Monday, July 25, 2016

Writing Her Story

Years of weaving,
Of passing shuttles,
Of tightening strings
And approving
Divinity is pulling
Another string loose.

Pinned up patterns
Inspired by extracts
Of others’ lives,
Visions of utopia
Fantasies of prosperity,
Glamor and honor
Divinity ignites
Another to ashes.

But I take up the paints
To continue my masterpiece.
So Divinity takes up her sponge
To wash away freshly laid color.

“Not what I wanted!” I protest.
“Not what I wanted,” she replies.
“Undoing my work!” I cry.
“Doing my work,” she says.
“But what of my happiness?” I ask.
“Of what makes your happiness?” she asks.
“It all hurts too much,” I object.
“It all hurt too much,” she says.
“Then what will you do?” I submit.
“What I do,” she declares.

Then Divinity takes up her pen
And writes in my stead.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Song of Abraham

The peoples were scattered.
Their gods were many
With whims and needs to countervail.
And mankind placating
While making and begetting
To the hum of old grandfather’s tales.

“Remember two trees, 
A flood and a tower,
And a lost angry god long ago.
Remember our mother 
Banished from sanctum
For taking what all want to know."

"Remember the pelts, 
Sewn to hide shame.
Then shameless murder from spite,
Boasts of worse butchery
Declared war law
And shameless might would make right."

"Then waters rose up
Teaching fear to the clans
Dread the God and dread the gods
Who ask for blood
And ask for grain
Fear calamity they bring with the rod.

Thus lived Abram and Sari until . . .

“Abram, it is I, the god.
Leave family.
Come follow me,
And I will show you a land
Which you'll possess
And you, I'll bless.”

But when rain failed to fall
And food was scant
To Egypt they went.
That ruse turned pharaoh sour.
Lot went that way
Abram went this way.

“Abram, it is I, your god.
Here it is. 
I give you this, 
Walk its breadth and its width
Be many.
And bless every.”

Though obligation summoned him 
To rescue Lot 
Who was caught,
And kings' awarded riches as reward,
They held no sway
Over him that day.

“Abram, it is I, God.
Your protection 
And portion.
One day I will plant your children 
Here in this land
As many as the sand. 

“This is my promise. This is my oath.
In four hundred
Years ahead.
First slavery and sin must mature,
Then a blessed nation 
through you, be sure.”

Now for problem solving
To make an heir for old ones
A substitute womb 
A baby a coming
stirs up the family peace.
But their God is a God who sees all.
Ishmeal will testify to God’s hearing
The cries of his mother in flight.

“Abraham, it is I, God Almighty.
Not in Ishmael is the promise
Though you love him.
Be faithful and blameless and circumcise
And soon from Sarah’s womb will come
The child to make you a great nation.”

Three visitors as guests to call 
Attention to Sarah’s unavailability
Confined to the tent for a chance bleeding
Laughter in doubt of fertility.

Thereafter, an encore of deception
For fear that his God is not theirs
Husband-brother, wife-sister
Brought to light through pagan’s dreams
Which prove gods are not equal to God.

On with the story
With Isaac a footnote
And Ishmael and Hagar exiled
But not beyond God’s eyes
Which watched the boy survive
And saw Abraham’s well being dug.

“Abraham, it is I, God above all.
Show me that you love me
Not my promises,
And I will show you I am God
Of great and small.
I command the nations 
And the cosmos
And I provide the lamb for today.”

That God of old was unfurling
The banner over Abraham for all
One day to see
How that God was pleased
To love and draw love
From you and me.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Son is Smarter Than Your Son

My friend’s son knows how to tell time. And he knows all the names of the dinosaurs at the Discovery Science Center. He knows his alphabet both by sound and sight. And I think he can count up to a hundred. He is three.

The girls in Lee’s preschool know how to match Ff to the picture of the fish and Hh to the picture of the hippo. Who knows, maybe they also know how to match the Kk to the picture of the knife. They write their names so neatly and color within the lines.

