The Reflectionary – Week of September 22, 2019

Text: Jeremiah 18:1-6

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

Reflection

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to throw pottery, so for Christmas that year, I was gifted with the opportunity to take a six-week pottery class at a local studio. It quickly turned into an enjoyable hobby as I ventured out from making simple bowls, plates, and mugs to things like Communion sets, teapots, and casserole dishes. There is something quite pleasant, even meditative, about running your hands over the clay as it spins on the wheel.

But in those first few weeks of learning, one of the things that caught me by surprise was how much force I needed to use to get the clay centered on the wheel. You can’t begin shaping your vessel until the clay is centered. And in order to get it centered, you have to use lots of pressure. You have to use the strength of your whole body. You have to have a steady hand.

Sometimes, it was easy for me to get a lump of clay centered. But sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it took me longer, for reasons unknown to me. Maybe it was just me, maybe it was the clay. Some days were just that way.

In this segment of Jeremiah, the prophet goes down to the potter’s house, who is at work on his wheel, creating vessels of all kinds. As Jeremiah watches, he sees the potter push down and reshape a pot he is working on. Potters do this all the time. Sometimes a vessel just doesn’t get shaped the way the potter intends. In my pottery class, we would often laugh together that the clay has a mind of its own some days. I’ve had mugs that have decided they actually wanted to be bowls, bowls that have become plates, and sometimes even teapots that decided they are best turned back into a slab of clay to be reused at another time. As I do not have the skill of a master potter, I would simply let the clay become whatever it wanted to be.

In this passage, God calls Israel clay in his hands. Israel can be re-shaped, re-fashioned. The story of Israel, in fact, is the story of a shaping of a people – a people called by God to be a part of a covenant. It is a story of a continual re-shaping, as the clay attempts to become something other than the Master Potter’s desired intentions. God, the potter, continually re-works the vessel. But notice that the potter never throws the lump of clay away. He doesn’t toss it aside in anger or frustration. He just keeps on re-working it, helping it take the desired shape.

There are at least two things I hope you can hear clearly in this text.

First – this is a story about the people of Israel – the people of the covenant. That covenant is never revoked by God. The Church does not replace or supersede the people of Israel. Our Jewish brothers and sisters continue to be a people of the covenant, clay in the potter’s hands.

Second – this is also a story about us – the people of the new covenant through Christ. God continually shapes us. God never tosses us aside in anger or frustration. He just keeps tossing water on us, and with the gentle pressure of his hands, he keeps re-working us, helping us to take the desired shape – as individuals and as a community.

Being a potter is a messy business. You get covered in clay, in water. They clay gets under your nails and all over your clothes. It can stain your hands. God is our Master Potter. He gets down in our mess and continually reshapes us – sometimes patiently and gently, sometimes more forcefully, but always with care and skill. The Master Potter never throws us aside or declares us to be useless lumps of clay (which I have, in fact, declared of some of my own particular failed pottery attempts).

Like clay in the potter’s hands, so are we in God’s hands.

Ponder

o  What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o  Where in your life do you sense God working right now?
o  Where have you resisted the work of the Master Potter in your life? I wonder what might be at the root of that resistance?

Challenge

Consider an area of your life that God may be trying to transform. What can you do to become more malleable clay? What habits or disciplines might you need to take on? What might you need to let go of? Spend time journaling, praying, or talking to God about these things, asking for direction.

and/or

Find an opportunity to create, whether it is playing with clay, or play-doh, whether it is painting, crocheting, working in the garden, or any other number of things. Imagine God creating or working in you as you yourself create.

Prayer

God, you are the Master Potter, and I am clay in your hands. Mold me, make me, move me. Through the waters of my baptism, make me malleable. Through the sometimes dizzying spinning of life’s wheel, shape me. Keep on working on me until all the lumps and bumps are smoothed away. Turn me into a vessel that carries your love and grace to others. Fill me, use me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of September 15, 2019

Text: Exodus 3:1-15

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,the name you shall call mefrom generation to generation.”

Reflection

This moment where Moses comes upon the burning bush is one of the most pivotal moments in all of the Bible. While God had appeared and made a covenant with others before now, here is where God reveals God’s own name.

