Sabbath was equal rest.

Sabbath was equal rest.

We often think that Christianity ushered in a new era of equality for races, genders and cultural roles with Paul’s declaration that in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). But God emphasized equality of persons thousands of years earlier when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 NIV

Setting aside the seventh day each week was how God desired to be worshiped. God wanted people to connect with Him in rest. The Sabbath commandment leveled the social constructs that humans feel compelled to enforce around the worship of God. On the six days of work, society was split along gender, race, age lines and roles; but on Sabbath, all human distinctions ceased.

Children rested along with parents. Slaves had recess from all their duties. The immigrant must stop their work as well. Women and girls relaxed. Servants had the day off. Ox, horses and donkeys were set to graze.  It had to be rest for all. Sabbath was not for Jewish men only.

The holy day was a day of equality. Week after week, God emphasized His impartiality to gender, race, age, and even species! In this idle space of Sabbath, the One Creator God was worshiped in unity. In Christ and in Sabbath rest, we are all one.

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I Go to Church

I Go to Church

I have always gone to church, but I almost quit. In fact, I almost quit every week. I spend many Sundays wondering what the point is? Many times I don’t really enjoy it. I doubt if I’d be missed. Intellectually, I know God is not found in a building. In fact, I often wonder if God is to be found at all? I don’t feel especially close to anyone there. I don’t experience elation or a spiritual high.

I was seriously contemplating becoming a “None.” I know a lot of Nones. I know why they became Nones. I feel like I’m always on the verge of becoming a None, too. Because, really. What would happen to me if I quit?

My answer to that question changes. Today, I think I go to church because if I didn’t, I might loose what little faith I cling to. Going to church, for me, is worship. I depend on the concept of worship to weekly define and bolster my faith in the Big Idea that there is a Divine Soul who loves me.

All people worship.

Worship has been a part of human existence for a very long time. Depending on the century and culture, a worship experience looks different. But, the basic gist or functions remain the same no matter where or when it occurs. There is an idea that sparks deep emotion, breeding loyalty to a ritual that reminds us of that ideaThese components are found in all religions and even in non-religious activities that are formed around an idea that inspires and practices routine.

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For instance, millions of people travel to Disney to experience worship. Even me.

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The idea: Wishes have the power to make dreams come true. (Listen to this sermon, and tell me you don’t feel like glorying! Disney Wishes Firework Show, Disney Magic Kingdom) Ask anyone over the age of 12 if they really believe that idea, and you’ll get a negative. But, the idea inspires nevertheless. The idea that births worship doesn’t necessary have to be true or even be believed to be true. The idea just needs to breed intense emotion. Disney has many ideas, but hallmark Disney is: dreams come true. We can all achieve a happy ending.

The emotional value of Disney’s core idea is undisputed. It is the happiest place on earth! Blessedness is an important emotion to worship, but other emotions can promote worship as well, as long as the emotion is profound. Fear is often the emotion felt as a result of religious ideas, and it is often a more powerful motivator than enjoyment. Disney delivers great emotional value.

Loyalty is bred in many different ways. Profound attachment, zeal, faith, and even duty play a part in being committed. Sometimes we are loyal because we want to be, and sometimes we are loyal even when we don’t want to be. The idea of loyalty in worship introduces self-determination to the component of worship. Ask any Disney fan why they keep returning to Disney Parks, and you’ll get many different answers. People commit for many different reasons. But, loyal fans keep plunking down their money to partake in the rituals surrounding the experience of Disney.

Rituals surrounding Disney are too many to name. Taking a  yearly trip to Disney Theme Parks has been compared to medieval religious pilgrimages. The discipline involved to save money for the excursion, the repetition of themes, the physical participation, the spending, and the  imaginative exercises remind us of religious habits that have been formed to remind us of the Big Idea. In ritual, we experience something physically, with repetition, so that the idea that started the whole experience is recalled and refreshed.

