Saturday, February 03, 2007

Listen Up... Dads?

We’re doing a deliberative reading of the book of Ephesians for the next couple of weeks in seminary. Toward the end of the book (5:22-6:9), Paul, in what may be a "circular" letter intended for broad distribution within the church of Ephesus and beyond, gets direct with members of the Christian household. He prescribes in these passages how individuals were to relate to one another in the context of intimate living relationships. Paul begins with instructions for wives… then husbands… then children… then fathers… then slaves… then masters. I had to read this passage twice to make sure I hadn’t missed the part where he talks to mothers. Paul transitions from fathers to slaves without mention of us.

“Where are the moms?” I asked a friend.

“Oh, they’re the slaves,” she quipped.

(Doubtful this is what Paul meant, but funny!)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

My Bible notes suggest that the Greek term “pateres,” translated “fathers,” could also mean “parents.” I also consulted a few commentaries which suggest that there are two camps of thought on this one. While it remains inconclusive as to whether or not Paul is addressing fathers only or both mother and father, when we think about how we are “wired” from a gender perspective, it’s altogether reasonable that the focus here might, indeed, be dads only.

The other night, Todd was reading an article from a Christian group about the role of mother and father. Mothers, the article said, are by nature nurturing and empathetic. Fathers, meanwhile, are meant to discipline and instruct. Todd and I looked at each other knowingly as this is pretty much how it plays out in our own home. While there’s obviously some degree of blending as we consider gender economies—Todd, for example, will discipline and nurture—there is undeniably a leaning or internal “default” that seems to normatively make nurturing more predominant among women with the propensity to discipline, perhaps, a little more organic to men.

So, in this light, as we read Ephesians 6:4, it makes some sense that Paul might be speaking directly to men. Because in doing the job they are designed by God to do—discipline and instruct—there’s the risk of exaggeration here. When discipline creeps beyond the desired training goal and begins chipping away at the spirit of the child. We see this from time to time at youth sporting events when over-the-top “despot” dads verbally batter their children in public. I’ve seen in the eyes of some of these kids a raging silent emotion. Fear. Anger. Even a kind of vacancy as, perhaps, they’ve learned over the years to “check out” as a way of coping.

There's a similar verse that gets at why it's important to avoid provoking our kids to anger. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they will not become disheartened. (Col. 3:21) Here, again, the Greek word could mean fathers or parents.

Of course, we mothers can and do act in ways that dishearten our children. So whether or not Paul is speaking directly to women here, we obviously have a huge role in ensuring a proper balance of discipline, instruction and nurturing so that our kids launch confidently into the world as healthy, God-centered adults. What's more, we all know of homes in which "traditional" roles are flopped... where women are the stricter disciplinarians and men are more nurturing.

So, it would appear that there are two ways to interpret who is being addressed here. We can rightfully examine the original language and walk away with a prescription from Paul for both parents. There's also a case to be made here for a message pointedly to fathers. It would seem to me, in some ways, this particular shoe is, well, a better fit for dad.

Blaring on my I-Pod... Best of Times, by Peter Cetera

(Photo by Eveyln Adams of Pilgrim Colin and Todd... both looking very handsome!)

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