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Posts Tagged ‘story’

Genesis wants us to know that Isaac survived and he had children. One of them is Jacob. My friend Mike has helped me with a picture of Jacob. This grandchild of Abraham was a conniving, deceitful, momma’s boy. He was a secular, self-made man who believed God helps those who help themselves. Jacob believes in God but is not convinced that God has anything to do with his life.

He goes through the motions as if he has some control. He pretends he is writing his own story. But then one night he falls to sleep and God shows up. Jacob awakes literally and theologically and observes “God is in this place.” He calls this place Bethel. Jacob is no returning prodigal yet God comes to meet him. God is not a distant force; God is involved in this world.

It is worth noting that Jacob has this dream in the middle of nowhere with his head lying on a rock. Later, Moses finds a burning bush. The psalmist will sing “where can I go from his presence?” Disciples will encounter the unexpected presence of God on the road to Emmaus. Saul is met with the presence of the Lord on the road to Damascus. There is no such place as nowhere, it’s all Bethel. The place you least expect will be the place God will show. Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush a fire with God.

Jacob should have been on time out, instead he finds himself in the presence of God. No one is in the presence of God because we deserve it. Jacob is not a candidate for an important role. He has torn his family apart. Yet he is invited to rejoin the family and find his place in a larger story. God is doing something in the world and for the world and wants Jacob to be part of it. Jacob becomes part of God’s plan to bless the world.

Frederick Buechner gives an interesting first person account of blessing in his novel about Jacob, Son of Laughter. “My mother had more than once told me about the day when Abraham gave the blessing to Laughter. She said the camels had all made water at once. Flying birds had hung motionless in the air. Laughter’s face had given off light.” In response to his own blessing he deceitfully received from Isaac, Jacob says, “It was not I who ran off with my father’s blessing. It was my father’s blessing that ran off with me… The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own.”

Before the Genesis story ends we find Jacob in Egypt.  He is here to ask Pharaoh for bread. He hopes Pharaoh will be generous. And yet he is there blessing the Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the world power. He held the control. He made decisions that influenced the world. He has need of nothing. Jacob, on the other hand, has nothing. He certainly has nothing Pharaoh needs. Still he blesses Pharaoh.

The fact is, Jacob knows some things Pharaoh does not. He woke one morning after sleeping on a rock and things were never the same for him again. Jacob has been pulled into a narrative that is world changing. He has become part of a story Pharaoh is not aware of. Jacob knows that God is doing something in the world and for the world.

Ever since the days of his grandma and grandpa, Jacob knows God has been seeking ways to bless the nations. His grandfather, Abraham, once had the opportunity to bless Egypt. Instead, Abraham took the promise into his own hands. Jacob has no such designs, he has nothing. Nothing but this promise of blessing. This blessing, both beautiful and appalling, has taken Jacob to Egypt. And he blesses Pharaoh. Claus Westermann says it like this, “The shepherd from the steppe… performs the gesture of blessing on the powerful and divine one.” This is good news. Even Pharaohs and world powers are in need of this blessing.

Westermann reminds us blessing has been given to the patriarchs and is passed from fathers to the children. As Isaac received blessing from Abraham and Jacob received blessing from Isaac, so Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. But Genesis wants to be sure we know blessing is not only for family succession. This is not only a clan religion. This blessing is for all people.

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We loved everything that came with Christmas morning. Rushing downstairs, opening packages, and making our way to grandma’s house. There, we would compare gifts with our cousins. We would stand politely while our aunt’s pinched our cheeks and told us how we had grown. And we would wait for our uncle’s to come in, one by one, to tell us “hope you got everything you wanted this year, because last night I accidentally shot Santa Claus.”

When we were real young, we wondered which of them was most likely to be telling the truth. It wasn’t too many years before we finally figured that out.

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I recently read The Old Man and the Sea and am glad for many reasons. First, I am certain the last time I read it was high school as an assignment with a test afterward. All stories are better without a test afterward.

I like how Ernest Hemmingway is able to convince readers of relationship with just a few words. Santiago, the old fisherman, has a relationship with the boy, with the sea, with the bird at sea, with the marlin. I like the way Joe DiMaggio is written into the story. And DiMaggio’s father. Who knew the father of the great DiMaggio was a fisherman? I am sure the Yankees would love to have more fans like Santiago.

