Stir It Up

We’re in church so I can tell you my shameful secrets and y’all can’t judge me on them. Sometimes when I go to the gym they show Dr. Phil or other daytime self help shows. It is like a train wreck. You start watching these shows and all these crazy folks come on. Their problems make you feel better, cause their problems are not yours.

 

I do think that there is some kind of good happening. If not for people like Dr. Phil in this world so many folks would not have access to any kind of therapy or counseling. Lord, knows we got a nation full of stressed out, over-worked, disenfranchised, folks teetering on the poverty line that could use a little bit of help to stay sane.

 

Life puts an incredible about of stress on families. The family is a support system for life’s stress as much as it is a stressor in our lives. Family just might be the most complex, dynamic, and important thing we have going for us as divinely inspired creatures of God. With a diversity of family that matches the diversity of Gods fearfully, wonderfully woven fabric of life.

 

This week I was studying our text from Genesis [37 & 50], the story of Joseph, and was wondering how much good would have come out of a meeting between Dr. Phil, Joseph, and his family. I imagine it would have gone a little something like this…

 

Dr. Phil- I’d like to welcome our next guest, Joseph Ben Israel. He’s the thirty-something Prime Minister of Egypt. He was the favorite son of Israel, also known as Jacob, and Rachel. His father gave him an amazing Technicolor dream coat that his brothers were jealous of. Joseph was also sold in to slavery by his brothers when he was just a kid. He was accused of attempted rape and thrown in to prison. In prison he experienced a lot of hardships. While in prison he got connected with the Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and baker. Joseph helped them out by interpreting some dreams the Pharaoh had and was released from prison and became the Prime Minister of Egypt. What a story! [The crowd cheers wildly.] Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome, Joseph Ben Israel.

 

Joseph comes on stage. He is wearing a very fine Brooks Brothers suit. He has gold rings, gold cuff links, and a few gold chains. He is a dapper fellow.

 

Dr. Phil- Welcome, Joseph. You have an incredible story. You are the Prime Minister of Egypt. You are a successful businessman and entrepreneur. Your brothers sold you in to slavery. How does that feel?

 

Joseph- It’s cool. I actually saw my family last year, for the first time in almost twenty years. There was this epic drought and all of their livestock died and the crops failed they had nothing left. They came to the city to buy some food. I noticed them immediately and had no clue who I was. I helped them out and gave them food and made sure they had to come back and bring my little brother, Benjamin. It was great to see them all again, considering what all went down and all.

 

Dr. Phil- How’s that working out for you? Your brothers sold you in to slavery. We know how it ended and all. Have you ever thought about what if you had not made it out of prison?

 

Joseph- I had a lot of angry nights. I felt betrayed by my brothers when they sold me off. Then I got sent to prison. Prison is not a theme park. It’s prison. It’s NO TOV. I did make it out of prison and I am Prime Minister now. It’s all good.

 

Dr. Phil- Let’s bring out Joseph’s family. Here with us today are Joseph’s brothers Ruben Ben Israel and Judah Ben Israel. [The crowd hisses, boos, and cheers.]

 

The brothers Ruben & Judah come out on stage. They both are wearing western wear, the jeans, boots, and fancy pearl-snaps of ranch hands. They are obviously working men, all polished up for this show.

 

Dr. Phil- Welcome to you both. Tell me about all of this. Why’d you sell your brother in to slavery?

 

Ruben- I was uncomfortable with all of this. But the others were persuasive. Growing up there was always animosity between us kids. There were twelve of us growing up. All of us fighting for dad’s attention. Everyone knew Joseph was dad’s favorite. Dad never hid this from any of us. Joseph got all kinds of special attention. All kinds of gifts. The best foods. The best cloths. The best of everything.

 

Judah- There was that stupid Technicolor dream coat that dad gave Joseph. Joseph wore it everywhere. It didn’t matter if it was in the middle of summer Joseph wore that coat. He mocked us with it. It screamed, “I’m better than you.” And if that coat was not enough, Joseph would come out in to the fields and not work. He’d just hang out there and spy on us. He’d run back home and tell dad what we did. We could not do anything fun with Joseph around.

 

Dr. Phil- This ain’t my first rodeo, fellas. I get that your kid brother was favored and he was annoying and all. Why plot against him?

 

Ruben- The plot started off to kill, Joseph. I put a stop to that. It was Judah’s idea to sell him off to some traders. We just could not take his smug attitude anymore. Something had to change. It was nothing personal. We never stopped loving him as our brother.

