My Lady Frustration

 

Elijah from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the LORD lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.”

 

Then YHWH’s word came to Elijah: Go from here and turn east. Hide by the Cherith Brook that faces the Jordan River. You can drink from the brook. I have also ordered the ravens to provide for you there. Elijah went and did just what YHWH said. He stayed by the Cherith Brook that faced the Jordan River. The ravens brought bread and meat in the mornings and evenings. He drank from the Cherith Brook. After a while the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land.

 

YHWH ‘s word came to Elijah: Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to take care of you. Elijah left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks. He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.” She went to get some water. He then said to her, “Please get me a piece of bread.”

 

“As surely as YHWH your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any food; only a handful of flour in a jar and a bit of oil in a bottle. Look at me. I’m collecting two sticks so that I can make some food for myself and my son. We’ll eat the last of the food and then die.”

 

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go and do what you said. Only make a little loaf of bread for me first. Then bring it to me. You can make something for yourself and your son after that. This is what Israel’s God, YHWH, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day YHWH sends rain on the earth.” The widow went and did what Elijah said. So the widow, Elijah, and the widow’s household ate for many days. The jar of flour didn’t decrease nor did the bottle of oil run out, just as YHWH spoke through Elijah.

 

After these things, the son of the widow, who was the matriarch of the household, became ill. His sickness got steadily worse until he wasn’t breathing anymore. She said to Elijah, “What’s gone wrong between us, man of God? Have you come to me to call attention to my sin and kill my son?”

 

Elijah replied, “Give your son to me.” He took her son from her and carried him to the upper room where he was staying. Elijah laid him on his bed. Elijah cried out to YHWH, ” YHWH my God, why is it that you have brought such evil upon the widow that I am staying with by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself over the boy three times and cried out to YHWH, ” YHWH my God, please give this boy’s life back to him.” YHWH, listened to Elijah’s voice and gave the boy his life back. And he lived. Elijah brought the boy down from the upper room of the house and gave   him to his mother. Elijah said, “Look, your son is alive!”

 

“Now I know that you really are a man of God,” the woman said to Elijah, “and that YHWH’s word is truly in your mouth.” — 1 Kings 17:1-24

What is God?

 

Who is God?

 

Islam has the 99 names of God. Hinduism has over a million gods. Judaism has Elohim, YWHW, The Great “I Am”, Jehovah, Adonai, HaShem, and El to name a few. Christians have the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Buddhism seeks to free you of gods and liberate ones mind from the constrains of any divine calling our attention to the impermanence of life.

 

In our text today we witness YHWH, the God of Israel, withholding rain from the Israelites and sending the prophet Elijah out in to the wilderness. Elijah is told to go hide in the brush at the edge of a brook near the River Jordan. He is not to move or be seen. That ravens will bring him food and he may sneak drinks of water from the brook but he must remain hidden.

 

Elijah did what YHWH told him to do. He went and hid in the brush along a brook near the River Jordan and waited as ravens brought him food and snuck water from the brook. But then the brook dried up because God was withholding rain from the Land of Israel.

 

Elijah got another word from YHWH. “Get up and go…I have a widow prepared to care for you.” So out of the bushes Elijah goes and sets off towards this widow. He finds her and discovers she has little to nothing to eat, let alone offer to him. She is exceedingly morose and troubled. The lack of rain has affected her. She is already marginalized and exploited in this male dominated society.

 

We bring this widow in to 2012 she’s the young black mother trying to break free of the systemic injustice of poverty. She is the middle-aged mother of four, whose husband died in Iraq. She is the undocumented woman working below minimum wage in the fields picking the produce on our dinning tables. She is the college aged woman navigating a world in which she is taught how to ovoid being raped.

 

This world teeters on the edge of insanity. It is full of naysayers and doomsday preppers. We have a fascination with zombies, apocalypse, and the political election. Then there are the folks with signs on the streets says, “The End of the World is Near.” The bumper stickers, “Jesus is coming. Hurry, look busy.”

 

God is capable of miracles. God is the fashioner of all life, the Creator of all creation. Then why does it feel like God is withholding the rain?