Moses has already been through much. He’d already been sent by his mother down the river in an effort to save him. He’d already been brought into Pharaoh’s household and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He’d already fled after killing an Egyptian task-master. He’d already married and was living as a shepherd in the land of Midian, watching the oppression from his people, the Israelites, from afar.

Moses was one who had been continually driven away from home. He was driven away first from his mother, then from his adoptive family, then from his people. When Moses comes across the burning bush, the concept of “home” was probably one that was blurry at best for him.

And then Moses hears the voice: “Moses! Moses! Take off your sandals!”

God tells him to do so because he is standing on holy ground. Taking off the sandals, is, after all, a sign of respect. But God is communicating something else as well in this command. Taking off the shoes is also a sign of being welcomed home.

Many people have a “no shoes in the house” rule. When you enter their home, you take your shoes off and you leave them by the door. While for some, this might be about keeping the carpet clean, for some, it is also a way of saying, “make yourself at home!”

When God tells Moses to take off his shoes, God is saying to him, “Welcome home! Kick off your shoes! This is where you are supposed to be!”

YHWH is the revelation of the Divine Name. It means something akin to “I Am who I Am” or “I Will Be who I Will Be.” In the revelation of God’s own name to Moses, God says, “I Am with you.” God shows Moses that the God who was, and is, and will be is the one in whom he can find his true understanding of home.

And yet, even as God calls Moses to the comfort of knowing to whom he truly belonged, he also called Moses to the task of his lifetime – leading his people out of Egypt and the bonds of slavery and oppression. Moses was given his home, but he was also given his life’s mission. Belonging to God didn’t mean a life of ease or comfort. It meant a life of fighting against injustice. It meant a life of constantly being threatened by the powers that be. It meant a life of wilderness wanderings, deep frustration, and hardship.

Home with God doesn’t always mean rainbows and unicorns. It doesn’t always mean comfort and prosperity. If Moses’ life shows us anything, it is that the opposite is more likely true. And yet… when God reveals God’s self to us and invites us home, nothing else can compare.

Moses could not have anticipated what would happen that day as he was tending his father-in-law’s sheep. He could not have known what God would show him. He could not have known what God would give him, in the revelation of the Divine Name.

When God reveals the Divine Name to Moses, God also reveals Moses’ true identity, his true purpose, his true home. It is in God and among God’s people. May God reveal the same to us.

Ponder

o  What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o  What is “home” to you? What qualities does it have?
o  When have you experienced true belonging? How can you help others experience that, especially within your community of faith?

Challenge

Consider someone who is a part of your family, whether it is by blood, by love, or by faith. Think of something you can do to help them feel a deeper sense of belonging this week, and then do it.

and/or

Maybe you know someone who isn’t living at home right now. It could be a college student, it could be someone in the hospital, it could be someone who has moved to assisted living. Call, visit, or send them something to help make their space feel a little bit more like home.

Prayer

Holy God, you call me to remove my shoes – to make myself at home in you and among your people. You are the God who IS. You will always be with me. Through the peace of knowing that I will always belong to you, lead me out to do your work. Give me clarity in your mission and purpose for me, and give me the strength and courage to live it. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+

Sarah – A Survivor Story

Below is both the audio and the text of a monologue I delivered on September 8, 2019 at St. Paul and Brown United Methodist Churches. Inspired by my reading of Womanist Midrash by Wilda C. Gafney, I imagined how the matriarch Sarah might have described her life in her own words. The manuscript varies slightly from my actual delivery.

Text:

My days are almost gone. They are fading fast like the setting sun. I’ve lived for 127 years. It has been a long 127 years. When I look back on my life, I ask myself, would I have done it differently? Could I have done it differently?

When people remember me, what will they remember? A matriarch, full of blessing, full of faith? Or will they see what I see, a woman who has been hurt and in her anger and desperation has hurt others terribly?

Most people know me because of my husband, Abraham. What a great man of faith, they say. And in many ways, he was. But in many ways, he, like the rest of us, had moments where he did not trust the Almighty and took matters into his own hands. There were times where his fear seemed to strip him of his faith.

Most people think of us like two peas in a pod. Where there is one, there is always the other. And that is true. There has never been a time in my life where Abraham has not been a part of it. He was, after all, my older brother first, before he was my husband – we share the same father, Terah. He had already been in the world for 10 years when I came into it. For most of my childhood, I knew that I would have to marry him. Our father said that it was the best way to carry on his family line. I never really questioned it. It was just going to be what it was going to be.