I like the images in the story that one might expect a preacher to like. I am fascinated that Santiago is at sea for three days and nights. I am fascinated that Santiago “shouldered the mast and started to climb… at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder.” I am fascinated when I read that Santiago felt “the nail go through his hands and into the wood.”

I like the explicit spiritual discussion Santiago holds with himself. “I am not religious… But I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre is I catch him. That is a promise.” I enjoy the brief discussion about sin.

But mostly I enjoy the adventure of the story. I enjoy the backstory that helps us realize Santiago’s tenacious spirit. He once won a 24 hour arm wrestling match in the tavern at Casablanca before he was an old man. I enjoy that he shows a similar tenacity throughout the book. This is a survival story. Battling exhaustion, hunger, and thirst, Santiago is making decisions that really matter. He is constantly adapting to the next danger with a new plan. He is living on bare essentials, with what he was carrying with him when he left for fishing. He is well aware of his surroundings, even the stars and the winds. Santiago is able to catch, gut, and eat a fish all while he is fighting the giant marlin.

Many have considered Old Man to be fable like, symbolic, or allegorical. I suppose it is possible. However, we want to at least consider Hemmingway’s own words to critic Bernard Berenson on September 13, 1952. “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse.”

In Old Man, Hemmingway introduces us to an old down on his luck fisherman. And he takes us on a voyage into the soul of a man that is disguised as a routine fishing trip. Whatever the meaning, I am very glad to spend these three days and night with Santiago.

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Happy Birthday

There has been an osprey hanging around at Wildwood Lake. It has attracted a lot of photographers. It’s the kind of thing Dad would have liked. Today is Dad’s birthday. We have often went out to eat to celebrate birthdays and we often would wind up at the Olive Garden for Dad’s. Dad would always order spaghetti and meatballs. I am not sure if we ever liked the Olive garden or if we liked hearing Dad order his food. Spaghetti please, sauce on the side. Meatballs, also on the side. Soup or salad? Salad please, dressing on the side. Sometimes we would add. Garlic bread please, garlic on the side.

I will miss this. I will miss the way he would record conversations and play them back for people later. (True story, if you have spent time with Dad, there may be a recording of you lying around somewhere). I will miss the story about slicing fresh pineapples in the field with his knife while stationed in Hawaii. (This is actually a story protesting the taste of canned pineapple). I will miss him thumping his chest and saying “170 lbs., same as when I got out of the Marine Corp.” (A story we have not heard him tell in recent years). I will miss the story about lassoing a groundhog. (I am still not sure this is a true story). I will miss the way he tried to act like he didn’t want us to tell how he lost his teeth while swimming in Dominica. (This is a true story).

I think I might stop by Wildwood Lake today and look for the osprey. And then I might just go out to eat spaghetti. Maybe I should order my sauce on the side.

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The Shack has become a religious phenomenon. At the same time it is a lightning rod for claims of heresy. Even before the movie was released there were responses to the book titled Finding God in the Shack and Burning Down the Shack. You can probably tell which is for and which is not. Despite the potential of being burned at the stake, Layne and I attended the movie over the weekend. I had read the book a few years ago and tend to enjoy an imaginative narrative so I suspected that I would enjoy the movie as well. I don’t often say this, but I think I preferred the movie over the book.

The movie presents a theme of invitation that I particularly liked. Jesus invites Mack, the main character, to walk with him. The Spirit invites Mack to join her in the garden. “Papa” invites Mack to join the Trinity for a meal. I especially liked that scene where we see the Trinity at fellowship with one another. A picture of perichoresis. We do not often see good pictures of the Trinity at fellowship but here at least is an attempt. The general theme of the movie is an invitation to forgive.

Some highlights for me include the part where Jesus first arrived at the shack. I enjoyed the garden that was portrayed as a beautiful mess. That is, until we saw the view from above and realized it was actually a work of art. I enjoyed when Papa tells Jesus to show Mack some of his handiwork. I was expecting them to walk to the wood shop where Jesus had been working on something. Instead he took him outside showed him the sky, including a shooting star.