 

I don’t know about you but I wrestle with God a lot these days. Gone are the salad days of yesterday. Middle class dreams eroding away and being swept in to the ocean of lost hope. Economic woes complicate the life we envision for ourselves, for our children. Things are tough all over.

 

Why is the “Last Shall Be First” line always the shortest? Being last is the epitome of failure in the US. It screams in the face of the American Dream. It has no place in anyone’s vision of recovery but Gods. With the political attack ads running 24/7, in the twilight of the end of this election and half of the nation ready to mourn we are in a giant mess. Have the racist, sexist, homophobic, elitist systems ever departed our national hearts?

 

I am woefully disappointed in what is going on in the emergency response of God to this world. For as long as I can remember I have been deeply concerned with faith, particularly my faith. I went to seminary to discover a language for faith and to gain the ability to share that language in relationship with others. It is no secret to most folks that I have not felt called to serve the church in the traditional fashion. I am not called to parish ministry. I am at my best outside the Christian walls, outside of Christian convention.

 

This past week I was back home and realized why this is. I do not believe much of what Christianity teaches. In simplistic terms, I am an agnostic. I do not believe or know enough of God to definitively express an allegiance to any specific doctrine, confession, or creed. I like a lot of creeds, confessions, and doctrines but cannot align myself with any without understanding them fully.

 

I can align myself with loving others, meeting folks where they are at, and humbly living a life that honors those I encounter. I am willing to left my uncertainty be occupied with Gods mystery. For me this is a faithful space to be, even as a minister.

 

God does not guarantee certainty. God sent Elijah Ravens to care for him. Where are our ravens? God raised the widow’s son from death. Where is our resurrection? What is certain about God is that God is God and we are not. God withheld the rains from Israel and God can and will withhold the rains from us.

 

In a drought who is God or what is God becomes less important and is replaced with when will God. When will God send the ravens? When will God deliver death and resurrection? When will God release the rains?

 

I do not know when God will do any of this. I do now that God is capable of doing it and has done it in the past and will do it again.

Come On In My Kitchen

When King David was settled in his palace, and YHWH had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, King David said to the prophet Nathan, “Look! I’m living in a cedar palace, but God’s chest is housed in a tent!”

Nathan said to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you are thinking, because YHWH is with you.”

But that very night YHWH delivered a word to Nathan saying, “Go to my servant David and tell him that YHWH says, ‘You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in. In fact, I haven’t lived in a temple from the day I brought Israel out of Egypt until now. Instead, I have been traveling around in a tent and in a dwelling. Throughout my traveling around with the Israelites, did I ever ask any of Israel’s tribal leaders I appointed to shepherd my people, Why haven’t you built me a cedar temple?’”

“So then, say this to my servant David, ‘this is what YHWH Omnipotent says, I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to be leader over my people Israel. I’ve been with you wherever you’ve gone, and I’ve eliminated all your enemies before you. Now I will make your name great–like the name of the greatest people on earth. I’m going to provide a place for my people Israel, and plant them so that they may live there and no longer be disturbed. Cruel people will no longer trouble them, as they had been earlier, when I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.”

“Furthermore, I alone will establish your house. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you. Your successor will come from your own body, and I will establish your dynasty. It is they who will build a Temple to honor my Name, and I will establish your throne for an eternal dominion. I will be mother and father to you, and you will be my child. When you err, I will use the rod as any parent might, and I will not spare the rod. But I will never withdraw my love as I withdrew it from your predecessor, Saul, whom I removed from my presence. Your family and your dynasty will last forever.” Nathan reported to David everything: all the words and the entire revelation.

2 Samuel 7: 1-17

When I was seven years old there was nothing better to me than an afternoon of wrestling. We would gather around the TV to watch the Junk Yard Dog, Hulk Hogan, Koko B. Ware, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Ted DiBiase, The Legion of Doom, and Andre the Giant battle it out as they help to fashioned our worldview.

