twenty-one children! I guess that they played some version of musical chairs pretty regularly! But despite the chaos, one chair always remained unoccupied: the father’s chair. It did not matter if a child needed to sit or that no one was in it; no one sat in the father’s chair but the father. Now that’s honor!

I suspect this is why we didn’t make the Father’s Day connections we wanted to make with our African friend. Our nation was founded on the idea that every citizen is ontologically equal, and our Constitution has allowed us to grow that kind of society. We do it imperfectly, of course... being human. But it’s the striving that shows the heart — not the news cycle.

I love America, and I pray that someday she will fulfill her constitutional potential. But some things are lost in a land where all people are equal by definition. The sense of societal honor is one of the casualties. How can we even pretend to honor fatherliness as did the people in our Bible... people of the Ancient Near East?

Perhaps we Westerners never will. But a good start is to honor our heavenly Father by honoring our earthly father. Our nation has egalitarian aspirations, and they might fight against that type of “positional” honor. But we should think twice before letting just anyone — or anything — sit in the father’s chair.

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