January 5, 2011
Genesis 36-39 is a bit of a strange mixture. The story of Joseph’s first dreams and his brothers selling him into slavery (this family has issues!) in chapter 37 is sandwiched between the genealogy of Esau and the strange story of Judah and his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, in which she tricks him into sleeping with her so that she can have offspring. I’ll say it again; this family has issues! Then we have Joseph’s first experiences in Egypt, in which he is put in charge of his master’s entire affairs, only to be wrongly accused of adultery and thrown in prison. Don’t worry though, soon he’s put in charge of the prison too: bonus!
Yesterday I sat and read these chapters and, do you know, I couldn’t think of any thing to say about them. These stories are really famous, and undoubtedly rich in meaning and inspiration, but I just sat there with the theme from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, as sung by Jason Donovan no less, going around in my head. You know the one “any dream will do!‘. If you’re in the US, this may mean little to you; enjoy the cheese all the same!
Enough of that. I have come up with a few ideas… I could tell you a fun fact; that one of Esau’s descendents is called Eliphaz and another Tem, and the Eliphaz in the book of Job is Eliphaz the Temite. But there’s more! Job is from ‘Uz’ and that’s another of the descendents of Esau, meaning that it’s likely Job is from Edom. Does this means that he wasn’t a Israelite? But he was still God’s favourite? Pretty cool stuff here in the Old Testament about inclusivity, huh?
And I have other thoughts about how cool Reuben is for trying to save Joseph and risk the wrath of his, apparently homicidal, brothers. Or how Tamar could be seen as a strong woman asserting her right to offspring that men had denied her (a childless widow would have had a hard time in those days, still does now in many ways). Or how God’s is always with Joseph, whatever happens.
All of those things would make for interesting posts, I think but none of them really excite me. I don’t particularly want to write about any of them.
I was speaking to my husband yesterday about getting mentally exhausted; I think many of us tend to get this way. You can rest your body a lot but still be making mental lists and plans, or worrying, or engaging your mind more productively but still, working it hard! I think the most tiring thing of all is performing for others. In my case if I were to writw about one of the above topics I’d be doing my ‘I’m a really good Christian who’s always inspired by the Bible’ performance, or perhaps my ‘I’m a dedicated and thought-provoking blogger’ performance. But I’m tired of performing.
So instead I shall break the cycle and say I don’t really know. And that’s okay. And tonight, or today or whenever you read this it’s okay if you don’t know too. It’s okay if you’re tired, or unenthusiastic about something, it’s okay if Psalms don’t always set your world on fire, or you dreading going into to work. It’s okay not to be perfect all the time. We’re not perfect, in fact our very imperfection is part of the Good News of Jesus; we don’t need to be perfect because we’re not God!
There’s no “blessed are the extremely busy; for their’s is the blackberry of heaven” in the Sermon on the Mount, and no “woe to you who rest now, for you will be busy later!”. In fact, God’s big on rest, just look Genesis 2:3 it says God rested.
So give yourself a break. And I’ll try to give myself one too. Thinking is over-rated, I’m off to giggle and eat and watch TV…
December 12, 2010
The more alert among you may have noticed that I’ve changed the tagline of my blog to ‘Reading the Bible in a Year, or However Long it Takes…’ This is because recently I’ve been a bit slack on the whole ‘daily’ blog thing. Busy-ness and illness and forgetfulness conspire against this little endeavour of mine. I keep catching myself in the middle of the evening think “aaw! I haven’t done my blog…arg!” (yes those noises actually occur). And sometimes I make myself do it. But sometimes I simply don’t.
Tonight I am tempted to do a botched job. I’ve read most of the chapters of Genesis I need to for my next post, and I could probably produce some ideas about the way Jacob marrying two sisters who compete for his affections by producing male heirs and getting their servants to do likewise makes me feel a mixture of sad and uncomfortable. The problem is that I would be producing it for the sake of writing a blog post. There would be nothing thoughtful, certainly nothing prayerful about it. Not that all my posts have been so, but then that’s kind of the point.