 

Judah- Besides we threw him in to a pit and had lunch. We talked about the plan but never got to pull it off. While we were eating lunch some other fellas found Joseph and pulled him out of the pit. They sold Joseph in to slavery, not us. We did not do anything.

 

Dr. Phil- You can put feathers on a dog, but that don’t make it a chicken! You may not have sold Joseph in to slavery but you darn well intended to! You give me two pounds of woulda, shoulda, coulda and I’ll show you one pound of intention. Do you really believe that you’re absolved of this crime against Joseph because you did not actually do it? You put him in the pit in the first place. I understand the frustrations with Joseph being the favorite. It had to be tough growing up with so many siblings. The tension between all the wives had to be unbearable. I bet y’all got along well out in the fields, away from the politics of family. Joseph mucked all that up. He broke your trust. He tattled on you and took away your safe space. But he was a kid.

 

Joseph- I was a kid, Dr. Phil. I am very sorry that I took advantage of this situation. If I could go back and not do what I did I would. I regretted not enjoying my brothers back then. I mourned the loss of my family everyday. In slavery, in prison, and as Prime Minster I missed my family. Even with the thought of them having delivered me in to bondage I missed them. I miss my father, my mother, my brother Benjamin, and even Ruben, Judah, and the others. That is part of why I forgave them and was moved to help them as I have. There came a point where I needed to decide if I was going to be right, or I was going to be happy. I chose happy and I am pleased I have.

 

[The crowd applauds Joseph’s words. Tears roll down checks. Conviction is shared across the aisles. Memories of broken or hurting relationships fill minds. Hearts are softened as the show concludes and goes to commercial break.]

 

Dr. Phil- What is family? Family can be biological. Family can be coincidental. Family can be intentional affinity. Family can be lost or gained, expanded or contracted. Families have continuous boarders and at times those boarders are protected. Family is complex. Joseph and his brothers are one of many amazing stories of family. We all have experienced some kind of family drama. We all may not share the same structure of family. Dads, moms, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and spouse all become threads in the fabric of our life. Some threads are longer than others. Some threads are brighter in the moments. Other threads last longer than others. But all these threads make up our family. Our family connects and witnesses to the story of this State. The story of this Nation. The story of God’s People. Family is the story of us all.

Worried Shoes

Parenting a child takes an amazing amount of energy. It takes physical energy; first to change diapers, feed the child, and then nurture them. There is an emotional investment in the child as well. Worry. Joy. Concern. Hope. Frustration. Our child wanders through life making, forming; earning experience and knowledge that we hope will prevent harm from finding them.

We want the best for our child. School. Opportunities. We want our child to occupy that geography of success that may have eluded us. As our child grows we are blessed with moments of clarity about ourselves in equal amounts of wondering how it all is going to work out.

One day it is diapers and giggles, sweet little voices exploring the innocence of the world; the next it is annoyed, cranky teen roaming the world looking for independence and geography of their own.

There are the firsts. First steps. First words. First party. First overnight stay. First trip. First day of school. First day of high school. Then the first time they go out at night. They depart with friends to go to the game and hanging out afterwards. They cheer on the victor, process the world through giggles, gossip, and glee.

You prepare them the best you can to meet this world. You equip them with the harsh imperfect, unjust ways this world treats people of color. You have hope in your heart that your child’s life will be different. Bargaining with God for this to be true.

You stay up late wondering what they are doing. Running all the possible scenarios through your head. Who are they with? What decisions are they making that will impact their future or invite a series of misfortunate events upon them? Who is coming to my house at 3 AM to tell me the bad news?

Your mind wanders from zero to 60 in 2 seconds. You already got to the part where the worst-case scenario has happened and you are on TV begging for information about what happened. Sleep is not even a remote possibility. The knotted pit in your stomach aches and groans, demanding attention. Your already tired and weak will is taxed, ready to give in. That glimmer of hope is all you have. The world seems to be against you. And your allies few.

How can this get any worse?

You go from bargaining with God to begging and pleading. If you bring them home safe, I will do [X]. You whittle away causality, working the God angles until you arrive at a seemingly reasonable conclusion. You convince yourself that if you worry enough God will see your earnest heart and return your child to you, safe and sound.

