By Bill Mefford
This Friday we will take our oldest son, Elisha, to Virginia Tech University to begin his college career. I am honestly so proud of him – of all that he has accomplished and who he is as a person. Still, I am feeling a deep sense of sadness at seeing him leave home. I have always heard other parents say they are amazed at how time flies watching their children grow up and I can certainly resonate with that sentiment. But my sadness also carries regret.
My regret for Elisha’s departure is not so much because of a remorse of things I have done or said to him, but rather, it is because of my own faith journey as he grew up watching me. I have always believed that faith is more caught than taught, meaning, discipleship of our children and those we are in leadership over will largely come from what they see and observe of us more than what we actually try and teach them.
I believe Elisha has seen my wife and I live out what we believe when it comes to engagement in missional justice for this is at the heart of our deepest values. Where we live, where we work, who our friends are, and where we go to church has all been decided not because of a desire to feed ourselves, but out of a desire to be engaged in something meaningful that positively impacts the lives of others, particularly those often marginalized by the rest of society. Our decisions have been made in direct contrast to the institutional church as it has not only given permission for Whites to flee diverse neighborhoods, they have made it policy to plant no churches in low-income neighborhoods because the boneheads who make up the leadership of most of our denominations need new church plants to be first and foremost financially viable. They have largely sacrificed experiencing the diversity of the Kingdom of God so that they can pay the bills.
So, our decision to go the opposite way was an easy one to make. Watch what dying denominations are doing and do the exact opposite. They are the George Castanzas of Christendom.
I regret none of this. I pray I have effectively passed on my institutional suspicion, though I hope he does it with more grace and compassion than I have mustered. At the same time, I do feel a great sense of remorse over not better passing on to Elisha an intimate and passionate love for Jesus. This was how I was discipled by my evangelical friends. These are people who love Jesus passionately and who have a tremendous amount of integrity and sincerity. I remain in very close relationship with many of my evangelical friends whose love has shaped me so much. I am so thankful for them.
And yet, ever since the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq – both of which I vehemently and very publicly opposed – I have fallen away from my evangelical heritage. I got sick of going to church and watching predominantly white evangelical churches focus on their individual sanctification while our country engaged in an unnecessary and unjust war without hardly a peep of objection coming from supposedly “pro-life” leaders. Apparently being pro-life was not meant for innocent Iraqis or Afghans. It also was not meant for the number of people we illegally tortured or illegally sent to other countries for them to torture. To this day, no one responsible for these policies has been charged with a single crime though they are far more deserving of jail-time than most of the people we lock up for decades at a time. It is simply sickening.
I became so disheartened at watching the lack of evangelical engagement on these (and many other) issues that my own personal relationship with Jesus suffered as well. Now, I do not mean to blame anyone else for this. It just happened. I should have continued to pour myself into prayer and worship despite the lack of engagement in justice by my fellow evangelicals. Well, I think I should have. But my heart hardened during this time. I didn’t become cynical (I had become cynical years ago – like when I was 8) and I didn’t doubt God’s existence in any way; I have always known God is real. But I stopped praying, I stopped reading Scripture, and practically every time I worshipped in a larger setting, especially if it was in a heterogeneous setting with other Whites, I just got angry.
When you combine this with the fact that Elisha was raised in a home watching his father get repeatedly frustrated by the overly-institutionalized, overly-bureaucratic, and severely under-missional work of the general church, which is where I worked for a decade, then yeah, you can imagine that finding authentic faith has been a bit of an ordeal for our family.
Elisha does have faith in Jesus. And Elisha is a far better and far more mature Christian than I ever thought about being when I was his age. But I regret that it has only been in the last couple of years that I have rediscovered a passionate relationship with Jesus. I regret he did not see this in me sooner.
It is amazing how much we impact others. It is also frightening. I have loved being a dad. From the first day I have felt such a bond, first with Elisha and then later with Isaiah. There are no words to describe the joy I feel at watching them live their lives and become the men I know they will be. I have seen – am seeing – the grace of God cover for my many mistakes over the years. I don’t regret those mistakes (well, most of them!). I firmly believe that God has a calling for Elisha’s life that is meaningful and that will bless others – so many others. I believe in the power of God’s grace and love, that it is stronger and more transformative than my mistakes have been. This is what we fall on as parents. It is what sustains us because none of us can parent perfectly. Indeed, there is only one perfect parent.
I only wish I could have loved Jesus more