Monday, September 24, 2012

Players Get Played

So we follow Jacob into his adventure, fleeing the wrath of his elder brother.
This is when Jacob falls in luuuuuuv with the girl herding sheep. Her name is Rachel. She is described as “graceful and beautiful” (29:17). Jacob liked her so much upon seeing her he “rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban” (29:31).
Something I didn’t know: wells were meet-up places back then. Like Starbucks.  
According to the footnotes in my Oxford English Bible, this scene is a big deal. Jacob was impressively strong (which isn’t what I pictured up until this point, but that’s OK). He’s being studly for Rachel.
As women we will get you into trouble. And consequently Jacob made a mistake: he used his own brute strength to impress Rachel, fell in love with her beauty, but didn’t thank God for carrying him safely on this journey (Constable 197).
So Jacob likes Rachel (who is his cousin but that’s OK for this point in history). And he enters into an agreement with Uncle Laban regarding marrying his daughter. Back then it was customary to make a deal with the father regarding “I-will-work-for-you-for-a-certain-length-of-time-and-then-you-will-give-me-your-daughter”.
And from research it appears seven years was quite a deal which means only one thing: Jacob didn’t want Laban to refuse him. And Laban, being a bit crafty himself, decided to take advantage of Jacob, who has fallen hopelessly, madly in love with the beautiful woman.
You remember what happens next from Sunday school back in the day: Laban pulls a switch, and her name is Leah, Rachel’s older sister, who is described as having “lovely” eyes. “Lovely” apparently translates to “uncertain” (198).
And that’s all we hear about Leah’s appearance.
Regardless, the plan is brilliant: this switch only works because of the custom of the veil, because brides wore a veil upon being in their husband’s presence. So because Jacob COULDN’T SEE his bride, he was tricked, just like his father was tricked because he COULDN’T SEE his son (Constable 199).
You cannot convince me God doesn’t keenly appreciate irony.
As a kid I remember this story being about patience which paints Jacob as some sort of victim and Laban as the nemesis. And patience is a legitimate theme: Jacob had to be patient and work another seven years to get what his eyes fell in love with at the well that day.
But don’t feel too bad for Jacob: essentially the player got played. And there is a part of me which loves Jacob got what he deserved, albeit it is at the expense of two blameless parties.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sins of the Parents

It’s important to start from the beginning with Jacob’s father, Isaac, and his mother, Rebekah.
So Rebekah was barren, an interesting theme which comes up often in the Old Testament. Personally, I see it as a symbol for wanting something so badly your heart breaks for it. But then she gets pregnant, and receives this highly disturbing message from God:
“Two nations are in your womb,
And two peoples born of you shall be divided
The one shall be stronger than the other,
The elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
And so here we begin with God telling of the conflict which shall arise in their household: sibling rivalry.
Jacob shall rule over Esau. This goes against traditional inheritance, with the oldest child getting more than the younger and running the estate.
The twins were quite different. Jacob was “a quiet man, living in tents”. Esau was “fond of game (and his father favored him); but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:27).
So do we see the problem? This might be the first parenting lesson in the Bible: don’t play favorites.
There isn’t a list of “he said/ she said” grievances in this story. But the statement about preferences tells me stuff happened, more than just Esau trading his birthright for a bowl of stew to his brother, and then later a whole drama where Jacob pretends to be his brother while serving his father, which, by the way, was good ole Mom’s idea.
Thanks Rebekah.
So after the whole “let-me-get-some-animal-skins-and-pretend-to-be-hairy-to-impress-Dad-with-my-stew-I-didn’t-make-but-mom-did” event, Esau gets pretty peeved. As in homicidal mad because he loses out on a blessing intended for him, but was given to his brother. So Mom intervenes and tells Jacob to go visit relatives.

There’s more to this part of the story. It paints Esau as not so bright in allowing his rights as the oldest son to be sold for food and it foreshadows some events later in regards to “Israel’s domination of Edom during the time of David and Solomon” (Constable 46). I’ve read commentary stating that Esau really didn’t want his birthright anyway for a variety of reasons as well.
But for now that doesn’t matter: Jacob took advantage of his brother, perhaps out of a need to be loved and favored by his father, which is tragic.

