Archives For Father’s Day

Elijah’s Sons

Jason Micheli —  June 17, 2015 — 1 Comment

rp_lightstock_70038_small_user_2741517-1024x6831111.jpgFather’s Day

Gabriel

I discovered this photo the other night, scrolling through the computer and finding others like it that, having been snapped, disappeared into the cloud. Unseen by me. Or, the scab always tells the truth: I was too busy to notice.

I cried big, eyelash-less tears when I double-clicked on it and watched us maximize the screen together. I didn’t realize Mommy had taken the picture, or possibly it was X who stole into the bedroom and snuck it, hoping to catch one or both of us drooling in our sleep.

According to the date on the computer, one of them snapped it on a Sunday this winter, but there’s no time stamped with the date. I don’t know if this image captures an early AM after you crawled into bed with us on late Saturday night or if this is you having joined me for a post-worship afternoon nap. So it’s a mystery. The winter light through the shades, the ratty undershirt, our exhausted faces. You could bet either way.

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This picture, Gabriel, was taken a couple of weeks before that night the doctor called me when you, X and I were in the car, pulling into the driveway from swim practice. He asked- you overheard- if I was driving. ‘No,’ I lied. Then he asked if I was sitting down. ‘Yes,’ I said. Then I told you two to run along inside, and then I came in maybe 30-40 minutes later, having called your Mom and your Grandma and your Godfather, Dennis. And then you asked why I’d been crying and, afraid of not getting the words out or what they’d even sound like if I did, I then just rubbed your hair and hugged you.

Then I told you I loved you.

‘I love you more- too bad, so sad, you lose’ you said, scampering, innocent and unblemished to the shower.

The harder work of explaining cancer to you fell to your Mom. It always does.

Looking at this picture now, and not knowing the time of the day, I can’t help but wonder about it. Are we both really asleep with you on top of me? Or, is one of us (or both of us) just pretending? My guess is we’re both faking it and both know it, neither of us giving in, which is another way of saying we’re savoring the moment, stretching it out until it twists into a smile. My guess, that a picture can’t capture, is that you’re bearing down on my belly with your full dead body weight, waiting for me to gasp like the old man you accuse me of being. Maybe you went a sneaker route and are now, poker-faced with ostensible sleep- squeaking little farts onto me. That would, after all, explain the slight smile pursed at the corner of your supposedly snoring mouth.

I’m just now seeing this picture; I don’t recall the morning or the afternoon, but we’ve shared enough like them that I can wager a guess how the rest of this moment went down. You grabbed my belly or my ‘disgusting hairy armpits’ and tickle attacked me. And I rolled over- maybe flipped you over WWE style- and we roughhoused until you got hurt or overstimulated or I got red-faced and winded and Mommy started wondering aloud why she’s stuck living with so many boys in the house.

I cried when I first saw this photo, a God’s eye image of us as innocent, happy and- dare your Preacher Dad say it- #blessed. Even though I just saw this photo the other night, I don’t think I would’ve seen it before.

Not like I do now.

Mary Karr (you should read her someday) writes:

‘What hurts so bad about youth isn’t the actual butt whippings the world delivers.

It’s the hopes playacting like certainties.’

I know you don’t think I am, Gabriel, but my oncologist keeps assuring me that I’m young (‘and healthy!’). Both youth and health, I’ve learned are relative terms when it comes to stage-serious cancer, but I’m at least not so old that the truth of Mary Karr says stings because hope charading as certainty is what I see in the picture, unexamined confidence that we have all the time in the world with each other.

And maybe we do- God, I hope we do- but I can’t pretend to be certain anymore. Even you know that now, I think, in your way.

We’re in a different place now than we were when Mommy or X snapped that photo of us, unawares in more ways than one. You’ve gone with me to the cancer center and visited me in the cancer ward. You’ve seen the old people and the people who look like me and the kids who look like you there, all sick. The same day I discovered this picture you got angry with me, Gabriel, righteously angry, while I made dinner. I’d gotten sent to the hospital that morning for blood transfusions and I’d missed your class play I’d promised to attend. Facetime didn’t cut it.

‘I’m mad that you weren’t there. You PROMISED. I hate cancer. I hate that cancer has you. I hate that God makes cancer. I just wish there was no cancer.’

It’s not just you though, G. Just a couple of weeks ago, I cried a guilty twinge of tears when I heard your brother say:

‘My real birthday present this September will be Daddy being all done with cancer.’

The innocent, unqualified optimism that I can’t possibly promise to deliver upon made my heart go slack.

These last 4 months I’ve done a lot of ill-advised late night Googling about expected life spans with MCL and average remission rates and median times to first relapse and what’s so overwhelmingly tone deaf in all the literature is how none of the facts and figures stop to consider how your Mom and I have the two of you in our (wing) span. These years are ours not mine alone.

There’s a word that comes to mind, Gabriel, when I look at this picture. You ready for it? It’s called THEOPHANY. You don’t know the word but you enough of your Bible to know what it means.

THEOPHANY = ‘A public presentation of God’s immediacy’ is how my fancy Bible dictionary puts it.

Theophany- you know the stories G.

As in, the LIGHT that strikes the apostle Paul blind on the road to Damascus. As in the VOICE that tears open the sky at Jesus’ baptism and declares ‘This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.’

Theophany. It’s God making himself known, in the now.

Like:

When God appears to Abraham and promises Abraham a future and a home and more children than the stars, God appears to Abraham as FIRE. Theophany.

And when the People of Israel cross over the Red Sea, the Lord appears to them as SMOKE and CLOUD and FIRE and finally in an EARTHQUAKE. And when it’s all over, the People of Israel are left promising: ‘We will do whatever the Lord says.’ 

And then there’s the story of Elijah. It’s in your Lego Bible.

But when it comes to Elijah, God is not so reliably typecast. When it comes to Elijah, God’s not there- not in the WIND, not in the FIRE, not in the EARTHQUAKE. With Elijah, there’s nothing. Just silence.

