You Don’t Know What Love Is

There are thousands of creation stories. For Babylonians the Enûma Eliš tells us of Tiamat and Abzu and how Tiamat’s body is split in two by Marduk and used to fashion the earth and the sky.

For the Kuba Kingdom of Central Africa, in the beginning, Mbombo was alone, and darkness and water covered the all earth. Mbombo felt an intense pain in his stomach, and vomited up the stars, the sun, the moon, and all the stars.

For the Pawnee Nation, Tirawa, the great eternal God created all things and supplies the needs of all his created creatures. Tirawa created the path of the Departing Spirits, what we know as the Milky Way. The east path, the Morning Star (man) and the west path, the Evening Star (woman) were all so part of Tirawa’s creation. All other life comes from this union of the Evening and Morning Stars.

For the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity creation went down like this…

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day YHWH had finished all the work of creation, and so on that seventh day, YHWH rested. YHWH blessed the seventh day and called it sacred, because on it YHWH rested from all the work of creation. This is the family history of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

On the day YHWH made earth and sky—before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because YHWH hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no “Adam”to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— YHWH formed “Adam”from “adama” the fertile landand blew life’s breath into “Adam’s” nostrils. “Adam” came to life. YHWH planted a garden in Eden in the east and put “Adam” there, who YHWH had formed. In the fertile land (the adama), YHWH grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also YHWH grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

YHWH settled “Adam” in the Garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. YHWH commanded “Adam”, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!”

Then YHWH said, “ It’s not good that “Adam” is alone. I will make a helper.” So YHWH formed from the fertile land (adama) all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to Adam to see what name they were given. “Adam” gave each living being its name. But a fitting companion for “Adam” was nowhere to be found.

So YHWH put “Adam” into a deep and heavy sleep, and YHWH divided “Adam” in two and closed up the flesh over it. YHWH then fashioned the two halves into male and female, and presented them to one another. When the male realized what had happened, he exclaimed, “This time, this is the one! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! Now, she will be Woman, and I will be Man, because we are of one flesh!”

This is why people leave their parents and become bonded to one another, and two become one flesh. Now, the woman and the man were naked, though they were not ashamed.

The snake was the most intelligentof all the wild animals that YHWH had made. The snake asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from the trees in the garden?” The woman answered the snake, “We may eat from all of the trees in the garden, but not from the tree in the middle of the garden.” God said, “Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.”

The snake said to the woman, “Die? You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods knowing good and evil.” The woman knew the tree was enticing to the eyes with delicious fruit and that the tree was desirable for the knowledge it could give. So she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to the man, who was beside her, and he ate it. Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.

During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of YHWH walking in the garden; and the man and the woman hid themselves from YHWH in the middle of the garden’s trees. [Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8]

What we believe about how we were created connects us to a history, a family history. This story from Genesis is part of our family history as Christians. It is important to discover ourselves in it. To find our ancestors. To walk a mile in their shoes or in this case to eat the fruit and discover our nakedness.

Last summer I attended a national gathering for LGBTQ affirming clergy. It was an event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights and equality organization. There were thousands of clergy members representing hundreds of denominations; all most all of the fifty States, and every shade of man and woman on this earth were there. It was a beautiful site.

We gathered in the sanctuary of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church a 162-year-old church with a history of fighting injustice and working against poverty in the nations capital. We had stirring lectures. We had spirit-lifting sermons. We praised God together in loud proclamation! It was amazing.

We also lobbied our Senators and Representatives. I got to share my story with the Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell camps. Neither experience being very encouraging or edifying. You know DC used to be a swamp. They drained it and made it our capital. That week every bit of that old swamp came out to get us. I was exhausted walking around DC in the humid, hot air of mid-May and we had another two or three days left.

I needed a break. So the next day I played hooky and took the Metro in to the National Mall and walked around. The rising morning sun bathed the spot where Dr. King offer up his dreams and hopes for all citizens of this nation. I walked past the Vietnam Memorial and wandered through the World War 2 memorial and on past the Washington Monument.

I made my way past the food vendors selling hot dogs, giant burrito sized egg rolls, and touristy t-shirts proclaiming, “God Bless America!” I found myself walking to the National Museum of the American Indian. It is easily the most beautiful building on the mall. It also has the best cafeteria.

I walked in to the building and directly up to the third floor. The last time I was here I discovered that my grandfather had his portrait up on a wall in a third floor exhibit. I wanted to go see if it was still there.

I entered the exhibit and there on the wall for God and all to see was the great Skidi Pawnee Brave Chief [La-wáh-he-coots-la-sháw-no] my Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great grandfather. I stood there mesmerized by him. I took a photo of him. I had a conversation in thought with him. I wondered what the world was like through his eyes. Did he pray to Tirawa and was we disappointed in Tirawa that our people have largely died and our culture and land has been stripped from us. What would he say to Tirawa now?

Even thought Tirawa taught us how to fish, hunt, build fires, make clothes, grow tobacco and gave us thunder and rain. Tirawa gave us Atira, who gave us corn. Shakuru and Pah who gave us the heavens. And the heavens who gave us The Morning and Evening Stars.

What would Brave Chief say to them now? Our once proud people hedged in on land, the horse gone, the plains dry of the hunt, the lodge broken and betrayed, and the eastern sky no longer offering us her mystic wisdom. What would Brave Chief say now?

I stood there pondering these questions as a parade of people walked by, unaware of the song and dance going on before their eyes. Could they tell that I was the seven-time-great grand son of this portrait Indian on this wall on the third floor of the museum? Did they see the family resemblance in my nose, my cheeks or my eyes? I shifted my weight to model the pose Brave Chief was in.

I measured up every person that approached my space, searching for someone to share my glee with. After about three hours of standing there with Tirawa and Brave Chief an older African-American woman walked over to where I was standing. She looked up and down the wall searching for something. There was a small bench a little way away from the wall I was standing near, she went and sat on it. She continued to search that wall for something.

She was there for about thirty minutes and a smile came across her face. She found her something. She got up and drew near the wall and touched the portrait she had been looking for. Tears began to well up in her eyes. I tried not to stair but I was enchanted by her response.

Our eyes meet and she said, “This man is my relative.” She caressed the wall as she spoke. I smiled brighter and told her this man right here was my grandfather. I pointed to the portrait on the wall and said, “His blood runs through my veins.” She smiled and took a step back, looking me over she said, “I see you have his nose. What a family resemblance!”

We both smiled. I would have hugged her if not for the sacred nature of that moment. It was holy indeed. We stood there silent for a few more moments staring and touching our history on that wall. Our stories intertwined in that moment as we savored the proof that we were more than what we appeared to be today. We belonged to something else. We had a family history that was shared with millions of visitors every year.

She dipped her head at me and I smiled. She walked away. I stood there saying good-bye not wanting the moment to end. I arrived ashamed of my nakedness. Trying to hide in the trees. I departed with the sweet fruit of story upon my breath searching for that intimate strolling God that created us.

The story of a people created in a garden. Fashioned from the same earth. Designed for each other. Partners for this journey. This is the family history. This story of where we came from and whose we are connect us to thousands of years of sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers. This is the family story that tells us why we are no longer intimately wandering the garden with YHWH. This is the story that gestures towards the coming hope. It is important to discover ourselves in it. To find our ancestors. To walk a mile in their shoes, to eat the fruit and discover our nakedness.

What will we discover in our nakedness? What is God preparing us for next? That folks is a story for another day.

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