As I got older though, I started to attract the attention of the village boys. There was one in particular that I liked, with long, dark hair, and intense eyes. He picked a flower for me one day and tucked it behind my ear. I hoped that maybe I could talk my father into letting me marry him instead. Do you know that I can’t even remember his name now? But he was from a good family, and I didn’t see that there could be anything bad about that arrangement. But my father said, absolutely not – he had plans for me and he wasn’t about to change them.

And so, as soon as I bled for the first time, my father said that it was time for me to be married. I knew there was no changing his mind, so Abraham (or Abram as he was known back then) and I were married, and I assumed the duties of a young wife, with the expectation that we would soon further the family line. A few months came and went, and no sign of a child. And then a few more months. We didn’t worry too much at first. I was, after all, still so young, and my bleeding was not yet regular. There was still plenty of time to have children, we told ourselves.

But then the months became years, and then the years became decades. There were a couple of times where I hoped – where the bleeding stopped for a month or two and I began to feel the sickness of early pregnancy. But as soon as I began started to let that hope take root, the bleeding would start. I never even told Abraham about those times. They have been my secret sadness for all of these years, and even now, even after all that has happened, I grieve for what might have been. But even as I held my own sadness close to me, I heard the whispers and murmurs around me – accusations that I’d taken something to prevent pregnancy, wonderings about why God had cursed me, calling me the worst of all words to a woman, “barren.” It was never Abraham’s fault, of course. Only mine.

That was me. Barren but beautiful. Desirable, but scorned. In a world where a woman’s worth was measured by her fertility, I was a cast off. Well, at least in that way. But Abraham found another way that I could be useful to him. I still tremble in rage when I stop and think about what he did. I can barely speak about it.

We had left our home because of famine. Our best chance was to go south to Egypt, so we did. But as we went, Abraham said to me, “We need to make a plan, going into Egypt. Sarah, you know you are a beautiful woman, and your beauty is much too tempting to men. When the Egyptians see you, they are going to be jealous of me if they know I am your husband. They might even try to kill me. So here’s what I need you to do for me. Do not let them know that I am your husband. As far as they are concerned, we are only brother and sister.”

I said to him, “But what about me? How will that help me?” Abraham said back to me, “As long as I am safe, it will be good for you. What will happen to you if I get killed?”

It seemed like he didn’t really answer my question, but I didn’t know what else to say, so I said nothing.

When we arrived in Egypt, as Abraham predicted, I immediately caught the eye of Egyptian men – and not just any Egyptian men, but the ones who served Pharaoh. They decided that I looked exactly like the kind of woman Pharaoh liked, and so, they approached Abraham and said, “We’d like to take your sister to the Pharaoh. Trust us, this will be a good arrangement for you.” I half-hoped that Abraham would find a way to prevent this from happening, but I knew in my heart that he would not.

I was taken into the Pharaoh’s harem, and into his bed that very night. I kept my face calm, but inside I was raging, and wondering how this could really be happening to me.

The next day, Pharaoh started sending over gifts to Abraham. At first it was a flock of sheep, but over the coming weeks, Pharaoh continued to lavish more upon him. My role in all of this was to keep my mouth shut and please Pharaoh. He was never cruel, but I was never more than a beautiful object in his eyes.

One day, Pharaoh fell ill – and then his first wife, and then his servants, and then his children. He tossed and turned in his bed, filled with anguish and fever. He sent for me, and demanded me to tell him what I had done to him. I was shocked at why he thought I had anything to do with this and I was very afraid. I didn’t know what to do, so I started sobbing and rambling, and I broke down and told him that I wasn’t free like he thought I was, and that Abraham wasn’t just my brother, he was also my husband. If Pharaoh could have gotten up out of bed, I believe he would have gotten up and flung me to the ground, he was so angry. He sent me away from him immediately and called in Abraham to confront him. I don’t know the details of that meeting, but I know that Abraham left in a hurry, and gathered me and the whole household he had acquired from Pharaoh’s gifts, and we left in the dead of night.