Disney has all the components of a worship experience. Hence, it is filled with meaning for millions and it inspires deep commitment.

Church without worship is pointless.

As I reflect on my Disney worship experience, I also reflect on why I still go to church. Why haven’t I become a None, when I empathize so much with them?  And perhaps if you are a None, you will find the reason in your answers to one of these questions.

Do I believe in the Idea? I struggle with unbelief every minute, but I hope with my whole being the Idea is true. That is my experience of faith. I believe, so I sort it out accordingly. I doubt, so I sort it out accordingly.

Do I experience emotion from the Idea? Oh yes, but the emotions that come to mind first are annoyance, frustration, even dread. The church has been a disheartening place. But, it has also been a place of encouragement, hope, and love. It would be unfair to focus on the bad without recalling the good. Church is also a consistent place that I can focus on the Idea and give it space to elicit emotion within me.

Am I loyal to the Idea?  I am. And this is the strongest reason I still go to church. If I believe the Idea, then I must act like it. I proclaim my faith every Sunday when I go to church. Even when that faith is faltering.

Does the ritual still remind me of the Idea?  Sometimes all the things I don’t like about church get in the way of the Idea. Christian ritual, for me, is a disciplined practice of faith. I attend church, take Jesus’ body and blood, witness baptisms, and serve others to bolster the hope of the Idea. Religious practices without thought are pointless. Going to church without using that time to remember the Idea is useless.

Because of the Big Idea of a Divine Soul who loves me, I go to church. I worship at church because I make a point to. If I became a None, I know I would loose the little faith I have without the ritual to remind me that I am loyal to the Idea that sparks great emotion within.

This year, I am tracking my journey of worship by going to church. See my pictures each week with #Igotochurch on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Join me?

 

2017 Goals Week 3

Follow my progress this year toward meeting 10 goals!

Better Homes & Gardens says tracking your goals makes them 10 times more likely to become habits. It also suggests treating yourself when you succeed. Great idea!

Week 3 of 52

10)   Practice 12 spiritual disciplines.

I am practicing the Spiritual Discipline of Bible intake this month. I have been daily reading 2 1/2 chapters of the Bible in 2 Kings, Proverbs and Hebrews. But, Bible intake is more than just reading the Bible. We also absorb Scripture by hearing it. Don Whitney says this on taking in the Bible at church:

…the ongoing worship of God cannot be separated from the Word of God, which you don’t expect to be read aloud or preached on the golf course or at the lake. We are to discipline ourselves to go and hear the Word of God. (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. p 25)

I go to church weekly to hear God’s Word. It is often a true discipline for me not done out of enjoyment or profit, but raw willpower. Follow my pictures each week on instagram #Igotochurch. Add your own!

I also enjoy listening to two of my favorite preachers on-line.

9)   Complete 12 credits toward MDiv.

The first class was cancelled due to weather, but work begins. Translation, pronunciation, and diagramming were completed this week. The first round wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Isn’t that the way it always goes?

8)   Connect with one person a week.

Check! I had a couple of opportunities this week. I also spent the weekend in the snow with middle-schoolers taking selfies and learning about God’s purposes.

7)   Complete writing a 12-week Bible study.

Nothing.

6)    Submit 6 articles for publication.

Nothing.

5)    Learn how to needle felt and create 25 sculptures. 

I have been working on a trio of human figures. I cannot decide how to do their clothes so I’ve just been staring at them all week. Here’s the start of the head of one.

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4)    Complete 12 house/yard projects. 

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The linen closet is the project of the moment. We have always had a curtain hanging over it, and so we forget it is still unfinished. Stephen took measurements for 3 drawers and 2 glass doors. I found a router at a yard sale for $5 this summer. It was all we were lacking to construct doors. I say “we” in the “Stephen alone” sense.;)

3)    Move at least 15 minutes a day.

It was a yoga week until winter camp. Then, I walked and played in the snow.I did skip Thursday since it was filled with errands and meetings.

