Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day and God as Father

It's Father's Day, and I have parenting, metaphors, and God on the brain.  I come from a religious tradition that emphasizes God as Father more than any other metaphor I've encountered, although that situation has been changing during the last 40 years.  I've often found it irritating, even though my own experiences with fathers have been overwhelmingly positive.

I know how lucky I am to have emerged from an intact family, to have a mom and a dad who continue to love each other, and continue to love my sister and me. I grew up in the 1970's and saw plenty of wrecked families. I've always wondered how people who come out of those wrecked families, especially those with absent or abusive fathers, react to the idea of God as a Father.

I would argue that much of the damaged theology that we see comes from this idea of God as Father, in all the negative ways that metaphor can include.  God as the Judge Father, God as the Punishing Father, God as the Distant Father--I am lucky to have found a church that doesn't talk about God as a withholding father who always evaluates us and always finds us wanting, but that theology is never very far from many of us.  It's what keeps many people away from church, I suspect.

Even though I have a good relationship with both of my parents, I'm not crazy about the idea of God as Parent of either gender. I think that God as Parent is an infantilizing metaphor. If God is a Dad--or so much more rarely, a Mom--then it follows that we're children, and too often, we see that as a reason for inactivity. But God needs us to be active in the world. I'd go further and say that God is counting on us. I much prefer the idea of God as partner. God can be the Senior partner; I'm cool with that.

Having just come back from Mepkin Abbey and having spent time with my friend who comes from a tradition that talks about our elders, who are so often wise, I have that metaphor on the brain.  How would our relationship with God change if we saw God not as a parent, but as a wise elder?  I know that even at my current age of almost 52, I need more people in my life who can keep sight of the larger perspective.  I need a God of a grander vision, a God who can remind me of what's important, a God who directs my eyes to the larger horizon.

Today I shall pray for that God to come to us.  We live in a landscape more increasingly wrecked by poisonous models of caretaking; I'm thinking primarily of the fractured political world we inhabit, whether we want to or not.  On this day, at the end of a week where we saw a man shoot congressional male leaders on a baseball field during an early morning practice, it's clear to me that we need a different model of how to be male in the world.

Happily, most fathers I know these days are different.  They're much more involved in their children's lives, regardless of the age.  They change diapers, they braid hair, they fix lunches, they teach children the skills they will need, and they help older children find their way in the world.  God, too, cares for us that way.  And we are called to care for each other similarly too.

Let us do so today--and every day.

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