Divorce, Dreams, Genesis, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Call Me Israel

Jacob Wrestling

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

 (Genesis 32:24-28, part of a reading for Pentecost 21C)

It must have been quite a night. Jacob sent his family across the river ahead of him: his wives, his children, his servants, his livestock, all his property as a highly mobile desert patriarch. Was he looking for peace and quiet, or did he anticipate a struggle, or an opportunity?

In the middle of the night, at mid-life or really past it as I edge toward 50, I am struggling with God in the night and trying to call it an opportunity. How am I a different person than I was ten years ago? Or than I was at 24, the age of my oldest child, the age I became his mother? (A terrifying thought! Who ever rated me ready to care for an infant when I was so young myself?)

We’re shifting at home, readjusting our view of what life had been, trying to see what the future will be and bring. I have a new call, and a very sick dog, and my marriage is over.

I am striving with God and humans.

I wake in the night, and I wonder what’s next? And I look back at this year and I think I can never call it the worst year ever, no matter what, because my second son flew out of a car and lived, because all three of my children are wonderful, because I found out who really cares about me, and because two people who cannot live together anymore are doing their best to be merciful about it while caring for a beloved pet who is likely nearing his end.

But like Jacob, I am out of joint, and I may walk with a limp. So call me Israel.

At Church, Chez Songbird, Genesis, Grrrls

A few things on my mind this Thursday night

  • Wow! Is it dark early.
  • City By the Sea lacks adequate street lights for dog-walking at this season of the year.
  • Dioramas (or mobiles or posters or fill-in-the-blank) to illustrate the use of a literary element in a short story are probably my least favorite thing among assignments my children have received over the years.
  • #1 Son, if you're reading, remember your "project" about "Catcher in the Rye?"
  • Somehow I have approximately six million items to write for the church newsletter.
  • Carrots steamed and then glazed with olive oil, salt, pepper and maple syrup are quite delicious. 
  • It's hard to leave home to teach Confirmation class when there's a project brewing.
  • But the way those 8th graders are committing to what we are studying gives me hope.
  • And reading Genesis 1-2:4a aloud in a circle with them, each reading a section and then another taking over, and then another, was a holy moment.
  • Coming home, I got good news from a friend about her health, and that was holy, too.
  • At home the project is well underway.
  • My daughter is a better artist than she will admit.
  • But I still don't like those diorama assignments.

Children, Genesis

Sibling Rivalry

(Thinking about the Hebrew Bible reading, which you can find here.)

"You're my new favorite."

It's a joke at my house, where all three children know how loved they are, equally though differently. If someone does something spectacularly useful or helpful, they may hear those words from me. When everyone is home, there is playful jousting for superiority of wit or knowledge or simply authority. #1 Son puts Snowman in his place or playfully reprimands Light Princess, but they let him know how confident they are, too. They boost each other at the same time they tease. They can do this because they know where they stand with the adults in their lives: secure and beloved.

Joseph was –oh!– the favorite of his father, the child of Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel. That complicated family system involved multiple sons of four different mothers: two wives who were sisters and their two slave women. And we think divorce makes life confusing for children! But this kind of extended family was common, and so were the sibling rivalries that went with it. A child like Joseph, so favored by the father, threatened the patriarchal rules of inheritance and authority.

Brothers_deceiveAnd so, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, then smeared the blood of a dead animal on the beautiful coat their father had given him. They cared more about their jealousy and sense of order in the family than they did about their father's grief.

Don't ever let anyone tell you the Bible is the source for "family values." Instead it is a book of human stories, the myths and legends of our particular heritage. It tells the truth about our tendencies, the good and the bad, in stories that seem larger than life. They are riveting tales! We can find ourselves in them.

Every church fight has someone like Joseph, so shiny that everyone else feels threatened. Every church fight has an elder who weeps over the losses. Every church fight has schemers, whether they know themselves to be that or not. So often we see ourselves as the good guys, or gals, because we believe we are acting for the best.