So anyway, Jacob gets out of dodge and goes to visit Laban, his uncle. And because Mom blamed Jacob’s sister-in-law for this mess, Jacob is commanded by his father not to marry a woman from Canaan. Consequently, Esau finds out, and because he discovered “the Canaanite women did not please his father” (Genesis 28:7), he took another wife from Nebaioth.

What we will do to win a parent’s approval.
So now we have a son running for his life because his mother desperately wanted him to receive a blessing which wasn’t rightfully his to receive and a man taking a second wife because he thought the first one didn’t please his father.
And this is only the beginning, friends. 
(Special thanks to Dr. John Constable and the use of his Sonic Light notes regarding Genesis.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jacob, Wordiness, and Michael Hyatt

My students read The Poisonwood Bible this summer and we were talking about the significance of names in the novel, specifically Rachel and Leah.
Of course they didn’t know about Rachel and Leah.
Honestly, the whole Jacob and Esau and Rachel and Leah and Laban hexagon of a traffic accident of a Bible story isn’t my favorite. There’s simply too much drama for my taste and it makes me very nervous.  
Nevertheless, the lessons are pretty good. And with the help of some writing I did last summer, I am committing to you, right now, to publish six days in a row this week on the subject of six really important lessons Jacob teaches us via his own not-so-funny comedy of errors.
In fewer than 500 words per entry as well, and here's why:
I’m reading Michael Hyatt’s book Platform and he’s saying brevity is good for blogging and 500 words should be a maximum for any entry. It makes sense. You people don’t have time to listen to me blabber on with your busy lives and reality television. That being said, I’m averaging over 700 words an entry, so I will be trimming down thirty percent.
We’ll see. That’s all I’m saying on the subject right now. Although there is some useful information in the book, I’m not 100 percent drinking the Kool-Aid because he also doesn’t advocate sophisticated language, which, in my opinion, is insulting to the reader. We complain about illiteracy and intellectual sloth in this country, but yet we’re advocating dumbing down language in writing? How do we expect people to educate themselves in the utilization of quality vocabulary if it isn’t presented in context? Talk about a fallacy in logic I cannot fathom.
 Granted Hyatt was the president of the seventh largest publishing company in America, and he is an expert in the field of selling books. That isn’t debatable. I just disagree with his philosophy on language and turning people off by using it.
Of course this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Anyway, after one tangent, I have said all I need to say. And I’m only at 354 words. Impressive, right? So come back tomorrow for the first installment of Days of Our Biblical Lives to learn about the first lesson of life of life via Jacob (in less than 500 words).

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Molding Me

NOTE: I am discussing a concept from a book I haven't read. This is because said book hasn't been released yet. I have no idea if this is the meaning behind Mr. Thomas' book or not, so if I'm out in left field and come across as two sandwiches short of a picnic, don't blame him and still read his book because Gary Thomas is THE MAN!

But you should still read my blog because people who are two sandwiches short of a picnic are frequently highly amusing! 

Gary Thomas has a new book coming out in January. Sacred Search, written to the unmarried crowd, basically deals with this question: what if it’s not about who you marry but why?

This idea has been rolling around in my head for about six months now.

Not about *who* but *why* . . .

I don’t spout opinions about marriage because I’m not married. And I don’t think about marriage much because if I did I might discover I really want to be married and then I’d have to put forth some effort, i.e. finding a dude to marry, who can handle that I am bossy, and messy, and chatty, and can hear everything, and take things far too personally, and procrastinate, and sometimes border on irresponsible. I also lose my patience with the snide, the hypercritical, the angry, the moralistic, and people who think they know everything because, after all, don’t they know I KNOW EVERYTHING???

Oh, and I completely flip out if I feel controlled on any level. And although I don’t like flipping out, it will happen inevitably. Good luck with that.

And for someone as extraverted as I appear, I really am so much of an introvert communication regarding anything which matters is incredibly difficult.

