One day I will probably need to offer to pay for my kids’ therapy given the number of times that I have used them and the stories and conversations they inhabit as fodder for my writing and speaking. I can imagine the script already: It was literally like we could barely open our mouths about anything God-ish without dad pouncing all over it and subjecting it to tortuous analysis in some sermon or on his blog or something. It was like he was always waiting for us to produce some “moment” that he could exploit for his own ends. It was kinda pathetic, really. And they would be right. Mostly. In my meager defense, I would say that I have always tried to look at everyday life as the raw material through which God speaks and, well, my kids just happen be involved in most of the days of my everyday life. Not much of an excuse, I know. It’s all I got.
Anyway, I came home mid-afternoon today after arriving back home after my son’s guitar lesson, and was greeted at the door by my teenage daughter. “Hey, you’re just in time. We were having a deep conversation.” Being the perceptive father that I am, I intuited that the word “we” indicated the presence of another human in the house. Sure enough, I was right. She had a friend over. And they had been talking about—of all things!—God. I began to imagine a nice selection of reasonably manageable questions, a few theological fastballs, right across the middle of the plate. How deep could things really get on a sunny Friday afternoon around a bowlful of potato chips?
“What were you talking about?” I assuredly inquired.
“Well, we’re wondering how does the whole God and Jesus thing work? Were God and Mary kind of like… a thing? Or how exactly was Jesus born?”
Hmmm. Wasn’t really expecting to delve into the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation right off the bat. “Well, um, Mary’s conception was, um, a miracle… Um, so it’s not like Mary needed God to get pregnant…. Well, actually she did need God to get pregnant but, um, not in that way… It’s not like an, um, male contribution was required for her to get pregnant…
This was a rather inauspicious beginning, not exactly as I envisioned. I tried again. “The virgin birth is kind of one of those mysteries that Christians confess but can’t really explain in precise rational terms. It was a miracle.”
More smiles. “Ok, how about another one. Are God and Jesus the same? How does that work?”
My brow was beginning to involuntarily furrow. “Um, well, that’s another tricky one. Christians believe that Jesus was God but in human form.”
At this point, my daughter piped up. “So, if God was on earth in Jesus, then who was in heaven?”
“Well, Christians often talk about God as being both imminent and transcendent, so he’s kinda everywhere and in particular places….”
Blank stares. Half-hearted smiles.
I was getting rather annoyed with myself by this point. Why does all this sound so crazy when I say it out loud to a couple of inquisitive teenagers? It made sense in all those books…
My exasperated reverie was abruptly interrupted. “Hey dad, can you drive us out to the farm to see my horse?”
“Yes, yes, yes I can!” I seized upon an escape hatch from the conversation like a dog on a bone.
A few minutes later, as we were sailing down the highway, it occurred to me that I was probably watching a pastoral moment sail fruitlessly off into the horizon—that a wiser pastor-dad would probably be saying a handful of very smart and memorable (and possibly even cool) things about God right about now. He probably would have even bought them ice cream or something annoying like that.
Steeling myself and glancing in the rearview mirror, I bravely began:
“Hey, you know that big bible on the counter that you guys were reading from?”
“Well, whenever I’m struggling with big questions like the ones you girls are asking—which are very good questions, by the way!—I try to simplify a bit. You know what Jesus said about this whole book?”
“He said that all of it could be summed up in two basic commandments: Love God and love your neighbour. That’s it. That’s the point of all of it. Pretty cool, eh?”
Thoughtful nodding. Satisfied smile from pastor-dad. Situation rescued! Hooray for me… Jesus’ simple commands are so helpful when theology starts to veer off into this wild and speculative crazy language…
“Soooo, how far do I have to love my neighbour?”
“Oh, well, that’s another good question…. Um, someone in the New Testament asked that one, too…”
My daughter piped up from the back: “We have to love a long way… The bible says something about forgiving a bunch of times….”
“Oh yeah,” her friend said. “How many?”
“Seventy times seven,” I interjected. “It’s a way of saying, like, unlimited forgiveness.”
“Really? That sounds… um, I don’t know about that… How am I supposed to forgive the people who murdered a little girl that I once knew?”
“Um, well… boy, that really happened?! Wow, that’s so hard… I don’t know… Sometimes it takes time… But people do it… It sounds crazy, I know… and so hard… but it does happen…”
“Yeah,” my daughter said, “I heard this story on the radio once where this woman’s daughter and future son-in-law were killed by a drunk driver and she went and visited the guy in jail every day and eventually she forgave him and kind of took him on as her own son…”
Next thing I knew, we had arrived at the farm and the girls bounded cheerily off to see my daughter’s horse. I sat there for a moment, looking out at the trees, the horse, the lake, the glorious sunny day, the fields that were just starting to turn green, the girls, laughing. I breathed a silent prayer, thanking God for these bright and inquisitive minds full of big questions, praying that God would light their paths through dark valleys that stretched and strained these crazy answers from pastor-dads involving a God-man and bad identity math and impossibly crazy things like loving and forgiving in impossible situations…
I drove off smiling. We Christians do talk crazy talk. It’s true. We probably barely even realize how crazy we sound. Or should sound, at any rate. We could do with a bit more of this crazy.