The Dumbwaiter God

If Lent is the season of giving up and letting go, I believe that women have been living in a constant state of Lent throughout history.

This notion of women living lives of sacrifice is something that came to me back when I was writing the memoir, After the Flag has been Folded. I was only 9 when Daddy died, but even at that tender age I was keenly aware that the person who lost the most that day in July of 1966 was my mother.

Maybe it was my role as the oldest daughter in a military family. Or maybe it was because it was the first time I had ever witnessed my mother come undone. Maybe it was because I knew how well my father adored my mother. I can’t say for sure, but from that day forward, really until the day of her death, I knew for my mother sacrifice didn’t come in seasons. It was a daily reality.

Granted, she wasn’t making that sacrifice in order to draw nearer to God. For far too long, Daddy’s death was the thing that kept Mama from God. I can still see her walking the hallway of that tiny trailer house, weeping and crying out: “Why me, God? Why me?”

I recognize that now as a cry of sheer terror more than self-pity. My mother did not know how she was going to care and raise three children on her own.

It was the remembering of my mother’s cries that prompted me during the writing of that memoir to consider that most women spend the bulk of their lives making sacrifices and grieving losses. We lose lovers. We lose job opportunities. We lose children, born and unborn. We lose husbands. We lose friends. We lose sight of who we once were. We lose sight of who we hoped to become. We are in a constant state of mourning for the babies, the ones we gave up or the ones we never had, or the ones we lost along the way, even the ones that just grew up and moved away.

A woman is reminded from the time she is a young woman until the time she is an aging woman that her body was designed as an indwelling. Every gush of the blood leaves behind an empty womb.

Indwelling was one of many concepts that theologian and writer Diana Butler Bass addressed before a crowded room at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend on Saturday. Bass, author of Grounded and Grateful, expertly explained why it is important to understand God as the One who indwells, rather than in One who Lords over us all.

Bass spoke of the moment when she realized that she needed to deconstruct a vertical image of God, what she calls the “Elevator God.”  It happened as she arose to a California sunrise and took a walk on the beach. There was a glory in that moment that prompted her to fall flat on her face before the horizon, forehead to the ground in complete and utter gratitude.

Western Civilization’s teaching of God mostly sidesteps the indwelling presence of God, and places emphasis on God as the patriarch above us all.  A vertical view. He’s always “up there” and we are always “down here”, thus, the elevator theology.

I prefer to think of it as “Dumbwaiter theology.” Believers “send up prayers, petitions, supplications” then wait to see if God will send the dumbwaiter down with our requests, or if the dumbwaiter will be empty. A definite sign that Dumbwaiter God isn’t happy with us, or is just jerking our chain.

Bass is much more eloquent at explaining this patriarchal theology than I am because she’s much smarter, so read her books, please.

The problem with this “God up” mentality is that we fail to consider all that is around us. We fail to see God at work in all tribes, in all nations, in all people, Bass explained. Such a theology leads us to a position of imperialism, a faith and, thus, a political and economic system of exclusion.

Bass encouraged those gathered to reconsider God as the One who invites us to the table. A God who dwells alongside us, not rules over us like some distant King over us, his lowly subjects.

Women throughout the world, throughout the generations have long known what it is like to be excluded from the table. For the most part, in Western Civilization, our political, economic, and religious institutions still practice a theology of exclusion toward women.

That is not the message of Jesus.

It was never the message of Jesus.

If there was ever anyone who understood the sacrifices women and men have endured, the loss women and men have suffered, the outright belittling and assault on the divine within us, it is Jesus.

That’s why he is loathe to cast any aside. Come. Sit beside him this season. You’ll see.

*I’m giving away a copy of Diane’s books, Grounded and Grateful. Leave a comment for a chance to win one.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of several books including Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? Because I need more room for my Plasma TV. (Zondervan).



Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


about 3 years ago

The piece of artwork with the hands of an anthropomorphic bearded male God is more troubling than comforting. Are the hands manipulating things with invisible puppet strings? Are they hovering above our messy world so that they won't get dirty? Is that what God is? God as "separate from, above all, sovereign but not actually having contact with, is about as foreign to a creating love as I can imagine. It's not that I worship nature (pantheism), but it's much easier to find the presence of God (panentheism) in the natural world--as well as in all for whom the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes are good news--than in much of what the church does these days.


Robin Osborne

about 3 years ago

What a great perspective! I have been listening to Diana Butler Bass for a couple of years now and am always left with a feeling of wonderment and relief!


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 3 years ago

She certainly drills down on where I am at in my faith walk.


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