Are we? It's worth taking a step back to give it one more look, before we find ourselves selling things that were never ours in the first place, trying to make things appear to be what they are not, even hurting the people we love.


Wrestling Match

Jacob wrestling angel
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with
him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he
struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he
wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob
said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is
your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be
called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and
have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said,
“Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the
place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is
preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his
(Genesis 22:24-31)

When my boys were little, they used to take out
their mutual frustrations by rolling around on the floor with each other,
"wrestling." Two little fellows would twine into a ball of energy that reminded
me of the Tasmanian Devil in the Bugs Bunny cartoons! Around and around they
would go, but I know there was no real harm intended because the difference in
their ages and sizes would surely have meant injury for the younger if the
wrestling had been serious-minded.
Now they are young men, and when they put their
arms around each other it is in embrace. The outward expression of inner
tensions finds other means: the actor swims; the musician runs. But on some
level, like wrestlers, they measure themselves against one another. Will the
younger ever outgrow the elder? They are close in height, and in other ways,
Jacob spent the night wrestling something, not
sure with what he grappled. When the morning came and the light dawned, he
wanted to name it, to name that force and know better what he had faced, what he
had fought, what had wounded him and changed him for life.
He limped away knowing he had met God and man, God and himself. I hope I do that when I wrestle in the darkness, too, even if it leaves me marked.

(Painting by Leon Bonnat, "Jacob Wrestling the Angel")

Genesis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Television

They Call the Vineyard Moriah

I know, it's Wednesday, and I probably appear to have nothing to say about this week's texts. It happens that I have some ideas brewing, but I took part of the day off today since there are activities at church all weekend, and I wanted to be prepared in case I felt crummy the day after taking methotrexate. There was more Scorching Ray today, and #1 Son tells me there is no saving throw against that spell. You just have to hope the opponent will miss. So maybe next week I'll be luckier.

Jesus henry ian cusick
Meanwhile, we are watching Season 3 of Lost with The Princess, who was too young for the show when it first appeared in 2004. Tonight we saw a favorite episode, Catch-22, a flashback episode for the amazing Desmond, played by Henry Ian Cusick.

If you're not a Lost fan, you may know him better as Jesus.

I think it's safe to say he is our favorite guy on the show.

(Because we are reluctant to publicly admit how much we like Sawyer, okay?)

At any rate, he is part of my favorite couple on the show, and I love his story, and his accent. Catch-22 shows Desmond at a younger age trying to make it as a monk.

No, I'm not kidding.

Here he is with the first guy to call him "Bruthah."

And in a moment of deep connection with this past Sunday's text, the monks Desmond joins (temporarily, he washes out by drinking the expensive wine himself) have a vineyard called Moriah.

Desmond asks why they call it that? He offers a critique of the story of Abraham and Isaac. Why would God ask such a thing only to leap in at the end and solve it all?

Brother Campbell points out that otherwise it wouldn't be much of a test, would it?

And so they call the vineyard Moriah, that place where testing occurs, where last-minute reprieves do occur, where the angel of the Lord speaks to you clearly in your own darn language and you don't turn the other way thinking you are being tempted by Satan or, worse, your own weakness.

Yes, this story is still on my mind.

I'm approaching chronic illness from all sorts of angles, trying to maintain my sense of humor, employing a little denial when necessary to have some fun, yet also asking, why the heck did this happen now? Why a course of appetite-encouraging prednisone after losing so much weight? Why joint pain and stiffness when I was working so hard to get in shape?

Abraham, up on the mountain with the boy he waited for, must have wondered, too.

Desmond has to make a choice about saving one person at the risk of sacrificing another, but because it's Lost, the basis on which he makes the decision turns out to be faulty. Still, he makes the choice that is obviously right and risks having something else bad happen.

(He hardly ever buttons up a shirt, but that's another matter entirely.)

Of course, I've watched season 4, and I know that the real lesson of Desmond's story is that love is more powerful than time and separation and the efforts of bad people and the exigencies of weather and geography and crazy magic Craphole Island.

