Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reading the Bible for Lent: Judges and Ruth

{I'm attempting to read the whole Bible during Lent this year, and blogging my way through it. The Bible is an old friend, but we fight sometimes. Ever hear of quitting something cold turkey? Well, this is my way of starting something cold turkey, if that makes sense. I'm facing it head on, with my eyes open, and a new way of reading. My hope is to read the entire text through the lens of Jesus (I'm figuring out what this means as I go along) and attempt a balance of honesty and charity, both of which I've lacked in the past. See also: The Pentateuch and Joshua.}

Moving right along! Phew.


Israel's a big mess after Joshua dies. The people are scattered, and the LORD has allowed other tribes to defeat the Israelites in battle because they keep worshipping the Baals and Asherahs (gods and goddesses) of other people.

In chapter four, we learn that "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel" (v. 4). At this time, Israel has been under the oppression of the Canaanites for twenty years. As far as I can tell, Deborah is the first woman of authority to be mentioned in the Bible. I've got to wonder how the heck she got to a position of power in such a misogynistic culture, but it's nice to see nonetheless. Deborah gives orders to a man named Barak to deploy troops to fight against Jabin's army (the king of Canaan), under a man named Sisera. So, they go out to fight Sisera and his army, and Sisera flees on foot. He comes to the tent of an Israelite woman named Jael, who plays innocent and lures him into her tent for a rest. He falls asleep, and not-so-innocent Jael drives a tent peg through his temple. Barak comes along, pursuing Sisera, and Jael's all like, oh he's here with a tent peg in his head. So the Israelites gain favor with the LORD once again, and eventually defeat King Jabin. In chapter five, Deborah sings a song of victory and praise to the LORD. So it's the same old blood and gore, but refreshing because the women get to represent for a change.

Chapters six through eleven tell the story of Gideon, also known as Jerubbael. Gideon's an unlikely hero. The LORD calls him to defeat the Midianites, who are now ruling over the Israelites since they again "did evil in the sight of the LORD" (v. 1). Gideon says, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." But the LORD says, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man." (v. 15-16)

What follows is the account of Gideon subduing the Midianites with a small army of just 300 men. It's a good story, and reinforces the recurrent idea in the Old Testament that if the Israelites follow the LORD's commands, He will protect them and fight alongside them. The Israelites have a time of peace until Gideon's death, when they again begin to worship Baals. As a side note, Gideon had 70 sons "for he had many wives." One of his sons, Abimelech, rules Israel for three years after Gideon's death, followed by Tola for twenty-three years, and then Jair for twenty-two years. Then, the Israelites again "do evil in the sight of the LORD and fall under the rule of the Ammonites.

After this, one of the most tragic stories in the entire Bible takes place. A man named Jephthah raises up an army against the Ammonites, and makes a vow to the LORD as they prepare to fight:
"If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering." (v. 30-31)
Jephthah is successful, and upon returning to his home, "there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing, and she was his only child....And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, 'Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it." (v. 34-35)

Seems to me that he's troubling her, not the other way around. She's given two months to roam the hills and "bewail her virginity" with her friends, at her request, and then she's put to death by her father. "And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite." (v. 40) We never learn her name.

If you can recover from that, we move on to learn about Samson, who was a judge over Israel for 20 years (15:20). He has supernatural strength, which comes from the LORD but is also dependent on his hair not being cut. (This has to do with him being called a Nazirite, which I'd like to study more later.) He takes a Philistine wife, but it's not Delilah. She comes later. One day, Samson makes a bet with 30 men concerning a riddle. If they can solve the riddle, he has to give them 30 linen garments and 30 changes of clothing. If they cannot, they have to give Samson those things. They get his wife to find out the answer and tell them, and so they solve the riddle and Samson becomes very angry, saying "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle!" (ahem). Then, we're told, "the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkerlon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle." (v. 18-19) I say lack of impulse control, you say Spirit of the LORD. Let's call the whole thing off. Angry, he goes home to his father's house and has a little cooling off period. When he returns to see his wife, she's been given to another man. So, he lights 300 foxes' tails on fire and sends them running through the Philistines' grain fields, vineyards and olive groves. The Philistines respond by burning his wife and her father to death. Samson responds by killing 1000 Philistines with a donkey's jawbone.