And I start to scramble for important things to teach my children at home since I’ve taken Lee out of preschool. I take an afternoon to teach Lee how to enter my iphone’s emergency mode and call 911. We do a practice call to the police department and I realize Lee doesn’t know his address. We review that for a day by walking up and down the block pointing at the address numbers painted on the curb. 

I print out the food pyramid one afternoon when Lee refuses to eat his meat. We name the trees and plants when we take walks. He notices the mention of Mrs. Woodhouse and Emma on my Jane Austin’s Emma audio CD that I listen to in the car, and he says, “That’s the same as baby Emma.” I feel my heart swell as I think, “Aha! My son is so intelligent.”

It goes on and on. Here I am stuck halfway between a frenzy that my son is behind and a self-gratifying pride because my son knows things that other children don’t. I suppose he and I will remain in this condition forever: not quite as good as some but better than others. 

And I don’t know that we gain anything by placing ourselves here again and again. I am great! I’m behind. I’m great! I’m behind. This mindset leads me into an unending attempt at achievement. It is never enough. It always wants more. It is never content at being. It is always searching for others that aren’t quite as good so as to bolster my own feelings of superior parenting.

What is important? What is the most important thing to teach a child?

“Your son will have no shortage of knowledge as an adult,” I told my friend, the father of the three-year-old.

“Yes, but wisdom is another matter,” he replied.

Yes, I thought. But can someone teach their child wisdom? The right thing to do in the right situation? 

Certainly, the aim of that goal alters the focus of my teaching. The moments of discipline become far more important than the lessons on world geography. My extra efforts to explain to the children how I expect them to behave at a store or at a friend’s house are not tedious drudgery but the primary goal. My lessons on how to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you to relatives and guests are lessons in graciousness. My turning off the stove and leaving my pot to cool in order to play judge between my children in the other room is the most important lesson they’ll learn that day—unless this is the fourth squabble they’ve had, then it is the fourth most important lesson that day. 

If wisdom is my daily aim, I am more at peace with the interruptions and less threatened by other children’s superior intelligence. 

And if I am to encourage my children to continually seek after wisdom, I must direct their attention to the source of wisdom who can provide the right action to a million situations in my children’s lives that I shall never experience or understand. I must show them how to join hands with wisdom and confess a higher power than their own. Only then can wisdom be grasped and pride defeated. 

That would be the greatest lesson of all to teach my children. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tough Bible Questions About Genesis 1-11

I have been studying Genesis lately. And through studying, I’ve been finding answers to questions that have puzzled me. With the aide of John Walton’s NIV Application Commentary, I’d like to present some of the answers that have made sense to me.

Question 1 based on Genesis 2-3: If God, being all-knowing, knew that Adam and Eve were going to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the first place, why did God put it there? Isn’t that rather like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit’s face?

An Answer: Yes. That would seem so. But what if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t a tree at all, but the symbol used to describe what kind of life God offered Adam and Eve in the garden. “You may live in this garden with me, and I will teach you day by day about what is good and what is evil. Or you may choose to try to understand what is good and evil without me. I’m telling you now, don’t try it that way. That way leads to death.” The tree, though perhaps also a physical tree to Adam and Eve, represents the unique gift of freewill given to mankind. And when creatures are given freewill, they have the option to choose a life without God. Adam and Eve chose to try living without God.

Question 2 based on Genesis 4: What was so wrong about Cain’s sacrifice?

An Answer: Who knows? Theories exist that try to answer that question, but the text doesn’t. What the text does say is how Cain allows sin to take mastery over him so that he kills his brother and doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. Cain seems to be the first example post-fall of how mankind’s idea of right and wrong is falling apart. Without a relationship with God, Cain is ruled by sin and its desires. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7  ESV). Instead of ruling and subduing, mankind is being ruled by sin and its desires.

Question 3 based on Genesis 4-6: What was so bad about mankind that God decided to wipe them out with a flood? 

