The Sound of Silence

Silence like a cancer grows

The political and social narratives are not much different than some of the family narratives that we encounter in our culture. These family dramas might be smaller in scope, but their effects have far-reaching consequences for our society and for our world. They are a microcosm of the global reality.

Our present narrative in western culture is an extension of the past metanarrative that we have long since discarded as irrelevant for modern life. Yet, now that we have a more objective distance from the past to better understand history, the actions and their consequences, we begin to understand that the secular metanarrative has no more validity than the discarded religious metanarrative that has been canonized and preserved in the form of sacred texts and religious commentaries.

Francis Schaeffer, observed a trend starting with the Enlightenment that would lead to a popular obsession with personal peace, prosperity and security.

Charles Taylor described the trend over the past 500 years to replace the Christian enchantment of the 1500s with the secular disenchantment of the 2000s, leading us to the immanent frame that is our current perspective of past, present, and future.

Paradigm, perspective, worldview, window, frame, lens. These words provide a mental model or metaphor for the subjective view that each person has of the world. We create stories to make sense of the world. Identity is directly related to our place in time and space. Our temporal and geographical locality defines our point of view. We share stories as a way to relate our common human experience. Through stories, we can better understand our relationships.

Story

The Bible is full of stories. The world is full of stories. Families are living out of the stories that they have inherited. Each person has their own story. We are writing our own stories as we live them out, one day, one moment at a time.

Structure

What is the structure of a story? What we learned in school in English class was that stories have common elements and a common structure:

Narrative Elements

  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Plot

Narrative Structure

  • Introduction
  • Conflict
  • Climax
  • Resolution

Forword

Unfortunately, this story is all too common. It is the story of a father and his child. Imagine a child raised by a Christian father in an English-speaking North American setting. This is how the story is often told from the adult child’s point of view. This is a story of frustration, conflict, anger, hostility, pretence, silence, loss, pain, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, hope, and redemption. It is the story of our broken families. The story is our common journey, our shared experience, the human condition.

Introduction

I am going to tell you a story. I can no longer remain silent. I need to write this in a letter because when we interact in person, we frustrate each other. You do not listen. Therefore, you disobey your holy scriptures:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

And,

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:21‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Conflict

Because you do not care to listen, I walk away. Because you disrespect me by not listening, I cannot listen to you. Thus, we are at an impasse.

Because we do not communicate, we cannot resolve our issues. This situation represents an act of disobedience to God, who is a God of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and love. If we do not represent the love of Jesus in this world, how will people be able to know that he is real? If we cannot forgive and reconcile, we dishonour the name of Jesus. If we don’t get this right, there may be a lot at stake.

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.

‭‭Malachi‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

You dominate conversations as if your opinions are the only ones that matter. That is disrespectful. Because you do not show me respect, I have difficulty showing you respect. You have not cared enough about me as a person to ask, “How was your day?” You do not ask about my work. You do not ask about my family. You do not ask about what I think or value. You do not ask about me. You do not spend time with me.

You talk only about yourself. You are so self-absorbed. You taught us to be just like you.

There are love languages that are particular to each person. For me, time and attention is the way I understand love.

You do not listen. You do not love me.

Because you do not listen, because you do not care to take an interest in my thoughts and opinions, because you punish me by socially excluding me from the family, telling the rest of the family that I am not in your favour, because by your words and actions, you force me into isolation, into eternal conscious torment in a living hell, I have come to believe the same things about my Father in heaven.

I have come to believe that God does not love me, that he will not listen, that he does not care, that he has removed his favour from me, that I have no place in his family, and that he has reserved eternal conscious torment in hell for me.

You cannot NOT communicate. That means that a person’s lack of communication can also send a message, whether intended or not. A person can infer meaning. A person can interpret silence as indifference.

Your silence, your seeming indifference towards me in comparison to the attention that you appear to have lavished on your other children leads me to conclude that I was never worth your time.

Because of God’s silence, his seeming indifference towards me in comparison to the attention that he appears to lavish on his other children leads me to believe that I am not worth God’s love and attention, that I must be destined to hell.

That is the message that keeps playing in my mind: “I am not worth anyone’s time. I am worthless.”

Now, is it my fault that your example of fatherhood has been a stumbling block for my faith? I don’t actually think that there is anything I could possibly do to convince you that I am a believer. You do not know me, yet you condemn me every time I am in your presence when you proselytize to me without even bothering to ask, “How are you?” If I had saved a million people, you would not know, because you cannot be bothered to have a conversation with me.

I married my partner in life because this person was my best friend, because my friend listened. My partner helped me feel like I was worthy of love. But then you made my partner feel worthless.

We are one. If you make my partner feel worthless, you make me feel worthless. By extension, you make my children feel worthless.

