Month: February 2015

Five Minute Friday: Visit

We spent two summers in Bristol where the minister’s wife was born.

Each time, as the end of the school year approached, the minister would ask at dinner one night, “What will the kids do this summer?”

“Play, hang out around here,” the minister’s wife would respond.

The minister’s face would convulse, his voice become harsh, “This summer can’t be like last year. They did absolutely nothing. The boys wouldn’t mow the lawn unless I stood over them.”

bristol - scary bridge“We could visit my aunt in Bristol,” the minister’s wife would suggest. “She’d love to have us. You could join us for a week or two whenever you can get away.”

The minister would grumble about the cost of airfare, the ensuing weeks would be filled with his voice warning us to be on our best behaviour and not embarrass him, and a few weeks later, seven or eight sleepy kids would debark in England.

Though I’ve always loved England, I feared parts of Bristol. There was a huge, high bridge where we often picnicked that terrified me. I just knew it would fall on me. While the other children ran about and explored, I would sit with my back to the bridge, nervously looking over my shoulder to make certain it hadn’t begun to crumble.

9 West 57th StYears later when I went to live in New York, the dread fear that building would tumble on me kept me looking down so I wouldn’t the giants hulking over me. I detested 57th Street between 5th and 6th because I was certain the building at 9 West 57th Street would slide down and crush me as I walked past.

Finally, I learned I had a form of agoraphobia, I fear wide open spaces and things that tower above me. Knowing has helped a bit but given a choice, I avoid things that might come tumbling down and crush me even if everyone says they’re safe.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Facing Down Leviathan

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (1)

In studying Scripture, I keep coming upon Nachash (Nahash). “Serpent” is one translation. Leviathan is another.

My image of the serpent in Genesis came straight from the pictures in the big, family Bible I first read when I was five. They were supplemented by others from Sunday school books and various paintings. All of them pretty much depicted a big snake with or without appendages. I had only a hazy image of Leviathan. The priest who confirmed me said, in response to my queries, “It’s a primordial hippopotamus.” I was unconvinced. Leviathan was a sea creature and hippos aren’t known for their ocean-going tendencies. Over the past few years, I’ve learned Leviathan, in size, is a more like Jörmungandr, the giant Midgard Serpent. He’s also utterly terrifying. God tells Job:

Orange-Leviathan_smallLay hands on him;
think of the battle;
you will not do it again!
Behold,
the hope of a man is disappointed;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
No one is so fierce
that he dares to stir him up. (2)

The serpent in the Garden (Nachash in the original Hebrew) is Leviathan (also Nachash in the original Hebrew) in Job and Ezekiel and in many other places throughout the Bible.

But wait! This all actually has a point that is central to Loved As If in which I dive into theodicy and hope I don’t drown.

In a recently published article, my friend, Dr. Randall Smith, following St. Augustine, writes, “the really crucial moment in the story—the actual fall—occurs when Adam ‘deliberately decides—despite not being deceived—to disfigure by sin the spousal fellowship he and Eve had already been given by God.'”

How often have I passed over “Adam was not deceived” (3) because I was bristling about Paul saying woman would be saved through child birth. As I read Dr. Smith’s article, those four words finally resounded through me stirring up immense horror: “Adam was not deceived.” He knew better.

When God places Adam in the garden, He instructs him to “till it and keep it.” What isn’t readily apparent is that God gives Adam the same priestly charge He will later give the Levites who are to tend the Ark of the Covenant:

[B]ut appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it; they are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it, and shall encamp around the tabernacle. (4)

I’ve seen many depictions of the Israelites in battle with the Ark of the Covenant. Usually the Ark is surrounded by a few Levites vested as per God’s instructions to Moses. But in reality, the Ark would have been surrounded by all the sons of Kohath (5), more than 8,00 men, ready to cut down anyone who came near. And the Kohathites set out in the midst of the hosts of Israel; the Ark is surrounded by warriors. It was just that precious. And so was the garden before it.

But Adam threatens not even the most minimal battle to protect it. So the serpent, Nachash, Leviathan, gets into the garden — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash questions Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash beguiles Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. But he is there all the time.

Modern English doesn’t use a plural form of the pronoun “you” so we aren’t aware that in Hebrew, Nachash is speaking to both Adam and Eve when he asks: “Did God say, `[You both] shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And Adam is there when Nachash says: “[You both] will not die. For God knows that when [you both] eat of it your eyes will be opened, and [you both] will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (6) The English translation is painfully haunting when one realizes Adam might have pulled Eve away and whispered to her, ‘God will be along at the breezy time of the day. Let’s ask Him then.’ Instead, Adam remains silent and eats the fruit even though he knows Nachash is lying.

