October 21, 2020

Sundays with Michael Spencer: October 4, 2015


Yesterday, I experienced the great part of being a teacher; one of those experiences that make all the others worth it.

It was in my advanced placement English IV class. Our brightest seniors. I’m fortunate to be able to work with them.

A few days before we’d taken our final exam, and with two days left in the quarter, I decided to show the 1989 Peter Weir movie, Dead Poet’s Society, featuring Robin Williams in one of his finest performances, and then write an essay.

It’s the late 1950s, and conformity is in the air at little Welton Academy, a college prepatory boarding school where Mr. Keating has been hired to teach senior English. Keating tosses the boys some high-grade existentialism and budding beat philosophy along with an adolescent love of romantic literature. The effect of Keating’s mentoring on his young charges is explosive, with results varying from the revelatory to the tragic.

If you haven’t seen the film in the last twenty years, then prepare for a spoiler. One of the boys, Neil Perry, has been ordered by his compulsively authoritarian father to become a doctor. Neil has little reason to resist until the acting bug bites and, against his father’s express wishes, he plays the part of Puck in a community production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His father is furious and pulls Neil out of Welton with the intention of sending him to military school.

His first night home, Neil commits suicide.

I asked my students to write Neil a letter, assuming that he would read it before killing himself. I’ve done this assignment before, but this time I asked the students to read their letters before the class, with one student designated as a responder.

Predictably, all of the students advised Neil, among other things, to wait till he was 18, then do whatever he wanted to do, no matter what his father wanted for him. The point was getting out from under the authoritarian father and doing whatever you most wanted to do in life.

It was a good assignment and we had a good discussion. Then I asked Kim Kwan, one of my Korean students, to read his letter.

We have a lot of Korean students. They are, in the main, some of our hard-working and most successful students. I’m fascinated by the process they are part of as they bridge two cultures. This is particularly obvious on the subject of the value of education, as we were about to learn.

Kim very matter of factly told the class that Neil should obey his parents and become a doctor. Kim said that Neil’s parents had sacrificed for him and they loved him. His greatest happiness should be in doing what they wanted him to do in life.

My American students were stunned, to say the least.

Further, Kim said he related to Neil because he had wanted to be in the hotel industry, but his family wanted him to be a dentist. Without any of the expected bribery, his parents simply told him that he should be a dentist, and he changed his mind and vocational direction. His parents, he said, were willing to work hard and sacrifice so he could become a dentist, and he beleived their wisdom was best for him. He could make many persons’ lives better as a dentist, and he might even make enough money to buy a hotel. It might be difficult sometimes to make this choice, but it was the right decision and the way to the most happiness.

He trusted his parents, and he wanted to honor them.

The reaction of our students — and my own — was fairly predictable. We simply would never go this far. In fact, I have doubts, as a Christian, that anyone should go this far, though I have no problem with using as much influence as possible to keep a student in school and in a position to make a choice of careers based on a degree and an education.

But deciding for them? Like an arranged marriage? Believing that I know what my son or daughter should do with the rest of their lives? I’m not that competent. My own feelings about freedom are mixed in with my desire to be a good parent. In the end, I support my children’s decisions about vocation.

But I’m also an American. I’ve never believed that self-sacrifice was all that great an idea. My students and I are hard-wired to avoid difficult choices that might be less than what we wanted at the time. Why can’t we all do what we want as much of the time as possible? Why trust anyone when you can follow your own dreams and desires?

Kim was telling us that, in his worldview, doing what he wanted was not the way to happiness. Trusting his parents was the way to happiness, even if it meant sacrifice, suffering, an uphill struggle in a career that wasn’t his first choice.

Honoring his parents was more important to him than doing what he wanted to do.

We wanted his parents to make their happiness dependent on letting Kim do whatever he wanted to do.

Dead-poets-society-robin-williams-37377123-3000-2040Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s where I’m going.

I thought about it all day.

I should trust and honor God. I should trust his choices that are not my first choices. I should trust the sacrifice he has made for me. What further proof do I need that he is for me and wants what is best for me?

