Saints are the worst kind of Christian, with their stained glass skirts, pretentious beards and mute faces. Saints are glorified victims, not good role models. Parent pointing up at stained glass martyrdom (saint in cauldron of hot oil). To child: here’s what you have to look forward to if you follow Jesus. Child retreats.
Besides, saints are typically representative of European Christianity—or, failed enterprise. Does anyone know the patron saint of empty cathedrals? Hagiography makes for interesting comic books, but it doesn’t make men dutiful. The saints are dead.
Recently, I have been reading Confessions. I was hoping it would be more than holy brooding. Saint Augustine, whom I now call St. Angst, thought too much. He should have played more baseball—played baseball, not contemplated it. He needed to stomp on a colony of ants to relieve his existential stress. All of the brooding writers in the world, including Augustine, Solomon, a Kempis, Dickenson, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Marx, needed one thing: to have gone fishing with their dad.
As pater-americana, I must ask, what is the proper kind of hero for a boy? What the saints lack, Greek heroes abound in. What Greek heroes lack, the saints profess. I think I’ll just leave the icons on Mount Olympus and take my child by the hand. What has Athens and Jerusalem to do with Colorado?
I strongly dislike the illusion that paper communicates truth; that reading the right passages makes the right kind of man. It cannot. Good men are made by innumerable, mundane daily interactions, embedded in a commitment to deny one’s self, with a complete reliance on grace—in the face of a murderous world, twenty-four hours a day without reprieve.
A man must see his life as a unique duty to perform; as a job only he can do, and if he doesn’t, his family is lost. He must rise in the morning. He must pray. He must pack his burdens and carry them.
From my interest in military history, I wonder about the fathers and sons who built and served on two particular World War Two battleships, the Yamato and the Bismarck. The Japanese Yamato was the largest battleship ever built. Her contemporary, the German-built Bismarck, was just as fearsome in its profile and purpose.
Both vessels carried the hopes and ambitions of its people. Both vessels proved to be irrelevant in battle. The Yamato was sunk before she could rule the seas, and the Bismarck was scuttled, also without fulfilling its purpose.
It is given for one man to build a battleship, and for one man to sink it. What kind of devotional life best prepares a boy’s soul for a godly life while serving ones’ country? What kind of devotional life makes a man to shine while serving such futility?
The answer must be found somewhere in his father’s faithful hand; in the seeds of his words. If his father walks the long walk and prays the long prayer, then a boy’s devotional book is in his father’s boot prints. He reads it while following his father through the market, along the river and returning home.
The saints are dead; battleships are dead. I want one thing from the devotional life: for my son to love God despite his father’s desire for him to love God. Let it be in my hands as an apple, shared by God and the boy he loaned to me.