20170203

Not Forgotten

It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.

― Elie Wiesel

Scripture: Genesis 35.10

And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel.

Reflection: Not Forgotten
By Steven Dilla

What does it mean to be Jewish? I’ve posed this question to a handful of rabbis over the years; most respond by saying it means to struggle, citing Jacob’s wrestling with God prior to receiving his new name and ultimately the name Israel. All of the rabbis draw from a shared past to explain the present.

The ability to hold hope for the future is built on the ability to remember the past. We see this in the first parts of Israel’s story—God’s faithfulness is expressed through the word, “remember.” When the authors of scripture say God remembers someone they are not contrasting it to God’s forgetfulness, but the world’s.

Our forgetfulness takes many forms—all of which compound the brokenness of the world. “Indifference,” Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said in his 1999 speech at The White House, “is not only a sin, it is a punishment.”

Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.

Perhaps faith, then, is a calling to join God in remembering. As we remember what it means to be made in the image of God we remember the most vulnerable. This act of mindfulness in the present is the foundation of everything we hope faith will do in the future. Wiesel concludes:

When adults wage war, children perish. We see their faces, their eyes. Do we hear their pleas? Do we feel their pain, their agony? Every minute one of them dies of disease, violence, famine.

Some of them—so many of them—could be saved.

Prayer: The Refrain

“I will appoint a time,” says God.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 35-36 (Listen – 9:33)
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 37 (Listen – 4:56) Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)
Genesis 38 (Listen – 4:24) Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

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20170202

Texts of Terror

Storytelling is a trinitarian act that unites writer, text, and reader in a collage of understanding.

― Phyllis Trible

Scripture: Genesis 34.2

And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw [Dinah], he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.

Reflection: Texts of Terror
By Phyllis Trible

To contrast an Old Testament God of wrath with a New Testament God of love is fallacious. The God of Israel is the God of Jesus, and in both testaments resides in tension between divine wrath and divine love.

If art imitates life, scripture likewise reflects it in both holiness and horror. Reflections themselves neither mandate nor manufacture change; yet by enabling insight, they may inspire repentance. In other words, sad stories may yield new beginnings.

As a critique of culture and faith in light of misogyny, feminism is a prophetic movement examining the status quo, pronouncing judgment, and calling for repentance…. It interprets stories of outrage on behalf of their female victims in order to recover a neglected history, to remember a past that the present embodies, and to pray that these terrors shall not come to pass again.

Jacob’s wrestling at the Jabbok provides the story for our journey. The fight is close to an even match. As Jacob prevails, the man puts out of joint the hollow of Jacob’s thigh. Their physical struggle yields to a verbal contest, with Jacob refusing to let the man go unless he blesses him.

The night visitor deflects this demand by eliciting a confession of the name Jacob as trickster, cheater, or supplanter. To reorient the identity of the patriarch, he changes that name to Israel. What Jacob wants, he does not get on his own terms. The outcome acknowledges both the crippling victory and the magnificent defeat of that night. Jacob’s life is preserved, but he limps as he leaves the Jabbok.

As a paradigm for encountering terror, this story offers sustenance for the present journey. To tell and hear tales of terror is to wrestle demons in the night, without a compassionate God to save us. In combat we wonder about the names of the demons.

Our own names, however, we all too frightfully recognize. We struggle mightily, only to be wounded. But yet we hold on, seeking a blessing: the healing of wounds and the restoration of health. Indeed, as we leave the land of terror, we limp.

*Excerpt from Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible.

Prayer: The Request for Presence

Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery. Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who puts his trust in you. — Psalm 86:1–2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 34 (Listen – 4:18)
Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)

20170201

The Predicament of Self-Obsession

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

― Timothy Keller

Scripture: Genesis 33.4

Esau ran to meet [Jacob] and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

Reflection: The Predicament of Self-Obsession
By Steven Dilla

Finding ones’ self most typically involves a journey inward. The instinct that this self-concerned posture is beneficial to thriving as a human being is as unquestioned as it is primordial—though it has often been proven wrong. The best way to understand ones’ self isn’t found in deep isolation, but in the context of the planet, a community of friends, in service of others, and in light of the divine.

One such ancient story that demonstrates this is found in the life of Jacob. Considering only himself and his own future, the younger swindles his elder brother Esau’s birth right from him. Later, caught on the bank of a river with a man he believes to be divine, he demands a blessing for himself.

Even when Jacob reunited with his brother, he took steps to protect himself—dividing his wealth and sending his family ahead. It’s easy to underestimate the cost of inward focus until we see it play out in Jacob’s life. Just hours after he meets Esau, Jacob panics and flees. Never to see his brother again.

