And a voice came from heaven: “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.” Mark 1:11 (NET)
My father’s greatest strength was being a father. I am not sure where he learned how to be a dad. I don’t think it was from grandpa Bud, my dad’s dad. Dad was born while grandpa Bud was away serving in World War II. Grandpa Bud was honored with a purple heart for his valiant efforts in the war, but when he returned he battled another battle with PTSD, and battled it in a world with little support or understanding of the disorder. One thing led to another and my dad was out on his own when he was sixteen, putting himself through school, working to support himself and help his siblings. Dad learned very early to look to God as a Father, and it paid off; he was and remains an inspiring and supportive dad.
As a high-schooler he came to all the basketball games and mounted on his shoulder was a huge VHS video recorder. It was a bit embarrassing since he was the only one with a video camera. It didn't have stabilizer technology and he was a pitiful videographer. It was more like asking a cheerleader to video the game--all you heard was him barking at the refs, coaching from the stands, and cheering like crazy while the camera bounced around somewhere between the ceiling and the floor, and every once in while it caught the game. The video recordings really are more of a window into his soul, a proud father. And watching more than 5 minutes will give you motion sickness. He made his pride in me known to everyone.
Graduations were the times that he would get the giddiest. Screaming my name out, yelling and blowing loud horns. It was obnoxious fatherly pride. There was High School, then my A.A., B.A., then my Masters. He didn’t let up at all along the way.
In 2003 I earned my Doctorate from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The graduation ceremony was in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, a long flight from the West Coast. But true to form he was there. My family members sat halfway up the bleachers. As the M.Div. students were having their degrees conferred upon them, a young man’s name was called and the area where my family sat erupted in loud whooping and shouting. It was loud enough to cause me to turn my neck to see what was going on. There was my dad smack dab, dead center of this celebratory ovation for an M.Div. graduate that I didn't know and I was certain that he didn't know either. There were about five to six raucous rows of bleachers with people standing and cheering and whooping.
I thought to myself, ‘hmmm maybe they all are cheering for each other’s kids. That would be very typical of my dad.’
But when my name was called my five family members that were present were the only one’s standing and clapping.
My dad caught up with me at the recession. I asked him about what he was doing in the middle of cheering for the M.Div. student.
In dad’s words:
We were seated in the bleachers next to a farmer from either Iowa or Nebraska. We made some small talk.
“Do you have a family member graduating?” I asked.
“Yes. My son. He is the first one in our family to graduate from college. We are so proud of him! We couldn't afford to bring everyone out here to celebrate this,” he said looking at the five of us.
“Say, would you mind helping me cheer for him and kind of standing in for the rest of his siblings and mom back home?”
“I would love to!”
That’s all it took. I got his son’s name and before the ceremony started I got as many people as I could around us to help us cheer for him.
When his name was called we all bolted out of our seats and cheered and shouted. I turned to the farmer next to me to give him the ol’ elbow nudge and say congratulations. But he wasn't standing. He sat motionless, slumped over, his face planted in his hands, unable to hold back the tears of joy. I just touched him on the shoulder. I got it.
We all long for this kind of dad. We can live forever, walk into whatever, face any mutiny or critic, hate or cynic, failure or disability, with a pocketful of a father's pride. The moment we sense it, experience it, the psychological isolation and separation we fear is healed. It's as if the child's soul with all its spiritual fibers finally exhales and for a glorious joyous moment shares the father's emotion, lives the father's experience--love and joy.
Even with all the talk of "believe in yourself" and "love yourself" as good and true as it is, we still cannot love ourselves in a way that meets all our needs for love. We need someone, outside of ourselves, someone that has known us from infant to this moment, from diaper to diploma, and everything in between. I think this longing is anthropological; it’s connected to something much, much deeper. And the reason why stories like the one above resonate so deeply with us, no matter what our daddy issues are, is because under the immediate layer of our earthly dad, is another layer, another longing for the force that created us, the power that animates us to be proud of us. There is this need, at the very center of our existence to know that God enjoys us.
And yet so much of religion leaves us feeling as though we aren’t good enough, moral enough, righteous enough, disciplined enough for the Father to be happy and proud of us. In fact, in all of religious language and tradition, humans have no context of God being anything but displeased, wounded, and exhausted with our rebellious hearts.
And then we read this:
“This is my son, I love him; He brings me great joy."*
And if that not enough this,
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."***
And *mind blown* this,
“God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” ****
Jesus experienced in the presence of John the Baptist’s congregation the joy that every human longs to be made aware of and awakened to. And boldly and assertively he responds with, “Abba, Father.” And then
w a i t
f o r
places that very experience of Jesus inside of us and we to hear the voice, see the Spirit, feel heaven’s delight. And gush out, “Abba, Father.”
He’s proud of you. And the experience and conviction of that is at the center of everything that happens from today's journal forward. In fact, without that, this becomes nothing more than the next trendy self-help book. We must be convinced of this all the way down past our subconscious, into the vortex of our existence, that ontological mass from which our will and drive, our action and reactions, that place where our thoughts take shape and form. When the shaking and quaking in your life is epicentered in, "I am loved. My presence is delighted in. My Father enjoys me," you see through everything, walk through everything, and become you.
CHREIA OF ACTION
- Conversation. Have a conversation with Cleopas. Discuss the moments you sensed God was more like a father than a force.
- Reflection. Reflect on your life, when have you sensed God's pride and joy in you?
- Prayer. Pray Luke 3.21-22 using the tools of lectio divina for narratives (I know you did it yesterday, but this will need more than a couple days to seep into your existence ). This time as you pray put it together with yesterday's recapitulation exercise and IMAGINE you are Jesus, in the waters. Imagine the Father speaking this over you. Meditate on it until you experience the joy of Jesus.
UPNEXT: Meeting With Gandalf
*Mk1.11, Jesus has yet to preach his first sermon, perform his first work of compassion, build out his first movement. At this point, all he has done is just be a son. And his Father is proud! Jesus will never attend the prestigious Schools of Hillel or Tutelage of Gamaliel, start a successful business, write a book, win an athletic event, representing his people in the Greek Gymnasium Games at Scythopolis. His Father pride is not about what he has done or what his potential will be, but just in the relational now of who he presently is.
**Mk14.6, Jews commonly referred to God with the more formal “Father,” but what Jesus does here by calling God, “Abba” (an intimate Aramaic term and deeply personal expression, akin to 'Papa') is unique. Jesus’ intense spiritual experience and baptismal encounter provide a window into this expression.
***Lk 15.20, As we experience the joy of Jesus, we wonder about our place in all of this, and Jesus speaking to the whores, thieves, swindlers and irreligious cynics says this while the religious elite look on in pious arrogance.
****Gal.4.6, Paul calls this a mystery. That what Jesus had we have. That the "Abba" experience and relationship is ours.