Why do I assume that the Gospel is all about a God who makes my happiness and a guarantee of my choices his greatest concern? Why do I assume that discipleship is a process where I will always get what I want, the way I want it, when I want it?

Why do I think that the way chosen for me by a loving Father can’t possibly be that path of sacrifice; that path of difficulty?

Why does what Kim Kwan is saying sound so strange to me? Why does it sound so unlike the way I want God to be?

Why does it irritate me that he trusts his parents so much?

Today, I was the student and my Korean friend was the teacher. I’m not signing up for the superiority of this way of being family, but I see the beauty of it as well as the weaknesses. What I see most clearly of all is what Ravi Zacharias called “the imprint of the Father” on the human soul; the deeply imprinted fingerprints of a time when we trusted God more than we trusted ourselves. The deep imprint of what it means to be made in such a way that you know your happiness and your own choices are not the ultimate path to joy.

The shadow of the cross that lies at the heart of the Father’s love; the cross that made Paul say “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”


  1. The only way to become a part of a wave is to release our relevance as an individual drop. Definitely against the cultural grain but the only way to find meaning. I don’t know that that means following Dad’s every wish in the American culture as we all must find our individual expression but certainly in the spirit there is no circumventing the cross.

  2. What does this mean, in the light of what seems to be a growing authoritarian streak in the more “conservative” ends of evangelicalism? Those who read the “watchblogs” will know of what I speak…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I recognize what you mean. But I do not know if I would describe the value which Kim Kwan expresses as “authoritarianism”.

      As a thoroughly western person, who saw Dead Poet’s society when I was still a juvenile, I recall many discussions about individualism, choice, etc… it was a pretty big splash.

      But as a 40-something… I believe Kim Kwan has a valid point. I was given much advice by my elders and our white-western version of ‘wise men’. I did not take much of it… but much of it was good advice – I see that in hindsight. I ditched numerous great opportunities in the name of ‘my way’, opportunities I was still to snot-nosed to recognize. I am content with where I have ended up, however much of that has been by luck and in spite of myself.

      I am certain if I watched Dead Poet’s now my reaction would be one of skepticism. Slow down, delay decisions, and always remember you can make more than one; life is a multi-select, not a toggle. That would be my criticism of the teacher’s heraldic individualism. I do not believe that is authoritarianism; merely recognition that sometimes others become authorities because they had the wisdom and self-control to make the right choices [and sometimes not, but sometimes]. Wisdom and self-control are not the natural virtues of the young, they need to borrow them – of course the young do have their own virtues, which we the world-weary would do well to borrow in kind.

      • I recognize what you mean. But I do not know if I would describe the value which Kim Kwan expresses as “authoritarianism”.

        Maybe, maybe not, but in the proud human tradition of overcompensation, the proposed correctives have tended to rely an awful lot on rules and unaccountable oversight. Where’s Option C?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > proud human tradition of overcompensation, the proposed correctives have
          > tended to rely an awful lot on rules

          Yes, exactly. Hurray for Rules! I once had a pastor promise he was going to give and address entitled “Hooray for rules!”. He wussed out. Rules are, in large part, the substantive answer. The ethereal portion of the answer is to remember the limitation of what rules can accomplish, and that any set of rules exists – and only makes sense in – a context. The key to loving rules is to view them as Tools, not Constraints [and the one who learns to *use* Rules has a higher yield for their efforts – this I am confident is demonstrably clear]. The widow with the grievance did not give up going to the judge for the lack of remediation – she went back to him – again, and again, and again.

          > unaccountable oversight

          This is the nut. How to keep oversight accountable. Thing is – I believe we know how to do that that. Modern civic democracies demonstrate this, and that it ***WORKS***! At least well enough. But they depend on a people holding up their end of the bargain – the ethereal part of the equation. Engagement, education, and a civic sensibility – and very importantly – passing on and continuously re-declaring [and redefining] those values. When people move into a mindset of running away from problems rather than turning towards them, the wagon gets wobbly.

