Monday, December 30, 2013

And we stayed all the way to closing time

December 29/30 2013

Then Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Can I do what only God can do? You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done. Genesis 50:19-20

It certainly isn't much fun to read about the Patriarchs. It is difficult to imagine a more reactionary, selfish, dishonest, petty, fickle bunch of people if you tried. Especially as compared to the folks around them, who seemed to have a better grasp of good and evil and common decency. But that is probably only because the protective layer of politely averted eyes was peeled back, and we could see what lies in each of us, a wicked and deceitful heart. Who can know it?

And at one level, big whoop, God used the brothers' evil for good to save the lives of many people from the seven years of drought that He planned, and all the people ended up losing everything they owned and selling themselves as slaves in order to get a little bit of grain back from what was collected from them by Joseph during the years of plenty. And the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and the beat goes on.

Not exactly how the story was explained to me with flannel graphs in Sunday School.

But as I wander the streets of New York once again, I am reminded of a quiet yet glorious beauty of humanity. A goodness that permeates, that is somehow all tangled up with the rotten selfish lies, and yet is revealed in the tiny mosaics that line the subway tunnel and the ever-so-bristly mustache of the security guy, and the sweet glimpses of life through half parted curtains as I walk along cracked Brooklyn sidewalks under a black black sky with only the most piercing stars still shining through.

And yesterday at the Met I breezed through three or four thousand years of mankind...past a noseless Sphinx and so many Greek and Roman marbles and Italian Renaissance oils and the worldwide textile trade route tapestries painstakingly stitched by now invisible fingers and modernist Balthus Cats and Girls and the Nelson A. Rockefellow pursuit of the best in the arts from Papua New Guinea and of course video shots of trash blowing down a New York sidewalk on a windy day.

And like Joseph, who am I to judge? Elohim is the only One who can judge. The Torah teaches that “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to those, You want to know my name? I am called according to my actions. When I judge the creatures I am Elohim, and when I have mercy with My world, I am named YHVH” (Ex R. 3:6).

 The form of the word Elohim, with the ending -im, is plural and masculine, but the construction is usually singular, i.e. it governs a singular verb or adjective, and it is the first name for God, as In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.

In the second creation story (Genesis 2:4) the second name of God is revealed as YHVH (from the semitic root that means “to be”) and YHVH “breathed into his (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).

And when Elohim appeared to Moses in the burning bush, it was YHVH who had mercy. Yahweh said, “I have seen the misery of my people, and I have heard them crying out because of the slave drivers. I know how much they’re suffering."

And one of the parents gave me Lecturas Diarias for Christmas, and today's verse is from Titus: Pero cuando se manifestó la bondad de Dios nuestro Salvador, y su amor hacia la humanidad, El nos salvó, no por obras de[a] justicia que nosotros hubiéramos hecho, sino conforme a su misericordia, por medio del lavamiento de la regeneración y la renovación por el Espíritu Santo

And I will choose to repeat the words of Joseph, the declaration "which is being done." And salvation is taking place even today, the regeneration and the restoration.

And I will rejoice and be glad in it, for this is the day that the LORD Elohim has made.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Every rung goes higher, higher

Then Jacob made a promise. He said, “I want God to be with me and to protect me on this journey. I want him to give me food to eat and clothes to wear so I will be able to return in peace to my father’s house. If the Lord does these things, he will be my God. Genesis 28:20-21

 All of us are on a journey. Really.

But sometimes the unknowingness of the next step stares us in the face quite up close.

And last night I bought a ticket to New York City. Really three tickets. One there, two back. And this morning I am getting on a jet plane and headed into the sunrise to go pack up a few things from a very tired old apartment just off Central Park and pick up Uncle Jim at rehab and return to my father’s house.

And I am unlike Mr. Jacob.

Because I know. I have utter confidence in the LORD’s presence, like a thick cloud that will be with me in the sitting down and the standing up. And the little bits of getting ready this morning (check the bedroom closets for Max’s suit), and making all those phone calls (remember the charger), and maybe tucking in a package of wet wipes, and thinking back on my mind map of the New York subway system. And the conversations in luggage pick up lines. And maybe another walk along the river with Andrea.

And on Christmas morning, as I stood back next to the table piled high once again with golden platters of food and considered the rhythms of life. The sunrises and the sunsets. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter again. With the candles, and the stockings, and the fire in the fireplace, and the stack of wood by the couch, and coffee mugs set on every flat surface. And the star on the top of the tree, And the pell mell presence of so many ghosts of Christmases past. So many faces and stories and hopes and journeys. So many dreaming stones set up on end as a memorial; surely the LORD is in this place.

And God is with me. And He protects me. And He certainly gives me more than enough food and clothing. And I will return in peace to home. And I don’t have to make any bargains with God. Or any hypothesis If / Then statements. Because He has shown His face so many times before.

And His promise to Jacob I will take for my very own, I am with you and will protect you everywhere you go and will bring you back to this land. And when I swim backstroke while the sky is still dark, I can see bright stars of faithfulness. Reaching out from and time and space beyond my mortal comprehension as an early morning marker that He is bigger than my understanding.

And I got my brand new Tom boots on for walking.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Not quite sure how dead goats tied to one's forearms could fool anyone.