And I’m this weird combination of liberal and conservative most people don’t “get”. And when I vote, I have this personal litmus test for candidates, which doesn’t really value platforms (another topic for another day, my friends). And I don’t care to argue about it either. I don’t like to argue because I want people to like me far too much.  

Oh, and I don’t want to be bothered for about an hour after I get home from work. And don’t initiate discussions with me regarding anything irritating between the hours of nine in the evening and seven in the morning. It simply is not safe.

I am shocked and appalled at my awfulness upon proofing the above. But I think it’s pretty accurate, except I’m also funny and kind and generally patient and hard-working and giving and not particularly materialistic and slow to anger and above and beyond helpful and concerned for people in addition to all the other crap. 

Plus, at times, I am suspicious I might be incredibly brilliant.  

It’s a package deal my friends. This is because I’m human.

So basically, what I’m getting out of this concept is in a marriage both people are bringing in a mountain of “stuff”—good, bad, and otherwise. The sacrifice is both parties have to learn to deal with the other’s “stuff”—good, bad, and otherwise. The benefit is gaining the companionship of someone who is willing to deal with your “stuff”—good, bad, and otherwise.

At least in theory, anyway—I’m assuming the system isn’t perfect.

Now granted, I haven’t read the book because it hasn’t come out yet, but the whole idea is just something I haven’t considered, well, ever, in regards to marriage. I’ve just always assumed it would be incredibly difficult for me to be married because I’m not perfect, a fact which isn’t thrilling, and since everyone seems to have it far more together, they have perfect marriages and relationships with ease.

I, on the other hand, shouldn’t even try because I would fail. And I can’t fail because I just simply don’t like the idea I’m not perfect, because, after all, everyone else is.

At least that was the lie which tumbled in my head for many, many years.

A while back I was talking to a friend about the book of Ruth. She said it possessed advice on so many things, including dating and relationships. For a while I disagreed with the statement because personally I can’t get behind the whole threshing floor scenario (again, another story for another day my friends), but maybe that isn’t the advice embedded in the book of Ruth. Maybe it’s bigger.

The reality is Ruth needed a “kinsmen redeemer” in her circumstance. And so do I. Maybe I need to be neater, more responsible, develop a level of assertiveness, and a sense of what I value beyond the values of the group. Maybe I need to learn to accept people for who they are, as opposed to feeling offended for how they've offended my sense of value. Self improvement for the sake of another person would be painful, but a stagnant life isn’t what God intends for us.

And now, more than ever, I am confident love is a greater picture than a giddy feeling or a jolt of sheer electricity as he runs his hand down your back . . . that, my friends, is hormones. 

Or static electricity. Sometimes it's hard to tell. 

I’m not saying I’m confident marriage is in God’s plan for me. I’m just saying at 38 the idea isn’t quite as daunting as before. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Paul Simon and John the Baptist

