The Bible in GIFs: Genesis 30

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast.

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But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn.

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Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.”

earnmeRachel’s wardrobe could not compare to Olivia’s

Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife…and he loved Rachel more than Leah.

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He served Laban for another seven years. When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.”

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She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing. When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister;

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and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” …And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son”; therefore she named him Dan…Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister,

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and prevailed”; so she named him Naphtali. When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune!” so she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy”;

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so she named him Asher. In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.”

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So he lay with her that night. And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband”; so she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons”; so she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah. Then God remembered Rachel,

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and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach”; and she named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

This Is What God Is Like

Came across this video today, and my immediate response was, “Phhh, just like God.” All pretty and full of rainbows of promise, and then filled with such unfamiliar and unknowable power you’re scared out of your seat. (Whether it’s real or not – and consensus leans toward ‘real’ – the meteorological reality is that this could and does happen, and that is delightfuly nutbars).

This combination is one I think the church has always struggled with – preferring to choose either a snuggly God or an unknowable God of power. We forget that the whole thing is that God is a God of mercy and mystery, judgment and forgiveness, power and humility. We have someone to be close to our hearts, whom we will also never ever be able to now or predict. If you ever find yourself trying to lean towards one or the other, putting God in a smaller box than God claims, what do you think makes you desire that? For me it’s usually fear, that somehow God’s bigness or my inability to understand it means something bad, instead of just something inevitable.

The Bible in GIFs: Genesis 29

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well,

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and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well. Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” They said, “We do.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” “Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.”…

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Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban.

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Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud.

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And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father. When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month. Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?”

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Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.”

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A Prayer for When You Feel Far From God

At my church we have a time dedicated to sharing our prayers which ends with acknowledgment that God hears “all prayers, spoken and unspoken.” I love these times. But there are always topics lots of people deal with that we don’t hear as much about, because our society has taught us to be ashamed or scared of sharing these struggles with others. In this series I will share prayers for the people whose prayers too often go unspoken – people struggling with infertility, addiction, boredom, rage, and many other realities of human life. Please let me know if you have any such prayers, or have a suggestion for a person or group of people who could use prayer. 

God,

I say your name, but I don’t know whether I believe you’re there.

I did. At one point. I think?

I used to feel so close to you. I felt your presence in my every moment, your love for me was like a rock I could climb on, your care unquestioned, your power mysterious but something beautiful to behold.

But now that connection sometimes feels…empty.

A lot of me feels empty these days. I call your name but the response is too faint for me to hear. I pray but my mind just gets filled with frustrations.

At some point along the way life got hard. Distractions got louder. The road got tougher. And for one reason or another, even when things are OK, I just feel distant from you.

But I choose to take comfort in all those fathers and mothers of faith before me who felt far, who had doubts, who got mad at you or couldn’t see you when they looked, and yet they testified that you changed their lives.

In the doubting Thomases, the wrestling Jacobs, the lamenting Mothers, the fearful Israelites at the bottom of Mt. Sinai, the Mother Teresas struggling with depression even as they serve you, I see myself. And if I can see myself in them, and they still found a way to see themselves in you, maybe I can too.

I pray God, that as I wander in the desert you would make yourself known to me. I pray that while I wait for water to parch my thirst for You You would grant me patience and frankly, I pray that that time comes sooner rather than later.

I know I am not alone in this feeling, in this experience, in this desire. You have honored many before me who felt the same way. May I be someone who doubts, but continues asking questions. Who feels far, but continues walking towards. Who feels empty, but holds out hope that I will one day be filled. May those around me not judge me or chastise me but be with me, and care for me, and pray for me. May they even learn from me, as I live a kind of faith that is sometimes harder, but often filled with unexpected grace.

You are God. I believe in you for a reason. And even as I feel far away I hold fast to that reason, hold fast to you, and wait for this too to pass.

Amen.

Jesus, Fully Human

Every week a large portion of churches in the world organize their worship of God around the same couple of Bible passages, picked by some learned folks to cover most of the Bible over a three-year cycle called the Revised Common Lectionary. Since I often preach them and always read ’em, I’m going to blog on the weekly passages regularly. If you have any questions about the RCL, this is a helpful resource. This week’s passage is Matthew 15:10-28. 

The story of Jesus and the begging Canaanite woman is, for many, one of the most disturbing stories of the Gospel. It’s not because of the demon ravaging the woman’s daughter – we’ve seen plenty of those. It’s not because the disciples so callously ask Jesus to send a distraught beggar away – they basically are constantly messing up.