The Philistines get revenge when Samson falls in love with the devious Delilah. He discloses to her that if his hair is cut, he will lose his strength, and so she cuts his hair while he's sleeping and the Philistines capture him. They put out his eyes, and bind him, and put him in prison. At the very end of chapter 17, though, Samson has the final revenge. He's brought out to perform for the Philistines, and he's standing between two pillars. He prays for the LORD to strengthen him just one more time, and pushes the pillars, causing the temple to fall on everyone in it. So he dies with the Philistines.

I know this is getting really long, but there's one more story that I'll share, before we move on to Ruth, which thankfully is only four chapters long. Trigger alert: if you've been raped or sexually abused, you may want to skip this part.

In chapters 19 and 20, we learn of a Levite man, un-named, who has a concubine. I'm not sure about the specific events, but the text says that she "played the harlot against him", and then went away to her father's house. Four months pass, and he goes after her, and stays at her father's house for several days. They start their journey home, and stay the night in "Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin." (v. 14) I'm just going to quote what happens next:
While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.”But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!” (v. 22-30)
Sound familiar? The first part of the story mirrors the experience of Lot and the two angels of the LORD in Sodom, found in Genesis 19. The difference, of course, is that there are no angels here to protect the concubine by blinding the mob, so she's gang-raped and left to die. Her status as an expendable female stands in stark contrast to the authority and position of Deborah the judge. Perhaps the most maddening thing is that the Levite turns her out to the mob, unprotected, and then has the nerve to be upset when he finds her dead.

As the Israelites see the pieces of the concubine that her husband sent out, they are angry and go to war with  the people of Gibeah. I'm guessing the Levite's call for revenge is much more about personal honor than love for her, since his actions show no love or concern whatsoever, even to the point of defiling her corpse by cutting it into pieces. There is usually some moral we can lift from the stories of the Old Testament, but it's hard to find anything here other than my own disgust. If I impose my own morality on the story and ignore a few things, I guess I could say it's about preventing injustice rather than just avenging it. That seems naive, though, within this cultural context.

Judges is a tough book. As I read these stories, I think of what Jesus said: "those who live by the sword will die by the sword." Violence begets violence begets violence. I really have nothing new to say about these texts that I haven't said before. It's just more of the human condition, with a view of God that fits the times.


One of the most interesting things about Ruth is that she's a Moabitess. That means the Israelites aren't supposed to have anything to do with her. The backstory: a man named Elimelech, along with his wife Naomi and their two sons travel to Moab because of a famine in Bethlehem, where they're from. They settle there, and Elimelech dies and the two sons marry Moabite women. Then, tragically, the two sons die as well. This leaves Naomi with no male relative to care for her, which in this society is a really big problem. She tells her two daughters in law to return to their families, but Ruth refuses to leave her, and speaks these famous words:

         Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you;
         For wherever you go I will go; And wherever you lodge I will lodge;
         Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.
         Where you die, I will die, And there I will be buried.
         The LORD do so to me, and more also,
         If anything but death parts you and me. (1:16-17)

So Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem, and Naomi (meaning "sweet") tells the women there to call her Mara (meaning "bitter"). Ruth goes to a field to glean what the harvesters have left behind, hoping to gather enough for herself and Naomi to eat. She meets Boaz, who owns the field, and is also a relative of Naomi's late husband. He is very kind to her, and even commands the harvesters to drop extra for her. So begins the romance.

In chapter three, the story takes an interesting turn. We see how women get things done in a society where they're essentially powerless. One evening, Naomi tells Ruth to go to the threshing floor where Boaz is working. She tells Ruth "then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down, and he will tell you what you should do." (v. 4). Ruth follows her instructions. Basically, she seduces Boaz. To "uncover one's feet" is a euphemism. When I first learned this I was quite shocked; they didn't teach this part in Sunday School.

Things turn out quite well for Ruth and Naomi (and Boaz). Ruth and Boaz marry and have a son, and the women say to Naomi:

        "Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be     
        famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your 
        daughter in law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him." (4:14-15)

What I love about Ruth is that she's an outsider, but she overcomes that with her love and loyalty to Naomi, and they're both blessed because of it (well, that and Naomi's clever little plan.) This story points the way to the things Jesus is going to emphasize when he spends time with people that are "other", like the Samaritan woman and Zaccheus, to name a few. It's not hard at all to find Him in this story.