Elijah’s come to Mt Horeb, the place where Moses says to God, with bit lip and barely suppressed anger: ‘I want to see you. Show me…show me your glory.’ 

Elijah’s facing his biggest disappointment, his lowest point. Just when he should be celebrating, he has the rug of his faith pulled out from underneath him and he lands hard on his doubt and his hard questions.

For the first time Elijah can’t hear God all that clearly, and for the first time this prophet doesn’t know if God hears him. God’s gone silent on him. So, where does he go? He goes to the one place he can think of where he can ask God directly:

Why?

Why is this happening to me?

Why me and not them? Why me when I’m the one who’s been faithful?

Why have you let me down, God?

I thought if I served you, you’d watch out for me.

Isn’t that what relationship means?

Elijah goes to the place where God has spoken before, to the place where God has appeared as FIRE and WIND and SMOKE and CLOUD and EARTHQUAKE. He goes to the place where God gave Israel direction and certainty, to the place where God gave Moses comfort and guidance.

Elijah goes to Sinai in search of that word- theophany. You see, Elijah wants God to come in FIRE and WIND and TREMBLING. He wants God’s VOICE to tear open the sky and speak in a BOOM that sweeps all of his doubts and questions away. Just like Moses did, Elijah wants to put his foot down on Mt Sinai and demand: ‘I want to see you.‘ But what he gets is SILENCE.

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I’ve preached sermons on that story at least 6 times that I know, Gabriel, and every time I’ve always emphasized the the silence, stressed that God’s presence is found in the small, grace-filled diorama moments of our lives not in the thunder and boom of events in the larger world. And every time I would end the sermons with predictable lines like:

Just because you can’t see him clearly at this point in your life, it doesn’t mean he’s not there.

Just because he doesn’t feel as close to you as he did at a former time, it doesn’t mean he’s not with you.

Just because your doubt feels firmer than your faith ever felt iIt doesn’t mean he’s not with you. It doesn’t mean he’s not at work. It doesn’t mean he’s not speaking.

Just because you’d like nothing more than a mountaintop theophany in your life, it doesn’t mean God isn’t at work quietly and invisibly in your life.

Mostly, I think I’ve preached this way because I’m a product of Mainline Protestantism where we’re not sure if God actually works in the world anymore, but we’re definitely sure we don’t want to be mistaken for those other Christians who see God at work on the green screen of the weatherman’s map.

Looking at this picture of you, though, and thinking of that word THEOPHANY I’m now convinced it’s wrong to privilege one angle over the over because God is most assuredly in the fire and the wind and the earthquake as well the silence.

Lest God’s not God.

At the risk of sounding heretical (and, honestly, I’ve got bigger worries these days), a clearer way of putting this is that I think the narrator of Elijah’s story is wrong, no matter his/her dramatic aim.

God IS in the fire and the wind and the tremble.

After all, as God self-reveals to Moses: ‘I am He who Is.’

God, in other words, is the Source of Existence itself in that everything which exists owes its existence to God. God, please remember this in high school and college Gabriel, is the name we give to the question ‘How come________?’ God is our answer to the most important question of all: ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’

Of course, that doesn’t mean God is the direct cause behind every boom and bolt and quake, anymore than every diagnosis, but as Creator, continuously holding all things in creation in existence, God IS IN them.

What Paul says of God and us holds true of all created things: ‘God’s the one in whom we live and move and have our being.’

Or, as my teacher taught me:

‘God is the infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.’

In all things: fire, wind, dewdrops, silence, cells. Everything = THEOPHANY.

So if God is in all things, necessarily, including where Elijah’s narrator repeatedly stresses God ain’t, then what are we to make of the silence about which the narrator makes so much?

Despite committing rather elementary mistakes in the doctrine of God, what does the narrator of Elijah’s story want us to see by stressing that God is in that still small voice?

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Humor me. See if you can wrap your head around this-

Richard Taylor, a philosopher, once invited readers to imagine a man (or a boy) hiking in the woods where he came upon, out of the blue, a translucent sphere. Obviously, Taylor points out, the man would be shocked by the strangeness of the object and he’d wonder just how it should happen to be there floating in the middle of the forest.

More to the point, the hiker would never be able to swallow the notion that it just happened to be there, without cause or any possibility of further explanation. Such a suggestion would strike him as silly. But, Taylor argues- and this is money- what the hiker has failed to notice is how he might ask that same question, just as well, to any other object in the woods, say a rock or a tree or a spiderweb or a little boy as much as this strange sphere.

He fails to do so:

‘Only because it rarely occurs to us to interrogate the ontological pedigrees of the things to which we are accustomed. We’d be curious about a sphere suddenly floating in the forest; but, as far as existence is concerned, everything is in a sense out of place.’

Taylor says you can imagine that sphere stretched out to the size of the universe or shrunken to a grain of sand, as everlasting or fleeting. and it doesn’t change the wonder:

‘It’s the sheer unexpected thereness of the thing, devoid of any transparent rational for the fact, that prompts our desire to understand it in terms not simply of its nature but of its very existence.’

What’s all that mean, Gabriel?

It means every little detail and moment of our lives is a marvel no less than that sphere in the forest. It means every part of our lives together is a wonder  of which we could ask ‘Why this instead of nothing?’ It means everything around us is not necessary at all, not ‘natural’ unto itself and, as such, it’s charged, all of it, with the immediacy of God. It’s all graced. Back to that word again: its all THEOPHANY.

We just seldom stop to think/notice/marvel/wonder/praise that everything from the boom and bolt to your morning breath against my neck is as odd, and so a gift, as that philosopher’s sphere.

Looking at this picture, Gabriel, what’s so obvious to me now was missed by just as wide a mark back then, double-true for all the other moments we could have snapshots of but don’t. Funny how we take more pictures these days but give less praise, but that starts to sound like preaching and I’m on medical leave.

Here’s what I can say, G.

Only after the fright and upheaval, the pain and the uncertainty…of cancer do I see what was so clearly there. Is here.