We were on the move for a time until we settled in Hebron. Abraham and I never talked about what happened in Egypt. I was too numb and too scared to even think about what had happened, even though I was reminded of it every single day as I looked around at our newly acquired wealth that had come through the giving of my body.

We settled into something of a rhythm of life. I managed the household and oversaw the work of our new servants. I poured myself into those tasks to help me forget about the days in Egypt and to help me forget about the fact that I still had no child. I was almost able to settle into an uneasy peace with my situation.

But then one day, Abraham barged into the house and started telling me about this supposed conversation he had with the Almighty. He declared that God told him that he would have a son, and that not only would he have a son, but his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. I just laughed at him. But he was so convinced. He was obsessed. It was all that he wanted to talk about. There was no pushing my barrenness to the back of my mind now. Abraham just about drove me mad with his constant talk of this promise God had supposedly made to him. God never bothered to talk to me about it.

His obsession became my obsession. I HAD to find a way to give him a child. I tried using herbs that were said to increase fertility, I talked to the midwife about things I could do. Nothing worked. I had given up, when one night, my young slave girl, Hagar, was preparing my bed. And then it hit me. Maybe my body could not give Abraham a child, but I couldgive him a body that could.

I made my plan that very night. I would give my slave girl to Abraham as a surrogate – as a secondary wife (I would still be primary, of course). She could give him a legitimate child. It wouldn’t be as good as if I could give him a child, but it was the only alternative I could see. The next morning, as Hagar was serving me breakfast, I grabbed her arm and asked her to sit. I told her of my plans for her. Her eyes got wider and wider. I could see that she was afraid of what I was asking, but that perhaps she was even more afraid of what I might do if she begged me not to go through with it. I almost changed my mind, looking at her young face, but then I thought back to my days in Egypt, and I hardened my heart. Such is the lot of women.

Abraham was almost too willing to go along with my plan. He gave a hasty and insincere resistance at best. He took her to wife within a matter of days. He was attentive and doted on her, as she was the great hope of fulfilling this promise that God had made to him. I almost immediately regretted my plan, but it was too late. I could barely stand to look at the girl. And then, one day, she announced that she with child. I could not keep from lashing out at her. I struck her across the cheek and called her all kinds of names that I will not now repeat. In tears, she ran.

She was gone for a time. I did not know where she had gone, nor did I care. But then, one day, she came back. Her belly had grown greater. We settled into a cease-fire of sorts and mostly avoided one another. Once her baby was born, I seemed to fade into the background for a time. I was too tired, too done, too empty.

I thought this foolish obsession with a child would be over now that the slave girl had given Abraham a son. But then God spoke to Abraham again and clarified some things. God said I, Sarah, would be the one to bear Abraham a son. And then, not only God, but three visitors one day who said that not only would I have a son, but that I would have him within the year! Scornful laughter at their foolishness was all that I had left. I had long since stopped bleeding.

But then – then the miraculous happened. In spite of my scorn, in spite of my rage, in spite of what I’d done to my slave girl, I became pregnant. Even after I felt the baby kicking in my womb, I still couldn’t believe it. I held my breath for nine months, and then the day came when my water broke. I have never been as scared as I was then. What if there was something wrong? What if they baby was stillborn? What if I died from giving birth? Those hours were long and grueling, and yet now, I barely remember them.

But what I do remember clear as day was the moment that the midwife placed that tiny, wrinkled slip of a human on my chest and the piercing sound of his first loud cry. Would you believe that I laughed out loud at the sound of it? The absurdity, the joy, the overwhelming love. What else could I do?

My Isaac was the joy of my life. My everything. Things were perfect. Or, almost. She was still there, and so was her son – threatening to take my child’s promised inheritance. A mother will do anything for her child. And I finally exploded on her one day and commanded Abraham to send her and her child away for good. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to keep MY child from getting what his due. I have come to regret what I did, banishing Hagar and her son from my home, but the thing has long been done. I have no idea where they went, but I did have a dream one night not too long ago where I saw Hagar was sitting by a well of water, with her son next to her, a bow across his back, and a deer at his feet. May God forgive me for what I have done to that poor woman and her child. Her lot in life was not of her choosing and I only made it worse for her. I pray to this day that God blesses her and her child.