If you want to destroy me in public, I will destroy your self-righteousness in public. If you care more about your law than people, about how you look to the world, about how we taint your ideal image of the perfect family, we will destroy your idol, your pretence of perfect religion. You have made us orphans in your own family. Your toxic belief system has become worthless to us. It is a religion of death. It is killing us.

Because you call me a “liar” and a “blasphemer” and exorcise evil spirits from me in your public prayers, you disrespect me in front of the entire world. You try to place a gag order on me and censor me without even a shred of evidence for your accusations. You are no better than the Sanhedrin who stoned Stephen to death.

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

‭‭Acts‬ ‭7:51–60‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Who made you my judge and jury? For which of my sins do you call me a blasphemer? Which of these sins is not something of which you yourself are already guilty?

Mom told me to respect my father, quoting the favourite biblical text of parents to support the command.

Honour your father and mother!

Matthew 19:19

I replied by asking the question, “How does an adult child honour his or her parents?”

Honouring is not the same as obeying. I have been an adult for years now. I have raised a child who has grown to adulthood. I have chosen to be a parent in some fundamentally different ways than what I can remember being modelled to me as a child by my own parents.

You were judgmental, self-righteous, emotionally unbalanced, inconsistent in the way you behaved in public and in private, distant, aloof, angry, and unable to resolve conflict.

I tried to be different by focusing on gaining the maturity to nurture relationships with authenticity, emotional awareness, honesty, openness, vulnerability, trust, and a willingness to resolve conflict.

The Pretenders

As a family, we felt compelled to pretend in public that we were the happiest people on earth. But privately, we were isolated, depressed, and angry. We swallowed whole the propaganda from televangelists and Christian conferences of religious triumphalism. Our faith in God was the solution to all the problems in the world. As children, we were supposed to be the models of perfection that you and Mom could hold up to the world as proof of your own goodness and righteousness.

That image of family perfection fell apart when I began acting out, misbehaving, and the two of you blamed that me for bringing shame to the family name. At the time, I became the scapegoat for the family, the “black sheep” as I was called.

At home, you and Mom had two modes of conflict resolution that you modelled for us. There were emotional outbursts of repressed anger resulting in yelling, tears, slamming doors, and one of you walking or driving away. Or there was the silent treatment and pretending that everything was okay, as both you and Mom repressed anger, resentment, bitterness, and rage, storing up ammunition for the next emotionally explosive battle. The arguments made no sense. You were both speaking different languages, never coming to a common understanding. Absolutely nothing was ever resolved. You would start projects, but you would not finish them. You would leave Mom to clean up the mess. That conflict, that pattern of self-destructive behaviour has gone on for as many years as you have been together without ever having been properly addressed, understood or resolved. It has been years of cold war.

The Consequences

I equated Christianity with shame, guilt, anger, blame, judgment, punishment, silence, depression, and hypocrisy. I remember making a trip as a family to proselytize to friends and relatives. While you were preaching your gospel to these people, you asked me to back up what you were saying, to confirm how happy we were because we were Christians and conforming to your rules. All I could do was nod, while internally I felt none of it was true for myself. All of these years I have felt condemned, by myself, by my father, by my mother, by my siblings, by my God for not living up to the image of perfection laid out by God’s perfect law. I have not led one person to Christ, because I have been conditioned by my family to believe in a God of shame, guilt, anger, blame, judgment, punishment, fear, and silence, and I could not in good conscience wish that same personal hell on anyone else. I would have committed suicide long ago if the fear of eternal conscious torment in hell had not also been part of the toxic theology that we had been taught.

Climax

As I find community, as I nurture honest, authentic relationships, I am learning that there are other ways to live in the world that are healing and redemptive. The contrast is stark between my experiences in community and my experiences in this family.

I am suggesting a different way of dealing with the emotional rifts that have grown between all of us by starting with better ways of acknowledging, addressing and resolving conflict.

You have two choices:

If you are willing to engage in the process of conflict resolution, we will be able to have a relationship.

If you do not, then we will have none, because your behaviours are toxic to our relationship, and I will no longer tolerate them.

Resolution

The choice is yours.

You get to write the end of your story. If there is anything in this story that needs to be corrected, this is the time to do it.

So, how do you want this story to end?

My Hope

In spite of the past, I forgive you, and I love you. I honour you as my father in the only way that I can think of at this moment. I give you the freedom to respond and the opportunity to listen and to be heard.

I am giving you an opportunity to help you write your story. It is also an expression of the appreciation I have for the good things that you have done. You have always been generous and you provided for all our physical needs. The faith you passed on, though distorted, gave us a strong foundation to build on.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:14–22‬ ‭NIV‬‬

My hope is to destroy the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.

My hope is that we set aside the law and its regulations.

My hope is for reconciliation and peace.

My hope is in one new humanity.

My hope is that God will build us together.

My hope is that God will live in us by his Spirit.

Can we build that future together? Can we write that story together?

Written by

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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