Today, you are three. Today, and not tomorrow. At no point down the road will you ever again be three.
You will be so many other wonderful things! You'll be four, five, six, and seven. You'll be in school and with friends; you'll be tall and so strong.
But you will not be three. Today, and today only, you are three.
Today you have soft blond hair that shines in sun. It gets tangled, and you hate when I brush it, so it gets more tangled still. Today you have soft sweet skin, with a trace of round baby cuteness that I can't help but kiss. Today you have a loud sweet voice that calls to me, croons with love and shouts with anger and shrieks with excitement and pouts with despair.
Today you want to be with me, always near me, close close close...as you have for three years and three hundred and sixty-four days.
Tomorrow I will love you just as much.
But today, you are three.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Today, you are three. Today, and not tomorrow. At no point down the road will you ever again be three.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
This series has been influenced by dozens of books and authors/scholars, but I tip my hat as always to Walter Brueggemann and Rabbi Telushkin for their many insights.
If you're interested in reading the rest of this series, you can find more of it here.
Posted by Catherine at 12:26 PM
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
(Continuing my series on the Hebrew Scriptures)
Posted by Catherine at 8:00 AM
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, their story continues into the next generation. Two sons are born to the couple, first Cain and then Abel. Abel becomes a shepherd, while Cain farms the ground. Each brings an offering of their labors to YHWH, but the Lord is pleased only with Abel’s and not with Cain’s.
Once again, the story is sparse, hinging on information not given. What was unsatisfactory about Cain’s offering? We cannot know. Once again, there are boundaries around the characters’ lives and actions regarding which they have no say, and for reasons which we do not understand.
Cain is faced with an (apparently) un-requested difficulty and the question is again is on the table - how will he handle living under someone else's terms?
Cain becomes angry at the situation and YHWH warns him: “If you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Sin here is described as a wild animal, a predator hunting with an eye on Cain. His instructions are not to blindly follow a list of rules, but to gain mastery over a stalker. The assumption given by God is that it is fully possible to summon the strength to succeed.
Cain does not heed the warning, however. He rises in strength not against the crouching predator of temptation but against his brother, killing him. As the rest of the story unfolds, two things are clear - Abel’s life is destroyed literally, but Cain’s life is destroyed as well.
As he did for Adam and Eve, God offers protection and provision along with discipline. Cain’s headstrong behavior, as his parents’ before him, carries a consequence of death. Yet the consequence given is, as was his parents', less than a death sentence. The ground that took in the blood of Abel will no longer partner with this brother-betraying farmer, and Cain is exiled - again, as his parents were before him. But his life will also be protected. Once more, God is true to the boundaries he has laid, but merciful.
The image of sin as a crouching predator is a powerful one. Cain is warned that he is being stalked by a hungry creature desiring him, yet he is given hope - even an imperative - that he can and must defeat this powerful foe. When he does not, both victim and perpetrator are destroyed. And so here in the story, even more than in Adam and Eve’s story, we are introduced to one of the main characters we meet with in life - sin.
In our current language and conversations, we’re suspicious of the word ‘sin.’ It has been so misused it can hardly be used at all. We tend instead to speak more in terms of brokenness, and there is good reason for this. Yet here in Genesis 4 we find a valuable description of our situation. Sin in this narrative is not the breaking of an arbitrary list of rules as we often speak of it, but a hunter poised to consume us who can and must be defeated. When we give way to this crouching animal it destroys both ourselves and our own victims.
In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov seems to understand this as he gives his first confession: "Did I murder the old woman? I murdered myself, not her! I crushed myself once for all, for ever." He has given in to what hunted him, and not only his victim but he too is destroyed.
I can see the truth of this, in my own life, and in the world around me. There is no need to commit murder to see that when we are stalked by temptation, giving in (to anger, self-centeredness, greed, desire, or whatever) destroys both ourselves and those around us.
I appreciate both the warning and the empowerment - sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for me, but I must rule over it. This hunter is lethal to both perpetrator and victim, but victory is possible.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” was Cain’s insolent retort when cornered by YHWH in his guilt. Rabbi Telushkin* suggests that the rest of the Bible is spent answering a resounding “Yes” to that question.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
I originally wrote this for Abingdon's blog, where it appeared last month here. I'm posting it today because it fits with the Genesis series...and because it is one of my favorites.
Corners and pockets of my house - previously rendered useless due to clutter or wear and tear - are cleaned up and tuned up and made right again. Entire rooms fall under the sway of my intent; dust bunnies, outgrown clothes, and plastic toys are recycled or re-purposed and I find myself with a functional, tidy home once more. Whether the impetus is a fresh new start for the New Year, an extension of packing up Christmas, or simply being home bound in the cold, I can’t say. But each January finds me searching for order in the midst of chaos.
My reasons for this whirlwind of activity are certainly not theologically driven in the least, but when I take a moment to rest my feet and back I’m cheered by the reminder that this is God-work. Making order out of chaos is his signature move.