          We know how to make accountable systems, it is a question if we actually care enough to do so, because doing so requires ***participation***. Or if grand standing from our hilltops is more our thing.

          The key, personally and societally, is to remember that the urge to move forward [the Progressive] and the urge to remain [the Conservative], the wanderlust [the youth] and the reticence [the parent], the passion [the radical], and the curmudgeon [the businessman] are are correct, at the same time. They are all speaking for things of value, things that can be lost, and things that can be achieved. They are all, many times, speaking of love; things they value, cherish, things that are dear to them. Success is learning to hear what that is amidst the fear, the contempt, and the disgust [*1] which contaminate us all. I believe a decision rooted in Love is not the one of intense clarity, but one make slowly, cautiously. Passion and Love are are often the two extremes, not things commingled. But we enjoy Passion.

          [*1] There have been excellent posts on Disgust here on IM. Posts I regularly refer back to. They make people think.

        • Option C exists and is normative in most of the world. It just doesn’t exist in America and in some other Western nations. Option C is the time-honored tradition of tribal elders and wise men who have no real authority (and certainly not the power to hurt or even ostracize in most cases) but do have the respect of their people. This is where most of the modern authoritarian church practice has foundered. The elders nearly always arrogate to themselves the power to abuse, ostracize, or punish; their council is seldom wise; and quite frequently, especially in the Neo-Cal movement, they aren’t even elders, but rather young boys who are still wet behind the ears.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > Option C is the time-honored tradition of tribal elders and wise men who have no real authority

            Even assuming generally virtuous elders and wise men the problem confronting this Option C in the modern world is one of scale. This Option C is inoperative in a nation of 300 million souls, or even a city of a single million – especially when that nation or city is comprised of various types of transitioning populations.

            > Option C exists and is normative in most of the world.

            I doubt this. This Option C is steadily trending towards extinction in a rapidly urbanizing and increasingly mobile world.

          • Those are some odd claims, Adam. Although the vast majority of the world still lives in the dark ages, even those who have been technologized have learned to keep community alive, regardless of population density. This is true of Arabs, Chinese, Indians, and some of the South Americans I have met. Based on the evidence, I don’t think scale has anything to do with the problem. Values? For sure.

          • This is news to me: That the tradition of virtuous elders prevails in much of the contemporary world. I didn’t even know it prevailed in the world of former times; I thought it was a glamorization of earlier stages in human social history, cultivated by Western intellectuals disenchanted with modernity.

          • Just to be clear: I don’t doubt that the social institution of elders was very influential throughout most of human history, and prehistory, or that it still has influence in many parts of the world; I do wonder what evidence there is that either the institution, or the elders that filled it, were especially “virtuous”, aside from the wishful thinking of the disenchanted intellectuals I mentioned in my previous comment.

    • Yeah, in the wrong hands (e.g. patriarchist and complementarians), this could be devastatingly oppressive.

  3. The difference is that human parents are fallible and will not be there for most of the consequences of their choice for someone else. God is infallible, has more foresight, will be there through all the consequences, and has created us to have agency, not to be automatons or to be the fulfillment of someone else’s dreams. Love is not controlling; it is guiding and supportive (“[Love] does not insist on its own way.”). I would chafe under that kind of human authority — and have — but at least intellectually do not have the same problem submitting to God’s authority. All that being said, that of course opens up the cans of worms about how we discern God’s will, how we interpret Scripture and define scriptural authority, etc.

    • Yes. And that makes this one of the few, if not only, Michael Spencer articles I disagree with. To think our fallible parents know what’s best for us for our career and our adult life is ridiculous. I get the analogy with God the Father, but it’s just not the same. And I think there are plenty of instances where people have gone against their parents’ (especially the father’s) wishes and succeeded in what they pursued.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > To think our fallible parents know what’s best for us for our career and our adult life is ridiculous

        The counterpoint is to think that we ourselves know what is best for our careers and adult life. This notion is demonstrably false, its success rate seems barely above chance, if even that.

        “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” — Proverbs 15:22

        There is a large space between submissive obedience and disregard.