The WWF at that time was populated with good guys and bad guys. The good guys were easy to spot. They smiled. They do good. They help out their friends. They are fair and virtuous. They obey the rules. They hold the fans with great regards and display gratitude towards them. They seek to win the match without injuring their opponent.

The bad guys, they were easy to pick out too. They love to inflict pain on their opponent. They do not follow the rules. They hold the fans in contempt and often lash out at them with derogatory language. They do no good.

When I was a kid there was a clear distinction between the good and the bad. This carried over in to my burgeoning morality and was reinforced by the strict religious beliefs I was being offered from my grandmother and in the small conservative religious school I attended. My world became one of clear, concise neatly defined paradigms that offered safety, protection, and prosperity, as long as I kept my “good guy” boundaries enact.

I brought to middle school my love of wrestling and a binary moral ethic that supported my boundaries. I managed to escape middle school in one piece and entered high school with that same love of wrestling and that same “us and them” worldview.

As I passed through the various levels of school, I held on to my love of wrestling. I took it in to college and on through to my twenties. But as I got older something started to happen. With a combination of the blurring of the lines between good and bad in the world of wrestling entertainment and my awakening to a complexity of personalities, morals, ethics, emotions, and circumstance that differed from my own, that good/bad binary ethical and moral boundary that I protected over the years was no longer sufficient to assist me in living in the world and not being of it. My binary ethical structure isolated me from the world and in increasingly dangerous ways, exposed my inability to meet people where they were. My worldview was in dire need of reassessment and I had no idea how to do this. In my zeal to forge a new worldview I became a character in a play about life.

Living with an isolated worldview is dangerous. Take King David for example, he was a mix of here and there and everywhere. David had lust, passion, and courage in his God-like heart. There was no lukewarm in him. He embraced the trappings of his humanity as much as he embraced the call to divine agency. David was complex, profane, mundane, and divine.

In the twilight of his days David reflects upon the things that have slipped out of his hands. His conquests and glory faded with time. He is left to wonder about a better way. Life seems to do that to people. Living from moment to moment without pause is like having a beautiful garden and never stopping the work long enough to sit amongst the flowers and take it all it.

Awakening to the need for a modified worldview David proclaims he will build a temple to God. But God has another idea. God will not call David to build the temple. Then God takes David to task. In a move similar to the one that Job gets, God puts the relationship back in to perspective. God is God and David is not.

The line is drawn. The divine is still divine and we are present in the profane with an eye to the divine. How often have we found ourselves in a situation similar to this?

We have the best of intentions. It will be a one-time thing. It’s not really cheating. It will be for the best. We Convince ourselves that this is what God wants for us, wants for others. Leaving humility on the side of the road we venture forth, in to a foggy worldview populated with God knows what.

A few years after I got saved and after the third or fourth baptism I got caught up in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I became part of a wonderful group of young Christians while in college and got super involved in youth ministry and the college group. We would wrestle with the Word together. I would wrestle with “their” worldview and Biblical interpretation all the time.

I wanted desperately to figure out who I was and what I believed. I had no idea how to get there. I wanted real answerers for the things I felt and needed a way to process the things I had seen in life. I could not take “Jesus” and “because it’s in the Bible” as my answers to everything.

One year we went to this super-charged youth-centric revival gathering just before my last fall semester of university began. College aged folks from all over the Southland would show up and parade around wearing their Christian labels. Literally, everyone seemed to wear a t-shirt with some sort of Christian moniker on it espousing their beliefs in cute and contemporary ways. It was the perfect situation for me.

I desperately wanted to meet my partner, my divine puzzle piece and settle down. No dice. In my love lorne fervor I just wrestled with the humanity present in me. I spent many hours in prayer trying to shed this mortal coil. I would stay up in to the night praying that God would take away my myopic focus on meeting a partner and build ramparts around my heart that would take me to where I needed to be and hopefully that would draw me nearer to my partner.

I heard that Bill Graham had a vision about Gods call on his life in the chapel there at the camp this gathering was being held. So, I planned to spend the night begging God to show me the way. I chugged a six-pack of soda and grabbed my hoodie and hiked over to the chapel. I walked in to the darkness and disturbed a couple in there “praying.” They left to pray elsewhere.

