Monday, April 14, 2014

Light and Hope in the Darkness

'Full Moon over Margarita' photo (c) 2011, bill mulder - license: we finished up rehearsing our Easter Cantata at church tonight (no, I do not sing; I have a part as a reader), my mind started to drift a little, and instead of thinking forward to Easter in a few days, my thoughts went backward many thousands of years, to another Nisan 15, when Israel hurriedly left Egypt and Pharoah behind them, following Moses and his assurances that God had heard their suffering and was rescuing them.  

It's a full moon tonight, as it was then, and when I left church, I looked for it.  Due to its location and my location, I couldn't see it as I drove towards my home, and that was a little disturbing to me; I had anticipated looking up at it, thinking back and wondering what it must have been like for the Israelites.  I knew, though, that it was there somewhere, even if I could not see it.  After I pulled into my driveway and parked and stepped out into the cold night, I saw it, in the East, shining bright and full.  With one hand in my pocket and the other holding my chametz-laden cookie, thoughts popped in and out of my head one after another.  Israel, with the blood on their doorposts, saving them.  Israel, hurrying to leave, not knowing what lay ahead, but knowing God was there. My Jewish friends celebrating tonight with a Seder, recounting that very story, and living it themselves.  Part of the Seder is to put oneself in the place of Israel at the time, experiencing that slavery and that freedom of deliverance.

There is much about the future that we do not know. We may plan and have our own ideas, but ultimately, it is all in God's hands, even when it seems as, like the moon tonight, He isn't there.  But whatever we walk through, He will be there with us, guiding us, and waiting for us in the unknown future.  

In Genesis 1:14-19, we read this:

14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years,  15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." And it was so.  16 God made the two great lights-- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night-- and the stars.  17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth,  18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

The moon that was present during creation, was present during Israel's flight from Egypt, is still present with us today, looking down at us, separating the light from the darkness.  Sometimes, like tonight, it is full, and other times, only a tiny sliver.  But it is there, a promise of light and hope in times of darkness.

May your week be filled with that light and hope, no matter how dark it seems.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Out of Chaos and Darkness

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I've started learning Biblical Hebrew through an online program called Mango Languages, offered through my local library.  I've slowly been making my way through Genesis 1:1-5, and last night was working on verses 4-5.  During that learning time, I tweeted the following:

"There is often a criticism that people have head knowledge but not heart knowledge, which has often made me sad, because I love to learn. It has made me question and second-guess myself so many times. But as I am going through @MangoLanguages Biblical Hebrew --which is an academic endeavor and is head knowledge, learning these first few words of Genesis is also speaking to my heart in ways I can't articulate."

Part of what has affected me has been when Mango has explained the literal meaning of the words (our translations are not literal; they are a mix of literal and intended meaning, which means any translation is open to interpretation) read like this:

"In beginning God created the skies and earth. And the earth was chaos and darkness upon the face of a deep. And God will say will be light and will be light. And God will see the light that is good and God will separate between the light and the darkness. and God will call to the light day and to the darkness called night and will be evening and morning one day."

Even though I'm not completely understanding all the grammatical rules (it would help if I didn't skip over those slides so quickly, I'm sure), I am intrigued and fascinated by the literal meaning of tohu v'bohu (chaos or, as we usually see it, formless void) as well as the use of the future tense.  

In Walter Brueggemann's Interpretation Bible commentary on Genesis, he writes

"The text is likely dated to the sixth century B.C. and addressed to exiles.  It served as a refutation of Babylonian theological claims...Against such claims, it is here asserted that Yahweh is still God, one who watches over his creation and will bring it to well-being...To despairing exiles, it is declared that the God of Israel is the Lord of all of is a theological and pastoral statement addressed to a real historical problem.  The problem is to find a ground for faith in this God when the experience of sixth century Babylon seems to deny the rule of this God." (pages 24-25).

