Below you will find a short glimpse into Reverend Wheeler’s sons, Nathaniel and Philip. We are getting closer to the publication of Earning Innocence. Cheers!
Reading #2 – Nathaniel
“Guitar” was one of the first words Nathaniel ever pronounced, but he only learned to play during his junior year of college. I remain grateful for this, although his intensity toward the craft of songwriting has proven to be a detriment to his grades. It will likely take an extra semester or two for Nathaniel to graduate. So be it. It is holy to know what you want.
By his senior year, our son had started a band called The Midgets, largely because his mandolin player was six feet, eight inches tall. The flair for names comes honestly by his mother. That fall, Bonnie and I saw The Midgets compete in a battle of the bands held on the campus quad. They finished in second place after the debut of a song “Words,” which Nathaniel had written. The lyrics involve certain terms that double as both nouns and verbs, which proved once and for all that he is the son of a librarian.
Red is a color you can see if you look; and read’s what you done when you’ve finished the book; a perch is a fish that swims in the sea; and if you’re cute you can perch right next to me.
There were only three bands in that competition.
His mother sings these lyrics while puttering around the house, smiling to herself, as she did this morning. When he last visited over Easter, Nathaniel surprised us by performing songs from Blood on the Tracks, accompanying himself with one of those harmonica holders like Mr. Dylan. That’s our boy.
The times they are a-changin’ and, these days, the majority of Nathaniel’s playing is in service to a non-denominational, non-traditional worship gathering geared toward evangelizing high school students. They pointedly do not refer to themselves as a church. Still, I could not help but wonder out loud about a career in ministry. I reminded Nathaniel that his father had started out playing guitar around a campfire. If history does not repeat itself, then it often rhymes. We will have to wait and see.
Reading #3 – Philip
I have chosen watchwords for each student who has gone through confirmation. During the service, I place my hand on each child’s forehead and recite the verse from memory. I have now forgotten most of them. But Philip’s was 1 John 4:12: No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us.
This is the Good News Translation, which remains the Bible version our church presents to each confirmand. But even as I recited the verse over my son’s head, I was troubled by one specific word. “Perfect” is not quite the right word for a young person to hear. Though I am not a scholar of New Testament Greek, I know enough to understand that the original meaning has nothing to do with moral perfection as in sinlessness; the term implies a sense of wholeness, completeness, maturity. I said as much to my son, but maybe the last thing he needed to think was that I expected him to be perfect.
I was hard on him, especially when he was a teenager. Nathaniel, as stubborn as he was, was still more of a pleaser. I guess it fell to Philip to play the role of button pusher. Our fights would typically begin over something inconsequential that, for some reason, I had decided was absolutely essential. The new jeans he had intentionally ripped at the knees. Those flannel shirts he would only wear if they were three sizes too big. The chain attached to his wallet that hung down from his pants, never failing to remind me of prison shackles. He was trying on a self far different from his father. I understand that now. Why did I struggle to view him through a lens of grace? It is hard to have self-awareness when there are two teenagers in your house, especially if you are not particularly self-confident.
After a nasty shouting match one evening, I stomped into his room because I had thought of some final retort. I forget exactly what I had intended to say. God only knows the reason we were at each other’s throats in the first place. As soon as he spied me standing in his bedroom doorway, Philip sprang to his feet as if catapulted. He was twelve years old, going on thirteen, and already taller than me. Looking at him, the urge to fight drained away like dirty water rushing down the pipes.
I managed to mumble some vague apology, which likely sounded half-hearted at best. I could not even meet his eyes. I had a sudden revelation—maybe if I just hold you. So I took tentative steps across the room, a prodigal father, and tried to embrace my youngest son. Philip’s left arm draped over my shoulder and down my back; but the open palm of his right hand lay flat against my chest. He both squeezed me close and pushed me away.