Parenting and being parented is hard. We all have been the object of worry and have been the worrier. This is part of our “made in God image”

My parents waited 10 years in marriage until they started a family. This may as well have been 50 years in the mid 60’s. My parents suffered two miscarriages before my twin brother and I were born. We were born prematurely and spent the first two months of our lives in a hospital. The only physical touch my parents had with us was through gloved hands from inside an incubator, fighting to keep us alive.

They suffered another miscarriage before my little brother was born. Fighting to be parents alongside of parenting was hard. They did not make it. They divorced within two years of my little brother’s birth.

Leaving a lasting impression upon us, this divorce influenced us. As we approached the marrying age we all were skittish about marriage, divorce, parenting, and life.

I got married. We fought to forge a new life together. We moved to Oklahoma City and tip-toed to parenthood with the adoption of a cat. This is the first cat I have ever owned. At first it was for my wife. She grew up with cats and has wanted one ever since the ink dried on our marriage certificate.

So we went down to the Humane Society on December 16th of last year. We were drawn to this little, wiry tabby cat that was reaching for us from under the door.. We went in to the room and she approached us and claimed us as her own. We picked her up and knew that she was to share our home.

My wife was excited. We named the cat Arlo, after the famous folk singer. We got all of the appropriate cat accouterment and some food. Arlo sniffed her way around the house and got comfy in her new digs.

We have had ups and downs. She found carpet, sheets, and furniture to “mark” as her own. We attempted to corral this cat’s behavior. I discovered you do not own a cat as much as the cat allows for you to live in their space.

Today marks the ninth month that we have had Arlo in our lives. I can say that this little experiment is no longer for my wife. I love this little cat. I appreciate her company. She has awakened the parental parts of me. I nurture and care for this cat as if she was my child.

She has inspired my wife and I to confidence in other ways God may be calling us to parent. We have kept this cat alive for nine months we surely can care for a human baby.

Our cat got lost last night… 

Parenting is hard. [God as our parent] I imagine that God fells the same anxiety and emotion that I felt for every one of us. God hovers over us, stands beside us, watching from afar to see if we are ok.

After these events, the word of YHWH came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.”

 

Abram said, “But my Sovereign, My God, what good are these blessings to me, so long as Sarai and I will die in disgrace? My only heir is a foreigner who lives in my household, Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” Since you haven’t given me any offspring, “ Abram continued, “An attendant in my house will be my heir.”

 

Then the Word of YHWH came to Abram and said, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will be of your own flesh and blood.”Then God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can! As many as that, you will have for descendants.”Abram believed YHWH, and God attributed it to Abram’s righteousness.

 

YHWH then said to Abram, I am YHWH who brought from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” Abram asked, Sovereign God, how do I know that I will possess it?”

 

God answered Abram, “Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all of these, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds.When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off.As the sun was about to set, a trance fell over Abram. A deep and terrifying darkness enveloped him.

 

Then YHWH said to Abram, “Have no doubt that your descendants will live as immigrants in a land that isn’t their own, where they will be oppressed in bondage for four hundred years.But I will punish the nation that binds you; you will leave with great wealth.As for you, you will join your ancestors in peace and be buried in your old age. The fourth generation will return here since the Amorites’ wrongdoing won’t have reached its peak until then.”

 

After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. That day YHWH made [a] covenant with Abram… ” [Genesis 15]

It seems silly in a way that God would lose sleep over our woes. But that is what is at stake here in this story. Abram and Sarai desperately want to be parents. They have spent a lifetime working at getting there. God sees their desperation and in Gods grand concern answers their plea. They shall be parents.

Parenting is hard. Those that parent know the rewards outweigh the costs. Parents know that the job they perform is the Kingdom Working exposed Gospel of Jesus Christ. You want a quick way to expose your nakedness, become a parent. Your flaws, brokenness, and shortcomings will shine like a beacon in the night. So to will your strengths, courage, and gifts shine as a light guiding those you parent towards God. Being a parent is as close as you can get to being like God. Parenting is a divine act full of intimate prophecy about you and about this world.

What have you discovered as a parent? What is God parenting us towards?

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.

What does Lucy have to do with me? [Genesis 3:1-11]

The first lies told in the Bible…1 The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?”

2-3 The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’”

4-5 The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

6 When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.

7 Immediately the two of them did “see what’s really going on”—saw themselves naked! They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.

8 When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God.

9 God called to the Man: “Where are you?”

10 He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.”

11 God said, “Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?”

Where does your story intersect this?