How beautiful is it to look at the opening verses of Genesis as words of hope?  In the midst of Israel's exile, as they are living in the chaos and darkness of the control of other nations, we can see the hope and joy that can be present in knowing the Creator can--and will--bring order and light out of chaos and darkness.  Creation is not a one-time past event, but is ongoing.  God will see the chaos and darkness in our lives, and will see the goodness in our lives, and will make a way for that light to shine.    

Too often, we read these words and insist on reading them in a flat, scientific way.  But when we do that, we lose so much.  If we read them in a more meaningful way, the text opens up to us in ways we may not imagine.  Instead of reading it as an account of how the earth was created, we see the background with real people.  We can look at when our own lives descend into chaos and darkness and know that God is still present, is still working, and will continue to be there.  

I never really got all of that until I started learning Hebrew--and so my "heart knowledge" was lacking.  It wasn't until I was able to get some "head knowledge" that it then made its way to my heart in a new way.  Reading and saying these words in Hebrew have made them come alive for me, and have brought tears to my eyes, even though they've always been some of my favorite verses. I wonder what else I have missed out on over the years as I have felt that "head knowledge" is often looked down upon in the Church--it's too "complex" or "nitpicky" or "deep".  Perhaps, with this new knowledge of these words, God is bringing some light and order to my own chaos.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Book Review: Love Idol by Jennifer Dukes Lee

I received a free copy of Love Idol by Jennifer Dukes Lee as a part of her Book Launch Team.  

When I first met Jennifer last spring or summer and she told me about Love Idol over lunch, and that it was about our need for approval, I said "I think I need to read that book".  There are a few statements that caught my attention early in the book:

"But no matter how much we get--or how good we are--there's someone always doing life better, writing her story more poetically, speaking her words more eloquently, living her days more gracefully, raising her children, being promoted more regularly (And she probably has better hair)." (xx)  We always compare ourselves to others, we feel as if we need to constantly be or do more and more in order to find our worth.  Jennifer teaches us that seeking this approval and acceptance as we do can make us become controlled by it: it becomes our Love Idol.  

I also appreciated that she wrote that she couldn't "pinpoint a trigger in [her] personal history to explain why [she has] sought human approval over these years" (5).  Even though her parents believed in hard work, they never made her feel as if she had to earn her love an approval.  Many people today will tell stories of trying hard to earn love, and, like Jennifer, I never felt that way.  Yet, like Jennifer, something in me craves approval.

Throughout the book, Jennifer weaves in stories from her life as a reporter, interviewing Al Gore and covering the death of Timothy McVeigh, as well as ways that her daughter is facing similar approval issues in her young life, using examples from 4H events and spelling bees.  She hopes to be able to break the hold that approval has on both of them, as well as any of us reading the book.  She writes of being able to try and fail instead of needing to be perfect.

Her main point is that God already loves us, and we do not need to prove our worth to him or find our worth in others.  I would recommend anyone who may be struggling with finding one's worth read this book--and assure yourself that you are preapproved. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

An Oasis of Silence

Note: I wrote this last night but didn't get a chance to type it up and post it until today.

I had four hours to myself today to spend alone in my house.  I wish I could say the house was perfectly clean and organized and chores were all done and it was four hours of quality writing time in which I wrote blog posts to schedule and more of my novel--but it wasn't.  I wrote a little--I made an outline for a writing project that I want to start in the fall, and had an e-mail exchange with a friend about it.  I made some soup for a fellow church-member (he'd bought it at our auction fundraiser and it was time to collect).  I did some laundry, delivered the soup, rested on the couch for a little while with one of the cats, looked at Pinterest, slept for a few minutes, then wondered when my husband and kids would be getting home.  

Those four hours were so relaxing and restful.  In addition to somehow managing to sleep for 10 hours the night before, it was a short period of time that was like an oasis in the desert.  It was like a mini Sabbath (and how nice that it was on the actual Biblical Sabbath day).  It was a rest for my body, mind, and soul.  I don't take the time to do this regularly.  There is always something going on.  As an introvert, the busyness and noise of the children are wearying and overwhelming at times.  In silence, I feel recharged; I feel more alive.  Yet, silence is almost always elusive.