As my days grow short, I grow more and more tired. I know I will soon sleep. I have the joy of knowing my Isaac is a man grown, and will soon seek out a wife and start a family. I wish that I could see that day. As I think back over my life, I know that I have had wrong done to me and I have done wrong to others. I know I am a woman who has had little to no faith in God for most of her life. And yet…yet…  somehow, in spite of all that has happened, through all that has happened, the grace of the Almighty has still been visited upon me. I didn’t expect it, and I certainly haven’t deserved it, but it was given to me all the same. I have peace for the first time in my life. Such a gift. Such a God. I laugh at the mystery of it all.

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of September 8, 2019

Text: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-31

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
 
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau.
_________
 
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
 
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
 
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
 
“Jacob,” he answered.
 
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
 
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
 
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
 
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
 
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

Reflection

This scene is one of my favorite scenes from Scripture. In it, we find a knock-down, drag-out wrestling match between Jacob and this mysterious man. The scene begins with Jacob anxiously preparing for his impending meeting with Esau. Esau, his older twin brother, whom he tricked out of his birthright. Esau, who was understandable angry with his sneaky and dishonest younger twin.

It is a strange scene to imagine – this wrestling that goes from dusk until dawn. This was no polite wrestling match. There were no referees to blow the whistle and call illegal holds. It was an intense match – so much so that Jacob got his hip knocked out of joint. They wrestled, and then they wrestled more. Jacob must have been to the point of exhaustion, and the mysterious man was ready to throw in the towel. He was done.

But then Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!”

When we read this story, we see that the blessing actually comes through the knock-down, drag-out wrestling match. Through the exhaustion, through the pain of getting his hip knocked out of joint – through the struggle, Jacob find his blessing.

This story is a good metaphor for how we engage Scripture. We don’t come to it cleanly or plainly. We don’t come to it without struggle. There are some big questions that the Bible raises. If we are really reading it, we find ourselves asking all kinds of questions. Questions relating to the violence and even genocide we find within its pages; questions about the nature of God; questions about good and evil; questions about what it means to live in today’s world. And as we wrestle, we might be overwhelmed. We might get our hips knocked out of place. We might be downright exhausted with all of the questions that we can’t really find satisfactory answers to.

But when we aren’t afraid to wrestle, God gives a blessing. When we aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions, God works through our struggle. As my favorite college professor, Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, always reminded me, “Faith isn’t about finding all of the answers, it’s about learning to live with the questions.”

May you find blessing in the questions.

Ponder

o  What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o  What have you been wrestling with in Scripture?
o  Where, in your life, have you seen blessing come through struggle?

Challenge

Think about a passage or an idea in the Bible that you have been struggling with. Write about your struggle and the questions it raises. Talk to a friend about it, talk to God about it.

And/or

Notice a family member, friend, or co-worker who has been struggling. Find a way to give them a blessing this week.

Prayer

God, you are ever-present with me, and maybe even especially when I am struggling. Give me the endurance to wrestle faithfully. Give me the courage to ask the hard questions. Give me a heart to trust you when I find answers I don’t like, or even no answers at all. And through it all, may I experience your blessing. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

– Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of September 1, 2019

Text: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
 

Abraham and the Three Angels by Marc Chagall

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”
 
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
 
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
 
Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
 
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.
 
“There, in the tent,” he said.
 
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
 
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
 
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
 
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
 
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
_________
 
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
 
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Reflection

Have you ever had someone tell you something, and your first thought was, “Yeah, right, that’ll happen when pigs fly!”? That was exactly Sarah’s reaction when the visitor told her that she would bear a son. She was well past her child-bearing years, and if she wasn’t able to get pregnant during her “fertile” years, how in the world was she going to get pregnant now?

This is not the first time that Abraham and Sarah have heard this promise. In Genesis 15, God tells Abraham that he will have a son of his own flesh and that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham and Sarah don’t have any inkling how this will actually happen as they are both old and Sarah is past child-bearing years. Sarah comes up with her own plan to make God’s plan work – Abraham will sleep with Sarah’s slave, Hagar, get her pregnant, and bear a son of his own flesh through her (and let’s not even get started on how messed up that whole situation is). Abraham agrees, and Sarah’s manipulative and abusive plan for Hagar achieves her desired results. Hagar bears a son named Ishmael. Much familial abuse and dysfunction ensues.

