From the Emergent Village

You can find the original post of this wonderful letter, here.

by Laura Baker

And he’s gonna be maaaad when he finds out.

My father is a republican, federal-government-employed electrical engineer who has been married to my mother for over forty years. He is also an elder in the Presbyterian Church of America.

I, on the other hand, am a politically independent, feminist, divorced single mom with a Ph.D. in literature (my focus was on African-American and working-class stories).

It will not surprise my dad that I’m involved with emergent circles. But it may surprise him that he led me straight to them.

You see, I love post-modern culture, and the language it gives to multiplicity of meanings in life and art. My motto is from Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” But my father is an Enlightenment Man. He is a rational, linear thinker who believes in empirical data, black and white, true and false, good and evil. To put it nicely, he thinks post-modern thinking is absurd (which, of course, it literally is). To be not-so-nice, he thinks it’s touchy-feely hooey.

When I say that my dad led me to the emerging church, I’m not saying it in any kind of hippie, he-taught-me-to-love-and-value-all-opinions kind of way. He didn’t. Not intentionally anyway.

In fact, there’s very little in the public arena that my dad and I can agree on. We used to spend evening after evening, arguing across the dinner table. My brother (smarter than both of us) would usually moderate, with a general leaning in my father’s direction. And my sweet mother would often leave the room with a nervous stomach, thinking the family was coming apart. But those evenings are absolutely what led to my ability to make a pointed argument in a flash, and thus any success I had in academics.

I spent 30 years in school studying fiction. My dad won’t read stories because “they aren’t true.” But still, when he talks about Civil War history, he spins a most amazing yarn. I’m telling you, don’t ever pass up the opportunity to walk a Gettysburg battlefield with him. Before long, you’ll be seeing the ghosts of those young but duty-bound boys hurtling towards their certain deaths.

I love Nietzsche, Gadamer, Foucault, and Derrida. My dad loves Luther and his Bible, and he reads them both regularly. He thinks my conversations about perspective and narrative-subjectivity are “psycho-babble.” But he finds Luther much more palatable than John Calvin, not to mention a lot more fun. My dad is quick with a laugh, and he doesn’t (always) take himself too seriously.

My dad is right in calling me a “bleeding heart”; the stereotype fits me at least a little bit, causing my father endless sighs and eye-rolling. Talk to him about politics and you’ll get a powerful earful. On most hot-button issues, I usually walk away thinking, Man, my dad’s a hardass. But he’s also a lifelong volunteer, serving the Boy Scouts for over thirty years. My entire childhood was filled with an endless line of smelly, rumpled, pre-pubescent boys heading down my basement stairs for Green Bar meetings. And, according to my mother, Dad still gets late-night calls from old scouts needing anything from a few bucks to a letter of reference, and sometimes just an ear and some fatherly advice.

My dad sounds tough, but is deeply kind. He quips that he doesn’t care how you feel, only what you think; but he will do more for a stranger than anyone I’ve ever seen. And his apologies are epic—if he feels he’s hurt me, he will absolutely address it and take full responsibility.

No, he won’t read a novel, but he can tell endless stories about when I was little and when he was little and when his mom was little, and even when Confederate General Robert E. Lee was little.

Maybe my dad is why the endless contradictions in the Bible don’t bother me much—they are beautiful and complicated and irritating and transforming. Like my dad. Even though neither always makes perfect sense.

My dad’s gonna hate reading this but it’s completely true: he gave me almost every post-modern leaning I have. He helped me form ideas which I’m pretty sure would bar me from membership in his own PCA church. And he is why I will continue to dedicate much of my time and energy to stories. He is also why I will refuse to debate when the only point is to humiliate my opponent. My father would argue tooth and nail against any emergent-ish theology, but he lives the love and tolerance and integrity and community that I value so much in emergent circles. I’m emergent, and it’s all his fault.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Laura Baker is a freelance writer living in Charlottesville, VA.