The fall involved neither sex nor eating an apple. The fall actually occurred because Adam decides he’s not facing down Leviathan. Adam balks at suffering and sacrifice. (So does Eve but I’m not telling that story here.) He knowingly chooses himself over God, his bride, and his priestly charge.

For long, I thought suffering came as a result of the fall. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love God. And I knew (because I had tried) that I couldn’t just will myself to stop loving Him. But I was appalled that God would allow suffering in my life. Suffering came as a result of sin. Why should I suffer for the sins of others? In my mind, suffering was a linear equation: my sin equals my suffering, the only variables were the sins I might commit. I truly felt that I and other innocent people ought to be exempt or at least ought to be given a pass after a certain amount of suffering. I was woefully ignorant.

Suffering was built in from the beginning. It was never something from which I or anyone else could be exempt. The original, deluxe, Imago Dei operating system that was the very life God breathed into Adam could not be fully actualized unless Adam laid down his life for the sake God, Eve, and the garden.

And that’s why Christ is the new Adam. He doesn’t flee suffering. He faces down Leviathan though He doesn’t want to die. He goes to the cross and reboots humanity. His reboot isn’t an undoing of suffering and sacrifice. Instead, Christ restores us to our original factory settings so that we might operate from the Imago Dei, so that we might truly sacrifice and suffer instead of simply hurting in confusion, so that we too might face Leviathan and lay down our lives for our friends. Christians can now suffer as God had always intended, as Christ did, as Adam did not.

We won’t always see that our suffering accomplishes anything. When suffering includes a linear equation, that’s only a hint of its fullness. It makes sense that a father would sacrifice himself to save his child. But when we’re in pain or foregoing something we want or need for the sake of another, we don’t always know how God is working our suffering and sacrifice into the entire program. Then again, it’s difficult to understand how Adam’s actions can affect all of creation. But for many, it’s just as difficult to understand how a few lines of code can wreck a computer. Yet most of us know what a computer virus can do.

In the end, for all our babble about self-worth and self-esteem, we can’t really imagine our immense value. When Paul writes, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” (7) it’s hard to see how “the glorious liberty of the children of God” will restore creation. Just as it’s hard to accept that “creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope.” (8) Our brains are groggy from living in a world that only recognizes fairly simple mathematics. The immense creativity that allows creation to wait “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (9) demands well-developed imaginations and hearts.

Christians can catch a peek now and then. Some more, some less. We can trust that creation is waiting for the Adam Christ restored in all those who follow Him to do what the original Adam did not do in the garden. We’re not to chase suffering. Masochism is of Nachash and has no place in the Imago Dei operating system. For the same reason, we are not to sacrifice out of pride. But a lot hinges on us. The restoration of all of creation longs for our “glorious liberty.”

We obtain that liberty by following Christ, the new Adam. We obtain it by accepting the suffering and sacrifice God allows into our lives. We unleash it’s immense power when, through the grace of God, we say, ‘This time, I’m facing down Leviathan.’ I can’t yet say, with some of the saints, that I rejoice in suffering. But I know, when we suffer with Christ, the uncorrupted Imago Dei operating system becomes fully activated and finally, we begin to grow into what God created us to become from the beginning.

(1) Genesis 2:15 (RSV)

(2) Job 41:8-10 (RSV). Image source.

(3) 1 Timothy 2:14 (RSV)

(4) Numbers 1:50 (RSV)

(5) Numbers 3:29 (RSV)

(6) Michael Barber, Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today, Emmaus Road Publishing (January 1, 2006). Genesis 3:4-5 (RSV)

(7) Romans 8:21 (RSV)

(8) Romans 8:20 (RSV)

(9) Romans 8:19 (RSV)

Five Minute Friday: Open

Usually, the Five Minute Friday prompt segues into something I’ve been thinking or writing about. This week, I’m recovering from a sinus infection, my head feels soggy, and nothing comes to mind. when I feel this way I’d usually skip FMF. Not this week. Let’s see where this goes…

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Often, I’ve been admonished that I must have an “open mind.” Usually, I’m being told that my faith and morals are close-minded, old-fashioned. I’ll usually ask, ‘Open to what? Everything? Anything? Even those things that will destroy me and make me less the person I’m working to be?’ The answers I receive range from head shaking to ‘You’re weird.’

God has blessed me with an impish mind and I wonder, what if I asked, Are we open to suffering? Are we open to sacrifice? Are we open to asking God to take the things we really don’t want and use them for His glory even if it hurts?

19 stitchesWhen my god-daughter’s little sister stepped into broken glass, she would allow no one to pour peroxide over the bleeding mess. Her mother was unwilling to suffer the howls and tears. Fully dressed, I climbed into the tub held the child’s foot, said, “This will hurt,” and poured on the peroxide. It was apparent, hers wasn’t a shallow cut. We rushed her to the emergency room for stitches.

