Lessons from a Son

By Paul Koch

Last week, I travelled to Fort Wayne, Indiana for the 32nd Annual Symposium on Exegetical Theology and the 40th Annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions. These two conferences hosted back to back at the seminary are always packed full of great insights and discussion by top-notch scholars. To be sure, leaving the beautiful confines of Ventura, California to travel to Fort Wayne in the middle of January isn’t always to joyful undertaking. Nonetheless, I go every year. I go for the opportunity to learn and so that I might be a better pastor and teacher, but most of all I go because every year I gather together with a handful of very good friends. It is their presence, their laughter, their banter in the bars late into the night that make it all worthwhile.

This year was especially fun. In addition to our usual schedule of things to do, we packed into a corner of the bar at Don Hall’s Guesthouse and did a remote recording of Ringside with the Preacher Men. Then that night The Jagged Word hosted all the 4th year seminarians as the band played late into the evening and we toasted to their final months of study. We had a great time and created new stories that will be told for years to come all why being bound together in a common confession, a clear understanding of who we are and why we gravitate toward one another.

When I find myself in the presence of true friends, there is an unnamed fire that is allowed to burn bright. It is found in our interactions—our laughs, jokes, and insults. It might be offensive to some or unpredictable to others, but it is part of the spirit of manhood and something most men long for.

The Friday that we headed for home happened to be President Trump’s Inauguration. From news feeds on my phone to the monitors in the airport, I could see the spectacle unfold along with the protests against it all. I don’t mind outspoken opposition, but I shake my head shamefully when I see grown men whine and complain about outcomes they don’t support in a manner more suitable to preschool than a protest. I saw one clip of a guy screaming at the top of his lungs while falling to his knees as Trump was sworn in. Part of me thought, “How sad, I hope he has someone to care for him for he really seems to be hurting.” And the other part of me thought, “What a pansy, throwing a temper-tantrum like a little boy who can’t have a cookie.”

Either way, I suppose I just felt really sorry for him… and ashamed… and embarrassed.

Now, this blog has enjoyed some success of late, but with that success comes those who would love for us to stop what we are doing, or censor it, or both. More than likely, most would have us get on board with their specific view and promote the comfortable echo chamber to which they’ve grown accustomed. I don’t pay much attention to dissenters unless they have the courage to actually speak to me like a man. So, if someone tells me about some certain Facebook post saying something about the character of the people who write for this blog, I simply imagine them as that snowflake screaming at the inauguration and feel the same way about them.

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On the flight home, I thought a lot about the state of masculinity in all of this. From scholars presenting topics that may not be well received to young seminarians nervous about where they will be placed to take up the task of being the hitmen and midwives of God, from obscure bloggers trying to be part of a beneficial conversation to the mainstream media finding themselves on the outside looking in, from the rise of the podcast to the ubiquity of social media, what has this done to men? Real men, men who fight for honor, rally to their brother’s cause, and are courageous and strong? Is there room for the strenuous life that shapes men in today’s society? Do we value the face-to-face confrontation and the strength of the pack? Do we even care?

And then I made it home.

I entered my house after being gone for a week to the loving embrace of my wife followed immediately by my four daughters, who each hugged me back into the house. Then came the boy, my son (the youngest), who just turned seven. He gave me a sort of lame side hug then wanted to show me some pictures he had been working on. But no sooner had I sat down on the couch than the assault began. He leaped onto my back from the arm of the couch trying his best to get me in choke hold. I threw him onto the floor, and for the next thirty minutes, it was on. Bodies flying interspersed by Charlie horses and rear naked chokes. When he got tired of being my jiu jitsu dummy, he opted for the nerf guns and then the battle moved around the living room and into the dining room.

Through the exhaustion and occasional shot of pain, the laughter never ceased. And when I finally smothered him until he tapped out, I was reminded of the great strength and hope of masculinity. A hope not sorted out in cyberspace gossip circles but in the physical rising up of a son against the loving resistance of a father. You see, he reminds me that the fire that burns within is not some stray spark or some dying relic. Rather, it is the fuel that secures the bonds that matter in our lives.

The scholar, seminarian, social justice warrior, nameless blogger, and Facebook guardians of the truth can all learn something from a son. Or rather we can be reminded of something we forgot. We can be reminded of the joy of the confrontation and the excitement to join in the fight until we can no longer move. Instead of concealing the fire within, we can let it burn with those who we call friends and brothers.

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