Isaiah, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Let us argue it out

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more;bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:10-18, NRSV)

Yesterday I preached about confession being the ultimate in vulnerability. We don't like words about humility in this era of self-esteem, I said, and we surely don't want to make people compare themselves to worms. But our authenticity, which I believe is key to our salvation, requires our vulnerability with God.

I believe that.

Which isn't to say I like it, necessarily. Because being vulnerable with God means being truthful with myself. 

 

"Wash, wash me clean./Mend my wounded seams./Cleanse my tarnished dreams." A friend sent me this song by k.d. lang not too long ago. 

Though my sins be like scarlet…they shall become like snow. 

For me the biggest sin is to be out of touch with God, to stay in the condition or the hiding place, that won't allow God inside. Well, that I *think* won't allow God inside. God has ways.  Like songs a friend sends to you. Or plane reservations they make to come and see you and be sure you are okay. Or frozen lasagna they leave behind. Or toilet paper holders they install, just because.  Or the affirmation of the congregation on a Sunday when you wondered if you would have any Good News to share at all.

I'm amazed at the multiplicity of means God has used to argue things out with me, to make sure I cannot possibly feel alone, at all hours of the night and day. God is tired of old forms of behavior and old ways of being, ways that I tried to be the person society expected or the church demanded or my own family history suggested. Forget about all that, God says. Let us argue it out. Let us find the way in which you will be washed clean of all that and really, truly know it. 

Job, Midway, Twitter

My friend, Job

I wrote a paper about him once, that Job, a long, long paper on a teeny, teeny bit of the text. I wrote it for Carole Fontaine, who is a wonder. I loved writing it. I loved Job and his struggle and his humanity and the exegesis and the old part of the story and the expanded part of the story and analyzing the meter of the poetry and the way Job argued with God.

Which is hilarious, because I am *so* disinclined to have the argument directly with God myself.

Job One of my church members (Hi, Laurie!) is the librarian at Bangor Theological Seminary here in Portland, and she brought me this old card, now on the scrap paper pile, that came across her desk recently. 

In some ways I'm sitting on the scrap paper ash heap right now, scraping myself with the pot shards, looking back to that crucial year on the library card, wondering why I wanted what I wanted, and why I decided what I decided, and why I asked for what I asked for and, mostly, where God was in all of it.

Job did not hesitate to give God his opinion, even when his friends warned him against it.

Yesterday on Twitter, I asked whether it was okay to be angry with God, and of course people responded in the affirmative: people who know me in real life, people who have been blogging friends for five or six years now, and people I only know in the Twitterverse. They raised the Psalms and Job as examples of human outcry toward God when the situation seems unbearable, and unjustifiably so. 

Other sources, of course, justify those circumstances. We hear it from Jeremiah this week, for instance:

Thus says the LORD concerning this people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the LORD does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. (Jeremiah 14:10, NRSV) 

That sounds more like what I learned as a little Baptist girl. No, really, let me state that more clearly. I learned it as a Very Good Little Baptist Girl, or one who attempted to be that anyway. But life as an adult, life as a divorced seminarian mother of three was more complicated than anything I had ever imagined, and I yearned for companionship, which I believe was fairly human of me.

It may be that I wandered, that I did not restrain my feet. I did so in an attempt to make things come round right. Maybe I needed to learn that coming round right need not be so tortured. Maybe I needed to learn that coming round right really is just about turning and turning until you get to the place where you can see God and feel Love and know Joy. 

For Job it comes at the end of a long haul. It comes with friends who sit with him but also give terrible advice. It comes with an urge to put God on trial. It comes with an answer from a whirlwind, and a defense of those friends, and we, the readers, know that Job was a good guy all along. I'm a little dissatisfied with God, to be honest, and the way HE is portrayed in Job. I like the sweeping expanse of Creation version of God, yes, but I don't like the whole dysfunctional family dynamic that suggests if we give God a hard enough time, we'll get somewhere. That's the direction Jeremiah heads, of course. Oh, God, are you really going to abandon us? We are so, so sorry!!!

I have to think that's human despair speaking. When we're turned the wrong way, we can't hear God. We can't see God. We can't apprehend God in any way.  

So keep turning, that's my thought for the day. Keep turning. Job did, and sooner or later, he came round right. I'm glad to know him.

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(This could only be considered an excursus from the lectionary, but here's a link to the full Jeremiah reading, one of the alternates for this coming Sunday.

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.