Wednesday, November 16, 2016

bunnies at dusk

I am a white man
clothed in a yellow reflective shirt.
I wear a helmet for protection
and I am panting heavily
as I pedal
as hard as metal,
making my own competition
with imagined rivals.
I’m sure to reach the end
before the others,
since no one seems to agree with me
when the race began,
where it finishes,
and who qualifies.
I pass the circle of flags
on the right side of the street.
Here the nations gather,
some of whom claim
this is the left side of the street.
“It depends which way you look at it,”
they say.
No matter. This is my path,
we are in My Country now,
and no one else is here
because the day
is ready for a comfortable dinner.
It is a warm day in November.
Dusk. The clocks fell back
not too long ago.
And east of the path
runs a canal, channeling water
to the Great Lake.
Trees and tall brush grow by the canal,
providing shelter for
small wild animals.
I spot several bunnies,
venturing out from the brush,
onto the path,
but when they see me coming,
bright and reflective,
I appear to them as a god,
fast and fearsome,
rising like fire on dry prairie,
silent as the last breath
of death.
So, they run and hide
somewhere verdant I’ve never been.
They don’t have to be afraid, really.
I have no gun.
But I suppose they don’t know that.
Never mind. I ride on. My mind set on home,
my lovely white house.
And as I pedal, I laud the trees still clinging
to gold leaves
in praise of prosperity
while those that are bare I curse.
If only everything could shine as I do,
no luster lost,
I would be happy evermore.
Alas, even the bunnies
will die with or without me
in their small dirt hideaways
(likely because of natural causes—
most of them are diseased).
So, don’t blame me for their death.
You can’t seriously expect me
to be responsible for them all,
can you?





bunnies at dusk
by troy cady








Tuesday, November 15, 2016

(wo)men of courage



Once there were five women who defied the king. And he wasn’t just any king. In his time and in that place, he was considered God. That is no exaggeration. Thus, to defy his order was to forfeit your life.

The king, who was Egyptian, gave an order to the midwives of the land that, whenever they helped deliver a Hebrew boy, they were to kill it. We do not know the name of the king because the story never tells us, but we do know the names of the midwives: Shiphrah and Puah.

How interesting that the names of the midwives are remembered, but today scholars debate who was pharaoh at the time Moses was born. I believe we know the names of Shiphrah and Puah because they regarded their life as nothing if they could spare the lives of the vulnerable newborn children.  I believe we know their names because of their courage.

Scripture tells us what happened in Exodus 1:15-20.
“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’ The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, ‘Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?’
“The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.’
“So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.”

I love this story because it is rich with irony and surprise. From a cultural perspective, Shiphrah and Puah were powerless compared to pharaoh. He was king while they were simply midwives. He was Lord, and they were his subjects. Yet from their position of weakness, they subverted the king’s wishes, wielding a power greater than pharaoh’s—the power of life over death.

What’s more, they used a little inside humor in their ploy to thwart the king. I always chuckle when I read their response to pharaoh as he asks them why they let the boys live: the Hebrew women are very vigorous; they start labor and—POP!—out comes that kid! They must have laughed to themselves about that one. What I especially love about that little joke is that it esteemed the people whom pharaoh regarded as Egypt’s enemy—worthless, if not for the slave labor they provided.

One of the greatest stories of all time, therefore, hinges on the compassion, cunning and courage of two women who, by all accounts, are just like the countless women we have opportunity to meet every day today. Shiphrah and Puah are “ordinary” women who do “extraordinary” things because they dared defy the king’s oppressive regime.

But that is just the beginning of the story. Three more women appear in the next chapter: Jochebed, Miriam and pharaoh’s daughter.

After pharaoh heard from Shiphrah and Puah that it would be impossible for the midwives to carry out his orders, he extended his reach by ordering anyone to carry out his orders. That is when Jochebed, a Hebrew woman, had a baby boy.

She tried to hide him as long as she could, but when it became impossible to keep the child with her at home, she placed him in an ark and hid him among the reeds in the Nile river. Now, the river was the place pharaoh told his people to throw the Hebrew baby boys in order to kill them. So, Jochebed’s plan to hide her son in that same river was an act of supreme defiance—yet notice how gently, quietly, she defied him. Like Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed exhibited a quiet, confident sort of courage—but it was courage nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Jochebed’s daughter Miriam kept an eye on her baby brother as he floated among the reeds. And she risked much in her own way. See, pharaoh’s own daughter came to the place where the baby was hidden. This is where she went to bathe.