I Prayed and prayed. I prayed some more. I tried bargaining with God. I begged God. I tried reverse psychology on God and then tried reverse, reverse psychology on God. I tried to reason with God. I prayed, begged, and pleaded so much that I fell asleep. Billy Graham gets the vision and got a nap.

What I learned that night and am continuously reminded of is that it is not about us. It is about God. This is God’s gentle remind that we are a mere reflection of the Omnipotent YHWH. If God wants something God doesn’t beg, barter, or plead to get it. God does not wrestle with us for God’s benefit. God wrestles with us, strives with us so that we might benefit and learn to be divine in the face of this profane and fallen world.

So, why does an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent creative being of unimaginable time and space keep reaching out to us?

I do not think that it is all that noble of a reason. Perhaps, God is figuring it out just like us? Who knows for sure? I believe God does this out of love. The God I have known in my life never strays, doesn’t abandon, and always loves. God wants to be in relationship with us. If this is not why God does it than I have no clue. I also have no time for fear and worry.

If God wants a temple than God will build a temple. God is on the outer reaches of my understanding as much as God is within reach of my finite limitations. God is God and I am not.

Someday

When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”

So Aaron told them, “Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.” They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool.

The people responded with enthusiasm: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!” Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf. Aaron then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast day to God!”

Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!

YHWH spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I have given them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They’ve sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”

YHWH said to Moses, “I look at these people—what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Leave me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”

Moses soothed the face of YHWH, his God. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God had it in for them all along—they were brought out to be killed in the mountains and to be wiped right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

So YHWH relented, and the disaster that threatened the Israelites was forestalled.

Exodus 32:1-14

This passage is terribly interesting. What kind of God can be negotiated or bargained with? The God of Exodus is a very human and very divine character. In some ways it gestures towards Jesus’ full human, fully divine.

I have not always understood God to be an all loving, all compassionate, all including God. When I first discovered God I discovered a God of liberation and restoration. A God that answered prayer but was jealous, demanding, and required a lot of attention. I first knew an angry disciplining God.

I can’t tell you how many times I have bargained with God. Begging, pleading, and negotiating with God was probably the second thing I did, right after asking God for patience. I remember the first time I bargained with God.

I am not sure what month it was. I have always believed it to be around Good Friday of 1997. I was dating a woman whose parents were very active in a church. It was a charismatic church that met in an old bowling alley. The pastor was sleek, handsome and young. The service was full of song and people spoke in tongues. It was the exact opposite of what I remembered as a child.

It had been at least ten years since I had intentionally darkened the doorway of any church. Church was important to my girlfriend so as our relationship evolved I would attend worship with her. I went a few times but not every week. I was not a huge fan of singing and they sang a lot.

One night I was at my girlfriends parents house hanging out or having dinner. My brother, Kevin, knocked at the door my girlfriend’s mom answered and beckoned me to come. With tears in his eyes and the color gone from his face he told me, “Grant is in the hospital. He Kelly, and mom are at UCLA. Grant was evacuated in a helicopter. He was paralyzed. They got in a car crash on PCH. Grant was not wearing a seatbelt.”

I fought back tears and made my way to my car. Kevin and my girlfriend followed. I could not drive so my girlfriend drove us. Along the way we chain smoked in that God awful silence. I wrestled with God. I begged God. I bargained with God. “Lord, if you heal my brother I will give you my life. If you make him walk I will believe in you and follow you.”

I arrive with worry on my heart and this bargain with God in the back of my mind. I go in to the ER and see my family there gathered. Worry across their faces. The accident had been bad. It was a wonder that everyone in the car was not killed instantly. My mom was in the front passenger seat. She had been battered and bruised but had not broken any bones. She looked like she fought Mike Tyson for 12 rounds.

My youngest brother, Kelly, had not a scratch on him. Apparently, Grant was not wearing a seat belt and when the accident happened he used his body to shield Kelly and was then thrown through the front windshield. He was the only one airlifted. He was in bad shape.