Abraham, despite having his child nearly snatched away, does indeed become the patriarch of not one, but two, peoples, so I guess that's a happy ending, too, in a broad sort of way.

Me? I'm on Moriah, wondering when in the world that ram is going to appear in the thicket, turning the story over and over in my mind and heart, because it will not let me go.


Of Margins and Edges

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

My Southern Baptist grandmother was quite a character. Full of drive and optimism, she wielded a powerful charm that made you want to do things her way. After she was widowed in her late fifties, she undertook a search. What was she meant to do with the rest of her life? Following a brief foray into spiritualism, Grandmother Galliford returned to her more traditional roots. She went to India on a mission trip with a friend, then spent several years in Japan, as a Laubach Literacy volunteer. I have a number of her books on my shelves: novels, devotional books, even a self-published account of her trip to India.

good news for modern manBut the book I treasured most, now so worn that pages fall out when it is opened, was a copy of “Good News for Modern Man.” I remember seeing it for the first time in her apartment and wondering how part of the Bible had ended up in paperback, with a cover that looked like a newspaper! Because it showed the names of newspapers from around the world, “The Times of India” and “The Times of Japan,” it seemed to be especially hers, my world-traveling grandmother.

Grandma Galli explained that the word gospel meant Good News. When I got to have her copy years later, I was excited to find that she had made notes in the margins. It has always intrigued me to find her handwriting beside passages that have a special meaning for me, and even more so when her notes are found in the margins of passages that are hard to understand, words that take me to the edge of my relationship with scripture and with God.

This week I’m working on a sermon about the story of Abraham and Isaac going up the mountain together, and as that father and son step toward the summit, they take me to the edge, to the tiger mother place in me eager to refute a God who would ask such a parent to sacrifice a child, ready to take on all comers who want to insist on the inerrancy or inspiration or literal acceptance of scripture. Clearly there is more to it. Clearly, I say! Clearly there are cultural contexts we are missing, or human hand-prints all over the text. I become
vehement, and that usually results in a note in the margin of the page, perhaps a word, perhaps a string of exclamation points, or even a lopsided question mark.

Somewhere I need to leave a note for my children saying I would never sacrifice you! Or perhaps I need to think about what I have worshiped along the way that might have led me to do just that, and make a note to myself.

What do we find at the edges of ourselves, of our faith, of the pages we write with our lives? At the edges we find the margins, of course: the place where we might make a note for ourselves or leave a message for someone else to find. And perhaps it is in those edgy margins that we find out how to be God’s people, here and now.


Genesis 22:1-14, which is NL Year 4, Week 2, as well as 3rd Sunday after Pentecost A or Proper 8 (13) A.


Family Values?

Here's a little taste of the gospel lesson coming up for Sunday:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come
to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her
mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. Whoever
loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son
or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the
cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
(Matthew 10:39-45, New Revised Standard Version)

Do you ever read this and wonder what happened to the guy who said "Blessed are the peacemakers?" You have to admit, the gospel is full of what seem on the surface like mixed messages. Peacemakers were blessed in Chapter 5 of Matthew, but in Chapter 10, Jesus is bringing a sword and setting us against each other, in a mighty roar of conflict!

And if it sounds bad to us, in this era of mobile families, in our time when estrangement is commonplace and we almost expect people to complain about their parents, imagine how it sounded at a time when keeping your family ties meant everything.

Only the worst sort of people would have broken up a family. Women, especially, would never have done so, would never have risked alienating their mothers or their mothers-in-law. These were the people who made sure they had a roof over their heads, who kept them safe, who gave them what little status they had in the culture. Sons did not turn against their fathers; that's why the story of the Prodigal Son was so shocking!

But Jesus tells us clearly, he has come to upset the way things have always been.

I think it might be useful for church people to think about something in our faith community on which we rely, something we love, something we would never want to see changed, and imagine life without it. How might letting go of the thing we love make us understand or serve or simply love Jesus better?

I'm going to ponder this.