Facing an extended middle finger is not a side I care
to be on, but most us living in this culture have
seen it a time or two.
During my childhood years, however, my father
gave me a much different view of that digit.
His viewpoint came from a factory accident he had
while working part time to pay for theological
That evening, he came home to my mother with his
left hand wrapped tightly in a bloodied bandage. He
had been processing books into a binding machine
when he got too close and severed half of his
middle finger. There was no reattaching a finger in
the rural town hosting the plant, and he would have
to adapt to the loss.
After he died, I reflected on the many ways in which
he learned to adapt, and even thrive, with his minor
Professionally, he knew his oddly shaped hand
might distract a church parishioner, so his gestures
minimized the obvious gap.
Socially, if someone expressed sympathy and asked
about his missing finger half, he never skipped a
beat joking that my mother bit it off.
Physically, he thrived, because the finger worked
like a second thumb, which gave him a vicelike grip
for his part-time work as an electrician.
And spiritually, he used it best to love his children.
The love usually began on Saturday night after
watching WWF wrestling on our black-and-white TV.
My siblings and I would leap onto my father’s back a
nd entangle him with 12 skinny arms and legs. I
usually began the ambush by hopping on his chest,
while my brother twisted his arms and my sister
yanked on his prematurely balding head.
Pretending to be overwhelmed with us, he’d
suddenly announce the arrival of his secret weapon.
That’s what he called his dwarfed middle finger
when deploying it as the most pernicious tickling
device known to kid-kind.
“No! Not fair!” we’d scream as he zeroed in on our
most vulnerable ticklish spots with his stealthy,
stubby, silly weapon. When he grew tired of the
tickling, he’d morph the “weapon” into a thumping
device upon our chest, “torturing” us with it until we
rolled off his side.
Was it really a secret weapon? Or was it a just a half
of a finger? Or was it a communication device that
delivered a spiritual connection of love for his
I guess the answer to that question is at the
fingertip of the user, but on my father’s hand, it was
a weapon of endearing love that he used to amuse,
engage and disarm people.
In the grown-up world that I must now live, people
routinely use that finger to curse the existence of
another. They use it as the gavel of random
judgment. They use it to dehumanize another. They
use it to offend.
There’s an interesting verse in the Christian
Scripture commanding us to cut off any body part
that offends. “If your right hand offends you,” Jesus
says, “cut it off.”
While interpretations vary, no scholar would
suggest literal amputation. But, oddly enough, when
I read that Scripture, I sometimes think of my father’s
When a youthful accident removed half of his
cursing finger, he created something that was a
source of humor and strength, and more important,
he transformed it into a pipeline that delivered his
love into the souls of his giggling children.
At the end of his life, 18 years ago this month, his
middle finger had been transformed into something
less a curse and much more a blessing. It’s a view of
the finger the world could use more of and I still