Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Plot Thickens...




Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.  Genesis 16:1-6

When I read the passage above one of the first words to leap off the page is: ten years.  And all the readers of the blog said, "Really?  that is what is most interesting to you?  Oooookay."  I know that is a perhaps an interesting detail to focus on in this strange...not often discussed in our churches today passage, but stay with me.  Let's see the forest for the trees and remind ourselves of Abram's adventure.  Abram leaves his home, takes a leap of faith without nary a question or request for a destination from God.  Abram continues to trust in God but eventually finds his voice to ask God, "Um, could you let me know more about this 'child' you keep promising us?"  So God shows Abram the stars and reiterates the promise.  And then...10 years!  Is this really the way we expect God to act?  Especially in a world of text messaging and fast food diets and frenzied pace life...it taking God ten looooooong years to make good on the promise to Abram. 

And then, just to be clear, it is NOT even Sarai who gets pregnant.  I try really hard to be faithful to God.  I try hard to listen to the wisdom of waiting and the sacred practice of patience.  You can talk to me all about God's time as different from human time.  But still...10 years!  I am so with Sarai and Abram on this issue.  I know it was really Ben Franklin who said, "God helps those who help themselves" in 1757 Poor Richard's Almanac...but if God tells me something is going to happen, I can wait a day...a week...even a couple of month.  But at some point, my impatience takes over, I rationalize and justify that God must be waiting for me and I will take matters into my own hands.

Of course, when I do, I like Abram and Sarai, I can end up putting the "fun" in dysfunction!  And to be sure this is one love triangle juicier than any soap opera I would watch with my grandmother growing up.  You would almost mistake this for something from Prime Time television.  Sarai gives Abram permission to have 'relations' with her servant, Hagar.  And when Hagar conceives, Hagar looks down on Sarai.  And this awakens anger, maybe embarrassment or feelings of inadequacy, in Sarai.  So, she orders Abram to send Hagar away, but suddenly he does not want to be involved, which is oh so human!  It is complicated and reminds us that our choices have consequences.  And those consequences are most poignant in our relationships.

We can let all sorts of people or jobs or addictions become our "affairs" within our life today, breaking fidelity with those we love and care most about.  But there is actually something very important going on here.  Hagar plays more than just "the other woman" role in religion.  Our Islamic brothers and sisters trace their connection back to Abram/Abraham back through Hagar and Abram's child.  And to be clear here, there is plenty of blame to go around in this narrative.  No one is innocent and no one character should have all the fingers pointed at him/her.  Each shows what can help when we make an idol out of power or out of wanting a family or trying to force our agenda upon others.  One of the many complex and complicated reasons we turn to the idols in life is because of the promises they make us.  Instant gratification, no obligations, no rules.  Just sip or shop or have no-strings attached sex.  Andy Crouch says that all idols promise us power/fulfillment without any responsibility or accountability on our part.  And Abram and Sarai fall prey to the idol of self-reliance and sufficiency; soon realize the full weight of brokenness.

While there are many different ways to wrap up this passage, what lingers for me are two questions:
How am doing right now with waiting?
Are there competing voices in my life asking me to compromise or bow down, make an idol for the sake of my own appearance?

If I can be honest and open about my responses, I trust that there will be more than a trace of God's grace found in offering my thoughts to God and then listening for God's response!

Blessings ~

p.s.  One other note...notice that this particular passage never mentions God.  Not when Sarai hands over Hagar....not when Abram says "Okay"...not when Hagar conceives...not when Sarai gets mad...not when Abram wants to be all hands off...not one mention.  Maybe that should tell us something as well.

Monday, May 19, 2014

In the Still of the Night

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”  Genesis 15

Okay...not exactly the kind of night time conversation most of us want to have with God.  In fact, a case could be made that what God is saying to Abram is a bit of a nightmare.  Seconds after showing Abram a star-filled night...twinkling and bright...happy with the promise that Abram's family tree will one day grow and blossom...God's words take a troubling turn.  God talks about how Abram's family will face hardship...be oppressed...and Abram will die eventually.  I think these are all topics that keep US up at night.

We face financial hardships at 3 am...we worry about our family in the middle of the night...and we confront our own mortality as we await test results and doctor's phone calls.  If you are ever in a hospital in the middle of the night, when the lights are low and the squeak of nurse's shoes echo off the shiny tile floors; in the midst of the silence often there are a few rooms where the light are on.  Often that person...like Abram...is wrestling with God about the strife of life.  

Barbara Brown Taylor has recently written a book about embracing the night time of our souls.  She makes compelling arguments that all the artificial light we have surrounded ourselves cause us to miss the blessings of night time and darkness.  There is a peacefulness to night.  There are blessings that can only be found in the cycles of the moon.  There are truths that only being in complete, cannot see your hands in front of your face, kind of darkness.  Part of the reason why night is such a helpful teacher is it opens us to our own vulnerability without really being dangerous.  But we don't teach our children how to be comfort with night...believing the stories of fear from the news and clinging to our leftover fears from childhood...and we never quite grow comfortable with being in the moments when our eyes cease to be the dominate sense.

Part of the reason why God shows up so often at night in the Bible is that is when we are most likely to have our guard down.  It is the time when we enter into the thin place between productivity and rest; thin place between conscience and unconsciousness; the thin place between being completely in control and vulnerability.  I invite you to pay attention this week to that thin place.  Barbara Brown Taylor especially names dusk as an important time.  That happens to be the time I am writing this.  So, if you will excuse me, I am going to go outside and seek to be open to the trace of God's grace that might be found in this moment...if I am willing to slow down; stop typing and being "productive"; and simply trust in the God who called both day and NIGHT good!

