It was 1958 or Nine

I grew up in a beautiful America.  Dad was Dad, and Mom was Mom and every home had those two individuals.  Kids were either boys or girls, and very generic after that.  When our mom and dad made friends with other moms and dads, we always demanded to know about their children, eager for playmates of our own age and gender.  When two families got together, it was an instant party, a house full of laughing people, with food the mother of the house had grown in her garden, baked in her oven, or “fixed for us” in her brand new kitchen.

It was an era when each American felt freshly vindicated by having conquered the Nazis who tried to murder millions of innocent civilians simply for being Jewish, or having Jewish “sympathies.”  We were born several years after the end of World War II, and knew no suffering, no lack, no fear.  Our parents were children of the Depression who had known hunger, lack, and bone-chilling cold in winters that seemed endless.  By contrast, our homes were heated in winter, and Union Gas showed up monthly to refill the fuel supply in our basement.  As a child I would watch out the window and call out to my mom, “The Onion Man is here!”  When she asked why I called him the onion man, I said, “That’s what it says on the truck.”  (I was a Phonics kid. For me, the word “Union” did not start with a “Y” but with a “U” so UNION man it was.

Our parents would never discuss the war, but the Depression was frequently mentioned.  The tone was unanimously informative and cautionary from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  It was as if they had barely survived total immolation, but for God’s hand, and if we were not careful, we would suffer the same.  This awareness of God’s grace, and their relief at His providential solutions to poverty,  genocide, and starvation was real, and no small thing, nothing to take for granted.  We were occasionally warned that our days of careless play and full bellies could well be numbered.  We laughed behind their backs, certain the stories were only fables meant to teach us manners and godly behavior.

Freshly laundered clothing flapped in the sunshine outside, and long white diapers and sheets caught breezes as my grandmother bent to the heavy basket and pinned up even more.  She would raise a cranky voice and tell us something in Norwegian as we chased each other through the wet billows in an effort to run without being caught in them.  We knew what she was saying, even though we spoke nothing but English.  In those days, children listened for tone, more than the words themselves.  Adults spoke “grown up” and we spoke “child” and it seemed two separate things.  We listened for “angry” or “inviting” or “pay attention” or “stop it.”  Other than these simple tones, we ran freely past them, paying no attention.

50s

We were so confident of their love and provision we took them completely for granted, and when they told us of their impoverished childhoods, they spoke in hushed and embarrassed tones.  They spoke of their memories in shame, and it humiliated us that our own parents had known that kind of lack. We would edge away from their sad narrative, scared and suspicious it might be congenital in nature.  It was not in keeping with the sunshine of our own experience, and we knew they were speaking truth, but we had no place in our hearts and minds to file these stories.  It was important to them.  It marked them.  It was our heritage and they wanted us to have it, but we were not willing to receive it.

to be continued…

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A Scarlet Thread

Mom, I think Jesus was anti-woman.”  I was 22, and everyone knew Mom was a Bible Scholar, deeply immersed in the Bethel Series http://www.bethelseries.com/home.aspx which was an honor in itself.  A handful of students had been carefully selected by the pastor of our church.  It was a two-year commitment, and at the end, these ten hand-selected people would be certified to teach the series to anyone who wanted to attend.

“Why do you say that?” she asked, surprised by my statement, but not threatened.

“Well, he had twelve disciples, and every single one was a MAN.”  I gazed into the face of my mom, expecting her to say I never thought of that! but what she actually said was, “True, but why do you think that was?”

“Because he was anti-woman, and if he despised them then, he probably doesn’t care about them now.”

She nodded, thinking of what she should say to this bit of blasphemy.  I did not flinch.  I waited.

Finally she said, “Tell you what, why don’t you do a Bible study on the life of Jesus as regarding women, and only women, and see what you find.”

I felt a little naked, because I was no Bible scholar.  I was flippant, self-satisfied, and careless regarding things of the faith.  I had been coasting on her coat tails, using her wisdom and knowledge as a convenience during the tough questions of life.

But I heartily accepted her challenge, narcissistically thinking if I could prove Jesus was anti female, I could debunk the rationale for following him.  (It was the early seventies, and most young women had burned their bras by then.  I was probably not wearing my own during this conversation.)

She kind of chuckled and said, “Remember one thing:  It was the men who fell away when he needed them most.  It was the women who stayed by his side.”

