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 30, 2010
“My spirit is broken and my days are extinct.” (Job 17:1)
It’s funny, isn’t, how this resonates with so many of us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had all I own and most of my family obliterated in the same moment, yet somehow Job’s words speak to some feeling in me. Some deep distress, even as I sit in my wonderful home, with my wonderful husband in the next room, with full cupboards and a healthy family. Middle class guilt perhaps, or something deeper. Something closer to the bone.
I think we all recognise, somewhere within, that deep sadness. It’s hard to admit it when things are going well, that we’re not happy happy through and through, but there it is. It’s why we all love sad songs and sad films, well some of us more than others. If someone recommends me a book and proceeds to tell me how tragic it is I run for the hills; why do I want to spend my leisure time having my heart-broken by the lives of fictional characters?? But I do love to indulge in a melancholy melody. The catharsis of hearing someone else’s lyrics mirror your own pain is a great release.
And that’s part of what Job gives us. I feel silly even writing it because I have had nothing to cause me suffering as Job has. Don’t get me wrong, I can put a suffering spin on my life if I want to; grew up in a single parent family with money worries in London, Dad never lived with me, hard time a school blah blah blah. Or the non-spun version; wonderful creative childhood with loving mother and dedicated (if absent) father, never wanted for anything although money was tight, very academically successful at school. It’s important to notice when my mind craves drama, or even trauma, and so concocts its own. But still, there is a deep longing in me. I often have moments of depression. Just moments (and I am grateful that they are so fleeting), but they are there.
Is it just me? I doubt it, or Leonard Cohen and Radiohead and Jonny Cash would have a much smaller fan base. I have a theory that most people’s favourite song is a sad one, in fact I’ve attached a poll to this post to test my theory, please take part in it! Because there is something seductive about sadness, but also because there’s a bit all of us that is sad.
There are many reasons for our personal melancholies, many stories attached to our sorrow. But I think, I really believe that there is one reason we all share. It is a deep longing. What some people would call being in original sin, I suppose, though I think that phrase has too many centuries of shame and dogma attached to be useful to many people. I think we sense that we are not as close to God as we could be, that we have made barriers between ourselves and Our Lord. We long for closeness we sense is achievable and yet we believe so many lies that few of us ever feel it for more than moments.
Perhaps this is why the experience of finding faith in Jesus can be so euphoric. Because he is a gateway to God for so many of us, because he has broken down barriers that we could not, or would not perhaps. But we Christians must be honest and say that this euphoria is fleeting; it is not a lifetime’s supply or a reward for ‘signing up’. I think the taste is enough to beckon us closer, though in the end the presence of God is bigger than anything we could feel, and present always; whatever our experience. Perhaps it is this sense, of God’s presence and yet the feeling of separation, that causes our deep longing and sadness. This is certainly something that Job experiences acutely and expresses with a wonderful lucidity that taps into something we all know well. Don’t we? Perhaps I have made a personal experience universal, but I expect not…
And now for my first poll…enjoy…
November 22, 2010
It’s all getting a bit heated in Job 11-12. Job’s mammoth moan isn’t even half way through but his friends are starting to lose their patience. Zophar speaks for the first time and he’s not pulling and punches;
3 Should your babble put others to silence,
and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
4 For you say, “My conduct is pure,
and I am clean in God’s sight.”
5 But O that God would speak,
and open his lips to you,
6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
For wisdom is many-sided.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. (11:3-6)
Ouch. Job claims to be blameless (and we read in chapter 1 that he’s God’s favourite!) but Zophar wishes God would have a word with him; put him in his place. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Zophar will get what he wishes for by the end of this book.
Job’s dry wit rings out in his reply; “No doubt you are the people and wisdom will die with you.” (12:2) . The last thing he needs, he reminds his friends, is a lecture about wisdom. He’s bereaved, forlorn, hopeless. He’s been made a “laughing-stock”. Zaphor means well but perhaps he could have found a nicer way to say it!
The thing is, that the telling off was not all Zaphor offered Job. Yes his opener was rather biting but then he offers these wonderful words of comfort;
13 ‘If you direct your heart rightly,
you will stretch out your hands towards him.
14 If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,
and do not let wickedness reside in your tents.
15 Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish;
you will be secure, and will not fear.
16 You will forget your misery;
you will remember it as waters that have passed away.
17 And your life will be brighter than the noonday;
its darkness will be like the morning.
18 And you will have confidence, because there is hope;
you will be protected and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid;
many will entreat your favour.
Your misery will be remembered as waters that passed away; even your dark times will be like the morning. Zaphor is attempting to remind Job that this, too, shall pass. To offer him hope. But Job doesn’t seem to hear this, he heard Zaphor’s reproaches and locked onto them. He can’t hear the hope; only the shame.
Do you recognise this mind-set? I do. Job has a much better excuse than me too; I’ve never experienced anything like what’s he’s going through. But still I know what it is to be so wrapped in my own suffering that I can’t accept any comfort that is offered. I brush it off saying “I know that! I don’t need you to tell me, thanks very much!”. Even the gentlest words of correction feel like attack. Someone telling me that this will pass is useless; what do I care about the future? It’s now that I feel like rubbish.
When we are suffering it’s hard to be vulnerable. Our barriers are up to ensure that we don’t fall apart. The only problem is that these walls keep comfort out and lock our insecurities and self-pity in. While I continue not to ask for or accept help I continue to suffering.
Sometimes we need to indulge our self-pity, our anger, our despair. Job needs to feel his feelings and ask his questions. But if we allow others to be a part of this process the weight of it seems to lift a little.
So I guess the question is; Do I want to be vulnerable? Or do I want to miserable?
Chosing the former is brave and pretty counter-culture… It’s also, for me at least, a step closer to freedom.
We have the choice.