Today (Tuesday) I rang my Dad on the occasion of his 80th birthday. We'll be doing lunch on Thursday in Cambridge. I clearly remember his 40th in our half-renovated basement in Howick. I was 13. My Dad was a worker, a practical man, a fixer-upper. He took that mixed up house and made it very pleasantly livable over the years, with it's huge family kitchen and rambling, homely qualities. Aside from working full-time he was one of our Boy's Brigade leaders as well. A busy, active man. All of us were new to the Christian thing, my parents having come to faith in middle age.
Dad was a big fan of Rob Muldoon and was happy to say so. The only time I saw Muldoon in the flesh was in his retirement and as the narrator for The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the city one evening. He was disappointingly subdued and lacking expression. I imagine he was far more terrifying in his element of the parliament chamber in his prime.
So we talked religion and politics but not for extended periods, and sometimes at our peril. My Dad was a man of singular opinion, so we learnt as teenagers to air our own opinions judiciously and somewhat sparingly. Growing into middle-age I have engaged in a transformational process of learning to forgive my Dad and to notice more the things worth celebrating and giving thanks for in his parenting of me and my brother. You finally grow up and realize your parents did their absolute best with what they had in that season.
Dad has always been proud of our adult achievements, having helped shape us in both deliberate and incidental ways. He toasted this around the dinner table when we were gathered a little while back. The onset of significant memory loss dictates now that our conversations are gentler, with softer edges. Grief and blessing come hand in hand.
Politics and religion are traditionally not for polite discussion, so I guess our dinner table was sometimes less than polite. Yet both religion and politics shape our lives and view of the world. The two are connected because what we think Jesus is calling us to will shape the way we vote and what we advocate for. Jesus stirred up the politics of his day, and it cost him dearly. Brian Zahnd wrote:
"The gospel of the kingdom is not partisan—it will not serve the partisan interests of a particular political party—but it is intensely political. It’s political because it poses a direct challenge to the principalities and powers and the way the world is arranged."
So may your conversations this week be robust and yet filled with the love of Christ, as you celebrate the freedom to vote in the democracy of Aotearoa NZ. My prayer is that you find things to be thankful for in your family, and celebrate your uniqueness and that you belong to God's family too.