It is difficult because Jesus himself, Savior of our faith, lover of us all, leader of our people, is pretty…mean. It’s just the only way to describe it. A woman begs him for healing and he ignores and then insults her, saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Many have tried to explain this away by saying that he is testing the woman to see what she will do, or demonstrating to the disciples a lesson he recently gave them about hurtful words and unclean hearts. These explanations are available, if we truly cannot abide an imperfect Savior.

But for me, the plain reading of the text is of enormous comfort. The heart of our faith is that Jesus was not only fully God but fully human, and knew what it was to be one of us. He knew what it was to hunger. He knew what it was to weep. He experienced fatigue, and friendship, and puberty, and work, and all the things that make up our rich human existence.

In this story, he shows us that he too knows what it is to make a thoughtless mistake – to be tired (he has traveled much in the last few days), frustrated (every religious brother he meets objects to him and argues with him), and mourning (his close friend John the Baptist was just killed by the government), and let all that malnourishment and exhaustion work itself up inside of him until it’s taken out on someone else. Sound familiar to anyone else?

His anger is taken out in a particularly pernicious way. Scholars have pointed out that “dog” was probably an ethnic slur for the woman’s Canaanite heritage. In his moment of weakness, the racism endemic in Jesus’s society and vocabulary comes out of him, with the potential to harm the woman’s people as well as her soul.

This is how racism often works. It is so much a  part of the structures that surround us, the selectivity of who and what we are educated about, the messages in our TV and movies and books, that it sits inside us, an inevitable and twisted source of interpretation and action, no matter how outwardly compassionate or loving or equitable we believe ourselves to be.

This is a week when we have been thinking a lot about racism in the U.S. In the wake of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the latest in a seemingly never ending string of unarmed people of color being killed by officers of the state, the conversation about whether these officers should or should not keep their jobs, are racist or mistaken, are justified or criminals, has been everywhere.

Many focus on whether these officers were or were not “racists,” as if that is a category of evil person easily identifiable by membership in the KKK, or association only with their own people, or dedication to the forces of white supremacy. But for most of us, that’s not how racism does its deadly work. It lives in us even as we are good spouses and parents, as we form friendships with people of other cultures, as we work alongside people who look different from us.

To have the clean heart and clean mouth that Jesus demands in this Scripture requires constant vigilance, questioning ourselves and the ways in which we have allowed old narratives to hijack our minds and subtly influence what we are willing to do, say, and believe. It most of all requires listening to the people around us, to people who seem unfamiliar, and most of all to anyone who tells us that they have been hurt by our actions, to see how we might grow in spiritual health and accountability to our whole God-created community.

This is how Jesus moved forward from his rare, hurtful mistake. After he dismisses the woman, calling her dog, she says, ” “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

She does not buy into his painful words but reminds him of what he has been preaching and living all over town – that there is enough for all, that the Table is open to anyone, that there is grace to spare for any and all who ask for it. She holds fast to the truth of abundant grace in the face of difficulty and disappointment, teaching even the teacher about what the truth really is in a broken world.

Jesus responds to this reminder, not denying her or getting defensive or explaining his comments away, but saying that she is of great faith and her daughter will be healed. He re-commits himself to the work he has been at for so long, of preaching God’s grace for all people, no matter what group they come from.

If even Jesus, in weariness and grief, can fall back on the poisonous teachings of his culture, how much more vulnerable are we to the siren song of the world’s easy distinctions and hatreds? Let us in this time follow the example of Jesus and listen carefully, be willing to change our decisions, and commit as Jesus-followers to love all people, certain in God’s promise that there will always be enough room at the Table for everyone.

The Bible in GIFs: Genesis 27-28

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see,

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he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.” Now Rebekah was listening…

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so when Esau went to the field…Rebekah said to her son Jacob… “Obey my word as I command you. Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he likes; and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, “Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a man of smooth skin.

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Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse on myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my word, and go, get them for me.”

mustberemovedShe/he – it’s Esau, deal with it.

So he went and got them and brought them to his mother; and his mother prepared savory food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck…

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So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.”

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So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.”

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Then he said, “Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

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As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau came in from his hunting. He also prepared savory food, and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father sit up and eat of his son’s game, so that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your firstborn son, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? —yes, and blessed he shall be!” When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry,

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and said to his father, “Bless me, me also, father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered Esau, “I have already made him your lord, and I have given him all his brothers as servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!”

