Thursday, October 29, 2009

through the Bible in Less Than a Year! part 3

Tonight I read Exodus 10-12, covering the final plagues on Egypt: Locusts (#8), darkness (#9), death of firstborns (#10). I

Like many of us, Pharaoh sees the consequences of his actions (here, the plagues) and wants to do just enough to get out of them -- without going all the way. For example, in Exodus 10, in response to the locusts, he "[q]uickly" calls in Moses and Aaron and confesses his sin. He asks for mercy ("pray bear my sin just this one time! And plead with YHWH your God, that he may only remove this death from me!"). But then when the plague is removed (via a strong sea wind), Pharaoh does not set the Hebrews free. He wants mercy or forgiveness without true repentance. He wants the benefit of the bargain God is offering… without quite upholding his side of the bargain. This is perhaps the essence of his hard-heartedness. How often do we try to bargain with God (if you will only grant me X, I will do Y), when Y is something we perhaps should already be doing … or will not have the will to continue to do once we get our heart's true desire, X. It's so hard to set one's heart on doing God's will, rather than our own. Part of the problem is discernment; of course we can pray for that as well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Through the Bible in Less Than a Year! part 2

Today I read Exodus 3 - Moses encounters the burning bush:

And YHWH's messenger was seen by [Moshe]

in the flame of a fire out of the midst of a bush

He saw:

here, the bush is ablaze with fire,

and the bush is not consumed!

Exodus 3:2.

How does Moses react to this? He turns aside from his path (he was shepherding his father-in-law's flock) to "see this great sight". He's just gonna check it out, because it's quite unusual - a fire within a bush, but not actually burning the bush. Once God sees he's got Moses' attention, he calls him by name ("Moshe! Moshe!") and Moses responds with the proper answer: "Here I am."

The right answer, the "classic response of biblical heroes" according to Everett Fox (citing Gen 22:1, 11; 1 Sam 3:4). Why is this the right answer? Well, let's think about the alternatives. If someone calls me, I might:

* pretend I don't hear

* yell back (annoyed) "What do you want?" or even better, "What?"

* ask "What is it?"

* say "Yes?"

(If it's a phone call, I might say, "Speaking." or "This is she" etc. -- probably the closest thing to "Here I am")

"Here I am" answers the call. It doesn't anticipate the demands. It doesn't resist or try to set an expectation that I will do this only under protest. It makes no assumptions, hides nothing, fears nothing. Completely open. Nothing dodgy. Not a bad example to follow, when you think about it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Through the Bible in Less Than a Year!

I'll be posting very rarely on this subject, but Genesis Chapter 50 was very helpful on a day when I was seething, in a foul mood, tired and resentful of others. After Jacob's death, the brothers who had wronged Joseph (Yosef) are worried that he will retaliate. Instead, he reiterates his forgiveness:

"Do not be afraid! For am I in place of God?

Now you, you planned ill against me,

(but) God planned-it-over for good,

in order to do (as is) this very day --

to keep many people alive.

So now, do not be afraid!

I myself will sustain you and your little-ones!"

And he comforted them and spoke to their hearts.

-- Genesis 50:19-21.

If Joseph can forgive and sustain the brothers who with callous jealousy faked his death and sold him into slavery, surely I can forgive others their much lesser transgressions (which were not even directed at me in the first place) - and I can be forgiven mine.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Joker One (Donovan Campbell 2009)

The subtitle says it all: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood.
I suspect the original draft had a lot more military jargon (Mr. Campbell used just enough to give civilian readers a sense of the alien context, but not so much as to make the text inaccessible).

The book is well worth reading for its perspective on urban guerrilla warfare where the occupying soldiers quixotically seek to win hearts and minds without any knowledge of the local language and no connections to the culture.

There are also interesting reflections on love from a Christian in combat:

[The Marines of Joker One] loved one another and their mission -- the people of Rimaldi -- in a way that I didn't fully appreciate until just a few days before we left the city.... A good portion of the city's residents hated us just for being American, and a smaller but still sizable chunk of them actively tried to kill us every day. Why would anyone want to risk his
life to help these people? How could anyone love them? ...

[F]or my men, love was something much more than emotion. For them, love was expressed in the only currency that mattered in combat: action -- a consistent pattern running throughout the large and the small, a pattern of sacrifice that reinforced the idea that we all cared more for the other than we did for ourselves. For them, love was about deeds, not words....

As time went on, these small acts [of sacrifice] -- so many of which I either failed to notice or simply took for granted -- created something in Joker One that was more than just the sum of all of us. ...  
For me, then, loving Joker One ... meant much more than simply feeling that I cared. It meant patience... kindness ... mercy ... dispensing justice and then forgetting that it had been dispensed, punishing wrong and then wiping the slate clean. ... 
Sometimes [love] meant simply putting one foot in front of the other on patrol. And sometimes it meant continuing the mission when you didn't see any progress, meant protecting the defenseless, refraining from pulling the trigger, putting yourself at greater risk, doing what you knew to be right even though you didn't really want to. 
So that was how we loved those who hated us; blessed those who persecuted us; daily laid down our lives for our neighbors. No matter what we felt, we tried to demonstrate love through our daily actions. Now I understand more about what it means to truly love, and what it means to love your neighbor -- how you can do it even when your neighbor literally tries to kill you.
Donovan Campbell, Joker One, chapter 37.

It seems to me that he has nailed it; men do in fact love through actions, not words. Genuine love (as opposed to the cheap, synthetic version) is not the mere creature of emotions, which are inherently changeable, but is built on choices large and small, day in and day out.

And though it is hard to see Marines as turning the other cheek -- they are after all fully armed, hunting down insurgents and ready to return fire -- the self-sacrifice described here is nonetheless a distinctly Christian love.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


I've now spent an entire decade in New York City. What do I have to show for it?

Am I wiser or more compassionate? Do I have deeper, more meaningful connections with friends and family? And - under the "if you're not busy living, you're busy dying" philosophy - Is this city making me more alive?

It feels like a time for reflection and recalibration of priorities.