I like how the movie demonstrates the involvement of God in the lives of people. I suspect this is one reason many are attracted to the story. People want to have an encounter with God. The Shack presents a passionate God who is not without emotion. Here human pain is embraced by a deeply loving Trinity. Yet, I suppose one of the problems people are having with the movie is the way that God is portrayed. The Shack is an attempt to portray a story with imagination. Sometimes we forget that movies are a form of art (and a form of making profit). They are not intended for theological instruction. While theology may show itself in a movie, we should not be going to the theater to get our theology. Having said that, I like that The Shack reminds us that we have not got the Trinity figured out.

Here are some reasons to not see the movie;

  • You are certain you will like the book better
  • You think theaters are always too loud
  • You always wait for the blu ray

In other words, don’t stay away for theological reasons. I hope you never choose to go to the theater for theological reasons. Hollywood stinks at theology. If its theology you are looking for, read Barth’s Dogmatics. Go ahead and try to make a movie about Dogmatics. I doubt anyone would want to see it. But people are going to see The Shack which gives us an opportunity to talk about things we like to talk about with people who may not ordinarily be interested. I do like that The Shack is a catalyst for an important conversation.

The fact is, we want stories that speak to both head and heart. So when evil and forgiveness and the work of God are presented in The Shack it surprises me that some of us are not more interested. The criticism reminds me how much easier it is to criticize something we feel is wrong than it is to demonstrate something we believe is right.

Should The Shack be taken seriously – yes. Should The Shack be taken literally – no. Is it an exaggeration – yes. Will it prompt people to think and talk about God – yes.

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Adventure and Text

I do not want to allow adventure to pass me by. Yet, the adventure advertised by politicians and others leaves me with doubts. Instead I find myself more and more in the biblical texts. These texts are far more imaginative than what others try to pass off as news. In the text I learn that I have descended from wanderers. I discover that my people escaped from slave camp. I am a descendant of spies sent to scout promised land. We were unlikely warriors who entered battle with weapons of clay pots and trumpets. While in the text, things begin to make sense. Turns out I am created for adventure. The mundane suggestions from others are woefully inadequate.

I am not the only one who feels this way. Others have been finding the same clues. There are others exploring the same texts and stories that make sense of life. We have been gathering for some time now, usually on Sundays. We retell our stories and encourage one another to practice what we have discovered. I am drawn to these people in the hope that together we will discover who we are and why we are here.

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What is a girl like Rahab doing in a place like this? The Old Testament? Isn’t this supposed to be a religious text? Still, we read “They went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab.”

The story we find in Joshua 2 is fascinating. It is easy to be pulled in by the plot. But then, this is not what we might expect when reading the bible. We might expect to read the bible to learn something religious, perhaps a spiritual lesson or two. Instead we find a story about spies, sneaking around, hiding on the roof, withholding information and secret escapes, lying to the king. Espionage and harlotry? The bible is always full of surprises.

This is not the only place we find Rahab. The Gospel of Matthew tells us “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab.”  There aren’t many females listed in this family tree, but Matthew wants us to know Rahab is an ancestor of King David. Not only that, she belongs to the family tree of Jesus. What is a girl like Rahab doing in a place like this?

The New Testament is not finished with her yet. In Hebrews 11 we read “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish… after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” Hebrews 11 is a place for people of great faith. And we find Rahab hanging out here with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David. A guy like Joshua is not even listed by name. We don’t find Daniel or Jonah or some others that I met in Sunday School when teachers were trying to hide girls like Rahab from me. What is a girl like Rahab doing in a place like this?

The bible knows life is not a list, we are not only what we learn or recite. Life is an adventure, a story you and I belong to. The bible pulls us into a story because it is our story. The bible knows religion doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t intersect with the rest of life. Text and life always go together, if they do not, neither has much value.

So here we are in this story. Reality is staring us in the face and uninvited guests are walking in and out. But everyone has a place in this story. Would you hide Rahab in your family tree? Would you keep her identity a secret? Would you include her as a person of faith? Would you meet her for coffee? Invite her to church? Save her a seat next to you? Would you include her in the story?

The bible knows what she is about, knows her history, yet clearly calls her by name as part of our story – may we follow its lead.

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