While not purposefully excluding girls and sisters, it seems that boys and brothers have a tough row to hoe in the bible – especially in the beginning. Just four chapters in, when brothers Cain and Abel bring their offerings to the Lord – Cain bringing ‘fruit from the ground’ and Abel bringing the fat from the ‘firstlings of his flock’ – the Lord looks favorably on only one of the brother’s gifts. This rejection is, understandably, devastating news for Cain (imagine God – the Father – frowning on the fruits of your labors) and in the midst of what must have been a terrible and deep depression Cain rises up against his brother Abel and kills him.
About twenty chapters later Esau, who had become a skillful hunter – and because of that winning the favor of his father – comes home famished and sells his birthright to his lazy brother Jacob for a bowl of beans. Despite the evidential nature of the story pointing to the fact that Esau may have not been the brightest bulb in the box, as they say, the ensuing events of that story end with Jacob ‘stealing’ Esau’s blessing, Esau crying out in an ‘exceedingly great and bitter cry,’ weeping and being told by his father that he was to live a life ‘away from the fatness of the earth’ and from the ‘dew of heaven on high.’ In the absence of a blessing Esau starts counting the days until when, like Cain, he can find an opportunity to kill his brother Jacob. At this point I don’t suppose we need to review other biblical narratives about boys in Genesis – I’m thinking here of the ‘Binding of Isaac’ in chapter 22 or the fate of ‘Joseph the dreamer’ at the hands of his brothers in chapter 37 – let alone open up the theological can of worms related to our wrestling with Christian theories of the Atonement.
The reality of recent history in the United States points to the fact that boys and brothers have a tough row to hoe outside the realm of our biblical narratives too. It didn’t take me long this morning to compile quite a list of boys and brothers (some of whom were born around the time that I was) who, in what I can only imagine to be a life lived in the absence of a blessing, have risen against their brothers and sisters in this world: Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza and most recently the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaeva. What gives?
In three short paragraphs this blog has undoubtedly opened up a myriad of extremely difficult and complicated emotions for those of us who are fathers and sons alike – or mothers and daughters for that matter. When posting a blog entry last week about a blessing I received from my own father I knew that that entry might not be ‘a daily cup of good news’ for those who struggle with paternal relationships or for two of my closest friends who continue to struggle each day with the tragic death of their own son a little more than a year ago.
As a priest in the church with some education in pastoral psychology and a fair amount of real-time counseling with struggling parents and children alike I am aware that depression is a nasty beast and that sometimes, despite our best efforts, we cannot help those we love overcome their demons. Contra that, I also know that many of us have grown quite adept at passing on – and please excuse the foulness of this characterization – the ‘crap’ we have inherited from our own stolen blessings and that we do so from ‘Generation to Generation’ as Rabbi Friedman so aptly titled his great study of family systems and emotional processes.
As a parish theologian in the church with a considerable amount of time spent studying the Holy Scriptures and Christian theology I am somewhat at a loss to decipher a precise meaning for some of the troubling patriarchal narratives of the bible except to say that they may be narratives told ‘against themselves’ – stories that teach and instruct us with the blatant and glaring warning signs that are sometimes the conclusions to the stories themselves.
If my Daily Cup today can serve as a cup of good news those of us who posses the power to pass on a blessing to our children or our siblings or our parents, despite the complicated nature and struggle we may have with those relationships (or with our own ‘stuff’), will do so; we’ll call or write or text and say, in many or just a few words, “I love you and wish you every blessing there is.” That will make it, I hope, a happier Monday.
Thank you, Jim. I’m sending a message to our children now, our two sons.