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And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. Then his father Isaac answered him: “See, away from the fatness of the earth shall your home be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.” Now Esau hated Jacob

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because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” But the words of her elder son Esau were told to Rebekah; so she sent and called her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away…

fresh-prince-theme I GOT IN ONE LITTLE FIGHT AND MY MOM GOT SCARED AND SAID YOU’RE MOVING TO YOUR AUNTIE AND UNCLE IN…HARAN. 

then I will send, and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women [See!]. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?” Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, “You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women. Go at once to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father; and take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and numerous, that you may become a company of peoples.

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May he give to you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your offspring with you, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien—land that God gave to Abraham.”…So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please his father Isaac, Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, and sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.

Grief in a Digital Age

This week, a man I admired and loved died suddenly while on vacation. As a Pastor, I have been experiencing my own grief while also trying to lead my church through theirs. Many knew him as not only a leader of our community but as a father, uncle, or friend. Each of us has been trying to adjust to a world without him, a world where God is real and still good men die young, in our own way.

One of the most difficult moments of the week came from a most unexpected source – my inbox. I had spent several minutes trying to craft an e-mail that captured something of what he had meant to us, of how it feels when we lose someone, of where we go next, to send to the church listserve to inform any who couldn’t be reached by phone of his death. And as soon as I hit send, something new popped up in my unread messages – his auto-reply, letting me know that for a little while he was going to be out of touch.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m pretty sure I did both. Seeing his name, sitting there, still lit up in the attention grabbing ‘unread’ color scheme of gmail, felt like a sliver of hope that maybe it wasn’t true, maybe he wasn’t gone, maybe all our grief was just mistaken. It also felt like something precious, banal as it was in content – it was probably the last time he would ever communicate with me.

It broke open my grief, forcing me to realize all the things that we would be missing now that he is no longer present on this Earth. I’m sure twenty, or two hundred, or a thousand years ago, something would have done the same thing. But it wouldn’t have been this.

I’m not the only one for whom technology became a  major part of losing and remembering those who’ve gone. My friend Matthew Johnson writes eloquently at the Portico Collective about his experience of receiving one text, over and over again, from a dead friend. Millions of us are trying to figure out how to interact with the Facebook pages of the dead. Just this week, in the wake of actor, comedian, and gamer Robin Williams’ tragic death, we immediately saw the best and worst the internet has to offer.

On the one hand, fellow gamers have already started campaigns to get characters added in his name to World of Warcraft and Legend of Zelda, to honor the life he led and the things he loved. On the other, his daughter Zelda (named for that very game) has been forced to close all social media accounts because of anonymous harassers bombarding her with cruel comments and altered photos of her father.

We tend to overestimate how much technology changes the fundamentals of who we are. The Luddites and the i-obsessives love, and feel, and hurt alike. But it feels genuinely different to live in a world where there are so many traces of a person, left behind, for all to see, with little control over how and when we encounter them, after their physical presence is gone.

In the past seeing our lost loved ones in the quiet moments, in the jars of their favorite cookie on the bakery counter, in the pile of letters left in the sock drawer, were things that were somewhat private. They moved us, but we could start to figure out what they meant on our own. If we were in too much pain, it was a little simpler (though never easy) to avoid such reminders.

Like all things, I think this has good and bad in it. Our grief is even more fraught. Strangers have greater ability to twist or take advantage of it. Some of our protective walls are crumbling.

But it is ever more a reality of our lives that we are reminded that those who are gone aren’t really gone. They left an impact, a consequence, a trail of code and pictures messages. They were here, and so are we. Maybe we’ll take our own lives more seriously, live them more fully, if we know how much of the evidence of them will stick around once we’re gone.

As a Christian, every time I take communion I affirm that I am doing so “with God’s people on Earth and all the company of Heaven.” We believe that the living and the dead are a part of one body, one Spirit, one beloved community tied together forever in creation. We never really lost each other, and with God’s help we will one day find each other again, just as resurrected Jesus promised his friends.

I am choosing to let the realities of grief online be a good thing. A strange, but precious reminder that we are never really separate, we never really leave, and each life, no matter how short or how flawed, is infinitely precious and worth remembering. The fleeting traces of the dead that I encounter will serve to remind me of the full and fleshy lives they lived, and of the reality that I am still a part of a community which includes them and billlions of others.

Death is one of life’s great mysteries. But continuing to love and honor the dead can still be one of our greatest gifts – in whatever forms that love now comes, and whatever new forms it takes in the future.