It's a pretty cool redemption story. Ruth and Boaz' son is Obed, whose son is Jesse, whose son is David, whose story is coming up next.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reading the Bible for Lent: Joshua

{I'm attempting to read the whole Bible during Lent this year, and blogging my way through it. The Bible is an old friend, but we fight sometimes. Ever hear of quitting something cold turkey? Well, this is my way of starting something cold turkey, if that makes sense. I'm facing it head on, with my eyes open, and a new way of reading. My hope is to read the entire text through the lens of Jesus (I'm figuring out what this means as I go along) and attempt a balance of honesty and charity, both of which I've lacked in the past. See also: The Pentateuch.}

I'm about halfway through the Historical Books, and things are still pretty bloody. I was going to write about Joshua, Judges and Ruth but the Joshua section is pretty long in itself, so here it is. Again, this is not comprehensive by any means, just what stood out to me.

Joshua was Moses' successor as leader of Israel. He led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Joshua is an interesting character. He's an effective, energetic leader (and I would say the book of Joshua has a different energy to it than previous books, largely because of his character) and a person of great integrity within this cultural construct. He calls the people to be "strong and of good courage" repeatedly, stirring them up to take the land their ancestors were promised. In chapter six, they take the walled city of Jericho, sparing no one except Rahab the prostitute and her family and their possessions, as well as the "silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron" which go into the LORD's treasury. Rahab and her relatives are spared because she had previously helped two Israelite spies by hiding them (we see Rahab again later in the genealogy of Christ.) We are told, "the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country." It's a fearsome fame; if the Israelites could take down Jericho, the other cities know they're not safe.

Joshua, like the books before it, emphasizes the importance of following the LORD's commands exactly. Like I mentioned earlier, within this cultural framework, this is what integrity looks like, and it often means killing everyone the LORD says to kill. (As a side note, this theme often used in sermons as a metaphor for living a life separate from the world, getting rid of anything in your life that's not pleasing to God, taking care who you spend your time with, etc. I would argue that Jesus modeled something very different, but that's another post altogether.) When the Israelites are defeated at Ai  in chapter seven, Joshua cries out to the LORD, wondering why He didn't protect them. The LORD tells him that someone among the Israelites kept some loot for himself, and that they will be cursed until they "take away the accursed thing from among you." They find out that a man named Achan kept a garment along with some silver and gold for himself, and then:
Then Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day." So all Israel stoned him with stones, and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore, the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor (trouble) to this day." Joshua 7:24-26
We see again here that this LORD is not slow to anger. He's pretty much angry right away when someone disobeys His commands. Unfortunately, the punishment isn't only on Achan, but on his children and animals as well.

Israel's military success depends on them keeping up their part of the covenant with the LORD. As a warring society, this means they must destroy everything He tells them to. They fumble again when they make a treaty with the Gibeonites, other inhabitants of the land (chapter 9). The Gibeonites pretend to be from a far-off land, and ask to make a peace covenant with the Israelites, and they do, "but they did not ask counsel of the LORD." Joshua makes a covenant with them, but upon finding out who they really are, says "Why have you deceived us, saying, 'We are very far from you,' when you dwell near us? Now therefore you are cursed, and none of you shall be freed from being slaves--woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God." (v. 23). Joshua can't break the covenant with them (kill them), so he makes them slaves.

This all leads into an interesting turn of events in chapter ten. The kings of five different tribes decide to attack the Gibeonites because they have made "peace" with the Israelites. Joshua receives word of this, and goes out to fight with his "mighty men of valor", having received assurance from the LORD that they will win. They fight, and the attackers flee, and the LORD drops hailstones on them (the text says that more die from the hailstones than are killed by the Israelites' swords.) Then, Joshua prays quite a prayer: he asks God to make the sun stand still. Then, we are told, the sun does not go down for about a whole day, and Joshua and the Israelites are able to finish killing their enemies. While I appreciate the bold nature of Joshua's prayer, I struggle with the reason for it. But it's in keeping with the commands that this LORD gives, so in this context, it makes perfect sense.

The book contains a few more conquests, along with a description of how the tribes of Israelites divide up the land. Joshua gives one more stirring speech before he dies:
Now, therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers had served on the other side of the River in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (24:14-15)
Again, we see the emphasis on separation. The Israelites will struggle with this choice, and in the books to come we'll see a scattering and coming together, over and over, as they attempt stability under different types of leaders: judges, prophets, and kings.