Blessings ~

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Promises


After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.  Genesis 15:1-6

First a confession...I realize I skipped over chapter 14 where Abram has his Braveheart moment and says, "They will never take our freedom!!!"  Chapter 14 reminds us wars and battles have been a part of our human culture since our begins and that truth breaks my heart.  But other than those two thoughts, I feel a bit like Forest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."  So rather than my shortest blog post ever, I decided to spend some time with chapter 15 in two posts.

First, I want to deal with the passage above...then in the next post move onto the the rest of the verses in chapter 15.  What I love about these six verses is Abram is finally finding his voice with God.  Remember, when God initially said, "Go" to Abram, he had no response.  He just packed up everything he owned and started wandering aimlessly.  But now, when God comes to tell Abram that everything is going to be fine and dandy...Abram offers a protest.

"Look God," Abram essentially says, "I have left my home, my feet are sore, life is not exactly working out hunky dory around here...I could use a little help...and by the way that child you promised still has yet to materialize."  How incredibly honest!  I have to say I admire Abram.  On the other hand, I am not sure I could do that.  Somewhere along the line, I was taught my conversations with God needed to be controlled by my "company manners".  You know, the way your parents would tell you to act when company was coming over.  You had to put on a nice shirt, wash your hair AND behind your ears AND sit there as the boring adults talked about boring things and not make a peep.  And in some ways the church has often re-enforced this message.  On Sunday mornings we still practice company manners.  We put on our nice shirt, wash our hair AND behind our ears AND sit there as some boring pastor...okay wait that got a little too close to home.

I know people crave authenticity in worship and want to be honest, but at first it can feel like we are swimming against a strong current telling us otherwise...don't say that to God.  Many churches today are interested in giving us a "Spiritual High" and Sunday mornings seem to be about us all acting like "shiny happy people holding hands" (to quote the REM song of my youth).  But let's face it...some Sundays we don't feel like that.  I don't want to say, "Yeah God!  You are so awesome and great."  I want to say, "Why God?  Why is life so hard?  When is this stress gonna exit my shoulders and stop causing my stomach to hurt?  What am I supposed to do?"  

Like Abram in those times...I long for/crave God's reassurance and to be steeped in God's promise.  And the truth is in that moment of struggle/wrestling, I also need to be reminded that it was NOT the next morning when Sarai found out she was pregnant.  It will still be CHAPTERS before we get to that.  God's promises don't play according to our timelines or deadlines.  God's time moves in ways that are slower.  And I think for us to hear God's still speaking voice we need to slow down to God's pace...not expect God to keep up with us.  God moves at a savory pace.  

Recently, I was at our local gardens.  The great thing about wandering around a garden is you have to take your time.  Every inch...every millimeter... holds more wonder than you can ever fully take in.  So, I went slow, trying to soak in the smells of fragrance and sights of color.  Just on the other side of the wall cars were zooming past, hurrying to get somewhere...inside the walls I was trying to soak in the beauty of creation and God's handiwork.  What if church was more like a garden?  What if our call in church is not to be as LOUD as possible, but as quiet and slow and aware and awake as possible?  What would worship look like in that kind of setting?  

What if that kind of worship...slow...aware...and awake...is how we are called to live our life from the rising of the sun to the moment the twinkling stars shine forth?  I think then we might be open to the traces of God's grace in our lives too...and the movement of God's promises as well.

blessings ~ 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Family Dynamics



Abram and Sarai leave Egypt along with Lot, who is Abram's nephew.  We don't know what happened to Abram's brother or why Lot is living/traveling with them; only that he is.  They go down to Egypt together, they trick Pharaoh together into thinking Sarai was Abram's sister, and they leave Egypt together.  But a few miles down the road, they decide to separate.

Not that this should surprise us.  We've all been on family vacations together.  You know how it goes.  You start off all excited and happy with each other.  Singing songs or playing the alphabet game.  Then, somewhere along the way, the children saying, "Are we there yet?" and the spilled juice and the arguing and the weariness of being away from home and the strain of traveling all snowball and you lose your cool.  Or maybe that is just me?

Family dynamics are part of life.  Our connections to others through our DNA and our relationships can at times be the most amazing blessing.  Other times, those ties that bind us chaff us and leave our skin (and souls) feeling raw and throbbing.  We are barely one chapter into Abram's story.  And already we experience a moment of brokenness.  We all know that the number of cows or cash or wealth or anything else does not matter when families fight.  And while the Bible makes the split seem amicable and even polite...we've all been there too.  We put on a happy face for Thanksgiving dinner with Uncle Joey...only to fume all the way home in the car.  When our families spit through divorce, through death, through decisions made to cut the ties that bind...it is painful.

And in the midst of that pain, God re-affirms God's connection and promise that Abram will have off-spring.  It is one of those comforting words we say to each other.  "Don't worry, Abram, even if Lot sulks off.  He was not going to inherit your land anyway.  In fact, your offspring will be more numerous than the grains of sand at your feet."  I will deal with these last verses in my next post...but for now I want you to ponder prayerfully where your family connections are at?  Where do you feel secure and blessed by those you are connected with through DNA?  Where are there tensions and events you don't talk about?  

As you offer these to God, may you sense God's promise and love just Abram did long along in the midst of our relationships (those broken and whole).

blessings ~