God the Father
Talk by Tom Baker
June 19, 2011, Fathers Day, The Fellowship of the Inner Light
Several months ago it was announced that the Oxford English Dictionary had accepted OMG as an official word or really expression in the English Language. The OED took seriously one of the least serious uses of the word God. Usually God is a charged word as in Goooood is watching you. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, smarter than most religions, made the decision early on to discharge the word God by replacing it with the term Higher Power. But even when you hear the word "Higher Power" you probably think "God." Jesus, like any orthodox Jew even today, could not use the name of God, so in the Gospel written for a Jewish community, which was the Gospel of Matthew, he referred to the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of Heaven. However when Jesus was personal he referred to God as his Father and used the child expression of God, Abba, which means Daddy or Papa. So Jesus, were he here today in person, might refer to Father's Day as God's Day or Heaven's Day. God's Day has never caught on. How come?
Well for one thing it's hard to send a card to God. He has no physical address. And there is some dispute even whether or not God is a He or a She or neither, just an all powerful It, and there are people who don't even think that God exists. And among those who do think God exists there is a wide range of opinion about what God is like. Some say God is a judge (God is watching you) and others (like me) say he's more like Mr. Rogers (God is encouraging you). God is justice, God is love, God is wisdom, God is strength, God is light, God is present, and for some God is gone. So if we had a God's day it would be hard to fit God onto a card. For the first time, too, there might be fights breaking out in Hallmark Stores: people are extremely conflicted about God. People are almost as conflicted about God as they are about love.
The thing that seems to change people most about God is when they have an experience of God. For Jesus God was not a theory or a principle or even a religion, God was obvious, everywhere, in everyone, and delightful. De-LIGHT-ful. When people have a near death experience God is the warm light in which they are finally completely comfortable and deliciously at home. They remember and are remembered. That's why I have often said that love is mainly recognition and reunion. When PMH Attwater returned from her third near death experience she wanted to bring everyone home with her. Everyone said, "You can love only so many people." And she replied that having been with God she realized there was no limit to love. Now that would be the father we wish we all had had.
So how do God and father get together? Is a father supposed to be like God? Or is God like a perfect father? I have famously been dissatisfied with my father; the grumpy atheist; Fred McMurray or Andy Griffith or Sky King or, yes, Fred Rogers would have been better; but I got a man who struggled with God and life and work and pain and me. I have spent years forgiving and unforgiving my father. It's like I friend him and unfriend him in the Facebook of my moral universe. Now he is very old, 87 years old. He's had a stroke and drags his right leg and uses a walker. He and my mother live in an assisted living facility and just barely make it from day to day. He is simply a person now. He has come to believe in God and he says he is proud of me. He wonders how I could ever have been a priest or a psychotherapist but he says, "I'm not you, so how would I know." He is old and feeble and past any of my attempts to make him symbolize something.
When I was young I blamed my father for not giving me the perfect father. He was tall and clumsy and had never played sports. When I first started playing golf he took me out to a par three golf course very, very early in the morning before anyone got there, so no one would not see that he could only hit the ball along the ground. If we played ball he would fall down trying to catch the ball and threw the ball in all directions. It was like playing catch with a clumsy windmill. As I grew up I realized he was everything I wasn't: I was a believer and he was an atheist, I was a people person and he was a recluse, I was graceful and he was clumsy. In short I made him into my God and he failed the test; it wasn't that Dad couldn't be the father I wanted, he couldn't be the God I was demanding that he be.
When I went to the Hallmark store to pick out a Father's Day card I found that they were mostly full of praise and thanks. Some were wonderfully poetic: Dad you were my rock in a world of shifting sands, my strong tree in the winds of life, my lighthouse in my dark and stormy nights. But there were no cards that said simply, "I forgive you Dad. I hope you forgive me too." That's the best selling card in the Heavenly Hallmark Store, which of course is run by the God who is the Daddy to us all.
© Copyright Tom Baker 2011