So where does Jesus come in? I think what all these events point to is the fickle nature of the human heart. We fail, a lot. There's a certain hopelessness to all our striving. We need a savior. The Israelites, in all their warring and rule-making, point to that, in a longing, hopeful and yet broken way. I feel a sense of connectedness to the Israelites, even though I abhor many of their actions, because of my own brokenness. In this admittedly questionable practice of speed-reading through complex texts, I'm making contact with some of own deep sorrow as I encounter all of this darkness in the Old Testament. I feel in a way like I'm crying out for us all to be delivered. If nothing else, theological issues aside, all of this points to my need for Jesus.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reading the Bible for Lent: The Pentateuch

{I'm attempting to read the whole Bible during Lent this year, and blogging my way through it. The Bible is an old friend, but we fight sometimes. Ever hear of quitting something cold turkey? Well, this is my way of starting something cold turkey, if that makes sense. I'm facing it head on, with my eyes open, and a new way of reading. My hope is to read the entire text through the lens of Jesus (I'm figuring out what this means as I go along) and attempt a balance of honesty and charity, both of which I've lacked in the past.}

I finished the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) earlier this week....keeping up with the schedule decently, although I did fall a day behind after a long shift on Wednesday and very heavy eyelids the next morning.

So, I thought I'd share a few observations and unsolicited opinions. This will be super general, just because of how fast this reading has to go. I'm making some notes to go back and study in more detail later.

A few things stand out as I re-read these books. One is the sophistication of the writing. This wasn't just a crude list of do's and don'ts. There are literary devices: poetry, imagery, metaphor, suspense. There's a great deal of beauty in the language. Whoever wrote these books (most people say Moses, but there's some dispute among scholars) was educated. The characters are familiar, like childhood friends, and it's good to get to know them again, although they all seem a bit more complex than what I remember. When I read the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, of Dinah, of Joseph and his brothers, of the Israelites as slaves and then nomads, of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, I see a LOT of humanity, and a teeny tiny glimpse of divinity. I see the culture of the day and its best understanding of God. There's some pretty dark stuff in there; there are things that just don't seem compatible with the God that Jesus later reveals. I keep saying that, to myself and out loud, over and over. The LORD, as he's called in these texts, seems like a different character than the God we later get to know.

In high school, one of my more memorable assignments was to try to design a perfect society with a group. We had to think about and develop all the details of a society: where people will live, how they'll make money, what infrastructure the government will provide, what to do with people who break the society's codes, etc. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy detail the complexity of trying to form a functioning society: chapter after chapter of case law, ledgers, protective hygiene practices, and repeated calls for justice and kindness to the foreigner (this concept of justice, though selective, seems ahead of its time.) Moses served as a judge much of the time, hearing case after case and, the text says, consulting the LORD for the answer. That's how many of the laws came to be written. He was so overwhelmed with this job that his father-in-law advised him to set up trusted men to bear some of the load.

An ever present theme in the Pentateuch is that the Israelites have special favor with the LORD. I always took that idea for granted, without questioning it--after all, the LORD is presented as saying this, not the Israelites. Now, I would really like to know why--is the purpose of excluding everyone but the Jews to later dramatically include Gentiles also? Or was it a human thing attributed to God? Then there's the idea that the LORD gives the Israelites land and possessions to plunder; that the land ultimately belongs to them and others are occupying it (not, the text says, because the Israelites are more righteous; the LORD calls them a "stiff-necked people", but because the other people are exceedingly wicked, and also because of the promises that the LORD made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.) So they wander in the desert for forty years, figuring out the whole functioning society thing and preparing to take the land that the LORD promised their ancestors.

Now, I realize that a lot of the hard stuff is setting up for a redemption or re-definition later. The animal sacrifice will be over once Jesus takes all that on himself.  Paul will extend a controversial welcome to the Gentiles. Jesus will take the "eye for an eye" laws and turn them upside down. He'll tell people to love their enemies. New covenants will be made. But, in the meantime, this stuff is terrible. As a metaphor, it's tolerable I suppose. You can find applicable lessons in it. But are we to accept that God, our God, commanded all of these things? Something deep within me says no.