Now, some years have passed. Ishmael is growing, and God speaks to Abraham again, telling him that Sarah, specifically, will bear him a son, to be named Isaac. God further clarifies the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham and future generations of his family, and Abraham and all of the men and boys belonging to Abraham’s household are circumcised as a sign of that covenant. Laughter and disbelief are Abraham’s response to God’s promise about Sarah’s impending pregnancy.

And yet – despite their disbelief, despite their laughter, God brings the plan about. Not as Sarah or Abraham tried to orchestrate it (which led to much strife and abuse), but as God orchestrated it. Sarah does indeed bear a child well past her child-bearing years, and her laughter of derision and disbelief turns to the laughter of sheer joy and the overwhelming nature of God’s grace.

Did Abraham and Sarah deserve this gift? My own personal impulse, after what they did to Hagar and Ishmael, is to say, “No, absolutely not!” But that’s the thing about God’s grace. It is not dependent upon “deserving” it. God’s grace is a free, and undeserved gift.

Often, as Christians, we are tempted to restrict the idea of grace to the New Testament – “That’s something Jesus brought us,” we say. And yet, when we look at this story, among many others in the Hebrew Bible, aka the Old Testament, we find that God’s grace has actually been present all along. May we all catch glimpses of God’s grace in unsuspected places!

Ponder

o  What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   Where in your life have you seen God accomplish an “impossible” task?
o   Who might you have you hurt in the name of accomplishing your own plans?
o   Where have you seen God’s grace at work this past week?

Challenge

Each evening this week, before you go to bed, take a few moments to pause, reflecting back over your day, and identify the moments or experiences where you have seen God’s grace. Give thanks to God for those moments.

And/or

Reach out to someone you have hurt. Talk with them openly and honestly. Repent. Seek forgiveness. Accept their response, whatever it may be.

Prayer

Surprising God, you are always on the move. Thank you for the ways that you show up when I am least expecting it. Forgive me for the ways that I try to manipulate your plans for me. Forgive me for the times where I fail to trust you. Give me the strength to make things right with those I have hurt, with those I have used, and with those I have cast aside. May your grace be continually at work in my heart, not because I deserve it, but because you desire it. Turn my derision and disbelief into laughter and joy. Fill me with your Spirit and your love. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

– Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of August 25, 2019

Text: Genesis 2:4b-25 (NIV)

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
 
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
 
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
 
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
 
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
 
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
 
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
 
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
 
The man said,
 
“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
 
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Reflection

In this second of the two creation stories in Genesis (the first one being in chapter 1), we find the emphasis placed upon relationship: relationship between God and human, between human and creation, and between human and human. There is an “earthy” feel to this text. You can sense the connection between the Creator, creature, and creation.

In fact, we gain an even greater sense of this relational connection through the Hebrew text, which is ripe with word play. When God creates the human being from the dust of the earth, God creates ha adam from ha adamah. In English, we miss the linguistic connection. A different translation that emphasizes this word play might be, God created the “human” from “humus.” We hear the connection between human beings and the rest of creation. We are all made of the same “stuff,” so to speak.

Furthermore, the text says that God breathed the breath of life into the human. Once again, the Hebrew reveals an idea that we might miss in English. In Hebrew, the word for breath, ruach, is also the same word for spirit and wind. The ruach hovered over the waters and was instrumental in creation in Genesis 1. Ruach is what God now gives to the human being that he might come alive.

When we read Genesis 2, we can’t help but to see that human beings are fundamentally created for relationship. We are created to be in relationship with our Creator, the one who gives us the ruach of life. We are created to be in relationship with the rest of creation, which God has commanded us to keep and to care for. And finally, we are created to be in relationship with one another. God creates human beings for one another, as demonstrated through that first relationship of Genesis 2. We, human creatures, are not meant to be alone. We need one another – we are part of one another.

The poet John Donne’s words ring true:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

MEDITATION XVII
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

Ponder

o  What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o  Where in creation have you felt particularly connected to God?
o  In what areas of your life do you need God to breathe new life into you?
o  Even though as human beings we are created for relationship with one another, we all experience brokenness and struggle. With whom might God be calling you to reconcile, restore, or strengthen your relationship? To whom might God be calling you to reach out?