She wasn’t my child and that probably made it much easier. But I had to be open to suffering (and ruining my skirt) for the child’s good including her anger because I did hurt her. I know so many who are angry with God because he allows suffering. Often, I think we are closed to Him and closed to understanding that He will allow us to suffer because sometimes (perhaps often) suffering is the only way to determine if we’ve just got a shallow cut or need stitches.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Five Minute Friday: When

When grand things happen, when someone offers me great kindness, when someone sacrifices for me, when someone unexpectedly thinks of me, it is like warm water on frozen fingers. I feel an almost physical pain. I want to hide. Often, I do. If hiding isn’t possible, my interior autopilot engages: my actions are appropriate but far from authentic.

0 really withdrawnI am a delayed reaction person. I need time to process, time to let kindness and love and concern seep into my soul. And then I need time to respond. Often I wonder if friends think I’m rude or weird. You may hear “Thank you” today and thank you again next week because your kindness has dredged up the gratitude I long to express. I may not write a thank you note today. But it will come when your love gets down inside me and the words come to my fingers.

For me, when is like wait, an unexpected Yes. It’s rereading my university acceptance letter alone in the bathroom, or waiting weeks to use my first credit card because I was certain they made an error. When shatters my expectations. My first response is to cringe until I’m sure it’s not an attack. The way I respond when I experience the many whens is one of the frequent subject of my prayers. And I’m getting better. Today is when I can write about my struggles with when.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

The Drop Box: Loving Abandoned Children

I was an abandoned child. The minister did not err in taking me into his home. He erred in claiming me as his property. But there are those who care for abandoned children and while doing so, love them and respect their dignity as unique beings, made in God’s image. The Drop Box is the story of one such man. I look forward to seeing it.

Five Minute Friday: Keep

Another excerpt from Loved As If. The FMF prompt coincided with some of today’s writing so I gave myself 5 minutes and here are the results.

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And then there are all the things you’ve kept safe for me. You’ve kept my laughter and silliness. You’ve kept my swagger and wonder. You kept my hunger to learn and grow and become more. You’ve kept my joy. You preserved my tears, the real ones, the tears that connect to my soul. Not the ones that spilled over so the hurt would stay safely behind the high walls of the dam. Not the ones that never touched my heart but fell because they were expected or were the only way I had to get people to pay attention. And, Lord, You preserved my innocence. Four years after discovering the first wisps of its existence, my innocence is still so new, it’s existence still so overwhelming. How did You keep it? I know that’s one of those answers I won’t have this side of heaven. That’s okay. You just keep the answers for the time when I’ll have no more questions.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Excerpts: More On Happy Endings

I want a happy ending like in the fairy tales I so love: And they lived happily ever after to the end of their days. But I still wonder what that means. Does nothing bad ever happen again? Do the characters never again face evil? Does all the suffering end when the prince sweeps up the virtuous, ill-used, impoverished girl? Fairy tales are supposed to end with happiness for those who’ve been abused, those who’ve struggled, but happily ever after still leaves me asking, What happened next? My experience is more like Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid — the actual story he wrote, not the Disney version:

Daughters of the airThe little mermaid drew back the crimson curtain of the tent, and beheld the fair bride with her head resting on the prince’s breast. She bent down and kissed his fair brow, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and brighter; then she glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the prince, who whispered the name of his bride in his dreams. She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in the hand of the little mermaid: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood. She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam.

The sun rose above the waves, and his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam.

“Where am I?” asked she, and her voice sounded ethereal, as the voices of those who were with her; no earthly music could imitate it.

Among the daughters of the air,” answered one of them. “A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny. But the daughters of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good deeds, procure one for themselves. We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry air that destroys mankind with the pestilence. We carry the perfume of the flowers to spread health and restoration. After we have striven for three hundred years to do all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the happiness of mankind. You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.”

The little mermaid lifted her glorified eyes towards the sun, and felt them, for the first time, filling with tears. On the ship, in which she had left the prince, there were life and noise; she saw him and his beautiful bride searching for her; sorrowfully they gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether. (1)

The little mermaid receives not what she wants, the love of her dear prince. She’s given what she needs: the gift of tears, the community of the daughters of the air who recognize her striving and welcome her to work along beside them, and the hope of gaining a soul so that she can mount up to heaven. She is adopted into a world she never imagined when she sacrificed everything to be with the prince. Life continues after the happy ending. Toil continues but hope flourishes. She learns that “if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another harder and better one.” (2)

(1) Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html

(2) C.S. Lewis, The Horse And His Boy

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