It's entertaining and a little sad to see what I've underlined in my Bible in past years. Lots of verses sound pretty good on their own, but read the whole passage and you might want to bang your head on the table (or maybe that's just me.) When I was younger, I approached the Bible with the assumption that it was all true, that it all happened. God really did command the Israelites to plunder and was in the text, and that made it more palatable somehow. If I read something I didn't like, it didn't really matter because if it was in there, I had to accept it. I think now, in retrospect, that that kind of reading caused a coldness, a numbness, in me.

I have to say, I did thoroughly enjoy reading Genesis, because of the stories. I think one of my favorite moments, found in Genesis 16, concerns Hagar. She is sent in to her mistress' husband (Abraham) to bear him a child, since her mistress (Sarah) is barren. She conceives, and her mistress "deals harshly with her" and she flees. She stops by a spring of water, and the "Angel of the Lord" finds her, and tells her to return to Sarah, and that she will have a son called Ishmael, "because the LORD has heard your affliction." Verse thirteen says:
Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-who-Sees; for she said, "Have I also here seen Him who sees me?"
Hints of the divine, in an oh-so-human situation. The God who Sees. That's familiar, that rings true. God is not monstrous here; he's compassionate.
There's a sort of tension in the text, between the LORD as ruthless enforcer of justice and nurturing, forgiving leader. The Israelites praise the LORD as being slow to anger, loving, and forgiving, but also as just (in the sense that the guilty must be punished.) Numbers 14:18 captures the paradox of how the Israelites see the LORD:
The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
It's important to note that on several occasions Moses pleads for LORD to forgive guilty parties and He does. He doesn't seem very slow to anger though; His anger is often swift and fierce. Of course, I'm reading these stories with twenty-first century eyes, with a very different perspective on justice, and with VERY different ideas about women and slaves. What's heinous to one culture is commonplace to another. But the big question, the question that transcends culture is this: what is the nature of God? I personally believe that God's true nature and the human perception of it don't always line up. I hope that's the case anyway. It seems quite likely that the Israelites were giving the God credit/blame for things He didn't actually do, because of their own lack of knowledge and superstition about things like miscarriage (if a woman miscarried, she must have sinned, or if she was barren, the LORD had made her so), and natural disasters, and also just because they lived in a survival-of-the-fittest world. I've heard that our political views are shaped by what we see out our own front door; I would add that our view of God is largely shaped the same way.

The point of this whole endeavor is to read the Bible through the lens of Christ. Here's where I am with that right now: I think that maybe as long as we're human we're going to mis-characterize God. I see what I think is the Israelites doing it in the text and I see us doing it today. We're still cruel; we still use God to justify our wars and greed; we still think we're God's favorite. But, and it's a big but: Jesus makes such a difference. I'm not there yet in the text so I'm going to leave that for another post, but let me just say that as I've read these books, I've often been left with a feeling of hollowness and sadness. I think this comes from the way God/the LORD is described as such a monster in the text. But I remember that the Jesus part is coming. He's going to change the face of God; wipe off some of the weird stuff we've pasted on it. Grace will show up.

So, that was a bit heavy. Here's some interesting tidbits, to end on a lighter note. If you're still reading, I salute you :)

Did you know......

  • Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah) were half brother and sister. They had the same father. (Genesis 20:12) The practice of marrying one's sibling, whether half or full, is later condemned in Leviticus 20:17. So, when Abraham lies to and says Sarah is his sister, he's actually sort of telling the truth.
  • After getting off the ark, Noah sacrificed one of every clean animal and bird (Genesis 8:20). I'm guessing they must have already reproduced on the ark, otherwise there wasn't much of a point of carrying around two of every kind on the boat for all that time.
  •  Exodus 33:11 tells us that Moses spoke with the LORD "face to face, as a man speaks with his friend."  Later, in verse 18-23, Moses asks to see the LORD's glory. The LORD tells him, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." So Moses hides in a cleft of a rock and the LORD allows him to catch a glimpse of His back. Perhaps when Moses was speaking face to face with the LORD, His glory was hidden somehow? Pretty interesting.
  • In Numbers 27:1-11, a case is brought before Moses in which five daughters, whose father has died, are asking to be able to have his inheritance. They have no brothers, and so a new law is made to say that daughters may inherit if there are no sons. Seems a bit ahead of the times, although later (in Deuteronomy, I believe, I forgot to make a note of it) the law states that if a woman has inherited property, it goes to her husband when they marry.

