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?

2 Corinthians, Chapter 4

What I have found is that sometimes I get busy, distracted like those dogs i the Pixar classic UP shouting “Squirrel!!!” I chase the new & shiny or what I mistakenly perceive as urgent and easily turn a blind eye to the things that have brought me so much peace and growth. It’s maddening when I finally see it. My soul is (and has been) thirsty, trying to catch my eye and my attention.

Last week was Easter and during the message – I know that sounds like I am disconnected, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I prepare well so I can remain open and receptive to any promptings, which often come – so anyway, during the message I had a tremendous clarity that I absolutely believed the words I was saying. I know, I know, we hope that goes without saying, but what I mean is that because I believe, because I know this, maybe my life should be reflecting this knowing.

This revelation sounded odd to Elisha, who already thinks my life does reflect this love, this passion. But what he doesn’t see is that in my Google calendar, I have reminders for the dishes (Monday & Friday, because I love my wife) and to call my sister on Thursdays and text/call my mom every other day, and not a one for prayer or meditation. I NEVER miss a workout ever, but I sometimes “don’t have time” to sit down and read my Bible, even just 1 verse.

On the 1st of the month when I take care of the bills, the first thing I do is write a check to the Bridge. I give 1st because if I wait until the end, there won’t be “enough.” My time, though, is different. You know, I have been saying (and I said it Easter Sunday) that we settle for “table scraps” from others when we should not, but it’s those words that are haunting me because scraps of time are what I am too often tossing to God.

I suppose I shouldn’t say this out loud, or maybe this is precisely what I should say out loud. Who knows? As a lifelong over-sharer, I’ve never been great at knowing that line. This is me. So starting over Monday (faith is such a journey of starts and stops and re-starts and re-stops) I give to God right away, for as long as we want or need. And it is so great.

Sometimes we just sit, or I read and am relatively unmoved, and then sometimes I receive this beautiful peach in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, which I’ll share with you.

[Just a side note, do you know at the end of chapter 1/beginning of chapter 2, Paul says (my paraphrase): “I didn’t come to you when I said because I didn’t want to yell at you again?” Isn’t that awesome? It’s easy to love the Bible.]

“Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.

If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus,[d] will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

How could I, why would I, not find time for this?????????

Good Grief

Today is Good Friday, everybody’s home from school and work, and except for the water in the many fish tanks, it is quiet. I’m reading a book by a Lutheran pastor whose first book is called Pastrix (probably the best title I have ever seen) and watching episodes of Wandavision on Disney+.

Today is Good Friday. What does that mean, in 2021, in the United States of America, in my heart, here, now?

During funerals I talk mostly about grief. Sometimes followers of Jesus can run away from grief, choosing instead to focus on bumper sticker theological cliches and shiny Bible verses. This is not usually helpful. Usually it makes us feel like bad Christians because we just feel sad or angry or lost or resentful or bitter, or probably more likely, make those ‘or’s ‘and’s and that’s closer to the truth.

Wandavision is a remarkably deep tv series about soul-crushing grief and superheroes. The title character Wanda is squashed under the weight of immeasurable pain. The expectations, hopes, dreams she had, what her life would look like, what it was supposed to be, died with Vision. Now what? Good Friday asks us the same question. The One we waited for, what He would look like, what He would do, what this was supposed to be, was dead on a cross. Now what? What do we do with this question, with all of the questions? We still have questions in a life of faith, but what do we do with them? Can I feel this pain AND still hope? Can we celebrate in this flood of tears? How much can a heart break?

Vision asks Wanda, “Well, it can’t all be sorrow, can it?” he says. “I’ve always been alone, so I don’t feel the lack. It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve never experienced loss because I have never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

And Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Pastrix, writes, “What I know for sure is that God is always present in love and in suffering.”

I don’t think the question is can we feel pain and hope, or can love and suffering coexist, or can loss and peace hold hands and dance in harmony?

Maybe a better one is, how can they not?

You see, in an authentic full life, we feel all of those things swirling and taking turns with the lead (well, sometimes they don’t take turns and all gush out in a mad dash for the door). This is totally natural. What isn’t natural is the impulse towards shame because we shouldn’t feel some of those things.

The bottomless well of loss in Good Friday hurts like crazy. But loss isn’t the only thing in that well. It’s overflowing with all sorts of company that we are blessed enough to see from here, from Easter Sunday. Loss, confusion, frustration, resurrection, redemption, forgiveness, salvation, ache, separation, reconciliation, all bound together by nothing less than the greatest of all, the amazing undeniable love of Jesus. So, what’s today? It’s a wonderful sadness, a holy sacrifice, a broken hallelujah. It’s a really good grief.