I see it clearly enough it makes me wonder if Elijah ever had sons of his own.

My guess is he’d have had a hard time getting a date, but here’s what I think I missed about Elijah’s story all those other times. Or, at least here’s what I wonder. I wonder if Elijah would’ve heard God in the silence- in the still, small voice- had it not been for all the tumult that preceded it.

Maybe it’s not the case that God’s not in the fire and the boom but in the silent moments, as I’ve always preached.

Maybe the boom and the bust, the fire and the fear, calibrates our eyes to what’s there all around us. All the time.

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Christian Wiman writes that

‘Love is the living heart of dread.’

He’s got cancer too so he understands what others who just countenance optimism and perseverance miss. When love’s concerned, hope and dread aren’t that far removed from one another.

Dread is exactly what I feel sometimes and even when I look at this picture too, thinking of all the percentages and odds you can Google late at night.

Except thinking of that philosopher’s sphere and remembering that word, theophany, makes me realize that whatever we have to come- you, your brother, your Mom and I- are more marvels than we can count.

But that shouldn’t keep us from trying.

mainRather than break my promise (reading Mark Driscoll’s crap ebook, Pastor Dad, in a charitable spirit that’s open to learning) I decided to avoid my promise. That’s right, I’ve (e)shelved the book.

So rather than posting another Driscoll rant, here’s a Father’s Day letter to my boys.

     Dear Gabriel and Alexander,

 

Another year has passed! Boys, the more I enjoy our time together the faster it seems to speed by. Even to the two of you- looking at the photos on our cork board recently, Gabriel, I mentioned how much older you look now than you do in some of the photos.

And you replied: ‘Yeah, you look older too.’

 

No matter how old I look to you, boys, I hope you’ll at least realize that in your Father’s eyes you two are perfect, just perfect.

 

I told you last Father’s Day how I stole this idea of writing you a letter from Dennis. I figure Dennis spends much of his time taking credit for my hard work and brilliance so turnabout’s fair play. Boys, the folks in the 8:30 service won’t realize I’m joking but I trust you do.

 

I also confessed to you last Father’s Day how normally I have strong convictions against celebrating cultural holidays in worship. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…they’re not Christian holidays. Christians have a different calendar and a different story I’ve always believed.

 

So in one vein you could say my writing you this letter for worship makes me a hypocrite.

 

But in another vein I think its a faithful act because if you two are not a means of God’s grace for me then God never spoke a Word.

 

Alexander,

 

You’ve been with us for three years now. It feels like yesterday and like you’ve always been here.

 

No longer do I need to hold you at night and reassure you that ours is your forever family. Instead you’re now content to hug me, pray your prayer, roll over underneath your covers and drift off to sleep.

 

This year thanks to those annoying place-mats your Aunt Andi bought you, you’ve memorized seemingly endless, inane Presidential trivia. You can tell us which President kept goats, which President was single, which President killed someone in a carriage crash.

 

And you do tell us, over and over and over, at every meal.

 

Sometime during this year, X, you finally got the hang of sarcasm. It was an answer to prayer.

 

There was the night I made polenta and onions for dinner and you leaned over your plate, inhaled the rising steam and said: ‘Man, I love polenta and onions.’

 

And there was the night after Christmas when we were stuck in New York City during the blizzard. I couldn’t see because of the snow and wind and I got us lost. And you said from behind your frosted hood: ‘Dad, you really know your way around New York.’

 

I suppose some parents wouldn’t want their kids to be sarcastic, but I thought it was perfect.

This year, X, I watched you on several Sunday evenings sit down on a love seat next to Eleanor, our elderly friend, and read to her. You had with her the same endless supply of empathy I see you display with your baby cousins.

 

I will forever remember the day before New Year’s, standing in the back of the funeral home and watching you kneel at Eleanor’s open casket and earnestly pray for her.

 

Far from feeling concerned for you, in that moment I thought you were perfect, just perfect.

 

This year, X, you’ve gone from not being able to swim at all to swimming Butterfly with the grace of, well, a butterfly.

 

Watching you in the water, you look perfect.

 

You may not even remember, X, but one evening this winter after swim practice another kid looked at you and then looked at me, and he asked you if I was your “real” Dad.

 

I wasn’t sure for a second if you knew what the kid was getting at, but then you said ‘Yeah’ and you grabbed my hand and you looked up at me and you smiled and I knew you got it.

 

And in that moment I felt perfect, just perfect.

 

Gabriel,

 

I can’t believe the little hands I first held at Easter four years ago are now holding #2 pencils and doing worksheets at the kitchen table.

 

I can’t believe you’ve gone from playing with the plastic astronaut toys Charlotte Rexroad gave you to explaining the revolution of the earth to me.

 

I can’t believe that the Legos you used to shove up your nose you’re now using to do math problems. I wish I could take those Lego pieces and subtract the time that’s gone by too fast.

 

This year you’ve learned to make pancakes. And you’ve learned to ride your bike without training wheels. Actually, you didn’t learn. You just announced you didn’t need your training wheels anymore and then you did it.

 

Like so many other things, you did it on your own terms. That same quality that often makes me want to wring your neck I think will one day make you a leader.

 

This year, Gabriel, you gave me my biggest laugh.

 

When we were camping, one morning while I was making coffee you emerged from the tent with your hiking boots on, your footy-jammies unzipped and hanging down your knees, with no underwear on and, for some reason, wearing your enormous orange skateboarding helmet on your head. You stepped from the tent, gave me a knowing grin and then marched over to a nearby tree to do your business.

 

Your mother won’t like that I’ve shared that story and I’m sure someone in church will tell me it was inappropriate, but I think it was perfect.

 

Perfect because you make me laugh, Gabriel.

 

Whether its wearing your underwear on the outside of your jeans, putting on a red cape and pretending to be Nacho Libre as you jump off the back of the armchair or whether its the glee in your eyes as you ring Mark Gunggoll’s doorbell and then run away before he can answer.