I discovered a book I plan to read. And in reading its The New York Times review, I came across an interesting passage:
“When you are motivated by fear, you are not able to see the best path—whether in death or in life.” – Gene O’Kelly Chasing Daylight
Matthew thirteen is an interesting story of what Presbyterian Minister Matthew Henry calls “the terror and reproach of conscience”. King Herod deserted his wife for another woman. John the Baptist told him this was not appropriate, or, more specifically, not “lawful”. Consequently, John the Baptist was jailed.
Here’s what I find interesting: Herod was concerned with John the Baptist’s thoughts on his behavior.
If he perceived John the Baptist as some whackjob who lived in the wilderness, eating locust and honey, preaching about repentance and end of days, while randomly dunking people, he wouldn’t care whether the guy approved of his relationship with Herodias, who happened to be the wife of his brother. The prophet could very easily be dismissed because he wasn’t exactly assimilated into common society.
But Herod didn’t dismiss him. Instead, Herod was haunted by the statement.
Why else would a great ruler have this man from the outskirts of the desert jailed? Herod knew he was dealing with a prophet.  And Herod was aware of his own mortality, something he thought was not apparent to anyone but himself.
I’m not a big believer in 21st century judgments on first century events. And I don’t like arguing about the existence of God. In the words of Donald Miller, “Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”
That basically sums up my feelings regarding conversations on intellectual apologetics. However, my point is this: the mere fact Herod was spooked by a prophet so far from the archetype speaks volumes to the underlying feeling of the time. This was real. And many people in the establishment knew, even if they refused to acknowledge it. From what I’ve read in scholarship, I am convinced the reason why John the Baptist was merely jailed as opposed to killed initially was Herod’s fear of both the community who knew he was a prophet, and his own conviction he would be responsible for killing the prophet.
There is this line in the song Sounds of Silence:
"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and in tenement halls."
Every time I hear it, I think of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was eventually beheaded, in this bizarre arrangement regarding his girlfriend’s daughter, a dance, and a promise. His head was served up in this macabre arrangement and delivered to the young lady, who requested it under the encouragement of her mother. (This wasn’t an unheard of event, by the way. Nero would later deliver his wife’s head to a girlfriend, after falsely accusing the wife of adultery so he could get out of the marriage.)
Again, I have to ask why. Granted, these were violent times and human life wasn’t quite as sacred as it is today, but if Herod did not find John the Baptist credible, he would either kill him or disregard him immediately.
The delay means he had to know.
Christianity turns the Roman establishment on its ear. The Julio-Claudian emperors thought of themselves as gods, which meant blasphemy and treason were exclusive of one another.
The emperor would have no clothes. And everyone could finally say it.
So of course Herod wanted John the Baptist dead. The prophet was a threat to the comfort of the establishment.
To really have faith means facing these moments of crisis and acting in obedience, as opposed to pride or in a reaction to fear. What if Herod had instead repented? How fast would civilization emerge into something else just by one conversion?
Instead he is just Herod, the man who had John the Baptist executed, under really strange circumstances.
Something to consider . . .

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Just Don't be a Weed

Jesus spoke in parables. Often and constantly. Easily this could be used against Him by the narrow-minded or the interesting selection of the universe which is both not very smart and kind of evil all at the same time.
Regardless, as a teacher, I totally get the purpose of speaking in parables. He’s taking an abstract concept and giving it concrete terms for the purpose of understanding.
Jesus was “user-friendly” 2,000 years before “user-friendly” was even a trend!
And the parables are good and complicated. My personal favorite in chapter thirteen is the one about the weeds:
 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
Obviously, He’s saying repent because the end is near. Don’t be in the bundles of what is thrown into the fire. This was always Jesus’ first century message because the world was pretty rotten—still is actually. But I got something else out of it as well:
There will always be weeds among us. Someone evil planted them in the dark of night when no one was watching. One could argue we are all weeds on some level, and even the best of us create a little havoc periodically. But really we should try and not be a weed.
This is conceivably our entire purpose in the universe: above all else, just don’t be weeds.
Weeds serve absolutely no good purpose, except to symbolize evil in this analogy. It’s amazing how one can become a hundred just over night. And even when pulled, if weeds are not destroyed they will re root themselves wherever thrown.
I’m not joking. Try it. Pull a weed. Leave it in your flower bed. See what happens in a couple of days. It is freaky.
Some weeds are attractive. When I was a kid we’d pick flowering weeds and give them to my mom. She’d smile and thank us for so proudly bringing her weeds, and she’d place them in a jelly jar in water in the same place she’d put the vase of flowers my dad would send her periodically.
He was always trying to compete with our weeds.  
Don’t be fooled by pretty weeds. It’s a trick they’ve learned through experience. Attractive on the surface, most of the time they can just be weeds and no one removes them from the metaphorical garden, which is probably one of the biggest problems in our society: we value beauty over, well, everything else.
Another problem for another day, my friends. Above all else just remember not to be weeds, OK?
Uproot YOURSELF in circumstances with weeds. Banish them. Let them hang out in someone else’s garden. Perhaps the garden of another WEED would be lovely. If “we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20), we don’t have time to fool with the weeds on any level other than removal. And weeds multiply. They suck the life out of whatever is around them. They destroy good fruit, or at minimum, thwart growth potential.
And to close, remember your mind is a garden. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
“Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.”
This is just a fancy way of saying not to be a weed. And I like it because it is true.