Son, honor thy father(s) and mother(s).

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12 KJV

How do children with divorced parents keep the fifth commandment? The holidays give special cause for reflection, and I have a broken heart for the kids forced into this season and situation. It is not a simple matter.

John Calvin states that God “explicitly commands us to revere our parents who have begotten us in this life. Nature itself teaches us this. For everyone who, through contempt or rebellion, violates parental authority is a monster, not a man.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1541, trans. Robert White (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 146.

A good son obeys his father and mother. When we’re young, we get by on the most basic level of obedience. Don’t talk back. Don’t hit your sister. Share your toys. Let Dan be “Player One” this time. It is enough for the young child to not disrupt the family dinner. It is another matter altogether for the child to prepare a feast for his parents. Much more is required of grown children.

“The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors or equals.”  Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 64.

A good son is loyal to his father and mother. Loyalty flows from honor and duty. A good son defends his father and mother. The lowest circle of hell is reserved for Brutus and Judas.

Loyalty is a tricky thing, however, in our Modern Family milieu. The fifth commandment assumes that one’s father and mother are united in body and interest, i.e., that there is no conflict between the two. Children with divorced parents have a divided constitution. As we know, a house divided against itself cannot stand.  Honor, duty, and loyalty are owed to both mom and dad, even as they take on the roles of plaintiff and defendant, respectively.

For the son with divorced parents, expressions of loyalty are zero sum. To show loyalty to one parent is to be disloyal to the other. A +1 for one parent is always met with a -1 for the other. Additionally, stepparents are often added to the mix further complicating a son’s natural instinct to be loyal to his parents. A +1 for stepdad is like a -2,000 for dad.

If obedience is necessary but not sufficient and if loyalty is self-defeating, what does it mean to be a good son to both father and mother? Is the obedient and loyal son engaged in an endless cycle of honor and dishonor?

A good son loves his father and mother. This love demands that he proceed cautiously with his expressions of loyalty and duty. He can’t blindly follow or obey either parent. He must love both parents and fulfill as many duties as he can while balancing the scales of honor. There is a stoic measurement to his words and deeds.

In gratitude to God for his abundant grace, Christians strive to live according to God’s law as revealed in his Word. As long as sin plagues the earth, we will face difficulties in this task. The fifth commandment is especially challenging for children with divorced parents. These kids can’t put the house back together or simply follow one set of footsteps. Their heavenly father is the only object of their unreserved expressions of duty, honor, and loyalty.

Father(s), mother(s), and (step)child(ren) must accept this result.

Did you like this post? If so, check out “Husband, love your wife.”


Mutual genetic property

I receive the magazine TYL from the American Bar Association. TYL is targeted to youngish lawyers. The Fall 2017 issue is focused on family topics. As one would expect, there is an article about millennials and egg freezing. This is a thing for trendy law firms and big businesses.

The motivation here is all well and good. As a society, however, we’re not thinking carefully enough about new technology. Do we even know what we’re doing? 

Consider this grotesque line from the article.

“And if you are going to freeze embryos that have been fertilized by a significant other—married or otherwise—make sure to contact a family law attorney who specializes in fertility agreements, as these things tend to get very messy when folks split up and do not agree on what to do with their mutual genetic property.”

“mutual genetic property”

Some family law attorney in Tampa is writing prenuptial agreements right now that read like this:

In the event of a divorce:

Husband is to receive the television and his cat named Sam or Sam’s replacement if Sam is deceased at the time of the divorce filing;

Wife is to receive all mutual genetic property and the 2010 Ford Taurus.

Lord, have mercy.

Husband, love your wife.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it . . . .” Ephesians 5:25 KJV

Over the years, my wife and I have developed a quasi-liturgical call and response. She will ask me, “why do you love me so much?” I will respond with a lame, lawyerly answer, something like, “to list one reason would exclude all of the others.” I then smile and tell her that I “just do [love her].”

Recently, I’ve come up with a significantly better answer. When my wife asks me why I love her so much, I reply, “because husbands love their wives.” While at first blush this answer might seem cold and unromantic, it is the correct answer. Let me explain.

“It’s not you, It’s me.”

Whether or not a husband loves his wife has nothing to do with the quality of the wife and everything to do with the quality of the husband. A good husband loves his wife unconditionally.

Think about the alternative. If a husband’s love for his wife is dependent upon a certain trait found in his wife, then his love would be conditioned on the continued presence of that trait. What if a husband loved his wife for her beauty, charm, or industriousness? If the wife eventually lost her beauty, charm, or industriousness, then the husband would be relieved from loving his wife.

This can’t be. In fact, our marriage vows assume just the opposite. Husbands vow to remain faithful and loving in all circumstances, including poverty and sickness.

A faithful husband loves his wife. This is an essential characteristic. A man can’t be a husband in any real sense if he doesn’t love his wife.

All reasonable people should be able to see that loving one’s wife is a minimum requirement for husbands. The bar is set much higher, however, for Christian husbands. The Christian husband is commanded to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and we all know what Christ did for his church.

