Friday, September 9, 2011

who and God had a lot of things in common

If Frank Schaeffer and Pearl S. Buck are my MK cousins (that is, are evangelical Christian missionaries' kids, like me), then Rachel Held Evans is similarly kin to my spouse (whose parents are in full-time Christian education and churchwork).  She recently finished Held Evans's book Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, saying how it really resonated with her, and so now I'm reading it.  Just a few pages in, I'm struck by how the author describes her parents, and how differently.  Through daughter and little girl eyes, she somehow finds God like father but mother otherwise.  Take a read and see for yourself.  A telling contrast comes in the final sentence of the four paragraphs excerpted below.  I don't have much time really to say more here at the blog but have been thinking about this all day, about imagination and where it ends up sometimes before it can evolve elsewhere.  Your thoughts?
The daughter of a genuine, certified theologian, I'd memorized the "Four Spiritual Laws" before I'd memorized my own address. My father earned a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, a school famous for producing megachurch pastors like Chuck Swindoll, Tony Evans, and Andy Stanley. Instead of pursuing full-time ministry, however, my father committed his life to Christian education, which I suppose explains the plastic cups. A college professor, he often invited his brightest students over for coffee and long talks about hermeneutics and eschatology and epistemology. I loved falling asleep to the sound of their voices undulating from the living room. I felt secure in knowing that while I slept, my father was awake having important conversations about God.

I always looked up to my father with a sense of reverent awe. It wasn't that I thought he possessed supernatural powers or anything; I just imagined that he and God had a lot of things in common, that they subscribed to the same magazines and wore similar shoes. Looking back, I realize how important it was that my father loved me so openly and listened so carefully. My first impressions of my heavenly Father were that he too was gentle, playful, and kind.

Despite knowing about dispensationalism long before I probably should have, I never felt trapped in a world of endless churchgoing. My mother had been raised Independent Baptist and as a girl was forbidden to dance and go to movies. Determined to avoid legalism, she let Amanda and me wait until we were good and ready before we got baptized, took communion, or asked Jesus into our hearts. Her private disdain for potlucks and church business meetings kept us from being at church every time the doors were opened, and I noticed that she got a little fidgety whenever the pastor discussed wives submitting to their husbands. I loved this about her, the same way I loved the scent of her cherry-almond lotion when she tucked me into bed at night.

A substitute teacher at my elementary school, my mother earned a reputation for doting on the needy kids. Those with absent parents, stained shirts, runny noses, and learning disabilities always left her classroom beaming with self-confidence. I think I must have gotten my bleeding heart from her, which, combined with my father's cautious idealism, accidentally made me into a liberal. If my father gave Christianity a head, my mother gave it a heart and hands, and it was her tender telling of the story of the cross, mingled with cherry almond, that first moved me to ask Jesus into my heart.


Kristen said...

It is interesting. Rachael saw her father like the Father God; but her mother was so like Christ, and yet she doesn't mention that; only that her mother pointed her to Christ. Why is that?

J. K. Gayle said...

Rachel's faith evolves, Kristen. As I read on, I see her discussing her mother differently. Maybe I'll blog more on this soon. It seems odd at first, a tad patriarchal.

Kristen said...

To me, the remarkable thing is that it doesn't seem odd, but you noticed it anyway. I'm quite accustomed to fathers, but not mothers, being compared to God.

Some parts of patriarchalism are so intrinsic to our culture we don't even notice them. For me, this is one. Because God is called "Father," it is to our fathers, not our mothers, that we look to get an idea of what God is like. God-as-Mother is certainly present in the Scriptures, but God is not called Mother, and we don't naturally compare our mothers in that way.

Kristen said...

PS. Having now read your new post, "Who learned to ask questions?" my question still stands. Rachel implies that her mother's compassion is like Christ's-- but still there is no direct comparison between her mother and God such as she makes between her father and God. And I think this is partly because the Bible calls God "Father," but never "Mother" directly-- and also because our culture never makes a direct comparison, or seems to notice the image of God in mothers in the same way it does in fathers.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for continuing to ask your great question, even after reading what you did in the next post! I like your "partly" answer too and think you're right about this!

Maybe some of this doesn't seem odd, as you say, because we're so enculturated by it. It is odd, nonetheless!