Sunday, November 21, 2010

God the 'Father'? Why Pick a Name With So Much Baggage?

It's weird to think of God as Father. Couldn't He have picked a better metaphor to describe himself? Granted, I was fortunate to have a great father. He took us to Braves games, provided for us on a military budget, and always showed interest in our sports endeavors.

But I know too many people who had bad fathers. Fathers that never cared for their kids. Fathers that never returned calls at Christmas. Fathers who chased younger women. Fathers who found their identity and worth in work, and choosing to neglect their family.

For too many, the title 'father' carries baggage. Bad memories. And hurt.

In the Old Testament, no one ever called God by the name of 'Father'. Ever.

God was called holy.
God was called a warrior.
God was called a rock.
God was called master.

But God was never called Father.

So when the disciples asked, "How should we pray?" you have to understand how unheard of it was for him to begin, "Our FATHER, who is in heaven..."

I'm sure the disciples thought, "Did he just say that?! Father?"

But Jesus invited us to do something intimate. Special. Inviting. Personal.

He called us to join the family of God. To call God, Father.

I began to better understand this when I read this powerful quote by George MacDonald,
"In my own childhood and boyhood my father was the refuge from all the ills of life, even sharp pain itself. Therefore I say to son or daughter who has no pleasure in the name Father, you must interpret the word by all that you have missed in life. All that human tenderness can give or desire in the nearness and readiness of love, all and infinitely more must be true of the perfect Father - of the maker of fatherhood."
This week I will become a father to my daughter, Reagan Arcadia. When she is born, I am told that my entire outlook on life will change. Which, I'm sure is true. But most importantly, my perspective on who my heavenly father is will change. How He cares. How He wants the best.

If you had a bad father, how do you feel about calling God your Father?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Danger of Bumper Sticker Ideology

So I'm reading this book about a guy who dressed up in a bumper sticker suit. After he convinced his wife to let him out of the house with the goofy thing, he headed to Time Square, New York.

His goal? To open up discussion with anybody willing. He asked questions about God, the Church, and their favorite bumper sticker on his suit.

His intent? To facilitate meaningful conversation.

It's not that I think bumper stickers are wrong. Not at all.

Although they do affect the resale of your car. You want bumper stickers? Cover to your heart's content.

But what bumper sticker guy and I are saying is that the ideology of a bumper sticker cheapens communication. This mindset robs us of the art of conversation.

Bumper sticker ideology offer one way communication. I know that I don't want to be the type that only has something to proclaim or to communicate, and doesn't have the time or ability to facilitate honest conversation.

Bumper sticker ideology only offer simple answers. Life is complex. Big questions often have complex answers. I feel cheated when a complex question is answered with a cliche just short enough to fit on the back of my car. Tough questions deserve thought out explanations. Tough questions deserve to be explored.

Bumper sticker ideology devalues opposing opinions. When we use one way communication methods, we communicate a lack of care or interest in rebuttals. We communicate that we don't care about other people's opinions. Sometimes that's not what we are trying to do. Other times, if we're honest, that's exactly how we feel: you're opinion is unimportant in this conversation. It communicates that 'I am right and you are wrong.' And we show that we are unwilling to learn from other people.

I'll admit. It's harder to facilitate conversation over this one way communication.

It takes relationship (relationships can be messy).

It takes longer (credibility has to be established).

It takes more research (tough questions deserve researched answers).

In short, let me ask you this,

"Has a bumper sticker answer ever changed your mind on a tough issue? Or just supported what you believed?" 

Book written by bumper sticker guy.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Subconscious Imitation

I recently read this fascinating story about mentorship and imitation. It is by Dr. Paul Brand, a man who gave up a prestigious medical career to serve lepers in India.

"Curtains screened my group of ten interns and medical students from the rest of the forty-bed ward. Those of us inside the curtains were giving full attention to our young colleague as he made his diagnosis. He was half-kneeling, in the posture I had taught him, with his warm hand slipped under the sheet and resting on the patient's bare abdomen. While his fingers probed gently for telltale signs of distress, he continued a line of questioning that shoed he was weighing the possibility of appendicitis against an ovarian infection. 
Suddenly, something caught my eye - a slight twitch of movement on the intern's face. Was it the eyebrow arching upward? A vague memory stirred in my mind, but one I could not fully recall. His questions were leading into a delicate area, especially for demure Hindu society. Had the woman ever been exposed to a venereal infection? The intern's facial muscles contracted into an expression combining sympathy, inquisitiveness, and disarming warmth as he looked straight in the patient's face and asked the questions. His very countenance coaxed the woman to relax, put aside the awkwardness, and tell us the truth. 
At that moment my memory snapped into place. Of course! The left eyebrow cocked up with the right one trailing down, the wry, enticing smile, the head tilted to one side, the twinkling eyes - these were unmistakably the features of my old chief surgen in London, Professor Robin Pilcher. I sucked in my breath sharply and exclaimed. The students looked up, startled by my reaction. I could not help it; it seemed as if the intern had studied Professor Pilcher's face for an acting audition and was now drawing from  his repertoire to impress me. 
Answering their questioning looks, I explained myself, "That is the face of my old chief! What a coincidence - you have exactly the same expression, yet you've never been to England and Pilcher certainly has never visited India." 
At frist the students stared at me in confused silence. Finally, two or three of them grinned. "We don't know any Professor Pilcher," one said. "But Dr. Brand, that was your expression he was wearing." 
Later that evening, alone in my office, I thought back to my days under Pilcher. I had thought I was learning from him techniques of surgery and diagnostic procedures. But he had also imprinted his instincts, his expression, his very smile so that they,too, would be passed down from generation to generation in an unbroken human chain. It was a kindly smile, perfect for cutting through the fog of embarrassment to encourage a patient's honesty. What textbook or computer program could have charted out the facial expression needed at that exact moment within the curtain? 
Now I, Plicher's student, had become a link in the chain, a carrier of his wisdom to students some nine thousand miles away. The Indian doctor, young and brown-skinned, speaking in Tamil, somehow he had conveyed the likeness of my old chief so accurately."*

This story amazes me at how subconsciously powerful mentoring can be. In this case, in the field of bedside manners for the interest of the patient. But the same is true in how we teach, how we conduct meetings, how we sell products, and most importantly, how we strive to be like Christ. As Paul once wisely said,

"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1)

*This story is the opening illustration of In His Image, by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.