The opening chapter of Genesis is a beautiful song in which we find the Creator hovering over the waters. The author observes that “the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep.” In the ancient near-eastern minds that first heard this story, these Hebrew words indicate that what was had no purpose, function, or order. It was useless and needing to be arranged into something useful. In God’s hands all this changes. The word we translate as “create” is rich in Hebrew with meaning that connotes filling up and giving purpose - as one would create a home. Suddenly the Creator is forming day and night, rearranging water and land to produce sky, sea, and dry ground. From chaos has come wonderful, wonderful function, beauty and life.
When I’m in the middle of ordering the chaos of my home, it can take days, long days that spill into the night. Frequently, it appears that the situation is getting worse instead of better - when I’m re-purposing a bedroom or cleaning out a closet the contents are spread everywhere, making the house more filthy and cluttered than it ever did before I began this gargantuan task. My children gingerly step over boxes of light bulbs, shoe polishing kits, and stacks of paper looking for their toys and books. It is tempting to throw my hands up in the air and let the clutter take over, but I never do. I've set myself to this project, and I won’t give it up until I’m done.
The ancient Biblical hope, held still today by Christians around the world, is not that God will give this Creation up as a bad job and get a few of us out of here. The Biblical, Jewish, and now Christian hope - announced since that first song in Genesis - is that the Creator will not give up on the project he started. That even if the chaos on this earth seems to be gaining ground against beauty and goodness, it is simply because He is not yet finished with the job of creating and redeeming. He has promised to see his Creation through. He has placed his name, his character and reputation, and his Son on the table as collateral against this promise as guarantee. No matter how it may look to us right now in the middle, the Good News we hold to is that under no circumstances will God abandon or give up his Creative project. He will see it through to full function, full beauty, full order - full redemption.
And we have the opportunity to join him, to do our part to bring comfort where there is pain, provision where there is need, love where there is hate, joy where there is fear, peace where there is conflict. Function, order, and beauty where there is chaos.
As I look through my dusty windows at the cold piles of snow, I pick up another stack of papers to sort with gratitude. He is making all things new. And in our own ways, we are invited to do the same.
Next week we're going to meet Adam and Eve! Stay tuned, and if you're interested in reading the rest of this series, you can find more of it here.
Monday, February 17, 2014
What we expect has a lot to do with how life has gone for the people around us.
Those to whom much is given, much will be required.
I am talking to my new friend, "Rosa." I am sitting in her apartment, eating her food, listening to her story. Already I know her smile and her facial expressions. But she is telling me how, five years ago, she left her two daughters behind and traveled to a new country - my country - so that she could earn enough money to care for their most basic needs. The journey was horrible, threatening (and nearly taking) her life. She works now, longer hours than I ever have, harder work than I have ever done, for less money than I have ever earned. She can think of no way that she will realistically ever see her daughters again, but because of the couple hundred dollars she sends back each moth, they survive.
It is one thing to read this story and quite another to hear it while looking at her eyes and sharing her food, calling her my friend. My children are now the exact ages hers were when she left. For one horrible moment I try to imagine myself in a position where my children lacked even basic food, water, shelter, and education; where they could survive only if I left them behind forever and moved to a foreign land where I had nothing and no one. In all the worst-case scenarios that always run through my head, this one has never, ever, come up. It is unthinkable.
Living with roaches and no washing machine is nothing by comparison.
I am around Rosa and others like her all the time now. Their lives and losses are each unique, but all within the same magnitude. I am beginning to feel that my standard of living, which recently took a nose dive, is quite opulent. I consider how many people she shares her tiny apartment with and wonder what I could do to get by on less than I have now; if someone else could somehow have more if I was willing to have less.
At the same time, I also enter a very different world each day. A world that feels "normal" and increasingly not normal at all. A world in which people are paid all the money they have earned; a world where education can be had; where skin color, language, clothing, and mannerisms invisibly open doors, not slam them shut; a world where we talk about needing a bigger house if a baby's on the way, or a smart phone, or a vacation abroad, or a PhD. I participate in these conversations pretending like its normal but I'm choking back something between a laugh of irony and a sob of pain. Because I want all these things too but it sounds so, so funny to me now.
Forget asking which world is normal. Forget asking even which world is right. I'm consumed with the question: which world is mine? The one I see everyday, the one who's injustices and pain call to me more passionately and compellingly each day? Or the one that made me, the one I have always know and by which I have been known?
Or a third option, as A will always find - living as a bridge between the two. An endless loop of culture shock and re-entry shock, not daily but several times per day. And then, where do I learn what to expect? From the life I have always lived or the life I am surrounded by now? As my expectations change, so too my worldview and my theology and my understanding of blessing and of responsibility and good news and on and on....
You are the ultimate of love and beauty, yet you lived and suffered with us. Teach me, please. Gently.
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and...love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these. - The Bible
Posted by Catherine at 7:54 PM
Thursday, February 13, 2014
If you're interested in reading the rest of this series, you can find more of it here. Otherwise, stay tuned for next week!