2)   Fix my teeth. 

The invisalign trays should arrive in two weeks.

1)  Hike to 12 new places.

Nothing this week.

Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Hagar’s remarkable experience of God is comparable to any of the Patriarch’s, yet it is often overlooked.

Hagar’s History

Hagar was Egyptian. She was most likely given to Sarah by Pharaoh as redress for his bride-napping. She was a stranger in Canaan, different from  the others, marginalized, living in an alien and backward land compared to the grand courts of Egypt. Her accent was different. Her looks set her apart. She most likely faced racial and class prejudice. She was a slave.

Her master  was Sarah. It was Sarah who determined the course of Hagar’s life when she offered her – as a possession – to her husband Abraham. In today’s terms, we call this sex trafficking. In ancient terms, it was an acceptable legal transaction. The Code of Hammurabi gives us some insight into the everyday ethics that determined family life in this era. An infertile wife could offer her slave to her husband. If a child was born as a result, it was against the law (or custom) for the husband to remarry. This saved a barren woman from sharing her husband with another wife, yet still provided an heir.

144. If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ham/ham06.htm

Sarah, acting in accordance with the customs of her time, says to Abraham: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her. (Genesis 16:2) ” Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham, not as wife or concubine but as a womb. If Hagar conceived and bore a child, Sarah’s position as the sole wife of Abraham was secure.

Hagar’s grasp for honor

But Hagar had different ideas. And, who can blame her? Her status changed from slave to the mother of the new heir of Abraham. It is easy to empathize with her desire to take any advantage she could! There was also the dynamic of motherhood at play. Hagar, feeling the overwhelming protection of maternity, felt the need to establish a place of honor for her child. Yet, any behavior on her part that was not fitting as a slave, was actually considered unlawful. See Hammurabi again.

146. If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.

Hagar claimed an honor that did not belong to her, perhaps as a wife or mistress of Abraham, and in the process shamed her owner, Sarah. Genesis 16:4 says, “her mistress was dishonorable in her eyes.” Hagar made a power-play to take advantage of her circumstance and reverse her fortunes and confirm the status of her child, but she was out of line. Sarah’s reaction was more than jealousy, it was justice. Hagar had no right to shame Sarah and claim any worth, for her or her child, above that of slave.

Our modern sense of Western justice has a hard time accepting the clout of this honor/shame dynamic that dominated the Eastern world. Even though Hagar was the one behaving badly, we sympathize with her suffering. When Sarah disciplined her harshly, as just punishment for Hagar’s transgressions, we sense a deeper injustice that was ignored. Hagar never asked to be put in this position! She was forced into sexual relations, and required to birth a baby at great personal risk (childbirth has always been a dangerous enterprise). Surely, her arrogance could be overlooked? Right? Give her a break, Sarah!

When Sarah applied harsh judgement on her, Hagar had few choices. Stay in an abusive situation where she had no voice and little value, or attempt escape. She chose to run away; a courageous, if not foolhardy, option.

Hagar runs away…

…most likely headed back to Egypt (Genesis 16:7). Her flight indicates how desperate and alone she must have felt in Sarah’s house. The journey from Canaan to Egypt is like walking from Seattle to Spokane. Pregnant.

Hagar had serious problems. She was a runaway slave, carrying the property of her mistress. She was a fugitive. She was breaking the law. But, she was an abused and terrified woman.

In the middle of this terror of flight, God came to Hagar.

God visited Hagar! An Egyptian. A woman. A slave. An abuse survivor. At that point in recorded history, God had only come to Noah and Abraham. Hagar’s experience with God is thought provoking. When we consider the times God intervened in Person, what was required of the recipient was usually terrifying. Noah had to build an ark for decades to survive a holocaust. Abraham had to mutilate his very private flesh, and the flesh of 300+ of his men. And, God’s visit to Hagar followed suit. God required Hagar to return to her life as the slave of Sarah. Gulp. That is hard to accept, isn’t it? God was sending Hagar back to slavery, back into the toxic situation with Sarah. We could speculate that there were few options for Hagar, and that was the most merciful one, but I find it hard to swallow, regardless. Experiencing a visit from God was alarming and the task was never easy.