I left the house, and went back to my apartment, anxious to delve into my Bible study, determined to uncover examples of females being second class citizens.  Did it not say in the Bible story of his birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth good will to men on whom his favor rests.”?  In the shallow waters of my biblical knowledge, I had openly challenged the Bible in its entirety with a Sunday school understanding of the Christmas story, the Easter story and the saga of the Jews roaming around the desert for forty years, until the ten commandments had been written on stone a couple of times.  Such was the naiivete of my approach!

Mom laughed as I went, unfazed by her wayward daughter, which made me even more resolute.  I am not proud of this history, but I will be forever grateful my mother did not “teach” me in that moment.  She invited me to teach my SELF, and I had no idea what I was about to discover.

The first story to occur to me was the story of his birth.  It made sense to me to begin at his beginning, and follow his life chronologically as he went along, underlining in RED, the many places where he would favor men over women.  What can I SAY?  It made sense to me at the time.

I found out Jesus (in utero) was a human child fathered by the Holy Spirit of God.  I had always accepted this, but it had never occured to me the human, flesh, natural part of him was no man, but issued from a woman, female, and God could have done it any other way, but selected a woman, and not one of any stature, but a young and “ordinary” woman.  The biological DNA of Jesus was female in origin.  God paired with a female to bring about the Son of Man!

At the time, I found this truth astounding.  I closed the Bible, looked out the window and sat there alone, contemplating the meaning of this news, realizing it changed everything I had previously believed.  It wasn’t I had never heard it.  I was schooled in it from birth, but I had never realized it.  From that moment I wondered what ELSE I had heard, but failed to understand.

There is a lineage of four women listed as progenitors of Jesus.  They were Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, not one of them “pure” even by modern standards!  Rahab, for example is labeled as a prostitute.  She is the woman who played an absolutely pivotal role in the story of the Israelites who were preparing to overtake the city where she was “working”.  Laughing…some versions call her an “innkeeper”!

Anyway, somehow two spies were sent into the city to see what they would be up against if they attacked the great city of Jericho.  She took them in, and told them the entire city and all its men were terrified, and emotionally unprepared to resist these special people of God, which was critical information.  When soldiers from the city came looking for the spies, Rahab hid them under stalks of flax on her roof.  She told the soldiers the spies had left, but she did not know which direction they had taken.  The soldiers left the city to hunt them down.  When it was safe, the Israeli spies came down and thanked her.  But she wanted something in return:  She brokered a deal with them to allow her and her family safety when her city of Jericho was attacked.  They would not be killed.

Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua

Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They agreed she would hang a scarlet cord out her window, and she and her family would be spared during the battle of Jericho.  The grateful spies returned to camp and told the Israeli army about the scarlet cord signal ahead of time.  As the story goes, she and her family were the only survivors who walked away.  The battle left neither man nor woman, nor child, nor animal after the walls fell down.  Only Rahab and her mother and brothers walked away.

She joined the victors and lived as part of them thereafter.  An ordinary woman played an extraordinary role in one of the most famous battles ever recorded!  Her life was spared as a reward.  It all seemed so random at the time.  She probably blended in after that.

“God uses the foolish things of this world to confound those things that are wise.”  Rahab was one of the foolish, a street person, and one of female gender.  Even now, a woman of the streets is almost invisible as far as influence in society.  Back then it was more so.

She had no idea it had been anything more than a “deal” even while living out the remainder of her days.  She was a woman of desperation who chose to trust the enemy instead of taking her chances on the streets of Jericho.  She knew the meanness of those streets and the people who walked on them.  She took a chance, and lived to tell the story of how she saved her family with a scarlet cord hung out the window.

She had no idea she would eventually be mentioned in the lineage of Jesus, no awareness he would share her DNA when he was born.  But this is exactly what happened.

No life is random.

F.R.O.G.

I have been reluctant to broadcast my personal relationship to God, because I do not consider myself a very good example of what a Christian should look and act like.  Still, at the very heart of my writing God’s guidance is evident.  Each thing I produce has to past the sniff test of truth, as I understand it before I can expect anyone else to listen!

“Frog” is kind of code among Christian believers.  It is an acronym for Fully Rely On God.

In a confusing array of choices, I take comfort in the guidance of a higher being, one who sees and knows everything.  To know He has a plan, and I am part of it, and not all of it, helps me find security in my reason for existing.  I write from that source.

Often I think about my host of friends who choose not to believe in divine authority.  As God is my witness, I do not look down on them because of this.  I consider them very dear friends, and accept them just as they are, and they do me.  But to drop my pride and reveal I am a “Christian” will cost me something.   To affiliate with those who boldly fly the banner of Christ may cause  finger-pointing by those who consider themselves better Christians…I will never be able to withstand their withering glares, and whispers of unacceptance, and the judgement and rejection.