I find myself asking ‘why am I doing this?’ Is it so a few people can be impressed by piety and commitment as I post my daily musings on scripture? Or is it because I really want to form a relationship, to wrestle with, to listen to the Bible? If it is the latter then forcing myself to skim read and write late night ramblings will not fulfil my purpose. But wait! That could be a cop-out. Am I just making excuses about how I can’t possibly keep this up as a daily practice, how it actually makes me a better Christian not to? (I don’t really buy into this hierarchy of Christians malarkey, but you catch my drift.)
With any spiritual practice – and I do like to think of this process in that category – it easy to do two things; to make it into a chore so that there is no life, no joy in it and to make the fact that it’s become a chore an excuse not to do it so often, or even at all. But getting on with the Bible is like any relationship, you start out fresh as excited and then at some point you have to start putting some work in. Things don’t stay new unless they are cultivated. And it is easy to feel like you don’t have time to read, to reflect, to pray, to sing, when you’re not making any time. Now, you may be a really and truly busy person, but me? I’ll be honest, I can make time to watch Strictly Come Dancing so I have no real excuses.
So, dear reader, I promise you this: that you will receive a blog post, and I will make time for the Bible, every day this week. Honest. And thanks for reading because knowing that one or two of you actually enjoy this is making me stick with it.
And what about you? I wonder if there is anything that you once loved that is feeling like a chore for you at the moment? Prayer, meditation, a friendship, your job, your hobby even. How could you breathe new life intoit? Perhaps by taking a break, or by clearing some room around it, so that it’s not just another thing on your list.
Or perhaps there’s something you used to do but you gave up on because it became a chore. Do you ever miss it? That way of praying? That instrument you were learning? That bible study? That friendship that really started getting on your nerves? That place of worship, even? Perhaps you could return to it, just as an experiment, just to see if it really was a chore, or if you talked and busied yourself out of something nourishing. I’d be interested to hear what happens…
My prayer for us this week is that even in this season of 1000 commitments we make time for whatever gives us joy.
Let’s not let life get in the way of living.
November 16, 2010
Reading the gospels in massive chunks is and interesting challenge. All I really want to write about tonight is 11:28-30, in which Jesus talks about rest, but it seems like cheating. There is some difficult stuff in these chapters, a lot of stuff that I don’t understand. But what’s the point of setting out to read the whole Bible if you only focus on the bits you like?
So, I shall have to admit that Jesus uses a lot of strong and difficult words in Matthew 11-13. He tells unrepentant cities that they will be judged heavily (11:20-24); warns that bad trees bear bad fruit (12:33-37); uses the refrain ‘this evil generation’ whole lot; and says that ‘evildoers’ will be thrown into a fiery furnace on several occasions. Scary stuff.
He also tells a lot of parables in chapter 13. It turns out that the kingdom of heaven is like loads of stuff! A mustard seed, yeast, a net, a merchant… Jesus is concerned that we know that God’s kingdom is powerful and valuable, these stories entice us to go after this kingdom. They come thick and fast, and in varying degrees of comprehendibility. It’s like an onslaught of cryptic wisdom! When Jesus asks the disciples if they have understood all his parables in 13:51 they say “yes”…but I’m not convinced they really did…does anyone?
But among all the warnings and woes, parables and prayers, Jesus makes what is, for me, one of his most powerful speeches;
28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (11:28-30)
When I read these words it’s like my whole being breathes out. Relief floods me. God is offering me refuge, rest.
These gentle words defuse the otherwise harsh impact of much of what he is saying in chapters 12 and 13. His warnings of wrath are preceded by an offering; an offering of another way of living. An option for the world-weary to choose rest.
A God that offers rest. That’s the kind of God we need. Yes he is angry with the spiritual blindness of many, yes he doesn’t mind telling them how it is, but he is not a God who demands only submission. He also offers to take our burdens.
The world demands constant activity, unceasing productivity. We are valued by how much we do, not who we are. Being “self-sufficient” is something to aspire to. Being busy has become synonymous with being a good person. But Jesus’ measure is very different. He asks if you are with him (12:30), he asks if you value God’s kingdom above all else (13:44-46).
Accepting the invitation to lay down your burdens is a radical thing to do. To stop implies a deep trust in God; that he will do even if you don’t. It also requires you to stop caring about what the world thinks for a minute, or a day.
So rest a while. Be still and know that He is God. Trust that life will go on while you pause. How better to choose the ways of the kingdom of heaven?