This is Scripture: Christ loved the church, sacrificing his life for her. Husband, love your wife, sacrificing your life for her.

I have grown frustrated with all of the bad news that has bombarded me lately. J. Budziszewski’s recent lecture on natural law mercifully reminded me to focus on the really good and basic things present in my life.

I can’t fix the world, but I can love my wife.




Gun control or technology control?

In the aftermath of another mass shooting, we turn to each other and say that it is time for sensible gun control. We don’t know the details, but we proclaim that something must be done.

In my view, we don’t actually want gun control. What we really want is the ability to control how military technology—actually, all technology— is used. The same technological advancements that make our military and police the best equipped in the world are what make bad actors so dangerous.

U.S. defense spending has always subsidized research and development in the area of efficient killing. President Lincoln was a famous military tech guru. Consider some obvious breakthroughs from the Civil War: submarines, machine guns, aerial surveillance, and ironclad ships. During World War II, we turned jukebox manufacturers into armories.

Defense spending itself is the lamentable result of the fall. If men were angels, we wouldn’t have to buy Sherman Tanks. As it is, we are left to hope that the good guys always have the best weapons.

The Las Vegas shooter had the most efficient killing technology that was reasonably available to him. As devastating as that episode was, there is much better technology out there. You can treat the symptom, guns, but you can’t cure the disease, human sin.  

Advancements in the field of efficient killing should be met with awe and terror. The U.S. and Russia have nuclear arsenals capable of wiping out humanity. This is incredible power in the hands of politicians. Trigger-happy governments are much more dangerous than deranged civilians. Compare the devastation of World War I to that of the Las Vegas shooting.

We are just citizens in the hands of an angry president.

We want all the benefits of innovation without the baggage of human sin. This general statement is true in all areas of our lives from reproductive technology to farming. In the last 100 years, humans have developed all sorts of amazing tools, but all of them can be used for good or evil.

If our moral reasoning doesn’t keep pace with our technological innovation, well, you get something like abortion pills, environmental ruin, and death camps. We constantly heap praise upon praise on the innovators, but we don’t have the slightest clue as to what innovation hath wrought.

Dr. J. Budziszewski lecture in Grand Rapids

I am pleased to share some news about an exciting event hosted by the Society for Law and Culture and the WMU-Cooley Law School chapter of the Christian Legal Society.

On Thursday, November 2, Professor J. Budziszewski will be giving a lecture entitled, “Natural Law: Why and So What?” at the WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids Campus. A scheduled reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. The lecture will commence at 6:15 p.m.

Dr. Budziszewski is a prolific author and scholar in the area of natural law. His books include Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law, On the Meaning of Sex, and What We What Can’t Not Know: A Guide. Dr. Budziszewski also keeps up an active blog: I recommend his recent post, “How Not to Have Clean Hands,” which evaluates claims of ethical neutrality.

J. Budziszewsi flyer 11-2-17

The Society for Law and Culture was formed under the auspices of the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal. The Society for Law and Culture is an organization for lawyers, judges, professionals, and academics. Through engagement with the best of philosophy, literature, history, theology, and the arts, the Society aims to strengthen the ties between law and culture and promote a renewed sense of the law as a vocation and humane profession.

For more information about this event or the Society for Law and Culture, please contact Maxwell Goss.

Mackinac Island’s churches

Ste. Anne Catholic Church

Mission Church

Trinity Episcopal Church

Little Stone Church

Mackinac Island Bible Church

© 2017 Tyler Gaastra

The Linkin Park generation

On the evening of November 29, 2001, I was standing on the floor of the DeltaPlex taking in the Linkin Park concert. Looking back on it, that concert was a rite of passage.


My faded Linkin Park concert ticket

“Don’t turn your back on me. I won’t be ignored!”

For 28–35 year-old white dudes, Linkin Park’s music was the soundtrack of our adolescence. But, it was much more than just background noise, Linkin Park was formative. Chester Bennington, who managed to scream in tune, belted out our emotions for us.

Linkin Park’s sound was new, angry, and mesmerizing. Linkin Park made grunge rock sound unsophisticated and slow, and it absolutely shredded the ballads of our parents’ generation. See The Who.

We punched the air to Linkin Park’s first two albums, Hybrid Theory and Meteora, and walked the halls of school with an attitude, sporting a black t-shirt and a LP wrist band. Linkin Park was like MIRACLE-GRO for all of the dark moods of our teenage wasteland. We had a volatile, unbalanced relationship.


The author circa 2003

We fought terrorists, both real and virtual, with “Papercut” playing in the background. Pushed by the music and our energy drinks, we engaged in risky behavior and euphemistically called it “extreme sports.” We [I] didn’t try in school because nothing mattered.

The music video for “What I’ve Done” is a gripping montage of humanity’s path of destruction. We are all just parasites.

“This is my December.”

Thankfully, most of us matured and took a break from Linkin Park. It’s not that we stopped listening, but it was for shorter periods of time, and we didn’t identify with the anger or despair. Our life experiences had shown that Linkin Park’s message was too flat. Life is full of light and happiness. Who listens to Linkin Park as they fall in love, start careers, find God, and have children? We “broke the habit.”