        > And I think there are plenty of instances where people have gone against their parents’

        I can enumerate many many instances of the alternative; and name many a single mother this would describe. There are few things more correlated to poverty than being a single parent.

        • Hence, Option C. But some of us grew up in authoritarian controlling environments with extreme fundamentalist TRUTH tendencies, so Option C wasn’t known til later in life.

          It’s a fun thing, when mere disagreement is literally equivalent to rebellion, denying truth, questioning God himself.

          After all, the authorities in your life were placed there by God, divinely appointed to keep a watch over your soul and guide you.

          “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

          • Yeah. God is infallible, but who represents God? Infallible church leaders? Even “infallible” as used by the Catholic Church doesn’t fit this context.

            Is the voice in ones head claiming to be “God” infallible?

      • Yes, agreed.

        I’d also disagree with Michael that God has some “perfect plan for our lives”. That’s just not so. His perfect plan is simple and really just two parts: love him, love others.

        I should trust and honor God. I should trust his choices that are not my first choices. I should trust the sacrifice he has made for me. What further proof do I need that he is for me and wants what is best for me?

        This isn’t good news. This isn’t Gospel. This is death. This is Law. This sounds like a man broken down by life, just accepting whatever crumbs from the table he’s dished out, never realizing he can stand up and approach the table, where God is waiting, waiting, waiting for him to stand up and grow up and be an equal.

        Jesus never made a single disciple of his bow.

        Why would he start now.

  4. Christiane says

    I think of what happens to women in the ‘patriarchy’ system and how it corrupts the men who run it. This is a little bit different from the theme of the post, but only on the surface. When people seek to do the will of God in their lives, that is something we can understand, and we can even hope for in ourselves, yes. But when patriarchal women seek to do the will of God by having their husbands and fathers substitute themselves in the role of ‘God’, what happens to both the men AND the women in this practice of male idolatry is something to be pitied and even feared.

    In the end, I suspect we are best off seeking God’s will by honoring our God-given consciences:
    this involves looking at our situation and evaluating it rationally (as ‘reason’ is a necessary part of the process), then considering what the Church teaches (that was handed down faithfully over the millenia), and then praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    Can we make ‘a mistake’? sure, it happens . . .
    But on the whole, do people who respond to that which is written on the heart’ as to ‘what it good’ and ‘what is evil’
    arrive at a place of peace when they have ‘obeyed’ that ‘Voice’ that the Church’s catechism (1778) has mentioned, in the words of John Henry Newman, as ‘the aboriginal Vicar of Christ’ ?

    Sometimes arriving at the place of ‘peace’ when following one’s conscience is a far cry from the ‘peace of this world’, but when we consider the ‘voices’ out there in the world attempting to get us to follow them, are we not better off listening to the still small voice of conscience? At least the peace obeying our conscience brings is a peace worth having.

  5. Most amazing point of this story is . . . can be . . .

    The shadow of the cross that lies at the heart of the Father’s love; the cross that made Paul say “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” . . .

    Living in the valley of the shadow. If I might barrow a book title

    Thanks, jerry

  6. We live in a time of conflicting values and cultural disruption. I have a friend named Geeta who being born and raised in India was involved in a traditional arranged marriage, negotiated by the parents. Many westerners simply recoil at the idea of marriage as a social contract rather as a personal choice. But there is a lot of love there. They created it. So who is more self-actualized? Them, or people who see love as an experience like getting struck by lightning or getting carried away in a flood?

    I do not wish to abandon the quest for individuation. The western view of the person as a locus of rights is the foundation of our liberty. Yet we do create a lot of unhappy people by leaving them to “figure it out” on their own.

    On the other hand I was taught to “wait on the Lord” and to pray for guidance which I did for many years to little result. I really thought I would get a “call” like Isaiah and after that my path would be clear. I thought that’s how it worked. I was too dense I guess to intuit that what people meant by following God’s will for your life was doing what you want and then calling it God’s will. So I made a hash of my life for many years. I would have been better served if my parents had just told me to do what I want!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says


    • I spent many years waiting on the call. No call came, not once, no prayer ever went answered. Eventually I started questioning it, even preached a sermon advising people to just love god and love others, do what proverbs advise, and go live life. I was publicly rebuked during the sermon by some of the leaders for the heresy I was speaking, although to the credit of the head pastor, he liked my sermon and agreed with me privately.