 

Your sense of humor- it’s perfect.

 

For your fifth birthday, Gabriel, you asked for a kitten. You named her Karli, and you’ve displayed with her nothing but gentleness. It’s the same gentleness that wakes me up every morning with your smiling eyes on the corner of my pillow and your hand rubbing my hair.

 

Speaking of which, Gabriel, you keep telling us you’re too old to keep sneaking into our bed at night, but you’ve yet to make good on your words. As you get older, my share of the bed gets smaller and smaller.

 

Even still, waking up to your gentle, smiling eyes is perfect, just perfect.

 

One afternoon this April, Gabriel, you walked in on me while I was struggling to write a sermon and you found me crying. You asked me why and I told about you about a little boy who’d died.

 

 

You blinked and then gestured emphatically with your little hands and said: ‘Poor him. His poor family. It’s a good thing Jesus loves all the children.’

 

And you didn’t know it but you’d just given me my sermon and, just like that, you’d reminded me that you’re perfect, just perfect.

 

Boys,

 

A few months ago we were in the checkout line at Safeway. Sharon Perry was behind us. She hadn’t noticed us but, Alexander, you saw that it was her. I could see the little gears in your head turning.

 

Alexander, you pointed up at an issue of Men’s Health and you announced loudly so Sharon (and everyone else) would hear you: ‘Dad, his muscles are way bigger than yours.’

 

I feigned outrage and threatened to teach you a lesson. Alexander, you responded by saying: ‘Dad, you could not beat anyone up.’

 

Maybe that’s true now, but it wasn’t always true.

 

There’s a story I tell the confirmation kids every year. It’s more like a confession.

 

When I was in the sixth grade, I was bullied mercilessly for 3/4 of the year. I was the pimply, awkward, new kid on the bus, and every day- every day- a boy who was two years older and sat in the seat in front of me would shame me, spit on me, pick on me and hit me.

 

There are worse details I could share but if I did you’ll never go to middle school. He literally made that year Hell for me, and, as is the way in Jr High, I suffered it in silence.

 

Everyone called him Frog because he kind of looked like one. It never occurred to me that he was the way he was because he’d been treated the same way he treated me.

 

Anyway, after suffering nearly a year of his abuse, I decided to put a stop to it. One afternoon I didn’t get off at my bus stop. I rode for three more stops and got off at Frog’s neighborhood. And then I beat him up. Badly.

 

Boys, when I tell that story to the confirmation kids, I always build it up in a deliberate way; so that, when I get to the part about beating Frog up the kids- girls as well as boys- they always applaud. They always cheer.

 

They always think the way I handled Frog was perfect.

 

And then I tell them the rest of the story.

 

I tell them how what I did to Frog made him a sad, timid person who never again looked me or anyone else in the eye. I tell them how I became a Christian some years after that, and I tell them about the Sunday morning I heard Dennis Perry read from the sermon on the mount at Woodlake United Methodist Church:

 

“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Every year, boys, I tell the confirmation kids how, having heard Jesus’ sermon, I knew that if I was serious about being a Christian then I needed to ask for Frog’s forgiveness.

 

That’s what I did, in the parking lot of a grocery store where he worked as a bagger.

 

No one ever applauds when I end the story there. My Father’s Day wish is that one day you’ll become the sort of men who do.

 

Boys, in my eyes the two of you are perfect in every way. And I’ve no doubt God looks upon you with a joy similar to my own. But the hard Gospel truth is that the perfection God wants to see in us is a peculiar sort.

 

To be perfect is not to be sinless or without fault.

 

To be perfect in God’s eyes is to love those you’ve no inclination to love, to love those who do not love you, to love those who hate you and those you long to hate.

 

Jesus could’ve said it in so many other places in the Gospel.

 

When Jesus praised the generosity of the widow with her single coin, Jesus could’ve said: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’

 

When the disciples ask him how to pray, Jesus could’ve ended his lesson with ‘Be perfect as your Father is perfect.’

 

Or when Jesus told the rich, young man to sell all his possessions or when he told the lawyer “to love your neighbor as you love yourself’ Jesus could’ve added ‘Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’

 

But Jesus says it here about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and giving the clothes off your back to the person attacking you behind your back.

 

Don’t think, boys, this is about the avoidance of conflict. Because nothing will make enemies for you like a determination to love like Jesus, and that’s where faith comes in, boys.

 

After all, if you really did give your clothes to the person accusing you, then you’d be left standing there before a judge naked and that sounds ridiculous.

Except that’s exactly what Jesus did. You see it’s about faith, boys. Christians love their enemies not because its a guarantee our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

 

No, Christians love their enemies because that’s the same love that was nailed to a Cross. That’s the love God vindicates on Easter.

 

It takes faith- faith that if we love as Jesus loved then God will vindicate us too. Of course, boys, this sort of love is costly and counter-intuitive and doesn’t come any easier for your father than for anyone else in this world.

 

So I’m not the example you should be looking to. Instead you should strive to be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

-Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

imagesChapter 7 of Mark Driscoll’s ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood, is entitled ‘Protecting from Sin and Folly.’

Predictably Driscoll focuses so much on sexual sins you’d think this is the only subject which parents need to teach their children.

As a counter to Driscoll, I thought I’d post this old Father’s Day letter/sermon to/about my boys from 3 years ago.

Everything We Need: Galatians 5.1, 13-24

Dear Gabriel and Alexander,

 

First, my apologies. I had meant to write this letter and give it to you on Father’s Day. Unfortunately I have this job where I have to work most weekends so instead you’re getting it a week late. In any case, I hope you will take this letter, tuck it away somewhere and save it for a day when you want some advice and life wisdom from your old man. I’m guessing that day will not come until you are in your forties so make sure you store this in a dry place.

 

You might be wondering if this should not be the other way around. Maybe you should be the ones writing me a letter. After all, what kind of self-aggrandizing, cheese-ball writes his kids a letter on Father’s Day and then reads it from the pulpit? Gabriel, if you do happen to ask yourself that question, the answer is your godfather, Dr. Dennis Perry. I got the idea years ago when I was just a teenager, listening to the letters he wrote to Jess and Ben.