Next up are the Historical Books.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


This past weekend Ricky and I made a quick dash up to Colorado. Neither of us have ever been to our northern neighbor state, and we had a long weekend and grandparents who wanted to spend time with the littles (God bless them, seriously.) Denver is definitely on the "places we would love to live" list, and lately we're keeping our eyes open for Possibilities.

It was lovely, as expected. Colorado is beautiful in a similar way to New Mexico, actually. Lots of high desert in the southern part. And then, more mountains and snow, but the same big blue sky and wide views. I re-discovered the joy of night driving on the way up (thank you, This American Life, the Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, and Ray LeMontagne, for that) and we made it to Pueblo late, got some sleep, and then drove up to Denver the next morning. I have to say, I think Denver is the friendliest place I've ever been. I think NM is pretty friendly, but we felt downright rude in comparison. Everyone seems to have time to talk. We had fun exploring downtown Denver....went to the Denver Art Museum (they had a Georgia O'Keefe exhibit that was interesting, and the whole museum was super kid-friendly), checked out the Colorado State Capitol, and went to see this play. We both enjoyed it--it dealt with a lot of universal themes, like grief and being stuck, and the slow process of moving on, and I was, as always, so impressed with what theater actors can do with a small space and very few props, and how we can find so much of ourselves in someone else's story.

On Sunday morning we ate crepes at a cute restaurant next to the City Park, then drove north to Boulder (the happiest town in the U.S., apparently.) We wandered around the university, walked downtown (very crunchy-outdoorsy, very happy-looking). Everyone was out and about--reading books, drinking coffee, watching their kids play on kid-sized climbing rocks (Nicky would be in heaven.) It was colorful and interesting. I didn't see a single overweight person, and there's kind of a dress code.  North Face jacket or vest, khakis or long flowing skirt, Minnetonka moccasins (want), hand-knit beanie, cute dog, kids in adorably mismatched clothes, bicycle, vegan snacks in your backpack, etc. I guess if you have to have a dress code, that's not a bad one. We had just a little time to drive up into the mountains, then headed back to Denver.

(Not pregnant, no sir. Just standing like it.)

Sunday night was really special. We went to a service at House for all Sinners and Saints, an inclusive Lutheran church that I've been interested in ever since I saw a video of their pastor here. She was actually out of town so we didn't get to meet her, but the service was beautiful and nourishing, and I'm so glad we went.

It was a group of 50 or so, gathered in a parish hall, with chairs set up in an oval formation. I loved the simplicity and humility of the liturgy, the acapella singing, the depth of the songs, and even though I have differing theological views on the Eucharist, I loved that part too (I doubt I'll ever find a church that I completely agree with, and I'm working on being okay with that.) I loved the quiet, the reverence, the poetry, the opportunity for stillness and reflection. I could have easily been a shaky mess the entire time, because I was so hopeful, and because it was so, so good, but I mostly kept it together. Church has been complicated for a long time; this was just peace. Just. peace. What a gift.

Afterward, we walked around in the cold, got some Thai food, and processed the experience out loud. I'm still processing inwardly.

We drove back in a straight shot on Monday, and picked up the littles late that night. They all looked bigger. I want to go back, and take them along next time. Maybe this summer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

the littles, right now

Nicky will spend a few minutes describing to you the "features" of whatever weaponized Lego spaceship he just built, then run off to watch Tinker Bell on Netflix. He's well-rounded like that ;). He's a bit more emotional these days. I read something once about a six year-old developing more of an internal life, and I think that's happening with him. This is the part of parenting where kids start to need their own tools, it seems, more than before. I can't climb inside his head and fix things, but I can try to help him express his feelings and adjust his expectations (bedtime often comes as a harsh blow, when he's trying to squeeze 17,000 things into one evening.) He can recite his times tables like a pro, and play his chords and scales on the piano more easily and in time with the metronome, thanks to lots of practice with Papa. He comes home from school talking about girlfriends and break-ups, and generally has no idea what he's saying, but it's leading to some Conversations. We're trying to balance maintaining his sweet innocence with not throwing him to the wolves at school. He loves pizza and a movie night, usually Friday, and I love how he reminds us of it and takes joy in picking out a movie. He's still so little, but getting so big. 

