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!


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Creator of the Stars of Night

Once upon a time, a generation or two ago, before we landed on the moon, Cape Kennedy was Cape Canaveral – home to NASA – the National Air and Space Administration  (if you need me to spell it out:-)).

When I was a kid, periodically we got to swap out our spelling books for something far more exciting. Sister Inez Patricia would wheel a little black and white TV into the classroom — 1960’s technology at its finest. Sister would fiddle with the horizontal and vertical controls – and the rabbit ears (remember those!) to get the picture just right.

Our little third grade eyes would be glued to screen as we listened to the countdown on the launch pad. 10, 9, 8, 7,6,5,4,3,2,1,0. BLASTOFF!

Off blasted John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. Off blasted Apollo mission after Apollo mission until that incredible day when Neil Armstrong set his boots down on the surface of the moon.

One small step for man. One giant step for mankind.

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 And on those same little TV screens in 1966, Star Trek premiered. Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock and crew set out on their five-year mission to “go boldly (and in technicolor) where no man had gone before.” The Star Trek crew blew our collective imaginations as they traveled through interstellar space. Galactically romping around the Milky Way of the millions and billions of stars.

The stars declare his glory, the vault of heaven springs

Mute witness of the Master’s hand in all created things.

And through the silence of space, their soundless music rings.

(para. Psalm 19, T. Dudley Smith)

When was the last time you gazed up at the stars?

Sadly, stargazing is nearly impossible under the artificial light pollution of our urban skies. But maybe you have gotten a chance to steal a glance on a starry-starry night. Maybe out in the country or up in the mountains. Maybe at Shrine Mont.

On this Feast of the Trinity, I invite you to turn your eyes to the skies  – heavenward. And behold the handiwork of the Holy One, the Creator of the stars of night. That we may discover – or possibly even recover – the experience of what it feels like “to be born from above.”

Alan Lightman, an astrophysicist, in his book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine tells the story of how he took out his little skiff onto the water in the dead of night. He writes:

 I turned off my running lights…I turned off my engine. I lay down in the boat and looked up. A very dark night sky seen from the ocean is a mystical experience. After a few minutes, my world dissolved into the star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity…I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them. And the vast expanse of time….from the time before I was born and into the far distant future after I will die – seemed compressed to a dot…I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a great and eternal unity,  a hint of something absolute.

 Something, someone we Christians call God, Creator of all that is seen and unseen – the divine first person of the Three Person  and singular God. The God we confess week after week in the Nicene Creed.

In Lent of 2014, I took up a rather unorthodox spiritual discipline. Rather than walking the Way of the Cross, I went in search of my Creator, the ground of my being.  I am not much of a contemplative. I don’t have the discipline to read the Daily Office. And being an extrovert, I am allergic to silent retreats. But as a bibliophile, I am all about living into the Great Commandment: to love the Lord our God, with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength….but especially with all my MIND.

So instead of cracking open a Bible, I cracked open the Book of Creation – with more than a little help from a little trinity of astro-evangelists: Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, and Neil de Grasse Tyson.

I read Kaku’s Einstein’s Cosmos: How Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time. Along with my daily prayers, I made daily online visits to Brian Greene’s World Science U – and got sixty-second -plain-English answers to my questions about the mysteries of the universe. And on the Lord’s Day, I would tune into PBS for a liturgical hour — to watch an episode of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.

I am not sure how much I actually learned science wise. I would ceratinly need to study up if I had to take an exam. But this little discipline definitely deepened my awe and expanded my sense of wonder in God’s universe (or it multiverse?)

Much like my awe and wonder were expanded all those years ago by John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong and Captain Kirk.

And this Trinity Sunday precedes Memorial Day Monday.

So, it seems to me to be both a right and a good thing to remember with gratitude those cosmic pioneers – who risked their lives to explore our solar system and the mysteries of space. For all the astronauts whose rigor and training, intelligence and dedication were given for a higher purpose.  And especially for the fallen heroes of American space flight: the 1967 crew of Apollo I, the astronauts of the  Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, the 2003 explorers on the  Space Shuttle Columbia.

 Let’s give thanks to God for all brave and bold enough to shoot for the stars, fly to the moon, and maybe even travel to Mars. Let’s give thanks to God for the gift of wonder and awe and joy in all the Creator’s works. And most especially let us praise the beloved Name  of the First and Foremost Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

The stars declare his glory.

JoaniSign