 

You should know I went through a phase in my theological development where I didn’t think it appropriate to talk at all in sermons about mothers and fathers and children. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day aren’t liturgical holidays, after all, and Jesus seemed to have had a complicated relationship with his own family.

 

I can tell you I’ve disappointed no small amount of church ladies with my previous refusals to preach Mother’s Day sermons. Obviously its because of you two boys but these days my thinking is changed. I can’t help thinking that if the Gospel has no bearing on our everyday, ordinary decisions and relationships then the incarnation- God taking flesh and dwelling among us- was kind of a waste of time.

 

Alexander, by now you’ve spent not quite two of your seven years with us. Just as if I’d held you at your birth, I honestly can’t recall a time you weren’t with us. As much as the extra weight around my middle, the weight of your head on my shoulder feels a part of me.

 

X, when I think of how far you’ve come since you first came to live with us and when I think of all the obstacles you have overcome, I’m filled with pride for you. And my faith is reinvigorated. I know your success is not because of your mom or me or even entirely because of you. I don’t often talk about seeing God at work in my life for fear of intimidating people who don’t see their lives that way. X, you are one case where I feel no need to be reticent.

 

Since we promised to be your forever home I’ve watched you go from just a handful of English words to turning the pages of Roald Dahl. This year I’ve seen you step out from your fear of getting something wrong to try new things- and, okay, maybe you should’ve been more afraid of skiing.

And this year I’ve discovered just how empathetic you are Alexander. With everyone. I can’t guess what path you will choose when you are older, but I pray its one in which you get to exercise this gift that God’s given you.

 

Gabriel, you make me laugh. I hope you always will. Some parents wonder what their children will be like when they are older. Considering how often I catch you hiding in the closet eating cheetos and cookies, I mostly wonder how big you’ll be when you’re older.

 

Gabriel, this year you’ve learned to ride your bike, your skateboard and to jump in the pool- all with reckless abandon. As the Fantastic Mr Fox says, that’s your trademark. This year you’ve also developed your potty humor and sarcasm to heights previously unmatched for a four year old. While some will say you couldn’t have inherited this from me genetically, I like to think it certainly has come by osmosis.

 

I can’t believe you’re four years old. I already miss the sound of you tramping down the hallway at 11:30 at night, wrapped in your red Nationals blanket, asking if you can watch Deadliest Catch with your mom and me.

 

But this year we’ve noticed other things about you boys too. For example, Alexander I’d no idea you could recite the Lord’s Prayer all by yourself, and Gabriel I don’t know when you learned to hold your hands out to receive- rather than take- communion.

 

I saw signs of your spiritual development all year, such as the afternoon this spring I listened to the two of you arguing in the backseat of my car about the nature of the Risen Christ. Alexander, I heard you positing that the Risen Jesus is ‘kind of like a Jedi, like Obi-Wan after he dies.’ Gabriel, on the other hand, you felt the Easter Jesus had more in common with Gandalf from Lord of the Rings because when he comes back from the dead ‘he’s sparkly.’

 

That’s hardly all. There was the evening at the dinner table when you, Alexander, matter-of-factly explained that Jesus and God are one and the same and, in your own words, you explained how Jesus was present at creation. Not too shabby for a first grader.

 

And there was the Easter night this Spring when we were all serving the homeless in DC with some church people when you, Gabriel, looked at me with complete seriousness and explained that we were doing what we were doing because Jesus had been homeless too.

 

When people hear this about you, its possible they’ll chalk it up to you being a couple of preacher kids. They’d never believe that in our house we actually talk more about bluegrass, baseball and the X-Men. Despite wearing a robe once a week and having some people call me Reverend, the truth is I don’t know how to plant this faith in you any better than any other parent.

No, the growth of your faith is a testimony to the Church- not just to Aldersgate Church specifically but to the Church with a big C, to the Church as a sacrament, to the Church a visible means of a grace we can’t see with our own eyes.

 

You’ll learn one day, if you’ve not already, that the Church is often easy for people to mock and parody. The Church can be easy to criticize and it can be a convenient scapegoat for disillusionment. Nevertheless, its every bit as true that the Church can transform people. Of that, you are already exhibits A and B.

 

Gabriel, one afternoon this summer while we were at the pool you pointed out how I had a couple of gray hairs on my chest. You then said: ‘Daddy, you’re old. Are you going to die soon?’

 

I like to think the gray hair is just part of my plan to look more and more like Sam Elliot, but even if that doesn’t work out for me the gray hair at least puts me in a better position to begin offering you sagely wisdom. Are you ready?

 

Here it is:

When you get older, one day and probably many times thereafter, you are going to wonder: DO I HAVE ENOUGH?

 

Enough what? you might be asking. Enough of anything.

 

I’m starting my 10th year in ministry and my 6th year at Aldersgate, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about people its that there’s one anxiety we all share. Its an anxiety about not having enough: money, time, love, health, security, faith.

 

You should know, boys, that question’s as old as the bible; in fact, they even asked it in the bible. A teacher named Paul wrote a letter about it.

 

Gabriel, you already know some of it. Thanks to Mrs. Mertins and the Aldersgate Day School you know all about the fruit of the Spirit. But somehow I doubt Mrs Mertins taught you that Paul writes about the fruit in the middle of a long argument about circumcision. I imagine it is hard to explain circumcision with construction paper.

 

If you were to read Paul’s letter now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me it was confusing, that you tripped over words like Flesh, Law, Justification and, naturally, Circumcision.

 

Here’s the thing- when you push all the confusing parts to the side, what you discover is that Paul is writing to people who wonder if they have enough. Only their question is: Is Jesus Enough?

 

These people loved Jesus. They believed in him and had faith in him.

