The Bible in GIFs: Exodus 3-4

Moses settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters.

seven-brides

They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away.

run away monty python

Moses got up and came to their defence

jersey shore defense

and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, ‘How is it that you have come back so soon today?’ They said, ‘An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.’ He said to his daughters, ‘Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.’

sparkling cider

Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, ‘I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.’

et-elliot-on-bicycle-oGershom is Hebrew for ET.

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

joey remembers

 

On Emanuel

Emanuel AME was a church that nurtured Black leaders and resisters, that protested segregation and racist policing, whose denominational family was born out of the rejection of the racism of others (including my own) and which never forgot that spiritual nourishment and community are the foundation for these world changing acts. They have never forgotten that Jesus called us to enter a new kind of Kingdom, and not just to save ourselves.

In the wake of this horrific crime every American, every Christian, and every white person owes the nine who were killed a searching of their hearts for how we are or are not combatting the wicked forces of racism that caused their deaths. Have you heard the kinds of jokes Dylann Roof regularly made before he turned to murder, and ignored them? Have you watched as politicians made the same false generalizations about supposed Black criminality as he did, and let them keep their offices? I’m ashamed to say I have, and in those moments failed the God that Emanuel served.

This tragedy is a profound failure of society as well as this man – otherwise, the flag of pro-slavery rebellion would not still fly next to South Carolina’s state house even as we speak the names of that state’s dead citizens. Otherwise, it would not have taken hours for media outlets to report the race and racist statements of the shooter. Otherwise we would universally see this for what it is, an act of terror.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the five year old girl who survived the shooting by playing dead. How did she know to do that? Was it because she had heard stories of four little Black girls murdered in church fifty years before? What stories had they heard of their uncles or cousins or friends lynched for resistance twenty years prior? What stories had those men carried of their ancestors who fought for freedom in the Civil War only to never receive the pay and protection they were promised? And those before them who were forcibly enslaved?

Enough is enough, but enough has also been enough, for too long, for half a millennium now, and we have continued to fail God, one another, and especially Black people in our country’s continued complacency. Racism is evil. Black lives matter. And it’s past time for every single one of us, especially those of us who are white and most able to pretend it’s not real, to be doing something about it.

Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer for the lives lost, and that our lives still here may be transformed to honor them.

The Bible in GIFs: Exodus 1

Now,

i-need-a-previously-onUGH, FINE.

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy.

hiddleston-counting

Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  who-is-he-fresh-prince

He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour.

people-are-awful

They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

no-no

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’

shockedbaby

But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’

dont-know-girl-at-a-loss

So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’

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.

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.

Without the Guilt

There’s one advertising phrase that always stops me when I see it. Maybe it’s because it’s on a lot of products marketed to women, maybe it’s because of my line of work, but it just always strikes me right in the gut.

It’s “without the guilt.” As in, “Frozen ice cream – without the guilt!” “Chocolate – without the guilt!” “Being alive and taking up space in the world – without the guilt!” (I may or may not have made up that last one).

It’s always on low fat foods to imply that every time you consume the full-calorie version, you are filled with joy but also overwhelming guilt, that you’re doing something wrong by having it. Now that there’s a low fat version, you get all the flavor with the added deliciousness of moral purity.

As a motto for food, I both get it and think it’s a little icky – the motivation for health should be health, not more wrapping up of food with feelings of sadness and inadequacy. But as a motto for religion – that’s where I find it most interesting.

Particularly in the U.S., particularly with Christianity, people tend to associate faith with either the piling on of guilt, or its cheap expiation. You’ve got the self-righteous Christians who because they go to church get to never question themselves and just point out the guilt in everybody else, and you’ve got the guilt and shame-racked Christians who spend a lot of time trying to make up for who they are, unable to feel any joy in existing. In both cases, those advocating for joining the faith and those advocating for leaving get to advertise their visions as “Life – without the guilt!”