An Answer: Wouldn’t we like to know. Unfortunately the bible has more to say about God’s remedy to mankind’s sin, then he does the sin. However Genesis does tell us: 
  1. That people were bragging about how bad they were as seen through Lamech’s boast to his wives about killing a man (Genesis 4:23-24)
  2. And that sin became institutionalized when the leaders, i.e. the strongest men, set a behavioral example by taking any woman they wanted. This was a society where the men of renown decided that whatever they wanted was good.  There is no fear of punishment or of the Lord. (Genesis 6:1-5)

Question 4 based on Genesis 6: But to kill everyone on earth except Noah, isn’t that a bit harsh? Why not just kill all the major perpetrators?

An Answer: If the pre-flood backwards way of thinking—“I can choose for myself what is good and evil without fear of punishment”—had penetrated all parts of society, men, women, young, old, then no one was innocent. I think the flood was a way of showing mankind that God isn’t one to just let sin go unpunished. In addition to this, the flood freed everyone from this oppressive life, both the oppressors who were enslaved to their appetites, and the oppressed who would be stuck repeating the injustices done to them to their children.

Question 5 based on Genesis 6:6-7: If God regretted that he’d made mankind, why’d he do it in the first place? Didn’t he know this was going to happen?

Answer: John Walton argues that no English word exists for this regret that God is expressing. He says it is most like an imbalance in accounting. Sin is always balanced by justice or grace. At the time of the flood the scales were out of balance and God was putting the scales back into balance.

Question 6 based on Genesis 9: What was so bad about Ham seeing his father, Noah, naked? Did that really amount to a curse?

Answer: “To uncover his father’s nakedness” is a phrase used in Leviticus 20:11 to describe a man sleeping with his mother. Thus, when Ham saw his father naked, he may have seen both his parents in a drunken state after making love. Ham’s wickedness was to invite his brothers to look at and sleep with their naked mother. That was why Ham’s brothers walked into the tent backwards; so that they wouldn’t see their mother naked. And the curse that Noah put on Ham’s descendants wasn’t necessarily a curse from God, but rather an expression of Noah’s anger at learning what his youngest son had done. That curse also happens to foreshadow the fate of Ham’s descendants. 

Question 7 based on Genesis 11: What was so bad about building a tower and wanting to make a name for themselves? And what was the point of mixing up their languages?

Answer: The building of the Tower of Babel was the establishment of bad religion. The tower was a way of seeing to God’s needs so that mankind could draw upon God’s power to serve them as they wished. This was a way of humanizing God. John Walton gathers this information from ancient studies of the time and culture surrounding the ziggurat towers. The sin wasn’t necessarily about making themselves great, but the depravity that would come about through this established false view of God. “If they do this, no depth of depravity will be beyond them” (Abby’s translation of Genesis 11:6). Confusing their speech, while it didn’t stop future civilization from giving their gods human traits, did make thousands, or perhaps, millions of different versions of what those gods were like. Perhaps—and this is Abigail Steven’s talking here not John Walton—perhaps confusing their languages stopped mankind from deciding what the ultimate God was like and instead caused mankind to make up what their gods (little “g” and plural) were like. 

Question 8: Why does the God of Genesis seem like he’s just reprimanding people left and right for things that don’t seem to be that big of a deal?

Answer: Obviously what God thinks is bad is different than from what we think is bad. What God addresses in Genesis—Adam and Eve’s taking the fruit, Cain’s murder, mankind’s choice of right and wrong, and Babel’s bad religion—tells us something about God. It tells us what God saw as being detrimental to mankind: our disregard for sin and our inaccurate view of him. While you and I may think that killing is the worst possible treatment of mankind (as seen in the flood), God doesn’t. It seems that God is saying that what happens to our physical bodies isn’t as bad as what can happen to our minds. 

In Genesis we see how mankind decided to learn good and evil without God and how that choice destroyed our relationship with God. Without that relationship, civilizations view of right and wrong went to the dogs and with it, their right view of what God was like. Thus, God planned to reveal himself to us, and more specifically through the people of Israel.