      Love God and do what you want. The only person you need to wait on is yourself.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        One of the best sermons I every heard, and the one that finally shut-down ‘call’ nonsense for me: “The need is the call. Do you see need?” Simple, and plenty to keep one busy for a lifetime.

        • Amen.

          But I’d be scared of that sermon in the hands of zealots.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > I’d be scared of that sermon in the hands of zealots.

            Sure, but who cares? I am not going to let how a zealot might misuse something box up the truth.

            Zealots need to be dealt with directly, harshly, in their own right, in their context. But being afraid of how they might use a meme is just another way we relinquish to them the control of the conversation.

          • I care when they get violent. From flying planes into buildings to blowing up abortion clinics. They see a need and they are called to address it.

            But I agree with your point.

          • The call is the need.

            Yes. But even acknowledging this to be the real way calls come, not everyone can answer every call, even when they see the need. Decisions have to be made about where to focus ones energies; otherwise, burnout and disenchantment are likely to follow in the wake of spreading energy too thin.

      • That Other Jean says

        i find it very unsettling that a pastor would agree with you in private, but let others rebuke you in public. What is he teaching to others that he does not believe himself, and why? Does he think his congregation is so stupid that they need to be led by lies?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Unsettling? As someone who has experienced this first hand, more than once, … “Unsettling” is a mild choice of terms.

          Pastors are all too often the bad kind of politicians.

          • That Other Jean says

            My second choice was “It completely freaks me out that. . .” and that would have been more true.

        • His motto was “give them enough rope to hang themselves”. And now I can look and see the ruined lives of many people who did indeed hang themselves because he let them just do their own thing “to learn”.

  7. Yep, I think he totally missed the mark on this one.

    There is a huge chasm between WANTING what’s best for a person and KNOWING what’s best for a person.

    “We wanted his parents to make their happiness dependent on letting Kim do whatever he wanted to do.”

    No, not “whatever he wanted to do.” What he felt called to do. Going into the hospitality industry isn’t exactly sitting at home watching videos. It’s a noble calling, and not something everyone can do. Hospitality is a gift not everyone has — I know I don’t. I wanted his parents to explore with him, to listen to him, to know who he is, to honor his God given gifts. It’s not that their happiness was dependent upon him. It’s that it shouldn’t be dependent upon him doing what they wanted. They too should submit to God’s will. They are not in loco Theos.

    And I’ll tell you something else, I do not want someone who has no interest in being a doctor or a dentist being my doctor or my dentist! The American students were right on.

  8. After reading this, the first thing that came to mind was this passage:

    “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” – Col 3:20-21

    It’s too easy to just take the first part and make it an absolute. Without the 2nd part, the first part carries no weight/authority. There ought to be a balance.

  9. I would also disagree with Michael on this one. It loosely reminds me of Stockholm Syndrome. This isn’t about rules, rules/guidelines are good, but it is about control. Authoritarian control, “umbrella covering” control, parental control, society control, etc.

    The parallel that comes to mind most readily between the example of the Korean student and another is that of the purity culture or the whole courtship movement. It’s mentioned above, so it’s notable to many. Political arranged marriages are one thing, and men and women have found ways to make that work (and work around it to meet their needs). But where it gets taken a little farther is when it ties into Patriarchy, specifically women as property, specifically not being able to show interest in anyone that isn’t set up entirely by your parents/authority figures.