But to step out and fully rely on God demands I do so publicly.  I have been flamed, brow beaten, disrespected and rejected at times when I timidly shared my faith with someone who was skeptical.  It is a rare atheist who will politely tolerate a Christian’s viewpoint without openly reviling it.  These bullying events have scared me,  and although I remained resolute, I became very cautious.  I became covert, which only served to make me look odd to believers and unbelievers alike!

I do not attend church.  I deliberately work on Sundays because nobody else wants to.  I enjoy sitting quietly at my desk, thinking my own thoughts, praying, working on things I was too busy to work on during the past week.  This day of preparation for the following week is an important service to every one of my co-workers.  I like to think of it as a “sacrifice” I make on behalf of others, to enable them to attend services, be with their families, and so on.  It is pure joy, and I think God accepts it as my Sabbath, or day of rest.

I am deeply embarrassed by “Bible thumpers” and strident Christians who proclaim their own righteousness by disparaging others.  They list their own credentials, and their list of good deeds like a well rehearsed speech on why they qualify to carry the name “Christian”.  When I study God’s Word, I never find where Christ himself ever did this.  It was the Pharisees who acted in such indignant self-righteousness that Jesus rebuked them openly.  No other group received such a severe tongue lashing as this group!

Of course they were angry, and ultimately silenced Jesus by arranging his death.  I think the rest of the story is well-known.  The idea of a human being rising from the dead is a hard thing to convince really happened.  The idea Jesus was a God/Man is even more difficult!  These basic tenets of Christianity are based on faith, not reason.  Each human being is perfectly well-known by God, yet we regard God as a fantasy because of our lack of knowledge about Him.  Our unbelief, though reasonable, does not change the truth of God one bit.  We are free, absolutely free in our choice to bathe in his light, or flee from it.

I relate more closely with the “woman at the well” who  went to draw water at an odd time of day, after all the “righteous” women had finished.  This woman was well-known as a local prostitute, and had a long history in her small town as one who had made wrong choices and was no longer welcome in polite society.  Guess who came to that well at the very same time?  It was the unknown Jesus, a carpenter from the area.

A casual observer in those days would have been astonished and outraged.  No self-respecting Jewish man spoke to any woman in public, much less one of her pedigree.  Yet Jesus did.  But why?  She had no credentials, no authority, no money, nothing of value at all.

Despite this, they had a long conversation together, about her history, her past, and her present.  It was an honest and surprisingly accurate discourse, and she was quite astonished.  But there was no condemnation, despite her record.  She was a Samaritan, not even one of the “Chosen People”.  She had no idea who Jesus was, but she said, “I know that Messiah, (called Christ) is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  and Jesus answered, “I who speak to you, am he.”  This public harlot was the very first person on the planet Jesus revealed he was actually the Messiah!  Openly, and in full view of everyone, she was the first to hear these words.   He is a rule breaker, a man without fear, and one who is able to love someone everyone else condemns.  I cannot get past a person like Jesus!

Neither did she.  She ran back to town and began to tell anyone who would listen about this encounter.  She recognized the truth, accepted it,  and shared it.  She could have refused the offer, but did not.  Each of us will eventually have the same opportunity and choice.  It has nothing to do with our own choices prior to the encounter, but everything to do with whether or not we believe Jesus can find us worth loving just as we are, in all our self judgement, shame, anger, and fear.  The acceptance Jesus demonstrated to such a woman leaves me assured any other person, including me, can be loved and accepted also!

In the coming weeks, I am going to discuss the importance of women in Jesus’ time on earth.  It is an amazing and redemptive saga.

October 6, 2012

My Bedroom

Does not take a lot of room for “just the two of us”!

This is a snapshot of our sleeping space. In this quiet spot each of us feels safe, secure, warm and cared for, whether we are together or alone. From my side of the bed, I compose drafts, have my devotional time, or “warm up” for the day by being served breakfast in bed. Who knew a cowboy could cook so well, and be so willing?

From his side of the bed he rests, sleeps, passes the time, or heals from his decades as a roughneck, farrier, cowboy, laborer…on the premise he is “giving me space and quiet” while I write. I sleep on a rather regular 11PM to 7AM schedule and he is on a roughly 8PM-4AM sleeping schedule. In this way, we have togetherness with apartness, something we enjoy. There is freedom for us as individuals when nobody is mandating bed time or rising time.

Each of us needs serenity and quiet, and we must allow space for it in our homes. The outside world gets chaotic, and we need safety and peace when we are tired. This is my space for resting when my shoulders droop, and I feel heavy in my heart.