Thursday, February 06, 2014
However, if you read Genesis as the original, ancient authors and audience would have done, there are better options available. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman calls Genesis 1-11 a “remarkable intellectual achievement of faith seeking understanding.”* What we find in the first chapter of Genesis is not a scientific description or an argument, but a poem; a song proclaiming something incredible about the character of God. Waiting for the reader in these sacred scriptures is a beautiful story of tremendous theological significance.
I invite you to take another look at these well known chapters, from the standpoint of a story. A story told by ancient followers of YHWH, about the surprising God whom they have encountered and found working in their midst. It is a powerful, beautiful, deeply true story.
There is much to learn from each individual element, but if we look at them all together a forest emerges which we easily miss while studying only the trees. The elements themselves - creation, flood, building a tower to the heavens, etc - have precedent in the literature and oral tradition of the ancient near east and Babylon, the cultural air that ancient Israel breathed. Yet here the well known stories are told and oriented towards a unique and profound point - the God of Israel is the One who has originated all this, His great plan is underlying our experience, and whatever threat our own errors bring to this plan, we have assurance that God himself is determined to carry it to completion.
The story begins, of course, at the beginning: Israel’s God YHWH forms creation out of chaos, places it in the care of man and woman, and calls it good. But right on the tail of this divine provision his chosen couple mess things up with literally epic proportions. God is angered, and discipline is needed - expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. But God is also merciful and protective, clothing their nakedness and shame, protecting them from access to the tree of life lest they continue in this shameful state for all eternity.
In other words, human foolishness has destroyed the very good “Plan A” God had devised. But even as he disciplines, the Creator provides a link from the mess we have made into a new future. Adam and Eve therefore move forward to “Plan B,” having lost the goodness of God’s created intentions but nevertheless re-established in God’s plan and protection.
The narrative continues with their first offspring, Cain and Abel. When Cain murders his brother we see further rebellion against the good plan of creation. God’s response is again discipline, but again also mercy and protection. Cain too is sent away, but divinely marked for safekeeping lest he in turn be murdered. Another man-made mess, another providential plan encompassing both discipline and grace.
As the story goes on, generations pass and mankind continues to hurl itself away from God’s good intentions for us. This goes on to such an extent the God eventually becomes sorry he created humans at all and, heartbroken, resolves to bring this experiment to an end. Yet even in these drastic measures there is again grace and provision - God remembers Noah, who is chosen to launch a new beginning. God places his bow in the sky with a promise to never again destroy the world with a flood.
Each of these narratives are linked together in cycles - God’s grace and provision, followed by creation’s response towards self-destruction, evoking God’s anger and discipline, but also further grace and provision. Each account turns over into the next as the pattern weaves us from story to story.
Finally, the narrative takes us to the tower of Babel. Even after the flood and God’s provision for continued life, mankind has continued its bent towards obstinance. We find in this narrative again the now oh-so-familiar pattern, but this time with a shocking twist: after our stubborn, selfish error comes God’s discipline through confusion and dispersal of the people but then….nothing.
The tower of Babel story ends without a whisper of grace or provision, no link to a future hope.
These stories were certainly passed down by oral tradition for generations before being put to parchment. Can you imagine yourself around an ancient bonfire, listening yet again to the stories of YHWH’s work in our world, in our people; hearing the steady rhythm of provision, rebellion, discipline, then back full circle to provision through story after story...only to reach the end of the Babel account, hanging on the edge of our seats. We reach the pregnant pause that ends Genesis chapter 11 with baited breath.
And then, with this magnificent set-up the storyteller continues. On the very next page we are introduced to a man named Abram. We listen as he is called by God to leave his father’s country, to walk into covenant with God Almighty himself, to start a nation through whom the entire world will be blessed. This then - the nation of Israel herself (and for the Christian reader, ultimately Israel’s Messiah Jesus) - is the act of divine grace and provision that comes in response to mankind’s continued rebellion and discipline.
Tell me that is not an amazing, stunning, beautiful story, one of profound theological and literary power.
For ancient Israel listening in exile, this was a promise that went deep into their most vulnerable questions and doubts - even in the darkest hours, even when the darkness is of our own making, God is faithful to his covenant with Creation and Israel. He will see this through, no matter how badly we mess it up. The ancient Israelites who formed these Scriptures took the well worn tales and used them as a stunning entrance to their national history, the interpretive frame for their entire witness of God’s character and role in creation.
Brueggemann writes “The sum of these narrative parts constitutes a remarkable theological statement. What may have been various “myths of origin” is now transposed into a theological statement of divine judgement and divine rescue...the text is an attestation to the main themes of Israel's faith in God.”*
The main message here is not how or when the universe historically and scientifically began, but the character and trustworthiness of the author and sustainer of the story.
In other words, we have here a powerful assurance in the face of the darkest day - God himself is determined to carry the world’s story to its redemptive conclusion, and no amount of our blind pigheadedness is going to stand in his way.
And that, the ancient Israelites tell us, is what this story - the story of Genesis, but more, the story of reality - is all about.
And that is a story worth telling.