I am my dad’s son.
But given my reaction to my 16th birthday present you might have questioned that. I was a very active teenager spending as much time outdoors as I could—tennis, cycling, skiing, hiking, soccer and swimming. When it came time for my 16th birthday, quite honestly, I was hoping for some expensive ski equipment for my special day. My birthday is in October and new skis or boots would have been the perfect gift just in front of the Thanksgiving opening day on the slopes.
When it came time to receive my gift my dad took me downstairs, opened up a small closet and proudly pulled out a Swiss Army rifle. My eyes must have become like silver dollars. This was a monumental gift from my dad. It was his blessing upon me indicating that I had come of age. My father was bestowing upon me the sign and symbol of a boy who had transitioned into manhood—a high-powered rifle suited for big game such as deer, elk and bear.
It clearly caught me by surprise because I stammered through some form of an incoherent and insincere thanks. It wasn’t just that I really wanted something else and I was disappointed. No. The damn thing scared me! It was then that I knew that my dad’s hopes for me and my hopes for myself were going different directions. His intentions were pure gold. But it felt like I had received a lump of coal.
And yet, I have to say again I am my dad’s son.
Growing up, many a weekend was spent up in the Colorado Rockies fishing, hiking and camping. I was born in Bozeman, Montana near Yellowstone Park and later raised right at the foot of the magnificent Rocky Mountains. Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved highway in the world, was just a quick morning jaunt away. Three times I road my bike over the 12,183-foot pass. I was raised as a mountain boy.
On my 16th birthday, my dad got me right and wrong. He knew me well enough to know that supporting my love affair with nature was just right. But he didn’t know me well enough to know that I wasn’t going to be a perfect replica of him.
Today, I am still my dad’s son. I am as much of a nature boy as I always have been. It’s just that I traded in fishing, hunting, and camping for cycling, snowshoeing and kayaking. Despite my dad’s early hopes for me, today he takes pride (and some credit) in my outdoor ambitions.
At our Strategic Planning Team meeting last week one of our astute members shared the image of her understanding of good parents as we were reflecting on the future of the church. She reminded us that healthy parenting is not about making sure that our children become exact replicas of us, but that we bestow upon them our most cherished values and then release them to the world to live those values out in their own way.
The comment came as we were wrestling with the increasing demand upon the presbytery to help our churches successfully negotiate the cultural shifts of our communities. We know the form of our churches has to change. Her comment was a reminder that the healthiest churches instill their values in their membership and then release those same members to live those values out in their own unique ways.
I thought about the lesson from my family. My dad instilled in me a love for nature teaching me to fish for Rainbow trout, camping next to mountain lakes, and guiding me toward hunting for big game in the forests. I do almost none of that now. But my love of nature is still written into my DNA. Not a week goes by without taking a walk by a river, cycling on a mountain trail, snowshoeing through a forest, or kayaking in a wildlife refuge.
Sometimes we make the mistake of confusing form for content. We assume that Christian values can only be lived out in church membership, singing in a choir, volunteering at the food pantry, pledging a percentage of income to the church, serving as an elder or deacon, making coffee, trimming trees on church property, and running the sound system on Sunday.
At our best we instill in our memberships the value of compassion, a love of neighbor, a commitment to divine grace and justice, a deep itch for truth-telling, and a devotion to healing self and others. Maybe our members will become exact replicas of our church culture. But if we are lucky they will take those Christian values and live them out in their own unique ways. If we are lucky they won’t abandon the church, but instead become our legacy.
I am my dad’s son. Different in so many ways; yet, essentially the same.
That is how legacy works.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades