I’m not sure where I first heard this phrase but, as a parent, I think about it all the time. “It’s a parents job to mess a kid up, it’s their life’s work to put it all back together.”
That could be the byline for John Grogan’s book, The Longest Trip Home.
This memoir picks up early in John’s life in the Detroit suburbs. Like a lot of families, John was born in Detroit but his parents sought solace and safety in the burgeoning oasis that developed near the industrial areas of Pontiac in the mid-1690s. His neighborhood was a developers dream, complete with a lake, Catholic church, and outlot where all the families could have a common swimming area.
The truth was that John’s parents chose their lot in the neighborhood because of its proximity to the church. His life was defined by daily mass, Catholic schools, and vacation to North American sightings of the Virgin Mary. They were not a run-of-the-mill Catholic family, they were a Super Catholic family.
The Longest Trip Home is a faith story. Moreover, it is a case study in how we raise kids in the church. Let’s just say John’s parents didn’t get it right. It seems that their primary faith development tools were fear, fear, and fear. As soon as the kids discovered that their sins didn’t immediately send them to hell they were all out of there. While their bodies went to church their brains and hearts never did.
That’s where the mischief started. In youth ministry terms, we’d say John began living a dualistic life. He did his best to maintain a clean cut happy face to his parents. But when they weren’t looking John was into all the things you’d expect a kid in the early 1970s to go through.
John’s story of walking away from his faith begins to slowly turn subtly in his adulthood. As his parents guilt trip him for everything from skipping to church to living with his girlfriend his hatred towards the hypocrisy grows. Yet buried in his annoyance is a seed of questioning that begins to grow.
This isn’t a Christian book. And the author’s life doesn’t resolve into a tidy feel good story. John Grogan is not going to write the Catholic version of Mere Christianity any time soon. But what it does is raise some interesting questions about faith development and our role as parents.
Most disturbing in John’s story is that his story towards faith isn’t about connecting with God, it’s about connecting with his parents. And that, my friends, is something worth exploring.
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