I made my way back towards where he was being treated. I heard a commotion and fighting. I thought it sounded like, Grant. I turned the corner to see my brother, Grant, standing there in a hospital gown, with tubes hanging from his arms and hospital staff trying to calm him down. He kept repeating, “I want a cigarette. Just one smoke. Look at me, I think I deserve it.”

I walked over and lead him outside to smoke. We did not talk about the accident or my bargain. I was relived. I let go of my bargain with little to no intention of going through with my deal with God.

I left that night with no care, my brother was healed. He had experienced a miracle. Like the kind from the Bible.

I tried to sleep that night and could not. I tossed and turned. I felt God prodding me as if to say, “I did my part. No it’s your turn. Keep your end of the bargain.” I fought this for hours. Finally out of exhaustion I sort of prayed something like, “Ok God, you win. I’m yours.” Then passed out.

I told no one what I had done. I went along with my life. Something’s changed but mostly I felt the same but not. I went to my girlfriend’s house one night for dinner and was meet by her mom. She stared at me with a big grin. She said, “Something is different about you. You did not get a hair cut. No new tattoos. Did you give your heart to Jesus?”

I think she may have been joking but I was relieved and awed by her question. I answered, “Yes! What do I do now?”

Bargaining with God is something that most of us find our selves involved in at one point or another during our lives. This is not the first time God bargains with creation. Sodom and Gomorrah is a point of bargaining between God and Abraham. If only 50 righteous people were discovered Sodom and Gomorrah would be saved. Then they bargain 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10 righteous people. God seems to be in a bargaining mood. It is almost like those old school late night TV commercials with Crazy Eddie hawking cheap, foreign electronics.

What are we bargaining for? Why are we bargaining? As we bargain with God and God with us there is a shifting of power and a fight for justice. As we bargain with God we are drawn deeper in to relationship with God and in to relationships with each other. It is the rule of bargaining that both parties win. A good bargain is one where the seller thinks they got the best of the buyer and the buyer believes they got one over on the seller. The hardest part of bargaining is being patient enough to get the bargain you always wanted.

What are you bargaining with God for? What would you like to bargain with God for?

Heard Them Stirring

I am a sucker for autobiographies, diaries, and secret or lost books. I love the human story. What is it about each other’s stories that captivates us and brings us closer to each other? Closer to God?

Continuing with our narrative journey through the Bible we are resting in Exodus. When you hear that I am preaching from Exodus your mind may go to “the Exodus.” Well then you would be right. I want to share with you a story about the Exodus.

We are all familiar with the Exodus story. The bondage of Israel. The baby Moses. The little reed basket. The burning bush. The ten plagues. The Passover. The wandering in the wilderness. The ten commandments. The covenant with God.

Exodus is a glorious story that sets the foundation of Israel’s identity. Exodus is a love story of the covenant that binds God and Israel together in mutual relationship and lays out the customs, practices, and guidelines for maintain that covenantal relationship.

As I was reading Exodus 12 and 13 I wondered, “what was going on with the other people in the story?” We get some of what happened to Pharaoh, Moses, and Aaron. We get the particulars of what went down. What about the first-born children? What did the average Egyptian have to say about all of this? What would the common Israelite have to say about all of this?

I have good news for you. I have discovered a collection of lost journals that talks about the Israelites and Egyptians during the times that lead up to the Passover and exodus. After extensive efforts to translate to our context and fill in the gaps left by time, for the first time in public I will share parts of this with you today. I bet you had no idea you were going to be a part of a world premier here today.