 

They believed Jesus was enough to get them into heaven; they just didn’t think Jesus was enough to make sense of their practical, everyday lives. They wanted something else that would tell them what to do and what not to do, who to be, and where to go with their lives. So they hoped that something called the Law could give them the answers that, let’s face it, everyone wants.

 

We do not argue too much about the Law anymore, but the fact is boys: every moment of your lives you’re being bombarded with messages about what to wear, what to desire and buy, how to think, who to fear, what to hate, where to belong, what is possible and what you should aspire to.

 

So its no different than it was in Paul’s day. Everywhere you are confronted with messages telling you that Jesus is not enough to make your way in the world.

 

In response, Paul says we should ‘live by the Spirit.’

 

X, you asked me not too long ago what the Holy Spirit is. And I said it was like wind or breath, something that is everywhere even if you can’t see it. I could tell from the look on your face that that was a singularly unsatisfying answer.

 

I think in general Christians are too sloppy when it comes to talking about the Holy Spirit because really its simple: the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.

 

The Spirit is Holy because its Jesus’ Spirit. The Holy Spirit is how Jesus is at work in the world today. The Spirit does what Jesus did and if the Spirit allegedly does something Jesus would not have done then, chances are, its not really the Spirit.

 

When Paul says that we should live by the Spirit, he means we should follow Jesus: mimic his life, practice his teachings, apprentice our lives to his life. He is the mold we should pour our lives into.

 

That’s where the fruit of the Spirit comes in, Gabriel. Paul says that if we apprentice our lives to Jesus then our lives will be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness, and self-control.

 

Some bibles have Paul saying ‘There is no law against such things’ but, really, in the Greek, it says: ‘There is no shortage of such things.’

 

In other words, Paul is saying our lives will resemble Jesus’ life. And not only is that is enough for your life, really its everything you need.

 

God doesn’t give you everything you want- you’ve probably learned that already.

 

God doesn’t give you everything you need to be happy and free from disappointment and suffering.

 

But God does give you everything you need to follow him. That’s what we were made to do and that’s what the fruit of the Spirit means.

 

And that brings me back to the Church, boys- the Church with a big C. Because our lives are meant to bear fruit; our lives are meant to look like the life Jesus lived. So its not that your faith can ever be just one part of your life.

 

The moment you become a disciple your life suddenly becomes something for you to cultivate and grow. And you can only do that among the People we call Church. You can only do that by learning how to worship and pray, by learning how to give and forgive, by serving and sharing another’s burdens.

 

I hope when you are my age you have not forgotten that. I hope none of us have.

 

Love,

Dad

mainI’ve been marking the time up to Father’s Let’s Baptize Consumerism by Idealizing the Family Day by reading Mark Driscoll’s new ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights on Fatherhood.

On previous occasions, I’ve duly and honestly noted that, for me, Mark Driscoll is right up there with Joel Osteen, Bob Saget and Joseph Goebbels. While I’ve been accused from time to time of gross exaggeration, crass generalization and conceited dismissals of contrary views, I’m like a kid with sidewalk chalk to Driscoll’s Picasso.

A master of the arresting tweet and jaw-droppingly false assertions, Driscoll’s a one-man meme-maker with his straight-faced, ‘scriptural’ sermons about biblically-mandated BJ’s and liberal Christians’ limp-wristed,wimpy versions of Jesus.

While I get gripes from the bishop’s office for making a joke about Jesus farting, Driscoll gets ecclesial kudos and book deals for things that make George Carlin seem like Mr Rogers.

Despite the gag reflex Driscoll provokes in the back of my throat, I promised to read his book in a spirit of Christ-centered detente because lessons can be learned even from enemies. Right? mark-driscoll

First lesson learned- and a good one for fathers to pass on:

One should be wary of making promises they can’t keep.

Driscoll’s chapter 5, ‘The Masculine Duty to Provide,’ is like spilling Maker’s Mark are all over a recovering alcoholic. But today instead of ridiculing Driscoll with a glee that will be enjoyed only by me and a few others, I thought I would offer something more thoughtful.

And more Christian.

282568_150937788316009_5326304_nA friend and neighbor, Chad Pecknold, is a theologian at CUA and has a post at Ethika Politika, contemplating fatherhood. I believe this is the argument that Driscoll (if he had the conscience of the average citizen and the IQ of a mole rat) is attempting to make in much his book:

I am haunted by an even deeper crisis that must at least exacerbate, and may even be a root cause of the fatherhood crisis: a loss of an embodied faith and an embodied understanding of God as Father.  As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, it is not from human fathers that we understand what it means for God to be Father, but it is from the revelation of God as Father that our understanding of fatherhood is elevated and perfected.  Is it so impossible to think that a modern vision of God as Deus Absconditus has, inversely, defected and devolved our understanding of fatherhood?

In Charles Taylor’s extravagantly illustrated account of why it has become difficult to believe in God, A Secular Age, he calls the Reformation a “disenchantment engine.”  Martin Luther had famously rejected every attempt of human reason to know God.  Despite the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who said that the invisible God could be known by the things that were made, Luther stressed the unknowability of God through things made.  The god of the philosophers is always a fabricated God of our own making.   Since only God can reveal God, Luther severed the ancient dynamic between Athens and Jerusalem.

For many, the “disenchantment engine” at first made “optional” but then broke the relation between God and creation, as well as the complementary relation between faith and reason.  Sometimes this “break” is blamed on nominalism, the view that universals (invisible things) cannot really be known as anything other than fabricated relations between particular, visible, made things.  How did this happen?  For the nominalists that trained Luther, God’s intellect was unknowable. And since God’s will perfectly expressed his intellect, it was argued that his ways were inscrutable. This made it possible for later thinkers—against the backdrop of the Black Death and other natural disasters—to think about God’s actions in a capricious way.  Instead of understanding God’s actions as fitting the goodness of his nature (as Aquinas argued), it became possible to think of God as an inscrutable and unknowable sovereign, as one who does not necessarily act in accordance with his nature, but may act solely upon his mysterious will.  Fear of this inscrutable God made it easier for some thinkers to descend further into what Taylor calls “providential Deism.”