God requires hard things. But, God is full of promise.

God gave Hagar a fertile hope.

“I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (Genesis 16:10) Sound familiar? God promised this woman great fertility, just as God promised Abraham (Genesis 15:5). God gave Hagar a prophesy of hope concerning her child that spoke to a mother’s greatest fear.

  • Her son would be born, alive and healthy.
  • She should name him God Hears: Ishmael, because of her personal experience with God.
  • He would be free, not a slave. He would be a warrior. He would have brothers and family and would not be alone as she was.
  • God promised Hagar a future for her son.

Hagar named God.

“You are El Roi, for I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13-14) Inspired by her personal encounter with God and her own experience of being marginalized, Hagar teaches others about God’s perception. Perhaps this was comforting to her, because she knew God was aware of all things done to her hidden from the sight of others. As Jesus confirmed thousands of years later, “God who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)”

Because Hagar knew God saw her and promised her son’s future was secure, Hagar had the courage to return to her unfortunate situation. Once at home, she instructs Abraham to name their son Ishmael, and her extraordinary talk with God was immortalized as a place-name in the ancient world. Beer Lahai Roi: the well of the Living One who sees me.

Hagar’s story continues.

Gender bending in Proverbs 5: A warning for daughters

Gender bending in Proverbs 5: A warning for daughters

Proverbs 5 was written to warn a son about the dangers of an adulterous woman. Daughters needed no warnings about topics like this in the ancient world because their autonomy was determined by the men in their family. I suppose they might be warned away from becoming an adulterous woman, but I bet this chapter worked double-duty on that account.

As I read through the chapter this morning, I wondered if our  modern daughters, who are now self-determining, could benefit from a contrasted warning? How many women have been trapped in abusive relationships because they were never given warning signs? Let us consider how to prepare our children to resist the allure of evil men (and women) by educating them that such evil, like abusive relationships, exist. Teach them how to spot one and how to resist.

I changed a few words in bold, but the passage is from NIV. Proverbs 5:

My daughter, pay attention to my wisdom,
    turn your ear to my words of insight,
that you may maintain discretion
    and your lips may preserve knowledge.
For the lips of the abusive man drip honey,
    and his speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end he is bitter as gall,
    sharp as a double-edged sword.
His feet go down to death;
    his steps lead straight to the grave.
He gives no thought to the way of life;
    his paths wander aimlessly, but he does not know it.

Now then, my daughters, listen to me;
    do not turn aside from what I say.
Keep to a path far from him,
    do not go near the door of his house,
lest you lose your honor to others
    and your dignity to one who is cruel,
10 lest strangers feast on your wealth
    and your toil enrich the house of another.
11 At the end of your life you will groan,
    when your flesh and body are spent.

VIDEO Theology Bits: Circumcision

VIDEO Theology Bits: Circumcision

What’s been mulling around in my head lately? Circumcision. Why did God put foreskins on if they were meant to come off? What about women? Are women excluded from something because they aren’t included in the cutting of parts? How does this effect Christians? I have some answers, but I’m not really satisfied with them. Do you have anything to add?

(Posting a video was a huge accomplishment for me. I’ve been wanting to start posting short videos for a while, but am fighting vanity and fear of getting information wrong. That’s why I love writing. I can edit, and edit to my heart’s content. I probably sound and look ridiculous, but oh well. I need more humility.)

Sources:

Rochel Holzkenner: Why Women Don’t Need Circumcision

Pini Dunner: Why Circumcision Is an Essential Part of Jewish identity

Note after the fact: Found a book written on this topic. Ordered it. Will let you know how my thoughts progress!

