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June 17, 2018: Knowing My Father


by Brian Smith

My father is a conservative man.  He will tell you as much, with the crucial modifier that he identifies with the “classical” tradition of conservatism.  By this he means the august line of intellects that progressed from Burke to Kirk, with a nod (or shrug) to Ayn Rand.  However, I’m not sure when he found time to read such formidable thinkers, because he spends most of his days in a dark room talking to himself.

Don’t worry, he’s a radiologist.  Indeed, over the years there have been moments when I peered beneath the surface to find revealing dimensions of his personality I would never quite expect.  One of them was when my brother and I discovered some of his cassette tapes, including the greatest hits of The Doors.  If you aren’t familiar with their work, suffice it to say that the lead singer, Jim Morrison, would never be described as a conservative—socially, politically, theologically, or otherwise.

So my father is a liberal man?  He points, after all, to the rock-star antics of his offspring as proof of his tolerance.  Either way, we were shocked by the cassettes, if pleasantly surprised.  A few years later, my friend and I were driving his car, and found another tape in the deck.  It was Songs of Leonard Cohen.  Descended from a line of Jewish priests, Cohen defies categorization. Canadian poet, Buddhist monk, peace activist, gun enthusiast, notorious lothario, devoted son… his music reveals dimensions of human personality that do not fit neatly between any lines—social, political, theological, or otherwise. 

Letting Cohen’s haunting melodies and shockingly profound lyrics wash over us, we concluded this could only mean one thing:  my father is having a midlife crisis! The simpler explanation?  He likes good music. I shared one of Cohen’s works at the latest All Souls poetry night, wringing from it tortured notions of classical theology.  Then it occurred to me that God the Father is like this.  We never fully know Him. He often surprises us. And, over time, we come to experience deeper dimensions of divine personality that can’t be neatly categorized.

My Father in Heaven is a conservative.  For there is no more ancient a notion than God. My Father in Heaven is a liberal.  For we are given freedom to make our own music.  And in our social, political, and theological progress we are shocked, if pleasantly surprised, to discover that Christian tradition makes room for revelations we would never expect.

Last Published: June 14, 2018 9:32 AM
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