As I write this, my kids are in the bathtub, being only moderately noisy.  I'm sitting on the bathroom counter, watching the sky turn pale pink as the sun is setting.  I can't actually see the sun from where I sit, but I know it is there; I can see its effects.  The sky above the pink is blue, streaked with thin white clouds, and the fields I can see beyond my own yard are still and silent.  

I am reminded of my verse from last year from Psalm 62: For God alone my soul waits in silence (verses 1 & 5).

Even though my boys are having fun in the tub and the ceiling fan is making noise, out the window is the promise and hope of silence and renewal. t will come again, as surely as the sun sets and rises again.  I may not know when, but for today, I have experienced its effects on me, and for now it is enough.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review: Clout by Jenni Catron

I received a free copy of Clout by Jenni Catron from the publisher through the BookLookBloggers program.

To get to the point, I think any Christian leader would benefit from reading this book, so go buy it.  

In Clout, Jenni Catron encourages people to "discover and unleash [their] god-given influence.  Part II of the book is dedicated to cultivating what makes one influential:
  • Discovering Your Identity
  • Discovering Your Confidence
  • Defining Your Mission
  • Determining Your Passion
However, Part I of the book is so incredibly important because even if you can master Part II, there are what Catron calls "Clout Killers", those things that will stunt one's influence and leadership and will pop up at any time.  They are:
  • Fear
  • Comparison
  • Jealousy
  • Scarcity
  • Insecurity
  • Pride
  • Control
These "clout killers" can be insidious, sneaking into our lives without us really being very aware of it, and Catron gives us ways to think about how they might be affecting us.  The questions at the end of each chapter are very introspective and practical.  For example, at the end of chapter 1 she asks "What fears make you think that you can't handle it? Take a few minutes to write them down."  Facing our fears is scary business, because we don't want to admit we have them; we think we will be seen as weak or ineffective.  Catron writes in that chapter that "fear tends to coerce its tentacles into all our issues" (5).  And it does, doesn't it?  Catron writes that fear hides, isolates, and paralyzes.  It is scary how much control fear can have over our lives, and I think that by putting this chapter first, she helps us to face it head on and keep thinking about it throughout the rest of the book.  

Fear has far-reaching repercussions, and Christian leaders and organizations are not immune from it.  For anyone who is struggling with it, or any of the other clout killers mentioned, this book will help one find healing and encouragement.  It could help people who are struggling with their leadership get on a more clear path, and it can help people who may not even know they are struggling or have problems with fear or insecurity or pride.  Those clout killers will affect others in your organization, so it would be good to be prepared to know what they are and how to face them.

If you plan on reading the book, I'd love to discuss it with you, and even post your story of how you have benefited from reading it.  Please contact me if you've got something to share.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ancient Words & New Beginnings

Last night, I logged into a language program called Mango, which is offered through my library.  I selected Biblical Hebrew as the language I wanted to learn and did the first lesson.  At the end of the lesson, I was able to read and say Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew.

Beresheit bara Elohim et hashamayim v'et haaretz

Genesis 1 has always, always been a favorite of mine.  I could read it over and over.  Even in English, it is beautiful poetry, but there's something about being able to even just barely understand it in Hebrew that has made me feel a little emotional.  I've always thought that by learning Hebrew and Greek it would make me feel more connected to the words of the Bible, but *thinking* that and then *feeling* it --even though it is only one verse-- makes a big difference.  I had no idea that learning one verse would affect me in this way.  It's  nothing compared to how many verses there are and how much there is to learn, but it is making me feel things that I can't quite explain.

There is something special about being able to read and say those words, something that reminded me of how ancient they are, how they have been passed down for thousands of years, how the words of God brought life to creation.  It was a brief moment in time when I could sense more deeply that the Kingdom of God can break into our world at times when we do not anticipate it happening.  

It made me think of the lyrics to "Ancient Words":
Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world
They resound with God's own heart
Oh, let the ancient words impart

There was life in those words that I said.