Silas says "beedy" for really. As in: beedy hot, beedy cold, beedy good. He's putting lots of phrases together, like can I see this? and singing his abc's and counting to ten; it's the magical memorization stage.   He's all about Youtube toddler songs, playing swords with Nicky, reading books before his nap, and saying "I say" before letting us know just what he wants. He's mastered the art of being a cute scoundrel (how do toddlers know these things?). When we pray before dinner, he covers his face and whispers something like thank you for this food and then Amen! and looks around smiling. He breaks into song here and there throughout the day. Itsy Bitsy Spider, Twinkle Twinkle and BINGO are favorites. 

Little Miss loves baths these days. She and Silas have that in common; it's a source of entertainment some days. Another development: she's a squealer, especially when she sees Ricky. She's scootching around on the floor a bit more, and looking bigger too. She has two bottom teeth, holds her own bottle, and loves to stand while holding onto things. She also doesn't mess around when she wants something. The girl is loud when she wants to be. She's more of a snuggler lately. She cries to be picked up, not necessarily just because she's hungry or tired or needs something else. I love that she misses us, and how much more connected everything feels these days.

plans for Lent

Observing Lent is something I've wanted to do for several years. Here's what seems right and needful this year:

  • letting go of Facebook and Twitter. It's fairly obvious I guess--I need more time in my day and I spend a lot of time mindlessly checking them. I love keeping up with friends and laughing at witty banter, but there's a darker side too. There's a temptation to see the worst in people, and I would really like to resist that. Not sure about long term solutions, but this is a start.  
  • Reading just one blog post per day, and taking some time to reflect on it. I read a lot of blogs, and some of them are really quite profound, encouraging, and inspiring. For this season, I want to focus more on letting their messages really sink in, and maybe taking a little time to engage in conversation there, instead of just reading one after another. 
  • Reading through the whole Bible. I'm following this plan. (Life may happen, I may not finish. But I will try.) Here's why: the Bible is an old friend, but because of various readings with various lenses, I've been pretty allergic to it in recent years. I've all but thrown it across the room at times. These days, I'm learning to look at everything through the wide and generous lens of Jesus, and oh, how that helps. If something doesn't line up with the character of God as revealed to us in Jesus then I get to question it. I've been tiptoeing into this freedom for years. This Lent, I want to dive into it; to read the entire Bible through the lens of Jesus, for the first time in my life. It's kind of a celebration of this new-found freedom, and rightly so, because it's been a big deal for me. (Maybe I'll have new or different thoughts about this when I'm done; we shall see.)

I was hoping to attend an Ash Wednesday service, but we'll be watching Little Miss' big sister and another sweet girl for the evening, so that will have to happen another year.

Here we go!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Weekend Reading

So, I haven't posted any Sunday Reading links lately because I've been doing my darndest to stay off of social media on Sundays (one of my resolutions for 2013).  I do love to share posts that have meant something to me, or made me laugh, or made me cry (or even made me mad) or made me see something how about Weekend Reading instead ;-) Here we go!

I read Come Weary, and then I breathed a huge sigh of relief and cried a few grateful tears. And then I took my weary self to a patch of sunlight and prayed. There's nothing like raw honesty to draw me close to Jesus, to remind me what this is all about.

Daddy Loves You, a post for the One Good Phrase series was a simple but powerful reminder for me. I found myself whispering Mommy loves you to my littles more after reading it, and how those words calm everything down a bit.

I've been pondering the phrase love your neighbor as yourself quite a bit lately, and really liked Kathy Escobar's take on it. We do so often fall into the trap of exceptionalism.

Jamie the VWM makes me laugh, and she does it while making a really good point about the kingdom of God and getting low. And, while we're talking about her, she wrote a brave and blunt post a while back about some weird ideas concerning depression that you run into sometimes in church culture. Also, missionaries who cuss just make me happy.

There's very little that Rachel Held Evans writes that doesn't make me want to shout Amen and wave a white hanky. Her post (and the one she references) on gender roles is no exception. I love the freedom she describes; the mutual servanthood. It took Ricky and I some time and tears to shed pre-conceived expectations and just be ourselves, and our marriage has been so much better for it. Trying to be someone you're not is so depressing, so frustrating. (I may need to write about this at some point. I'd love to spend some time reflecting on what we've learned so far.)

