The Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour or 2 writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

Who Is Absalom?

Today I am reading Amos, a tiny book among the group known as the minor prophets. Amos is proclaiming judgment against everyone. He uses a familiar tactic in the Scriptures, beginning with the judgment intended for the enemies of Israel. As we would certainly do, they are in agreement. “Yes, they do deserve this judgment!!! Yaaaayyyyy!!! About time!” Paul’s letter to the Romans uses the same format. He describes “the sinful people,” and once we are appropriately self-righteous, in chapter 2, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

You know, it’s easy to see their problem, their bad decisions, their mistakes and missteps.

Anyway. Amos is from a town called Tekoa. Why do I care? Is this important? Maybe. But Tekoa came up before, in 2 Samuel, and maybe I care about that.

2 Samuel 14:2 “So [Joab] sent for a woman from Tekoa who had a reputation for great wisdom.” A woman from Tekoa who had a reputation for great wisdom. I always like it when a wise woman is referenced, it feels like a direct attack on the misogynistic religious patriarchy who would misuse the Bible to keep women quiet and in the background. I know so many wise women and when I need something done well, like Joab, I usually seek out one of these women “from Tekoa.”

It seems that Absalom had done this thing that caused his father David (yes, that David) to exile him, when David’s military commander Joab sought out the woman from Tekoa to manipulate David into seeing where he had strayed from the path. It’s very similar to David’s interaction with the prophet Nathan (“You are that man!!!”). So David brings Absalom back and Absalom then organizes a rebellion and ousts David. Judge Marilyn Milian on The People’s Court often says, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Eventually, David goes back to fight for the throne and wins, chasing Absalom out of the city. Absalom gets hung up in a tree by his long beautiful hair and is killed, against the King’s orders, by…Joab!!! It’s a fascinating story and the thing that started it all was one of Absalom’s brothers, Amnon, raped his sister Tamar and Absalom killed him for it. Actually, the thing that started it is that, in Exodus, the command is to not have “many wives,” but by this point David has 8 wives and 7 concubines. I’d call that ‘many.’

So maybe I don’t care that Amos is from Tekoa, but I care a great deal about Absalom and his great hair and Joab vouching for the wrong guy and David making bad choices and humbly correcting them and revenge and unbridled lust and image and beauty and consequences. It’s everything and more. And we often say the Bible is outdated & irrelevant with nothing to say to us, today.

I think we’ll start to dive into this story a little more for the next few weeks, starting with the phrase, “[Amnon] hated [Tamar] more than he loved her.” It’ll be quite a ride.

The Invitation

Last Sunday I used the phrase, “we are to use our creativity to actively impact our environment,” knowing how many questions it carried along with it, like barnacles hitchhiking on a whale. Do I have any creativity? Does everyone? Either way, what should I do? What is our environment? Can I really impact the world? This all seems so big and overwhelming, is it possible? How do I find time to do this? If God wants this, why doesn’t He do it Himself?

And on and on, right? It sometimes seems like each line of the Scriptures asks more than it answer, every word a doorway to a new idea or avenue of exploration and reflection. That’s not an accident, I don’t think, it is the design.

I’m not going to A any of those Q’s I referenced earlier, except the 1st and last.

1st: Yes.

Last: Built into the story of us, right there in the first 2 books of the Bible, we find our answer. Everything created is given the ability to produce, to participate, to carry on, to move this story forward. If we weren’t supposed to be robots “in the beginning,” why would we be now? (Well, maybe that’s a bad question – we might be because most things we touch, we break. But that doesn’t appear to be God’s intention for us or this entire creation.) We have been gifted with the free will to choose; love or indifference, surrender or control, engagement or apathy. We can be here now, awake to the unbelievable blessings around us, OR, we can sleepwalk down streets jammed with burning bushes, wondering if God exists and, if so, where He is and why He isn’t speaking to us.

This participation applies to our relationship with His Word. This beautiful library of poetry, song, history, wisdom, parable, and whatever Revelation is, is not now and has never been intended to be an instruction manual, like in the glove box of your car or the LEGO booklets that have a step-by-step guide to making their product. If it was, I promise you there wouldn’t be 2 verses that were exact opposites!!!! Those verses are Proverbs 26:4 & 5, google them, and spend the rest of the day considering why they are consecutive verses, instead of spread chapters apart, where we could forget. It’s as if we are being forced to deal with the contradiction. On that note, it’s similar to the parable of the vineyard workers. If the landowner had paid the workers from the first hired to the last, they wouldn’t have known that they all got the same amount. He wanted them to know, wanted to confront them, wanted them to wrestle with the implications. He wanted them to participate in their own growth, wanted them to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”

The invitation has been given, it’s now up to us what we do with it. What kind of world do we want to live in? That might be the biggest question we have to answer on this subject, because the way we answer that will direct our steps on a daily basis. If I want to live in a world of kindness, I will practice kindness.

(And as John would probably say, if we aren’t practicing kindness, maybe we don’t really want to live in a world of kindness. Maybe we don’t really believe kindness works.)

If we want to live in a world of generosity, we will be generous. If we want love, we will love.

This is the invitation. There is a party, now how will we dress and what will we bring?