We get our ideas about God from many sources. For some, it is impossible to see God as loving and caring because the family they were raised in was anything but. For others, God may seem to be a bad-tempered authoritarian. It is impossible to go through life without being confronted by both good and bad impressions of God. Harry Wendt* describes these various impressions through the use of hats. Imagine on a table in front of you there is a selection of hats. Which hat would you pick for God to wear?
- A graduate’s hat
- A police hat
- A chef’s hat
- A Santa Claus hat
- A magician’s hat
- A crown
- A Puritan’s hat
- A doctor’s ER cap
- Something else?
Maybe you would like God to put Professor Dumbledore’s sorting hat on you to let you know exactly where it is you fit in?
Which hat do you think God wears? I would say my views have changed over the years. When I was younger I had a speech impediment and I would plead with God before I opened my mouth to help people magically understand what I wanted to say.
Growing up I believed God knew everything but when I went to university my professors told me differently and I had to grapple with that.
When medical issues piled up I wanted God to put on an ER cap and miraculously save us. When that didn’t happen, I got angry with God and for a time God was persona non grata, no hat at all.
When my partner and I were in debt how I wanted God to be Santa Claus. When we were trying to live on a small paycheque with two young children, I wanted God to be a chef and cook something that didn’t come in a can.
When I was having fun, I wondered if God was watching in a police hat, ready to arrest me. When I took a day off, I thought maybe God, under a Puritan’s hat, was frowning at me.
When I read The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter books, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I saw God with a mane, a sorcerer’s cap, and a magic wand.
Wendt tells us each hat has an element of truth in it that reveals God’s character, but the hat God chose was the crown of thorns. No honour there. God came as a servant, with humility. I must say that picture was slow to take hold in my imagination. When I was confronted with the idea of Jesus dying for my sins, I struggled to understand what that meant. I still do. Writer Anne Lamott says, “Sometimes I think that Jesus watches my neurotic struggles, and shakes his head and grips his forehead and starts tossing back mojitos.” I can see that.
Our ideas around God or the idea of God are complex. They can be related to every emotion we have and confront us when we least expect it. When we try to comprehend grace, it is good to understand our impressions of God, the source.
Our bus heads into some high altitude climbing.
*Thanks to theologian and pastor Harry Wendt, author of The Biblical Narrative and The Divine Drama, for the hats of God illustration.
That church in our town…those Willit Brauns. So smug. So certain. And they caused mass-scale tragedy. They were bandits. They crept in…crept in and tiptoed around in the dark…we couldn’t see what they were doing at the time but we felt it…we felt it…all those Willit Brauns, they robbed us blind. They stole our souls…they hung out their shingles as soul-savers even as they were destroying them…they replaced our love, our joy, our emotions, our tragedies…rage! Sorrow! Violence! Lust! Desire! Sorry…am I embarrassing you, Swiv? Well, they burnt it all down! But listen…Our love…our resilience! Our madness…we go crazy, of course! We lose ourselves navigating the world. They took the beautiful things…right under our noses…crept in like thieves…replaced our tolerance with condemnation, our desire with shame, our feelings with sin, our wild joy with discipline, our agency with obedience, our imaginations with rules, every act of joyous rebellion with crushing hatred, our impulses with self-loathing, our empathy with sanctimoniousness, threats, cruelty, our curiosity with isolation, willful ignorance, infantilism, punishment! Our fires with ashes, our love, our love with fear and trembling…our…hoooooooo. Hooooooooooooooo…did you find that nitro, honey?
Grandma outlines what was lost to granddaughter, Swiv, in Miriam Toews’ Fight Night
Off the Beaten Path:
Harry Wendt, The Divine Drama: The Biblical Narrative; The Divine Drama: Our Narrative, Crossways International, Minneapolis, MN, 2004.
The Sorting Hat scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: https://youtu.be/z4K2F_OALPQ
Anne Lamott has written a number of books about faith. This quote is from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.
For an introduction to Anne Lamott: https://youtu.be/5kjypuosD78
For an exploration of the feelings that come from being in a church relationship that is abusive, all of Miriam Toews books are priceless. For an interview about Fight Night with Miriam Toews and host of Q, Tom Power, see: https://youtu.be/9QXquHw2XrY
Philip Yancey speaks about the difficulties of growing up in a fundamentalist Christian church in his book Where the Light Fell: A Memoir and in this interview with Rob Wall: https://youtu.be/Hzz78ofYUxA.