    I could come up with numerous examples from my own life, but the one that comes to mind first is living for five years in that charismatic church that strongly followed the teachings of the Pearls and Gothard and Derek Prince’s God is a Matchmaker. This was a campus, student church, so there were a lot of singles. Any every single one of them was expected to never date but to court, and not to court but to wait on the Lord’s timing, JUST like the Biblical Patriarchs did. If you did not have a de facto Word from the Lord, you should not court. God supernaturally provided for Isaac and Jacob, he will do the same for you. Don’t you want God’s best? Why would you settle for second rate? The heart is desperately wicked. You should die to yourself. Be filled and led by the Spirit.

    And how ironic that the denomination this church belonged to originally imploded nationally because of “dating control”, amongst other issues. Interested in someone? Your pastor will write into the denominational office to see if it’s God’s will.

    It’s a control thing. In an ancient culture, being trained up by your father or mother to fill a role was really the only option. Bakers became bakers. Carpenters became carpenters. Clergy became clergy. It took a patron or opportunities to switch tracks. I imagine Korean society was much the same. BUT the world has changed.

    Kim very matter of factly told the class that Neil should obey his parents and become a doctor. Kim said that Neil’s parents had sacrificed for him and they loved him. His greatest happiness should be in doing what they wanted him to do in life.

    And this is where the control, manipulation, and maybe some form of Stockholm Syndrome come into play. Want to love? OBEY. What’s the best way to obey? Do what someone else tells you to do, utterly and completely for your leaders love a cheerful follower. Know your place. This is the role that’s best set out for you.

    Kim’s parents are human, in a different society than my own, I’ll grant that. But parents should work hard to provide opportunities for their children. Parents don’t give “talents” like we say God does, they give genetics, predispositions to left/right brain, athletic skills, temperament, etc (Nature vs nurture in full play). Parents should encourage their children to grow and utilize their inate talents, but also foster their interests.

    If your greatest happiness is doing what others expect for you, you will not last long, be miserable, and fail to achieve your best in life. I’m speaking from experience. 10 years of schooling and work that I care nothing about and in fact despise, simply because I listened to others tell me ‘you are good at this, you should do this’, when yeah, I may be good at it, but I utterly hate doing it, do everything I can to avoid doing it (up to and including commenting on Internet Monk daily), find zero passion or interest in it, and now look back and wonder wtf was I thinking not doing what I was passionate about or loved doing, and I’ve got so much school debt, I’m nowhere in life, I don’t have anything, maybe it is really too late to start all over again, how can I course correct and bring in more of what I love to do even if all this shit I hate is what barely barely barely pays my bills.

    No. Kim is wrong. Michael means well, but is also wrong. And that’s not who God is. God gives skills, talents, passions, and encourages you to pursue them. And whatever you do, it brings him joy. He didn’t foreordain you into a role. There’s no ‘divine right’ of kings to rule, clergy to preach, teachers to teach, bakers to bake, etc. And it’s a tremendous blessing, literal ‘Kingdom come’ type stuff, that we have the ability to be better and more and DIFFERENT than our parents and forefathers, by choice.


    Mini-calm Sunday morning rant over, here’s a scene from the movie Snowpiercer that I think illustrates this well.

    Be the shoe.


    • As an aside, how great are those passages about ‘the eye cannot say to the hand’, etc, for controlling a church body? Remember your place, you hand. You weren’t given the Divine Right to be an Apostle. Your gifts aren’t for leadership. Your gift is to sit quietly in that pew and tithe 10% gross. Not saying that’s what’s being used, but it’s a perfect piece of thought control there. Similar to the “if you doubt it’s of the devil” type thinking. Christianity has some built in perfect rebuttals to form of ‘hey wait a minute’ thought.

      Some days, the humanity of the Bible really comes through.

      Also, today’s Slactivist WTF post about David’s census is eye opening, I’d encourage reading it and the comments. God/Satan ordering David to perform a census, David does, immediately thinks he did something bad, and God gives David options on how many people he’s just gonna have to kill because of David, so 70,000 people died.

      That’s some amazing Divine Right to Rule/Monarchy PR right there.

  10. I feel strongly both ways. The definitive answer to this, as it is in most of life, is: “It depends.” (Option C?) Kim had the “correct” response based on the culture in which he was raised AND his acceptance of that culture AND his relationship with his parents. All the stars aligned (grace?).