Self-obsession is the nature of brokenness. In A Preface to Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis writes of Milton’s devil:

Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament.

Certainly, he has no choice. He has chosen to have no choice. He has wished to ‘be himself’, and to be in himself and for himself, and his wish has been granted. The Hell he carries with him is, in one sense, a Hell of infinite boredom.

To admire Satan, then, is to give one’s vote not only for a world of misery, but also for a world of lies and propaganda, of wishful thinking, of incessant autobiography.

We are supposed to find ourselves in Jacob’s story—anxious and myopic, insecure in our blessing—but we are not supposed to be content with this. For as our eyes open to the world and people around us, so our hearts open to receive the glory of God. As Lewis concludes of Milton’s protagonist, ‘Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace “all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’”

Prayer: The Request for Presence

Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 33 (Listen – 2:59)
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

*Update: An earlier version of this post misattributed the quote at the top to C.S. Lewis

20170131

A New Name

“Every day my conscience makes confession relying on the hope of Your mercy as more to be trusted than its own innocence.”

― Augustine of Hippo

Scripture: Genesis 32.27

And he said to [Jacob], “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

Reflection: A New Name
By Steven Dilla

It is easy to develop a moralistic view of confession—as if one is bringing a list of moral missteps that ought be followed by pledges of piety. Prayer, in this rhythm, is reduced to a series of transactions that leaves little room for wonder, grace, and inner transformation.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed that the prayers of Scripture stretch deeper and wider than mere confession:

Most psalms presuppose complete certainty of the forgiveness of sins. That may surprise us. But even in the New Testament the same thing is true. Christian prayer is diminished and endangered when it revolves exclusively around the forgiveness of sins. There is such a thing as confidently leaving sin behind for the sake of Jesus Christ.

The reality of “leaving sin behind for the sake of Jesus Christ” brings striking balance to the prayers of the Psalms. For each Psalm of confession there is another Psalm proclaiming righteousness.

Recalibrating our own prayer life to this balance of confession and celebration is not just a matter of changing our language—but allowing Christ to heal and restore our hearts and minds.

In Jacob’s case, when asked his name, he was being asked a deeper question. Originally his name meant “one who grasps,” but after he deceived his brother Esau his family gave him the name of “the one who usurps.” The connotation was, one who deceives in order to overpower. Jacobs’s name become his greatest pain.

The request for Jacob to say his name was not for the sake of acquaintance. Jacob was asked to confess his deepest pain to the face of God. Here he would find healing, hope, restoration—and, most importantly, a new name.

Bonhoeffer concludes:

To have faith as a Christian means that, through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, the Christian has become entirely innocent and righteous in God’s eyes—that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And to pray as a Christian means to hold fast to this innocence and righteousness in which Christians share, and for which they appeal to God’s Word and give God thanks.

Prayer: The Refrain

I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 32 (Listen – 4:40)
Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)

20170130

Reason to Flee

Human goodness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness.

― Anne Frank

Scripture: Genesis 31.21

[Jacob] fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

Reflection: Reason to Flee
By Steven Dilla

Typically those fleeing their homeland have long-since abandoned the cost/benefit way of making decisions. Life has become so dark—death’s imminence pressing against them for so long—that a risk/risk decision is made.

Refugees run toward places of hope. Jacob risked everything to reach Gilead—a place which God yearns to be overflowing with those delivered from death. Such places are revered in prophecy and poetry alike. “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the poet Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883. She gave voice to the place that refugees pray exists.

It is easy to think of refugees as weak and poor—they offer little short-term economic benefit—but their spirit is remarkable. On July 15, 1944, Anne Frank—whose father had tried to overcome American anti-refugee sentiment and policy multiple times as Hitler’s army marched toward his family—would write:

It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.

The 15 year old would die in a concentration camp seven months later.

As Christians we give ourselves to caring for refugees not only because we read of so many in Scripture (Moses, David, John, et. al.), but because Christ was one himself. Pursued by the rulers of his day, Christ’s family became like the 65 million refugees today that risk everything to find a place of hope and mercy.

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,” Lazarus wrote of the beacon of liberty on America’s shore, “A mighty woman with a torch, whose fame /  is the imprisoned lightening, and her name / Mother of Exiles…”

Prayer: The Request for Presence

“Look upon your covenant; the dark places of the earth are haunts of violence.” — Psalm 74:19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 31 (Listen – 7:47)
Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)

For more, read Jesus, the Refugee and Stories of the Oppressed