Jacob answered, “Because the Lord your God helped me to find it.” Genesis 27:20

Then Jacob made a promise. He said, “I want God to be with me and to protect me on this journey. I want him to give me food to eat and clothes to wear so I will be able to return in peace to my father’s house. If the Lord does these things, he will be my God. This stone which I have set up on its end will be the house of God. And I will give God one-tenth of all he gives me.” Genesis 28:20-22

Then Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham! God of my father Isaac! Lord, you told me to return to my country and my family. You said that you would treat me well. Genesis 32:9

The man said to him, “What is your name?”
And he answered, “Jacob.”
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. Your name will now be Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with people, and you have won.” Genesis 32:27-28

He bought a part of the field where he had camped from the sons of Hamor father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver. He built an altar there and named it after God, the God of Israel. Genesis 33:19-20

There comes that moment. The wrestling with God moment. When He becomes not the LORD God of Abraham, the LORD God of Isaac. The My Lord and my God Thomas moment. The moment of winning.

And the very bleak self-rule twisting and plotting that Gollum-grips Jacob around his throat is loosened. And he steps into the Promise. The I will be Your God Promise.

I remember that moment. They very rock where I was sitting on the grassy quad at Wheaton College under a very moonlit sky when the Memorizing the books of the Bible and the twenty-third psalm and getting a red-letter Bible in front of the whole church God and Bible verses for every letter of the alphabet God and the Joy Bible Camp Sword Drill winner God and the Tennessee Bible Quiz Team God and the Well, when I’m not there to teach Sunday School I will just have Christy lead it because she knows everything God spoke to me. He elbowed His way through my deceptions and deals and details and If you do what I want’s and asked, with His small still voice, Who is LORD?

I sat there on that question for a good solid pause.

I understood the question at last.

And this time, I got the right answer. The real answer. The true answer.

Yep, the Sunday School answer.

The moment of Love winning.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Room enough

Love the LORD, all you who worship him; the LORD protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD. Psalm 31:23-24

Isaac’s servants dug a well in the valley, from which a spring of water flowed.  But the herdsmen of Gerar argued with them and said, “This water is ours.” So Isaac named that well Argue because they argued with him.  Then his servants dug another well. When the people also argued about it, Isaac named that well Fight. He moved from there and dug another well. No one argued about this one, so he named it Room Enough. Isaac said, “Now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be successful in this land.” Genesis 26:19-22

Sometimes it’s hard to see the Patriarchs obeying the LORD’s commands and teachings. But Isaac is very impressive in his dealings with the people of the land. He walked away from Argue and he walked away from Fight. Slow to take offence. Slow to draw his sword, even if he was in the right. Quick to trust in the LORD to provide.

And in the end, this was his testimony to the world. And the Philistines, our secret code word for vulgar and ignorant heathens, recognized that the Lord was with him. As well as left him in peace. And the LORD blessed him.

Which are all good things.

So let me live today likewise slow to take offense. Because the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Splish splash, sloshing to overflowing

Before I finished my silent prayer, Rebekah came out of the city with her water jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and got water. I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ Genesis 24:45

So last night at community group, after we had each selected our assorted tea and settled under the basking scent of fresh-baked cookies, the questions were asked: what has God said to you this year and what is your prayer for the year to come?

Not very Christmasy at first glance. But really it is very God Here Among Us moment. And for the most part they were variations on a theme of looking for The God Who Provides as each of us picks our way through the boulders of a sometimes weary sojourn. And sometimes the valley walls close in very high and the shadows are very dark. Except Alan. Mr. Alan is celebrating the beyond-what-you-can-imagine provision after twenty-three years in the wilderness of 44th Street tucked behind the strip mall and just past where the freeway loops.

And I think Annissa our scribe had problems recording my prayer for the next year. Because I didn’t say anything. It is silent. I am not even sure what ache lies in my heart. But the old familiar tale of Rebekah filling up her water jar over and over to slosh abundant water into a trough for ten camels beyond thirsty from a long desert trek before the silent prayer was even finished is a clear reminder of God Will Provide.

The LORD will see.
The LORD will provide.
And Therefore The LORD shall be seen.

And little stray bits of conversation around Christmas cheesy potatoes and yet more cookies sounded like seeds taking root.

And there was this moment yesterday morning, tucked in the middle of a busy crazy day that rips deep down into my heart that aches pretty much all of the time.

Check. Check. Check.

Right down the old to-do list of responsibility on my way to school, yes the dishwasher is flipped on, yes the back door is open for Pippen, yes the trash bins are by the road, slap slapping through the windshield wipers and swishing through the huge puddles that had already collected on Broadway, I turned left, towards the Catalinas heaped with white promise, and pulled right into the Wilmot Murphy Library to return the last Spanish fairy tale book that managed to slide under the seat yesterday and miss the trip to the Book Return slot. I was kinda in a hurry because I had a panel of relative big shots arriving in a few minutes to listen to my environmental science students’ final project proposals for saving the world.

Just as I popped out of the little black car I noticed a figure huddled under an old child’s comforter, squished against the plate glass front door trying to avoid the splashing downpour. Ah ha. I had been waiting for such a moment. I reached back into Everette’s car seat where I had stashed one-too-many gifts of Christmas cookies to share with an appropriate street corner sort of person.

Trying not to appear rushed as I obviously had things to do and places to go, I knelt beside the woman and handed her the red and green bag. She smiled. Faintly. I asked if I could pray for her and of course she nodded. And as I entered into that quiet but not silent prayer for pause, Mary, I started weeping. I wrapped my arms around her, and we both wept. For quite a while. There on the ground kind of tucked into a small brick corner in front of the Wilmot Murphy Library.

So that is what I thought about all day yesterday. Was that enough, a pause a prayer a twenty-dollar bill tucked into her fingers?

Or was it God’s voice whispering, “Stop it all. Pick up this woman and put her in your car and go to school and ask Meg Chandler to take your class and it will be okay and do everything in your power to help this woman on the next step of her sojourn.”

And I hesitated and all was lost.

And now. As I look at it in black and white. This is my prayer for the year to come.