Art conveys real emotions. Lyrics mean something. Listening is not passive. For these reasons, Linkin Park’s music should be consumed in moderation. Sadly, some people never see the other side of life. How do you escape the pain if you are Linkin Park?

That is the tragedy here. Chester Bennington’s darkness was not just for a season. The anger and sadness went all the way down. Chester’s struggles were consumed by all of us. We identified with him and paid for his pain.

“Who cares if one more light goes out?”

Ironically, Linkin Park’s song, “One More Light,” from the new album of the same name expresses a love of life that is true and beautiful. The song’s message is that life matters and that people care. Even though there are billions of people on this earth, every life is precious and meaningful. “Who cares if one more light goes out? Well, I do.” There is hardly a message more inconsistent with suicide.

As we mourn Chester’s death and all that it represents, I hope that the message of “One More Light” shines through the darkness. Who cares about the Linkin Park generation? Well, I do.

John Calvin’s prolonged martyrdom

This week, I finished Bruce Gordon’s, Calvin, a highly recommended biography of John Calvin. While there is so much to learn from the book, I have found myself reflecting on one consistent theme from Gordon’s biography: John Calvin sacrificed his life to promote the Gospel. In fact, Calvin’s life was a prolonged martyrdom. We can’t imagine the focused and unrelenting work of the reformers.

John Calvin was a refugee, and he lived a life filled with great passion, political clashes, and endless theological disputes. Calvin did everything from writing biblical commentaries, theological treatises, and polemical tracts to delivering multiple sermons a week, teaching students, leading the Company of Pastors, and traveling to important conferences in Swiss and German lands.

The demands of Calvin’s life wore him down, and he required the assistance of his wife, brother, peers, and secretaries to maintain his productivity. Gordon speculates that Calvin’s work sent him to an early grave. Bruce Gordon, Calvin 339 (2011).

Calvin had the intellectual ability to do anything he wanted in his native France, but his conscience compelled him to flee from all that was known and comfortable. To his fellow Protestants who remained in Catholic lands, such as France, Calvin believed that there could be no compromise with Roman practices. True religion was to be maintained up to the point of exile or death.

While most of us would assume that death would be “Option B,” this sober and illuminating letter from Calvin suggests otherwise.

Believe me, I had fewer troubles with Servetus and have now with Westphal and his like than I have with those who are close at hand, whose numbers are beyond reckoning and whose passions are irreconcilable. If one could choose, it would be better to be burned once by the papists than to be plagued for eternity by one’s neighbors. They do not allow me a moment’s rest, although they can clearly see that I am collapsing under the burden of work, troubled by endless sad occurrences, and disturbed by intrusive demands. My one comfort is that death with soon take me from this all too difficult service.

As quoted in Bruce Gordon, Calvin 233 (2011).

What are we to make of this? Clearly, at that moment, Calvin viewed the demands of his life to be worse than burning. I don’t think that this was some passing lament. Calvin’s situation in Geneva was always tenuous, and his influence across Europe waxed and waned.

To Calvin, the Christian life is a prolonged martyrdom. All Christians must give up worldly comforts and live a life of service to God and neighbor. Some will perish quickly at the hand of the government. Others will pass away peacefully in old age after a long life of faithful service. In all cases, suffering is to be expected.

Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 24:43 is an illustrative example of Calvin’s heavenly disposition. Calvin wrote, “God does not bestow the honourable title of his children on any but those who acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth, who not only at all times are prepared to leave it but move forward in an uninterrupted ‘course towards the heavenly life.'” As quoted in Gordon, Calvin at 335. From Gordon’s biography, you get the sense that Calvin lived in anticipation of death and the life to come.

While it is foreign to us, Calvin’s perspective is not depressing or dour. Death is the fate of every living thing on the earth. To be a martyr for Christ in this life is a small sacrifice compared to the joy of eternal life. Calvin would instruct us to pity not the Christian martyr. Pity instead the man who lives for the insignificant and dies in the fog of his distractions.

Our blessings are complicated

Today, my wife and I will celebrate our 10-year anniversary.

I typically make our anniversary public with a sappy Facebook post and a profile picture update. That’s what we moderns do, right?

I should celebrate my marriage. It’s an incredible blessing. Aside from my life in the church, nothing is more central to my identity. I grew up with my wife. We figured out life together.

At the same time, I want to be thoughtful about the endless celebrations to which we are involuntarily subjected. The fact is that our public celebrations don’t always hit our friends at the right time. Our news feeds and timelines can be cruel.

My wife and I know what it is like to experience great loss. It can be difficult to rejoice with those who rejoice. Some social media posts strike at the most vulnerable sections of our hearts. Sanctification takes a lifetime.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with supportive, Christian spouses.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with loving Christian families.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with many children.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with great health.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with an abundance of material possessions.

I do know that we don’t deserve any of it. This is a great mystery. 

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11: 33-36 (NIV)

My life happened in May

My life happened in May