“Everyone’s running around. Something big is happening. I’m not sure what it is but it is big. After all of those crazy days of bloodwater, bugs, boils, and frogs I am excited and terrified as to what’s next. My father is so busy. He slaughtered one of the goats today but we don’t get to eat any of it. Lame! I got in trouble for trying to eat some of the meat while it was roasting. Whatever is going on I hope it doesn’t interfere with my game.” -Hadad

“My son doesn’t understand. He is just a boy. He is so focused on sports. He is very upset about what is going on. He just wants to play. He has worked so hard. I hope he sees that what is about to come is for the best. This will allow a better future for us all. The other night at the community meeting I was so confused at what we were supposed to do. Kill an unblemished sheep or goat, paint your doors with its blood, and do not eat any leftovers but burn it all in the morning. This sounds so wasteful. My husband is busy preparing all of this. If we don’t we will suffer the fate of the Egyptians.” -Deborah

“It was so gross. The bugs, the frogs, and the blood. I am totally thankful that the other stuff didn’t attack us. The house is filled with a delicious smell. Dad is roasting a goat. Hadad got in trouble for trying to eat it. All he does is worry about playing basketball. He’s not all that good at it. He needs to grow up. He is the oldest. He’ll have to go and help dad soon. His 16th birthday is coming in a few months. Mom and I had to take the blood dad collected from the goat and paint the door with it. GROSS! It got all over my hands and everything. I really wish I knew what was going on. Everyone’s all cray cray. I just do as I am told. Being a girl in this house stinks. My brothers get to do everything fun. I have to stay in the house and watch all the action go by.” -Ziba

“My children just don’t understand. My family doesn’t know but the Egyptians will all suffer a tragic loss tonight. They all will loss a child. This is why I am have killed a goat and am following the instructions of Moses and Aaron. I want no part of this tragedy. Our people have been in bondage for so long. Moses has brought us to a place of liberation. We will no longer serve the Egyptians. They have been harsh and cruel. There are some kind Egyptians but they are few and far between. These last few weeks have been packed with such great heights and such depressing lows. Why will the Pharaoh not let us go? We are not needed here in Egypt. The latest polls have shown that most of Egypt no longer wants us here. We are seen as a nuisance and a danger to the freedom of Egypt. I can’t go in to a store to buy anything without being watched like I am going to steal something. If I hang out with my friends in my neighborhood the cops show up trying to ‘check us out’ to make sure nothing is going on. You can’t drive near the Egyptians neighborhoods without getting pulled over. I wonder what they think about this plague business. I bet they are tired after all the bugs, boils, blood, and darkness. They are getting what they deserve as far as I am concerned. I hope what Moses said is right. We will be free soon, very soon. That’ll make all of this craziness worth it.” -Sodi

“I am so tired. These last few weeks have been the worst. First the well was filled with blood. Then frogs got out of hand and were everywhere. Everyone had lice. Flies blanketed the sky like clouds. Our livestock got sick and we lost many of them. My husband, my kids, and I got boils all over our bodies overnight. That was so bad. They hurt and I could not comfort my children. Then the hail came and damaged our crops. The thunder spooked our workhorses and they broke out of their pens and ran off. The locusts came and finished of what the hail didn’t take of the crops. Then darkness came over us. I prayed to Osiris to let Ra hear us. They didn’t. Now the Israelites are preparing for something else. You can smell and the roasting fire from here. I wish Pharaoh would just send them away. We don’t need them any more. Why does Egypt keep supporting them? Let them go away and we be done with each other. It would be best for all of us to be apart from each other.” -Safiya

“I can’t take these Israelites any longer. They talk back to me all the time. They act like they are my equals. I will be happy to see them gone. I curse them and these plagues we have suffered by them. All I ever tried to do was be good to them. And this is how we are treated. I regret their presence in the land of Ra. They celebrate over there with roasted meat. I would roast meat of my own but I have so few cattle left. I get so angry just thinking about them. I will dance the day they leave. My message to the Pharaoh is, “Let those people GO!.” -Yafeu

The worst of all plagues certainly visited Egypt that night and the firstborn of all houses of Egypt were struck down. The Israelites fled at the prompting of Pharaoh and passed through the sea into the wilderness. Departing from 430 years of bondage towards the Promised Land. Here we are 2,000 plus years wandering in the dessert still looking for our Promised Land, awaiting a dream, and a mountaintop. Trusting, knowing, and hoping that we may not all get there together but we all will meet up on that mountaintop and our eyes shall see the glory of the Lord.

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.