And finally, I hope to have this attitude as I get older. (I turn 30 in a few months, and yes, I'm expecting my 30's to be better than my 20's, to really get comfy in my own skin, to say goodbye to all those constricting things that just don't fit. Yay for getting older and hopefully wiser.)

Happy weekending to you! I have big plans to mostly stay out of the wind, snuggle with my loves, make Valentines, put something involving ginger and curry in the crockpot, go out tonight (we have a babysitter!), make some plans for Lent, and get in some quality reading time. Wishing you a deep peace and joy as you do what you do. And, if any of these posts meant something (positive, negative, whatever) to you, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Saturday hike

*Little Miss had a playdate with her big sister. One of these days we'll attempt a hike with all three littles.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

another way

Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one. -F. Nietzsche

What exactly are we supposed to do with our anger? A good friend of mine once called it the healthiest emotion, which I think it certainly can be. Be angry and do not sin.

Feeling angry on a regular basis and not sinning is fairly exhausting in my own strength. Placing people into categories puts a band-aid on anger; making it easier to dismiss those with whom I disagree. Underneath, though, the wound festers.

Facebook, that great reveal-er of the human heart, helps us right along with this, doesn't it? So many broad proclamations; so many opportunities for subtle jabs. And so it goes: oh, you voted for President Obama? You must believe in abortion on demand and want to see churches stripped of their right to teach what they believe. You're a liberal elite. Obviously, you don't care about what the Bible has to say. Oh, you voted for Governor Romney? You must want all women to be barefoot and pregnant, with no agency of their own, and believe that everyone on Medicaid is lazy. You're a conservative, completely unaware of your own privilege in this society. Obviously, you don't care about the poor. (I've hyperbolized this a bit, but not too much, as you probably well know.)

My own personal Battle of the Categories has been largely internal. I feel compelled (Holy Spirit, is that you?) to let some light in. I want to see people for who they really are: a great many things.

I am thankful for the everyday prophets who call me out of the false dichotomies I have railed against and find myself slipping into. Categories make us feel safe, but they also kill any chance for relationship. In real life, people defy those categories. In real life, we have to find ways to champion justice and mercy. So many people talk about the straight and narrow road in terms of salvation, but these days I think of that phrase in terms of my interactions with other people. It is hard to be kind out in the open and in secret; not to think of anyone as ridiculous. (Because, if you hear their stories, you'll know they're not.)

My husband does something that I love: he wanders the halls at church, and talks to people. He's brave and curious enough to ask the good questions, and talk about the real things. Back when we first met, I used to think man, he makes a lot of eye contact. It's disconcerting to be noticed when you're trying to hide, but don't we all need that? He is a listener, in a world of people who just want to be heard.

Here's a thing: as I've moved from a place of struggling with the nature of God to a place of struggling with evangelical culture, as I've come closer to conclusions about questions I once didn't have answers for, I find it much easier to place people in categories. I find I've become less interested in the stories of people I don't agree with. Yikes. That needs to stop.

Here's another thing: I like having a few more answers these days. I like it that when I hear something that misrepresents who I've found God to be, a voice in my head firmly says no. There is so much more peace in my heart this way. But at the same time, I don't want to ever be comfortable with writing people off.

Something I love about Christianity, in its purest form, is that it offers another way. The only agenda we have to cling to is that of Jesus.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:34-40

(Oh, Jesus. I love you. You cut right through all the noise.)

Loving God with all my heart means I stay vulnerable, sensitive, open to the idea that I may be wrong.

Loving God with all my soul means I keep a sacred space for Him to work on me, with me, through me. It means I'm careful about what ideas about Him I let in.

Loving God with all my mind means I get to ponder, deconstruct, find the holes, imagine, and rejoice when He reveals new things to me. It means I get to grow at my own speed.

And loving my neighbor as myself? That means other people get to grow at their own speed. It means they get to protect their treasures from the harsh light, too. It means I should strive to create a safe space for them to be vulnerable. 

There's a beautiful line from one of my favorite poems: I Ask the Impossible by Ana Castillo: me as you always have:
not as admirer or judge, but with
the compassion you save for yourself in your solitude.
Admiration isn't necessary; neither is judgment. There is another way.
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