    Individual self reliance and self determination seem to be both our greatest cultural strengths and weaknesses. Perversely, Mr. Keating reinforced that view and Neil was unable to take a step back and take the time to reconcile it to his situation or come up with Option C.

  11. Christiane says

    OTOH, when you look at Asian parents who are immigrants in THIS country, you realize that for them this land represents the first real security and opportunity that many of them have had . . . and they value education and the professions so highly that these parents are willing to work three jobs to raise funds for their child to go to university. That kind of ‘love’ is self-sacrificial. The sight of a thin, worn Asian father coming home for four hours of rest before going back out to work again . . . that is something that we Americans don’t often see . . . but we should understand it because those who came before us didn’t have much and they came here also for a ‘chance’ to do better.

    My father, of blessed memory, after retiring from the Navy, went to work on the docks and afterward, went to work at a gas station as a mechanic. On Satursdays, he worked at another gas station all day. On Sundays, after Mass, he went to work at that same station for the rest of the day and evening. He did this for many years. When it came time for us to go to university, the money was in the bank. My father was an immigrant who did not speak our language when he first came to this country. The nuns up in New England taught him in French (his native language) in the mornings and English in the afternoons. And so he learned.

    What kind of person gives sixteen hours a day to work, and all of Saturday and most of Sunday, to have the money for his children’s education?

    Love is a powerful thing. It wants what is best for the sake of the ‘other’. Sometimes, that love oversteps boundaries a bit, but if a child has witnessed the ‘sacrifice’ of that parent for their sake, then we can at least comprehend ‘why’ child’s first loves can be set aside to honor such a parent. Love is a powerful thing.

    • And that’s great and the way it should be. But that stops when the parents insist “you must be a doctor/lawyer/X, or else”. Create opportunities, encourage, nurture. Don’t demand and dictate.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        But, StuartB, you are implying the “or else” in this story.

        It is entirely possible that conversation never happened.

        • Very true. And I’m also putting myself and my past and current fears into the situation.

          Fear isn’t real.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > The sight of a thin, worn Asian father coming home for four hours of rest
      > before going back out to work again . . . that is something that we
      > Americans don’t often see

      That describes exactly the family who lived next door to my grand parents where I spent much of the summers of my childhood. That family is gone now, and I know own and live in my grand parents house, but I think about them frequently. I will never forget the girl, younger than me, and I was young, explaining how – with her younger baby brother in her arms – she was pushed out of the back of a wagon by her father on a road near the border and told “run or they will kill you”. She ran. It took him over a year to catch up to them, but he did.

      > we can at least comprehend ‘why’ child’s first loves can be set aside to honor such a parent.


      > Love is a powerful thing.

      Yes. Sometimes a terrifying heart-breaking powerful thing.

  12. Adam Tauno Williams says

    Perhaps Kwan *is* exercising an option C [mentioned often so far]. Much of these comments strike me as a very radical reading of the text.

    Nowhere is it implied that Kwan should throw himself off a cliff if his parents asked him to. It is asked why he trusts his parents so much and why that fact bothers the author/poster so much.

    I think it says something about us, that we read this text in such an extreme way, and immediately assail the reliance upon authority [almost assuming defacto that the authority is unsound].

    Perhaps an answer is that Kwan finds his parents trustworthy. Perhaps he has confidence they really care about his happiness and prosperity. Perhaps they are not controlling or domineering, but have expressed a clear idea of what he should do – and he trusts their judgment as it has previously proved sound and rooted in love?

    • Worth pointing out as well, us here, and Michael’s original class, were Christians spectating on a foreign Korean’s students experience. And we’ve lived in a mostly Christianized nation all our lives, and have benefited from hundreds of years of Christian culture and influence.

      I’m not sure what the default religion of Korea is, but it’s not Christian. And thus comes from a radically different place.

      And here is where you can put truth claims to the test. Perhaps, from a position of TRUTH, we are apalled at the way the Koreans do things. IF we think Christianity=truth, then de facto whatever anyone else believes that is not Christian is false. And especially if it didn’t come from an inerrant Bible.