Taylor rightly sees in this descent to “providential Deism” the eclipse of transcendent purpose, the erasure of supernatural grace in an immanent frame, the denial of mystery, and the refusal of a participationist understanding of our relation to God. No longer are we humans called to become “partakers of the divine nature,” or elevated by grace to become adopted sons and daughters of God.  Now God has become the Deus Absconditus that has created the world and simultaneously orphaned it.  Taylor argues that these shifts, among many others, are responsible for why it is more difficult to believe in God now than it was prior to the Reformation.  These shifts have not only made it difficult to know God as Father, but have also made it difficult for us to recognize the nature of human fatherhood in anything other than the basically nominalist and voluntarist modes of providential Deism.  That is at least one of the important reasons why Locke’s view of fatherhood becomes possible, and why liberal cultures that slavishly follow this trajectory will continue to want to hide the fathers.  The antidote is the revelation of the Father’s love for the Son.

 

mainAgainst every natural and holy impulse within me, I’m marking this advent season before Father’s Hallmark Day by reading Mark Driscoll’s ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood.

As I’ve oft noted, Mark Driscoll is one of those people who calls to mind that piece of scripture from 2 Peter:

 The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

For my response to chapter 3 of Pastor Dad, “The Fruitful Vine,” I thought I would attempt what Driscoll almost always fails to bother with : consider a woman’s point of view. My wife, Ali.

So then, I offer you both my reactions to Driscoll’s screed as well my wife’s likely reactions to what she surely would have a stronger and more derogatory term than screed.

Driscoll begins the third chapter in the beginning of the bible, the book of Genesis, telling us that fatherhood and a “biblical family” are rooted in God’s command to Adam to be “fruitful and multiply.”

This means, Driscoll explains with breathtaking generalization, that “godly men desire to have children and that those children would have much fruit in their lives with God.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Does ‘fruitful and multiply’ really mean having children, or do we read that in to the text because State’s more ancient than Rome have always had a stake in encouraging families? Might it just as easily mean our lives are to be about more than ourselves, having a multiplying, pay it forward effect? Does this mean Jesus was also taking about us spawning when he said we’re branches on his vine that should bear fruit?

Ali’s Reaction:

Nice, so Genesis is just a two-party conversation between God and Adam with Eve off doing….what? Doesn’t matter I suppose…to Mark Driscoll. Why in the ________ does he assume God only gave the command to Adam?

Next, Mark Driscoll cites the ‘cleaving’ passage in Genesis 2 to argue that only after a young man has grown up, started a career, and learned to govern his own life “is he qualified to pursue a young woman through father…young men continue to live at home, freeloading off their parents as boys who can shave, while they have sex with girlfriends that they one day may shack up with, and use birth control to prevent pregnancy or abortion to murder their own child because fools see children as a burden and not a blessing.”

Jason’s Reaction:

Let’s just ignore the unalloyed way he just equated all abortion with murder as though there’s no ambiguity on the issue. This is a surprisingly biblical justification for getting married later in life, but I wonder how he feels about the way this rationale rubs against the other biblical notion of chastity outside of marriage?

Ali’s Reaction:

Kudos for Mark Driscoll smacking down boys who want to remain boys into their 30’s, playing XBox, being mommied by women who should be grandmas soon, all the while having their ‘friends with benefits’ or their ‘baby mommas.’

Of course, any prophetic wisdom aimed at men who want to remain boys is lost by the way Driscoll treats women as completely passive objects in the transaction he calls ‘courtship, marriage, and fatherhood.‘

Pursued?”

Really, does this mean women who pursue men can never have a ‘biblical marriage?‘ No doubt Driscoll would have an S word for such women and it wouldn’t be ‘scriptural.‘

“As a general rule, single men should aspire to to marriage and fatherhood, and if they do not there is something seriously wrong with them.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

So, according to Driscoll’s construal of manhood, Jesus is extremely queer- definitely in one sense of the word and possibly in that OTHER sense of it?

Ali’s Reaction:

Weren’t the first Christians ALL single? As a way of expressing their commitment to Christ and their conviction that the community was now their family?

Don’t Christians believe we spread by conversion and baptism? New Creation rather than procreation?

mark-driscollNext Driscoll says:

“When I met my wife, Grace, I adored her and soon asked her how she felt about children, because if she was not interested in being a wife and mother who desired to stay home and raise her children, I was not interested in pursuing a relationship with her and did not want to waste my time.”

Jason’s Reaction:

As I often tell couples, your relationship with your spouse- not your kids- is your first priority. You didn’t swear a covenant with your children; you did with your spouse. You and your spouse are meant to be visible sign of God’s love for us all. Children are the fruit of parabolic, married love; married love is not the means to the end that is children.

Ali’s Reaction:

‘Waste my time…?’ Jason and I met when we were 15 and have been together over half our lives. We had no idea what the future held back then and we were no more naive than couples who meet in their 20’s or 30’s or 40’s. Love- and life- happens. It’s that willingness to step out into an unknown future with someone (whether it means kids or not) that is Christlike and faithful not finding someone to mate with. Did he inspect her teeth and forelegs first before breeding with her?

MD says:

“I wanted to have children and be a father who was the sole economic provider so that my wife could stay home with the children…[a wife whose] children praise her because she is a wise bible teacher who spends her time working hard to build their home and bless their father.”

Jason’s Reaction:

Isn’t ‘sole economic provider’ a bit of an anachronism? The cliche of the husband bringing home the bacon doesn’t really match the biblical context of an agrarian (not capitalist, market-based) economy where said bacon was literally bacon and was literally brought ‘home’ from the field next to the house, a field in which you can be damn scripture sure the woman worked in as well (see: Ruth, Book of).

Ali’s Reaction:

I’d LOVE not to have to work but pastor’s don’t make enough to support a family in an economy with an evaporating middle class. Not to mention, I reserve the right to work should I want to work and I claim the possibility that God might call me to do so in some particular fashion. If not everyone has the same gift from the Spirit, then why/how would God call all women to be stay-at-home moms? Some dads are superbly fitted to be stay-at-home parents, and homes with 2 working parents aren’t de facto bad families.

