Sins of the father.

All day, I’ve been dreading writing – perhaps it was the neon red “priority” highlight on this item of my to-do list, or the fact that I’ve already spent more than 8 hours on the computer today.  Maybe it’s the fact that the weather was gorgeous and my heart felt a bit raw from too much reflection and busy-life-stuff.  Maybe it was chapel Thursday.  I think that was probably it.  A few friends and I hosted the last worship service of the week at school on Thursday.  The service we offered was based on one designed by Peter Rollins, an emergent church theologian at Ikon Community in Belfast, Ireland.  It was titled, “Sins of the Father,” and offered worshipers the opportunity to, simply, be angry with God.  It asked these questions: Is our faith radical enough, is it passionate enough, to embrace and acknowledge our anger at God? Must our relationship with God always be friendly and comforting or can we dare to confront, demand  and shake our fists at God? Could, perhaps, a violent reaction against God signal a close and authentic experience of God’s presence?  I won’t bore you with details, but it was stunningly beautiful to see how visual media, old-church ritual (most of it turned on its head), and music could come together to create a space where it was not only safe to be horrified at God, to expose our deep wounds that find their source in our inability to understand how God can be good and also allow, well, what is allowed… but expected to do so. 

The centerpiece of the service was the opportunity for each person present to write on a slip of paper (or 2, or 5) the ways in which God had offended against them, the ways they were shaking their fist in God’s face.  I could sum them up as saying, “HOW COULD YOU?”  Each paper, unless marked with an X, was read anonymously but out loud and then burnt, offered like a sacrifice in the Temple, the smoke curling up toward the chapel ceiling.  As I faced my peers, professors, and friends, reading their pain outloud, there settled over my shoulders a deep sense of quietude and holiness.  The pile was large. I found myself slowing down after about a dozen slips because my heart simply didn’t want to read the next complaint, knowing that there would be no sweetness, nothing to break the monotony of brokenness, fear, and anxiety.  But as I read things like, “my mom’s health,” “AIDS, world war, destruction, global warming,” “child abuse,” “debt,” and “your silence is deafening,” held them to that candle flame and watched them burn down to my finger tips, it was obvious that this was the most priestly act I had ever done.  I am a lover of the Eucharist.  The open table, the banquet of the Kingdom open and ready for any to share, is a central feature of my understanding of God and God’s reality.  There is a bounteous generosity, a provision of abundance, openness, and inclusion that cannot be diminished by any human act.  The bread and cup are evidence of the brokenness of the world, but also of its hope for reconciliation.  But that smoke, those terrible words on those tiny, fragile slips of paper… they were a Eucharist, too.  So, as I continue to think about this experience, the holiness of it, the weight of it, I know that God can carry its heaviness, but I wonder if we can continue to sit in the discomfort and tension of the question… Can we stay in love with God and feel this devastation? 

The final word offered during the service was not a neat answer, but I think it is one of comfort.  “For now, all we can comfort ourselves with is the possibility that the God we accuse is a God our our own creation… our own creation which subsequently makes demands on us.”  This is not to imply that the service ends with the sense that God does not exist, but rather, the God we with whom we are angry is not really God.  The God of Creation, not of our creation, is far more mysterious, complex, wonderful, and (likely) more difficult.  In some way, this scares me.  In another, it absolutely must be true in order for me to be faithful, since I confess that the God with whom I am angry is one who is not worthy even to hear my lamentation.  And so I will hope, and I will pray for each one of the angry, sad, and broken accusations offered on Thursday.  I will pray that God will hear them and will do something magnificently generous to heal them.



  1. Deb Said:

    Julia – what a poignant description of a powerful worship service. I was reminded of the English mystery writer, literary critic and Christian apologist, Dorothy L. Sayers having written about the walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. I can’t recall the quote verbatim, but she spoke of the smoke of the incense that had carried all the prayers, and how it had soaked into the wall, so that the prayers of the saints were always present to every subsequent generation in that worship space.

    There is such a powerful tradition of Lament in the Psalms, and also in Lamentations (obviously). Somehow, the psalmists managed to express really vivid anger and resentment to God, and still stay in love with God. I think there is a liturgical clue there. Those psalms always move, at least for a verse or two at the end, to an assurance of God’s faithfulness and holiness.

    In the Eucharist, Christ’s broken body is made whole in our community. We take the broken bread, and it is reconstituted in our communal life. I wonder what the liturgical action is that completes the burning of your papers, and moves the community to an assurance that God’s love for you doesn’t stop – even when there is anger toward God. I’m not sure what it is – but it’s got to have something to do with the pains and sorrows of this life being a part of the “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” nature of our lives- and the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” nature of God’s life.

    The burning of the papers created light…did it not?

  2. Dave Said:


    Your description of this service and your insight is moving. The burning of these lamentations is both priestly and spiritual. It may be the first step for someone to unload a burden that had become a spiritual parasite.
    “the God we accuse is a God our our own creation” helps to bring clarity to our frustrations. The God that we love and who loves us will carry us beyond our pain and lamentations.
    Keep up the good work!

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