      Thus is the fundamentalist way of thinking, at least. I struggle against it.

    • Anecdote not data.

      I am Chinese-American. Fed up with dating in my mid-20s, I told my Christian parents to arrange a marriage and I would show up at the wedding. I trusted them with this. They felt it quite a weighty responsibility. In fact, they did not really want that responsibility.

      As it turns out, my mother suggested someone at my church that I was not inclined to date at all. But since I had given them permission to choose someone, I agreed, after laying out my objections to my mom, to go on a date with him .

      This guy and I have been married for nearly 10 years. It has not all been fun and games–he tried to commit suicide last year–however, I am quite pleased to be married to him and quite glad I took my mom’s advice.

      Make of it what you will.

      • Good for you for speaking up, Andie. My guess (not even experience, let alone data) is that arranged marriages probably work out about as well, maybe even better, than those based on the “lightning bolt” of romantic love.

        A statement I read once has stuck with me: “Many Oriental women are glad that their parents provide them with a dignified arranged partnership. They would feel degraded and ridiculous if they had to go out alone in the ‘singles scene’ and preen and flirt in hopes of attracting a man.”

  13. Just some random additional thoughts…

    Jesus – perfect obedience to his perfect (Heavenly) Father.

    Jesus – was he perfectly obedient to his earthy father? (Joseph – “Son, I want you to stay in my carpentry business.” Jesus – “Sorry, Dad. I have to make fishers of men.”) While there are accounts of Jesus being obedient to his earthly parents, I’m not sure he followed exactly what they wanted.

    Humans – imperfectly obedient to our perfect (Heavenly) Father.

    Humans – can we possibly expect to be perfectly obedient to our imperfect earthly fathers?

  14. It’s extremely likely that Kim’s kids (and I’d bet that he does have kids; along with other reasons that generally incline people to have kids, Kim undoubtedly would not want to disappoint his parents by not making them grandparents to his own offspring), if they grow up in the US, will have a very different attitude about this subject than he does.

  15. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1).

    “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:!7).

    I certainly do not condone the man-centered narcissism pandered by many churches (God wants you to be happy). But I believe that God works through whatever vocation in which we engage ourselves.

    I have heard stories recently of evangelicals engaging in arranged marriages for their daughters actually selling their children like slaves or property. I would rather children be raised in a manner to make rational decisions for themselves then undergo such dehumanization.

    This is where an actual Christian world view should counter those views where children surrender their wills out of duty to honor their parents and ancestors no matter what.

    Freedom, like grace, is a dangerous word. In the immortal words of Saint Darkwing Duck: let’s get dangerous.

  16. Ravi Zacharias?

  17. My kids are at present ages 21 and 18. Now if I had my way, they would be studying to be engineers like their father. But both are creative. Child number one is in film school. I wonder if he will be able to support himself once he gets out, but he seems confident he can make a go of it. Realistically, he couldn’t have hacked the math for engineering anyway. It certainly wouldn’t have worked, had I pushed him in that direction.

    Child number 2 has switched interests from animation to zoology. We will see if that holds. This one could do anything, but again, I wouldn’t push her in a direction contrary to her interests.

    The thing is, as adults we have acquired wisdom. However, the world has changed a lot since I was their age. I honestly think they are better equipped for a world where you need to be frequently reinventing yourself than I would ever have been. I’ve raised them to look beyond just the immediate desires to realize that decisions can have far reaching consequences. But please don’t ask me to choose for them! I had enough trouble figuring out my own path.

    Overbearing parents are a frequent theme in fiction, including films. I suspect though, that there are fewer of those in real life than the amount of stories would suggest. I’ve been around a few decades and I don’t recall any true stories from friends, relatives or acquaintances of being pushed into a course of study or a career by overbearing parents. I think I recently heard one second hand story. I’m sure they exist, but out of the some 300 people the average person is normally well acquainted with, that’s not much support for the theme.

  18. Shades of “It’s a Wonderful Life”