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Submissive Reputation

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Submissive Reputation

Thousands of years after Sarah lived, we learn she was a well-admired woman by those who studied the Hebrew Scriptures. Peter describes her as submissive to Abraham and full of courage (1 Peter 3:5-6). The author of Hebrews extols her faith in God’s promise (Hebrews 11:11). At face value, these may seem like different aspects of her character, but I’d argue they are both referring to the same episode in Sarah’s life: the time Isaac was conceived.

Sarah did not submit to Abraham’s sin.

In 1 Peter 3, the author uses Sarah’s submissiveness to Abraham as an example for women who are married to unbelieving husbands. Sarah herself was not married to an unbeliever, so what aspect of her life is to serve as an example? What was Sarah known for in the time Peter was written? It has been proposed by many preachers, theologians and women’s studies that Sarah submitted to Abraham’s lie and endured the sexual attentions of Pharaoh and Abimalech for his protection. But as I wrote in a previous article, The Sister Story was not a lie, but the truth that Abraham and Sarah publicized in order to survive the culture of licentiousness surrounding their family in Canaan. Abimalech and Pharaoh’s gifts of honor support the facts that they had abused and dishonored Sarah through no fault of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah did not submit to Abraham’s sin because Abraham did not sin in these circumstances of bride theft. Wives married to unbelieving husbands should not use a misunderstanding of The Sister Story as the example to submit to their husbands, even in some twisted way for their husband’s protection.

My lord is old.

So what part of Sarah’s reputation is Peter referring to? Verse  6 says Sarah called Abraham, “lord.” Glancing back at Sarah’s story, this title for her husband was only recorded once. Doesn’t that simplify the context Peter is referring to for us?

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Genesis 18:12

Sarah was 89-years-old. She was infertile. This verse records her reaction to God telling her the time had come for God’s promise to materialize as a baby. It was a sensible reaction, yes? She was not a virgin. She understood that to have a baby, she and Abraham were first going to have to make the baby.  Yada-yada-yada, if you understand my Yiddish. Hence her first concern was that her lady parts were worn out and that her “sire” was decrepit. At 99, Abraham would have difficulty fulfilling his job as well. Hebrews even says “he was good as dead.” Even in her cynicism, Sarah’s faith shines bright, and she submits in faith to try once more to make a baby. She believed God.

If you have ever struggled with infertility or walked alongside of someone who has, I’m sure you understand the enormity of Sarah’s submissiveness to the promise of a baby. The fear of failure is overwhelming, yet the hope of success urges you on again and again until your optimism is exhausted. You are wrung out and your heart can only survive with callouses. You learn to quarantine your desire for a child… so you can stay alive. Sarah knew all this for 7 1/2 decades. She probably thought she was over it. Until God’s Word sparked her amusement and re-kindled the dreaded desire to try. just. one. more. time.

She believed God and submitted to Abraham again.

Submissive Sarah cooperated with God (and Abraham).

In the recorded stories of the Bible, God seeks human participation in God’s work in the world. I was recently reminded of this as I discussed baptism with my daughter. Baptism is a person’s action of faith. It is a submissive response that proves to witnesses that we’ve formed a heavenly alliance. My favorite prophet, Elisha, was the master at getting others involved in God’s work. Sure, we could look at this participatory involvement as a “test of faith.” But, I’ve never liked that perspective. Instead, I believe these are acts of grace designed to attract our affections through our cooperation with the Divine. And that is my personal definition of submission.

Sarah cooperated with Abraham to procure their tiny bundle of grace, who she named “Laughter (Isaac)” after the pivotal moment in her life when she faced her fears and hopes with action and courage.

The [women of old] submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 1 Peter 3:5-6

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

Sarah believed God’s promise.

Sarah’s submissive reputation was the result of her faith in God’s Word that she would birth a royal family. She cooperated with God’s plan for her and joined Abraham to participate in the act of grace required to conceive a child. Against all the odds, Sarah birthed the promised child.