But the reality, and the ideal Kingdom church, are a lot grayer. The resurrection and redemption of Jesus Christ don’t mean wallowing in or avoiding guilt for the everyday hurts we inflict on one another. They mean the ability to face our regrets honestly, knowing that we are made good, we sometimes do and/or feel bad, and there is always hope for things to get better with listening, community, and God.

And, discipleship to Christ hopefully leads down a path towards no shame (remember that?! back in the Garden, before stupid clothes?), in who we are or what we feel. We’re creation, we’re God’s children, we’re full of great stuff. But many of us are carrying around suitcases of shame not for things we’ve done that we’d now do differently, but for just existing – having bodies, being different from others, or our assumption of judgment or dislike from everyone we meet.

To my mind this kind of bitter self-hatred isn’t guilt at all. I’ts not the pin-pricking of conscience in response to a sense that we have pushed ourselves away from God or our fellow man. It’s the internalizing of society’s sickness, in not being able to see the beauty of what God has made.

So no, in my faith I haven’t found a life without the guilt. But what I have found in my relationship with God, in the imperfect and vulnerable community of the church, in the example of Jesus’s teachings, is a place to bring the guilt, make my amends (however clumsily), and watch it grow into something fruitful and healthy. I’m not afraid to admit my failings, because I no longer believe that eliminating all my failings is what a good life looks like. I have found a place to bring the shame, and have it touched with the tender hand of God’s love.

For each of us, the journey to making friends with our guilt & shame will be different. But I hope we don’t turn to either papering over it, or being convinced it’s the only thing about us that matters. There’s a lot of room in between, and that room is where an accountable, truthful, generous life is to be found.

Can a curated life be whole?

Yesterday actress Blake Lively’s new lifestyle magazine/store Preserve opened, to some (admittedly sarcastic) fanfare. I have no beef with the site – it seems pretty, and store-wise I’m not really the target audience so I have no business commenting on the products.

But I’ve been struck by a phrase Lively has been using to promote the site. She says that it will help readers live “a curated life.”

Curation is the watchword of a lot of social media and a lot of post-modern life generally. It means, basically, to select carefully and present with a thought to the total collection and its reception by others. It’s something I find myself unconsciously doing almost every time I pin, tweet, or post something. What would someone who scrolled through my profile think of me? What does this Home board say about who I am, what my taste is, what kind of life I want to lead/am leading?

Initially only relevant to galleries and museums, curation is now a concept that subtly drives a lot of our self-presentation online and off. In my line of work there’s even a pretty good book called Curating Worship, about thinking of worship as curated experiences rather than rituals or habits.

But the beauty and careful discernment that can come from curation present their own dangers for a fulfilling or spiritual life. At this point it’s a cliche to acknowledge that facebook is a pretty poor representation of ‘real’ life, leaving out many of the moments of failure, frustration, and boredom that actually characterize the everyday. No one instagrams their frozen meals, or pins the very sensible iron they have to save for on a tight budget. So when we look at others, we see only the good stuff, and tend to think the worse of our own petty and mixed lives.

But it’s not just the bad or the dull that we miss when we lead curated existences. It’s the surprising. A curated life or presence leaves no room for the shock and the beauty that come from completely outside of us, from the things that we would never think to choose, from the events that mess up every neat narrative we’ve written for ourselves but manage to make living the story we’re stuck with that much more enriching.

So here’s what I think. Do you want to feel whole? Then yes, embrace the vulnerability of posting your Pinterest fails and honestly expressing your darkness and doubts. But also make sure to invite surprises into your life. Force yourself to go to new places, sit with an object you initially had a distaste for, talk to a person who seems at odds with your values.

It is rarely the things we choose that have the most to teach us about what life is. To learn who we are we have to first learn the world as it is – bursting at the seems with un-understandable, un-curated, un-capturable chaos. In the midst of that chaos we find the most beautiful order – not any order we can curate but the order of creation, which will always disrupt whatever we seek to impose upon it.