RICHMOND, Va. – Have you heard about the “Crews missile”?
It was launched by Nick Crews, 67, a retired British Royal Navy submarine commander. But it wasn’t a torpedo aimed at the empire’s enemies; it was an email aimed at his three adult children. It blew up family relations – and created a furor in England and beyond after his eldest daughter, 40-year-old Emily, released the message to the media.
Fed up with his children’s career failures, divorces and other assorted dysfunctions, angry at the toll their constant crises had taken on his wife and anxious about the future for his grandchildren, Crews let ‘em have it. Here’s an excerpt from his “Dear all three” email:
“Mum and I have been used to taking our own misfortunes on the chin, and making our own effort to bash our little paths through life without being a burden to others. Having done our best – probably misguidedly – to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them in turn take up their own banners and provide happy and stable homes for their own children. … [Y]et each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement. Far from your children being able to rely on your provision, they are faced with needing to survive their introduction to life with you as parents. … none of [whom has] the maturity and sound judgment to make [wise] decisions.”
He closed with this:
“I can now tell you that I for one … have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a realistic plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don’t want to see your mother burdened anymore with your miserable woes. … I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed. Dad.”
Tough love? Crews has become both a hero and a villain in England since his blunt message became public, setting off a media storm and provoking thousands of responses. Many Britons admire his hard-hitting candor in an age of endless excuse making for personal irresponsibility. Others condemn him as unfeeling and cruel.
“My parents just don’t do tea and sympathy and never have,” reported daughter Emily, who said she was devastated by her father’s words but admitted they contain a lot of truth. Her two younger siblings insist on an apology; 35-year-old brother Fred refuses to speak to Dad until he gets one.
In a subsequent interview with the London Daily Mail, Crews said he “hated having to send [the email] and I have examined my conscience. … I still mean every word.”
Navy commanders aren’t known for giving gentle feedback. My maternal grandfather was a ship captain, and I’ve heard lots of stories about the rough justice he delivered when his kids went astray. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it backfired. As an occasionally exasperated father, I can sympathize with Crews. As a son who inspired similar fury and despair in the hearts of my own parents more than once, I also sympathize with his children.
But angry tirades about the failings of others don’t work, contends New York Times writer David Brooks in a column about Crews. “People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape,” Brooks writes. True enough, but he proceeds to serve up warmed-over recommendations about rewarding good behaviors and ignoring bad ones. That doesn’t work in the long run, either, if the darkness inside our hearts doesn’t change.
Why do I bring up this painful family episode so close to Christmas? When I first read about Nick Crews and his anguish over his children, I thought about God, our Father. In many Bible passages, the Lord speaks of His despair and wrath caused by the sins of His people. The Old Testament prophets record a long litany of His bitter disappointments (as Crews might describe them) in His wayward children.
“I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people,” the Lord cried, “who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face …” (Isaiah 65:2-3). But God also promised a sign in that same great book of prophecy: “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14b).
Some 600 years before the birth of Christ, a Father whose heart had already been broken countless times was planning an act of love that would go far beyond the imagination of any earthly mind. What if He had washed His hands of us altogether? What if He had told us never to seek Him again until we could redeem our own hopelessly evil selves?
Instead, He came to live among us as a servant and went to the cross to make a way for us to return to Him.
Yes, there will be consequences – eternal ones – for every soul that rejects the amazing grace of God offered through His Son. But for now, the offer stands.
Here’s the message of Christmas: A loving Father is still waiting for us to come home.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is International Mission Board global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/165/16575/16575-91862.mp3.)