Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Mulan

My mother was born 98 years ago, yesterday. She died not quite two years ago, at the age of 96. You might think that the purpose of writing this blog post is to “honor” my mother, but that is an oversimplification. I have come to believe that writing memorials is not the correct way to “honor” our parents. I learned this lesson from my wife Linda and from Disney’s Mulan. “Honor your Father and Mother!” is one of the Ten Commandments. Usually, in western culture, when we honor someone, we “say nice things about them.” But, the Ten Commandments were not given to western culture; they were given to eastern culture. My wife suggested to me, several years ago, that the best way for children to “honor” their parents is to live their lives in ways that their parents would approve. This is precisely the values theme of Disney’s animated film Mulan. The film is set in China, an eastern culture. The song, “You’ll Bring Honor to Us All,” plays while Mulan is being prepared to be an appropriate example of Chinese maidenhood—“washed and dried, primped and polished…a great hairdo… good taste, calm, obedient, work[ing] fast-paced, with good breeding and a tiny waist…soft and pale…balance…beauty… a perfect porcelain doll.” The preparation, though, is unsuccessful. Mulan does not satisfactorily perform as an appropriate Chinese maiden. The implication of the film at this stage is that Mulan does NOT bring honor to her parents.
Meanwhile, the song proclaims: “We all must serve our Emperor who guards us from the Huns--a man by bearing arms--a girl by bearing sons.” China, eventually, goes to war with the Huns. The army is conscripting one member of each household to fight. Since Mulan’s father has no sons, he steps forward to represent his family in the battle. Mulan’s father is old and feeble, even walking with difficulty. Mulan objects to seeing her father simply sacrifice his life by fighting (a situation she considers impossible for him to survive) and argues that her father cannot go to war. Her father responds: “You dishonor me.” Nevertheless, by stealth, Mulan dresses in armor as a man and takes her father’s place, masquerading as his non-existent son Fa Ping. As a warrior, she saves China. Mulan, thereby, DOES bring honor to her parents. Noticeably absent from the “honoring of her parents” is anything honorable that the parents have done. Honoring her parents was accomplished by Mulan doing as my wife had suggested to me: living her life in ways that her parents would approve. My father was a very successful farmer, a role that I admittedly disliked. I was a member of the Future Farmers of America, in high school, but not because I enjoyed farming. It was because FFA taught me leadership skills, such as parliamentary procedure and public speaking. I just happened to be a lousy farmer. My older brothers, on the other hand, were much better than I at farming. Did I dishonor my father by not pursuing agriculture? Before marrying, my mother was the first of her family to attend college. She became a teacher. My younger brother and I followed the teaching entelechy, but focused on teaching at the college level, while my mother had taught grades 1-12. Did my other siblings dishonor our mother by not pursuing teaching careers?
I gathered by observing my parents that there was one value they held above the values of being a good farmer and teacher. Though farming sometimes demanded working seven days/week from dawn to dusk, my father never paid attention to that demand. He never worked on Sunday. Church was more important than farming. Though my mother had an entire room in our house filled to the brim with teaching aids and materials, the vast majority of those teaching aids pertained to teaching Sunday School. Christian Education was the most important subject for my mother, the teacher. It rubbed off. All four of my parents’ sons, one of their daughters, one of their sons-in-law, three of their daughters-in-law, nine of their grandchildren, and four of their great grandchildren attended Christian colleges. My brother Rod and my brother-in-law Dean completed their Master of Divinity degrees and have spent their entire careers in the ministry. My younger brother Dennis holds a D.Theol. from Tűbingen, Germany, and is Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at a Christian university. Every one of my parents’ six children have held leadership roles in the church: Christian ministry, teaching, youth sponsors, etc. Every one of my parent’s six children’s families has had at least one person (the siblings, themselves, or one or more of their children) serving in the ministry. Like Mulan, we did not all follow the specific gender-occupational roles of our parents, but we all seemed to grasp what would bring “honor” to our Mother and Father.