Abba God

I have issues with the “Father God” image. Actually, I have issues with male language for God altogether, but this one especially pushes my buttons.

Language is an important tool when conveying ideas and images about the Divine. Abba-FatherWe each hear and process language based mainly on our own experiences. We hear the language of “Father” through our experiences of being “fathered.” My friend Jenny had a horribly oppressive father when she was growing up and gave up on the Catholic Church completely because she couldn’t reconcile “God the Father” with the father she had. I did not grow up with a terribly oppressive, mean father; however, my dad wasn’t particularly reliable when I was in my late teens and twenties. But even more than that, I filter the word through my experience as a woman. I am tire of hearing about the “faith of our Fathers”, the Fathers of our country, the founding Fathers of the religion (or whatever)… what about the mothers? With all of male language for Jesus (which is understandable since he was male), and the almost exclusively male imagery for God… I have felt marginalized and left out.

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I admit, it has become a stumbling block for me. I have not even had the patience to deal with it in a sermon until this last week.

In the Old Testament we primarily encounter a punishing, angry, vengeful, jealous, God who loves his people conditionally, based on whether they are following the rules or not. And he does this from on high, in the clouds or on a mountaintop somewhere. The God of the Old Testament was powerful, was to be held in awe, was to be worshiped and obeyed.

Then Jesus comes along and suddenly starts addressing God as “Abba” which in Aramaic (the language he spoke and taught in) is close to “daddy” or “papa.” Well, the religious authorities already didn’t like him much, but this was close to blasphemy! Who has the gall to refer to Father God in such a familiar, intimate, equal way? The God that Jesus shared with people was caring, loving, compassionate, forgiving, inclusive, and generous. Abba God dwelt with and within people, was a friend and a companion.

Jesus’ use of the Father metaphor for God also made sense historically and contextually. In a patriarchal culture, the father was the core of the family. And, in fact, without a father (or husband) women and children were at great risk. Jesus invited people into the household of God, where they were children of an Abba God who loved and cared about them and was present for them always.

To me, this clearly seems like an evolution of the understanding not only of God, but of fatherhood. It has taken us almost 2,000 years for fathers to begin to resemble Abba God, where dads are more involved in their children’s lives, they are allowed to show emotion, they are equal partners with their wives.

Somehow, instead of seeing this as an evolution of thought, the church has simply merged these two understandings of God together. It makes my head hurt trying to reconcile the images. If we are going to use the metaphor of a Father for God, then it is time we jumped on Jesus’ bandwagon and embrace Abba God, and let the Old Testament Father go.




You are the seed

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus tells a parable likening the “kingdom of God” to a sower who scatters seed on the ground. That seed is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, yet it springs up to be the largest of bushes.

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I see two ways to look at this. One way is to understand that there is a seed of the Divine planted in each of us that, when nourished, will grow into the most amazing of things. As Macrina Wiederkehr says in The Song of the Seed, “It has taken up residence in the depths of your being, and it refuses to be silent. This infinite longing that stirs in the depths of your soul is a spark of the divine. It is one of the seeds that has fallen into your life. It may be a seed that was sown many years ago. You will be restless with longing until you listen to its song.”

Think about the seeds that have been planted in your soul whose songs you have heard and followed. Perhaps it was something huge like a call to some type of ministry or profession. Perhaps was something as seemingly small as starting a free library on your block, or taking an elderly friend to the grocery store. Perhaps it was using your gifts and talents – art, music, writing – to make the world a better place. The key is that the song doesn’t let us go, and it leads us toward living an authentic, compassionate, abundant life. What are the seeds that are singing to you right now? And are you paying attention?

The other way to look at this parable is that we are the sowers and it is up to us to scatter the seeds that will bring the “kingdom.” Well, what is the kingdom or kindom (as some prefer to say)? When people live grounded and centered in the Divine love, compassion and justice, this is the manifestation of the kindom of God.

Think about the number of people you come in contact with in the course of a week, or a month. It may very well be hundreds. And with each of those you have the ability to plant seeds. These seeds take many forms, but the key (again) is that they lead people toward living an authentic, compassionate, abundant life. These seeds are being your own authentic self, showing love, sharing joy, standing up for another, speaking truth to power, having courage,empowering, teaching or encouraging another, and so many more things. What seeds are you planting as you go about your daily life?

Sometimes we think we’re planting seeds, but it feels like they aren’t taking root. I get frustrated with my college classes sometimes and many of you have said, “Kaye, you’re planting seeds.” Yes, I know, but I want them to grow… NOW. I want to make sure the seed I planted doesn’t turn into a weed somewhere along the line! But the reality is that seeds begin growing under the surface long before we can see them. And by that time we may be long out of that person’s life.We will often not know what happened to our seeds, but it doesn’t mean we stop planting them. It means we just keep scattering like crazy and trust that the Divine will work to nourish the ones that have fallen in fertile soil.




The concept of faith as belief is a fairly recent one. It stems from the Protestant Reformation (15th century) when new denominations were sprouting up, proclaiming different systems of belief. To have faith then was to believe in a particular set of doctrine and practifaith2ces. And then during the Enlightenment period, in the 1800s, “truth” became equated with “factuality.” Suddenly it became important to believe or have faith in all of the extraordinary things in the Biblical stories (no matter how unbelievable) as literally happening. Faith was how you believed the impossible, the improbably, the iffy. It was the suspension of  reason and rational thought just because the church told you it really happened, and you couldn’t be a Christian if you didn’t believe it.

