Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Of the Father’s Love Begotten

My father, God rest his soul, was a healer.

I was in awe of him.

Brilliant, like Dr. Salk who conquered polio. Handsome as Dr. Kildare. A doctor-of-fine-arts, Salvador Dali etchings hung on his walls. A master-of-music, Mozart played on his turntable. A gourmands, he insisted on lemon peel with his espresso. A voracious reader, his book shelves were packed with classics, art books, and avant-garde novels. He was a tinkerer and a gardener who grew roses in our backyard and built short wave radios in our basement.

He was also more than a bit like Felix Unger. Everything had to be spit and polished and squeaky clean. My dad was exceedingly dapper in his tweed sport coats and wing tip shoes. On his bathroom mirror, he pasted a label: “You, handsome devil you!” And he regularly boasted of acing his surgical boards.

Modest, he was not but he was (mostly but not always) marvelous in my eyes.

And when I was a child, I would pull wondrous instruments out of his little black doctor’s bag – the same things he would use to prod and poke us if we claimed we were too sick to go to school. The stethoscope to listen to your chest. Tongue depressors to look down your throat. The little flashlight to peer into your ears. The little hammer to hit your knees.  Invariably he would pronounce us well, prescribe two aspirin and send us off to school.

(No wonder, I won the perfect attendance ribbon – more ears than I can count.)

And my father was our family’s avid protector – from dangers outward and visible. A surgeon conscious of all kinds of calamity, he took unusual measures to keep his family safe.

Long before seat belts were standard in American cars, my dad had “safety belts” installed in ours. If you were not belted in, he would take the Lord’s name in vain, pull over to the side of the road and go nowhere until everyone was buckled up.

Long before smoke detectors, he installed fire alarms in our house and we quite literally had fire drills.

In a time when only banks were wired for burglary, so was our suburban bungalow.

Our house had no ashtrays. Smoking was forbidden. Saving us both from fire and  lung cancer.

Firearms – even BB guns — could not get through our front door. My dad, the surgeon had stitched up and lost too many young men on his operating table in Southeast D.C.

He wouldn’t even let us twirl sparklers on the Fourth of July – in case we might burn our little hands (or his!)

Does this remind you of your father? Or a grandfather? Or a step father – who stepped up when your own wasn’t there? Or a godfather – who guarded you under his wings?

Who loves you so much, that they would want to catch you before you fall – “lest you dash your foot upon a stone”?

Fathers, of course.

But even the best of fathers cannot save us from ourselves.

We fall, we scrape our knees, we crash the family car. We make bad choices, ingest things we shouldn’t, and head down the wrong path. We fail, we drop out of school, get in trouble with the law. Selfish and self – centered, we don’t realize the havoc we create in other’s lives. Quick to blame others but not ourselves.

Nor can the best of fathers save us from the slings and arrows of this mortal coil.

Life itself is a risky business. The world is a dangerous place.

Every day, when we head out the front door -– we assume that we will return safe when the day is done.

We assume that everyone will stop at red lights.

We assume our food is safe and our water free of lead.

We assume that everyone will follow “the rules” – whatever the rules may be.

And that the bad guys are all behind bars.

We take for granted those who serve to protect us,

who like a father (be they male or female),

keep us safe and secure.

Bad things are always supposed to happen somewhere else.

But here in our own backyard, in Charlottesville, in Virginia Beach, on Simpson Field, hate and violence have invaded Virginia, too.

Heavenly Father, the Lord God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, does not deliver us from evil.  At least not in the way, we hope him too.

To swoop down from heaven. To rescue us. To save us.

But as Christians, we believe in a God, a Heavenly Father, quite ironically, who did not bother to save his own Son. 

There is no Deus ex Machina. There is no miraculous divine intervention.

But there is redemption.

This Sunday, Trinity Sunday, on the eve of the summer solstice, I chose a Christmas carol for our sequence hymn. Not a widely known one – Of the Father’s Love Begotten. The words of the text are more than a thousand years old.

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He the source, the ending he,

Of the things that are, that have been,

And that future years shall see,

Evermore and evermore!

Now shepherds, angels and wise men are easier to imagine than John’s glory and grace.  These pretty words are a paraphrase of John’s prologue: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh.

The theologian, Barbara Brown Taylor says (and I paraphrase), “For one person the word is ‘compassion’.  For another its ‘justice’.  For someone else the word is ‘generosity’.  For another it is ‘patience’.  Just words that in reality, sadly are seldom seen.  The moment, however, that we act upon them — these words of ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ – take on flesh and bone.

Our Father, who art in heaven,

can bring out the father in all of us,

to reach out and care for one another,

to watch over and protect one another,

to love our neighbors as ourselves,

whoever our neighbors might be,

one little fatherly word at a time.

Happy Trinitarian Father’s Day 2019!