Challenge

Spend some time in creation this week, whether it is sitting on your porch, listening to the birds sing, hiking a trail, or walking by the river. Give thanks to God for the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, and then do something to take care of it, whether it is picking up litter, reducing your use of one-time plastics, tending your garden, or anything else that God moves you to do.

And/or

Think of one person with whom you want to strengthen your relationship. Reach out. Make a call. Bake cookies. Stop by for a visit. Send a card. Let them know you are thinking of them. Listen to the promptings of the ruach!

Prayer

Living God, you have created us all for relationship. Thank you for the beauty and goodness that you continually reveal in the world around me. Place your ‘ruach’ within me, that I might live and flourish in the world that you have created. May I grow in love of You, of your creation, and of all who have been created in your image. Place within my heart your desires; your impulses. Guide me each moment of this week, that your thoughts would be my thoughts, that your words would be my words, and that my deeds would be your deeds. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

– Cindy+

“Raising White Kids” – Non-Racist vs. Anti-Racist

From even before his birth, Darick and I have talked about intentionally making an effort to being committed to helping Gus understand and value diversity. We are attempting to live that out through making sure we have books where the main characters are of different genders and races, of different life experiences. We are attempting to live that out through our decisions about where he goes to daycare and who he has the opportunity to interact with. We want him to grow up knowing the value of all people, and I think we are off to a decent start.

However, one thing that is starting to hit home for me is that a commitment to Gus experiencing and valuing diversity is only a first step. Teaching him to value diversity or to be non-racist is not the same thing as teaching him how to be anti-racist. Jennifer Harvey writes,

Nonracism is not the same thing as antiracism. It is important to combat stereotypes and biases. But in any context where racism and racial injustice already run rampant, nonracism isn’t enough to create equity or justice. In such a context, antiracism is required. A commitment to antiracism goes well beyond nonracism. It means actively countering and challenging racism.”

imagesI want my child to grow up seeing the value of all people, but even more, I want him to grow up to be a champion for all people. That means that we have the hard job of naming injustice where we see it, and teaching him to see it and name it as well, and all in age-appropriate ways, (no small task there!) ;-). It means that we, as his parents, have to have eyes to see the ways in which we participate in racist systems, and that we, ourselves, have to work to dismantle them. And that means giving up our own power and privilege (which is soooo much easier in theory than in reality). It isn’t enough to teach him not to be prejudiced – we have to teach him to work against the systems that institutionalize prejudice.

So what does that mean for where we are right now? I’m not entirely sure. I know that we will continue to expose him to a diversity of people. We will not teach him “not to notice” race as he begins to see and articulate differences. As Harvey writes, “The only way we show that we actually respect our shared humanity is by taking people’s specific, diverse experiences of their humanity very seriously.”

In other words, we don’t treat everyone as interchangeable objects, but rather we respect each specific individual and their lived experiences. To see race does not automatically mean using that difference to divide or set people up against one another. To see race (even though it is a human construction) is to see, rather than deny, the realities that black and brown people experience on a daily basis. To see race is not to perpetuate the inequalities, but to recognize the disparities and to name the injustices that are committed against those who are also created in God’s image. Harvey continues,

“We’ve got to do the same with our kids. If we want children who value everyone, and who deeply and authentically understand we’re all a part of a shared humanity, if we want them to actually live in ways that help to realize equity, the only route is to consciously and explicitly teach them about difference!”

All of this makes me really uncomfortable. I would much rather just expose my kid to a variety of people and teach him to be color-blind. In an ideal world where there is no injustice or racism, maybe that would be fine. But that is not the world we live in – in our current time, we are experiencing a resurgence of explicit racism. I am scared all the time about saying something wrong (and I’m even afraid that I’ve done that in this post!). But not saying anything and simply hoping for the best is not an option. If I want my child to be anti-racist and not just non-racist, then that means having bumbling and uncomfortable conversations and teaching uncomfortable things. But none of this is about my comfort. It is about God’s justice.

These are initial thoughts and challenges I am wrestling with as I read this book. I’m sure I’ll be wrestling more in future posts with ideas I’ve only mentioned or alluded to here (re: color-blindness, dealing with my own white guilt, fear of saying something wrong, etc). Please, wrestle with me.

– Cindy+