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Faith as belief is very widespread, but it seems a rather odd notion. Does God really care if you believe in the “correct” thing? Whether you are sprinkled or dunked at your baptism, and whether it happens at day 8 or age 13 or ever? Does God care if you believe in the Virgin Birth? Or transubstantiation? Or that Jesus really turned water into wine?

As Marcus Borg has said, there is very little transformational power in that type of faith. But there is a great amount of transformational power in faith as radical trust.

When we speak of faith as radical trust, it is not trust in statements about God, but trust in the real thing – the God that we have experienced and know, the God who is beyond any belief structure. Perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of faithing. This makes faith a verb and an action that we each practice. Theologian Soren Kierkegaard used the analogy that faith is like floating in 70,000 fathoms of water. To float one must consciously relax, take deep breaths and trust in the water for suppport. Faithing requires the same action, relaxing into the knowledge that the Divine will support us when we are in over our heads, or trying to ride out the storms of life.

Our struggle is that we often let fear overtake us. In the story of Jesus calming the storm, we find Jesus asleep in the back of the boat, while the disciples are panicking and afraid they are going to drown. Finally, they decide to wake Jesus up. We give the guys a bad rap for that, but perhaps that is what faithing is, remembering during the storms in life that we’re not alone and giving a little shout out to God to remind us of that. “Okay, God, we’re a little nervous and scared here and you seem to be sleeping through this. Could you just wake up a little and calm this storm around us?” And the answer is, take a deep breath, center and trust in the Divine, and let the anxiety go. All will be well.

Faithing can be really hard when the waves get high and the wind ferocious, but the more we learn to float, the more transformative faithing will be in our lives. The more we trust, the more we live in the present moment without fear. The more we live and love without anxiety. The more we allow the Spirit to lead us in being a transformative presence in the world.




Born Again

When I hear the words “born again” I am immediately transported to a little Pentecostal church we went to as a “cultural experience” on a mission trip to Appalachia one year. The band started a song about the days of the week, and the preacher told everyone to stand when they got to the day of the week that they were saved. Our youth looked terrified. One of the adult volunteers turned to the youth next to him and said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m picking Thursday. I don’t think we want to be left sitting when they are done with the song.”

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Some traditions hold a lot of stock in the concept of conversion, being born again, or being saved. As we talked about it in worship Sunday, the concept raised images of Bible-thumping pastors warning people of an immanent ticket to hell if they weren’t born again. For others it resonated in the sense of a renewed connection to the Eternal Source, which to me seems more aligned with Jesus’ intention.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tries to tell Nicodemus that what he needs is a spiritual awakening, or to be born again from above. But Nick just could not understand what Jesus was talking about. He was a devout Jew, a Pharisee and a member of the prestigious Sanhedrin (sort of a city council with judicial capabilities). I heard a term recently that I think applies to Nicodemus – hypnotic drumbeat – the Pharisees had a hypnotic drumbeat going for all of Nick’s life telling him what to believe and how to live his faith, and he was under its spell. Any other beat made no sense to him.

As Jesus tried to explain, it just sounded more and more cryptic to Nick. Jesus started talking about the wind… you don’t know where it will blow, you hear it, but don’t know where it came from or where it goes. This is how it is for people born of the Spirit.

Born of the Spirit… what does that mean? What does that look like? Theologian Marcus Borg says, “to be born again is to enter new life through and in the Spirit, a life centered in the Spirit of God.” It is unpredictable and uncontrollable. But it is beautiful and mysterious.

Why is this important? Because as we grow up most of us lose our connection to Spirit as we get caught up in the hypnotic drumbeat of the world. We learn that the goal of life is to be what other people want us to be, and to do what society expects of us. With the birth of our self-consciousness comes the birth of our separated self. The one that no longer recognizes itself as part of a whole, as part of God, as part of all creation. And this world reaffirms that separation over and over again. We lose the children of wonder, imagination and spirit that we were when we were little.

We’re told to put away our imaginary friends, to grow up, to be realistic, and practical, but when we do this we pull ourselves further and further into the world of separation, a world of us and them, of comparison and judgment. We become completely hypnotized to the dominant drumbeat of society and religion. We fall into a spiritual darkness… like Nick at Night… searching for something, but unable to see it or understand it until we can loosen ourselves from that darn drumbeat and start letting in the spontaneous spirit that wants us to die to our false identities and reclaim our authentic selves.

Frederick Buechner said, “We live our lives from the outside in, rather than from the inside out.” We let what is around us dictate what is within us and consequently we lose sight of what is really within us – the light of the Divine within us, our authentic selves.

The process back to our authentic selves, the process of being born again can happen gradually or in an instant. Most of us experience a series of awakenings during our lifetimes. Multiple small new births that eventually bring us to a place of a new or renewed consciousness. This new state of consciousness (or new birth) has nothing to do with externals – creeds, dogma, ritual, personalities and institutional religion. It sees everything from a higher perspective with a different priority of values and relationships.

The spirit pulls us to the impractical. The spirit invites us back to the open, loving, child of wonder that we once were. The spirit drives us to be bold and daring. The spirit invites us to risk, to open our sails and fly.

The spiritual journey is to let go of the hypnotic drumbeat, to suspend our disbelief, to engage that pure wonder, to live from the inside out, to be born again.