I've been wearing my chai necklace for about two months now.  When I first wrote about it, I wrote " There's something about knowing how ancient the words are, how the word chai takes us back to both creation stories in Genesis: living creatures, every living thing, the breath of life.  It's more than the use of the word there, though.  When I look at the first creation story, when "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep" (1:1), it is as if everything is asleep, waiting silently for God to wake it up and help it to come alive and realize its full potential."  I reread that last night, and was aware of just how perfect my word "alive" for the year has been.

I have felt more alive in the first couple of months of this year than I have in a long time.  In addition to what I have already written in my #ComeAliveSeries, I have had another experience lately that has given me hope and made me feel alive: I've applied for a part-time job.  If it works out, it'll be a great fit for me, and I'll be working with a friend that I think will be a great boss.

I have written before--multiple times--how I believed that God was behind the move to this town more so than any other time in my life.  I couldn't explain it and have spent just over the last two years waiting and wondering and praying.  At times it has been difficult.  After all, I loved my last job and was sad to leave it.  When I mentioned the way that opportunities are coming up to my "The Story" discussion group the other night, it was amusing, because someone said "well, you've been asking for this, why are you so surprised it is happening?"  I really don't know why I am, or if surprised is even the right word.  Maybe it is awe, or thankfulness, or joy.  I do know, though, that God's plans are much better than what I can come up with on my own, and I hope that I will continue to seek God's guidance.

The Mango program told me that beresheit actually means "in beginning"; there is no "the".  In beginning God created.  We all have to start somewhere; we all have to create new beginnings at different times in life.  We begin life as babies, when we start school, when we learn new things, when we have new life experiences.  Life is a series of creative beginnings, and something new is beginning for me now.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

For Such a Time As This

As we drove home from church tonight, a tiny sliver of the bottom of the moon was showing, and the rest was slightly visible, as if it was just barely outlined.  It was present, but not in an obvious way.  There was a beauty to it, an awareness that there is more to what we see than we might think.

This morning, because we are going though "The Story" at church, the topic was Esther.  Esther, whose identity as a Jew is hidden.  Esther, who ends up in such a position as she does through various circumstances that she is able to save her people from being annihilated.  Esther, one of only two women who books of the Bible are named after.

The story of Esther, and the idea of God working behind the scenes both there and in our lives today, is almost too much to comprehend.  If Esther had not been living in Susa...if she had not listened to Mordecai's advice...if she had not been attractive to the king...if she had not found the courage to approach him...if, if, if.

I have written before that more so than any other move in my life, I have felt as though God was behind the move to where I now live.   But it also has included a lot of uncertainty and waiting, waiting, waiting, wondering why, and wondering what's next.  And it has been only recently that the path I am on has started to become more clear.  

As I listened to the sermon this morning I began to wonder...if I had not moved here...if I had not attended this church...if my husband's job didn't require moving every so often...if the seminary I wrote about last week hadn't decided to offer an all online Master of Arts...if, if, if.  

Do you see what I mean about it being too big to really comprehend how God has his hand in all of this?  In my mind, I picture a large three-dimensional puzzle with the pieces all moving around, looking for the spot in which they belong, trying different places until the right fit is found.  I think there is a puzzle to each of our lives, and yet each one is incomplete because we are all connected to each other's puzzles as well.  But in end, it will be a big, beautiful, breathtaking, creation that we can only imagine right now. 

It's not without frustrations, doubts, and fears.  When Esther hesitates about what Mordecai wants her to do, he tells her "For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish.  Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."  (Esther 4:13-14).  I imagine Esther was terrified. When she first approaches the king, she requests that he and Haman attend a banquet, then, once there, she requests they attend another banquet.  It seems that it takes her some time to work up the nerve to expose Haman's horrific plot.  

And life is like that.  We may experience God's calling to us as something scary and uncertain and with no knowledge of what it will bring. Sometimes we ignore it.  Sometimes we postpone it.  Sometimes we do it immediately.  Regardless of when we do it, the calling is still there, and God is still there, though sometimes barely seen, like the moon tonight.

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