And then there’s this:  A WIFE’S JOB IS TO BLESS THE….

fATHER?!!!?

As in, her man not her God?

WTF?

Driscoll then moves on to discuss in nuanced, sensitive fashion the influence parents can have on their impressionable, ever-watchful children:

“If a wife is a nag who disrespects her husband by chirping at him all the time, then the children in that home will follow her example and become fools who ruin their lives by similarly disobeying and dishonoring their dad.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Sigh.

Ali’s Reaction:

Nag?! %&^%&&&&^$^&&%$###%^&**^&((^$$##@#&**!

To buttress his claims about the devastating effects of nagging wives upon God’s good creation, Driscoll cites as evidence:

“…anyone doubting this descent would be well served to simply watch one of the innumerable popular sitcoms on television where the husband is an idiot and the wife trash-talks him in front of the children…” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Does anyone really think today’s sitcoms are anymore reflective of reality than Rob and Laura Petrie from the Dick Van Dyke Show? I wasn’t alive, but did married couples with children really sleep in twin beds and know absolutely no black people?

Ali’s Reaction:

Nag?! %&^%&&&&^$^&&%$###%^&**^&((^$$##@#&**!

Bravely though, Driscoll places culpability where it’s due:

“….whose responsibility is it? ultimately, it is men who are responsible because they chose their wives.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

It’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything but marry a great gal.

Ali’s Reaction:

‘Chose?’ Jason and I dated each other. We fell in love together. We decided to marry each other. It was mutual, just like our marriage.

Apparently Mark Driscoll chose his wife off a shelf at the mall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

imagesAdvertising tells me that Father’s Day is fast approaching, that market scripted day of the year when I feel emasculated for desiring neither ties nor power tools.

In anticipation of this Father’s Day, I’ve chosen to do something against type. I’m reading a book about ‘Biblical F/fatherhood.’

Okay, it’s not completely against type. For one thing the book was free, a new ebook entitled ‘Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood.’ For another thing the book was written by Mark Driscoll, the rapid, hyper-Calvinist pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle.

You can read it here.

The size of Driscoll’s church, 10K plus on weekends, is an auspicious reminder that the line between discipleship and delusion is a fine one indeed. I once mentioned one of Mark Driscoll’s sermons to my wife, in which Driscoll argued that it’s the Christian wife’s ‘biblical duty’ to give her husband a BJ whenever he wanted it. Seriously. And I got a call from the bishop for making a fart joke. Ever since I mentioned that to my wife any mention of Mark Driscoll sends her into a rage.

mark-driscollTo some Mark Driscoll is this century’s Billy Graham. To other, sane-minded people he is a hipper iteration of Pat Robertson- albeit a Pat Robertson who was dropped on his head too many times as a kid.

Jesus himself said that the word is like seed scattered on all kinds of ground, rock, sand and soil. Truth can sometimes take root in the unlikeliest of places- isn’t that the offensive lesson of grace?

So while I fess up to the honest disclaimer that I think Mark Driscoll is a d*&^%$ bag (a revulsion grounded in both my love of Jesus and my neighbors of the opposite sex) I will also begrudgingly admit that Mark Driscoll sometimes knows what he’s doing.

He certainly knows how to get his thoughts retweeted. He obviously knows how to build a large, other-focused church, and maybe, just maybe, in this Knocked Up, extended adolescent culture there’s a missional need to knock the heads of some ‘godly men.’

All this is to say, I’m reading Pastor Dad prepared to scoff and deride but also willing to be surprised.

Chapter 1: The Good Life

Driscoll’s first chapter is just 2 paragraphs, really it’s only worthy of 1 paragraph if you abide by the traditional rules of the English language. The concision of his opening paragraph has less to do with minimalist art and more to do with not allowing any ambiguity to enter what is his massive, controversial contention:

‘before a man can be a good father, he has to be a good Christian.‘

For a father to know best he must first know his Eternal Father.

Only good Christians can be good fathers, Driscoll contends. And a good Christian, he argues, is one who ‘realizes that God is his Father.’

Driscoll premises all this on the words of the Psalmist (David) that the good life for a man is to be blessed by God, a blessing that takes the form of worshipping God and caring for your family.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs worth of words, but already Pastor Dad is like Whack a Mole, provoking me with the dilemma of which target to strike first.

To go after the suggestion that only good Christians can be good fathers seems too easy. We all, I suspect, know good fathers who are not good Christians or even if they’re Christian they’re not ‘good’ Christians. Even if we don’t know any such people, I daresay we all know some good Christians who are not in any way good fathers. That Christians perform no better as parents or spouses is as well-documented as it is lamentable.

To go after Driscoll for extrapolating a rather large and incendiary contention from a Psalm (a poem written NOT by God but TO God) seems both a flimsy foundation and a misuse of the author’s intent. It’s like reading Catcher in the Rye and coming away with ‘principles’ for how teenagers should respect their elders and authority.

To go after Driscoll for basing this all on a patriarchal hierarchy that sets up a self-serving analogy between fathers and God is ground others have well trod before me.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs in so I’ll withhold judgment, but my first reaction is to rub against Driscoll’s view of and use of scripture. The Bible, as Richard Hays likes to quip, is about God. It’s about Jesus Christ and what God has done and is doing in the world.

To pilfer scripture for ‘principles’ for anything- parenting, marriage, success, happiness, serenity- is to profoundly misuse scripture even while appearing more ‘scriptural.’

Scripture DOES echo from beginning to end that our life is gift, that creation is what happens when God’s love pours out and that in the fullness of time God poured himself out completely, first in to Jesus Christ and ultimately upon a Cross.

It doesn’t make for an easy verse X of passage Y says Z therefore fathers should… principle, but it’s the most faithful approach, I think, to anything resembling ‘biblical’ parenthood.