Pharaoh’s daughter found him there and the story says he was crying so she felt sorry for him. She could see he was a Hebrew but she, too, had compassion on him. Well, Miriam approached pharaoh’s daughter to offer her help. The Bible describes the scene in Exodus 2:7-10. Miriam asked her: “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So, the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So, the woman took the baby and nursed him.  When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

What a rich story this is! For starters, notice that it isn't until the end of this narrative that the "baby boy" has a name. From a literary perspective, the focus is on the women and all the women risk something. On top of that, the two men in the story are pharaoh and Moses—but pharaoh is the powerful king who fades namelessly into the background while Moses is still a helpless (and also nameless!) baby who is dependent on the strength and courage of women. What’s more, the women are moved to these acts of courage out of compassion for the helpless. It is not courage for their own sake. They are laying their lives on the line for the sake of others.

And key questions loom between the lines, such as: Wouldn’t Miriam have been afraid of approaching pharaoh’s daughter? To Miriam, pharaoh’s daughter represented the enemy. And wouldn’t pharaoh’s daughter have wondered what her father would say when she took in a Hebrew as her own son? How scandalous for the Egyptian government at the time! I wonder what she said to him to convince him. After all, it would have appeared to the country that pharaoh failed to keep his own order.

What a beautiful subversion to the power structures of the day. We often give credit to Moses for leading the Hebrews out of slavery, but the fact is the story of the Exodus is nothing without these five brave, compassionate and wise women.

What I find most refreshing about this story is how counter-cultural it is. In ancient Egypt women did not enjoy privilege, prestige and power. In light of the cultural powerlessness of women it is astounding to see them wield incredible power in this story.

I’m writing about this because I think the same is true in our culture today. Our “cultural script” tells us women are suitable for a certain set of responsibilities but not for another set. Speaking from experience in “Christian” culture, I am embarrassed to say we marginalize women even more. My colleague in ministry Mandy Olson puts it this way: “The stained glass ceiling is even thicker than the glass ceiling.”

And it grieves me that women are discriminated against in numerous ways, some subtle and some not-so-subtle.

An example. Today, a song came on the radio that began: “We were made to be courageous.” That message is good and needed, but the song itself only addresses men. It asks, “Where are you, men of courage?” and employs images of being “warriors” instead of “watching from the sidelines.” It tells men to take back the “fight” and paints us as supreme defenders of women and children.

On the one hand, I think the song has a valid point that too many men do not take a stand for what is good and right. Sometimes men are portrayed in our culture as clueless and apathetic, only interested in sports, beer and food, unavailable to children and emotionally shallow. In that light, the song rightly questions that cultural script and that is good.

But there is another cultural script which I find unhelpful that is perhaps faintly echoed between the lines of this song. It is this: culturally-approved maleness often consists of aggression and brute force—it’s reflected in the expectation that to men belong activities like hunting, playing sports, and getting rowdy. The “bad boy” is portrayed as more manly than the sensitive poet or introverted intellectual. The male heroes of film and television often portray power in violent and forceful terms. And that cultural script is unhelpful, too. It is a false view of manhood.  

There is an element in Christian culture that plays into this cultural script. Men are expected to be charismatic and direct but when women exhibit the same qualities they are treated as pushy or too bold. In many churches women are not allowed to serve in certain leadership capacities, even if they have the gift of leadership.

This flies in the face of Scripture, which says: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

It grieves me that women have been historically marginalized because of these cultural scripts we adopt. That is why stories like those we read in the early chapters of the Exodus hearten me. They challenge the cultural script. They remind us that when the world says women have no power, the power of women is not thereby diminished. The power of women will endure no matter what the culture says.

Stories like the one we read in Exodus remind me that “courage” is not an inherently “male” quality. Men and women share the quality of courage equally.

Such a fact calls to mind the many women in my life who have exhibited the quality of courage such that I’ve been inspired to greater courage personally.

I think of my wife, for starters. She is an incredible woman of courage. What I love about her courage is that it isn’t aggressive, as we often think courage must be. No, Heather’s courage comes from an inner strength that, when she acts in courage, she does so simply and confidently. It isn’t flashy but it sure is strong and steadfast. If it is challenged, she will not back down.

I want to emulate that. I want to learn from that. She has courage like I do not.

I think of my sister, also. She is not afraid to speak the truth. She is an incredibly strong woman who has faced all manner of criticism in her life—not the least of which is due to the fact that she has fourteen children. You have no idea how many unkind and thoughtless comments she has received because of this. Yet, the fact is: she has that many children because, in many ways, she is just like Shiphrah and Puah who knew the value of each and every life—especially the lives of vulnerable infants, defenseless if we do not stand watch. 

Yes, she is a woman of courage and great strength. I want to learn from that. She has something I do not.

I think of my daughter, who has been courageous her entire life. She’s had to have courage because, for Pete’s sake, we’ve moved her from one place to the next because of our lifestyle and career. Because of that, she’s had to develop incredible inner strength, a power that derives from knowing just who she is in spite of shifting circumstances. When I think of the obstacles she’s faced in life with confidence and strength, I think: “She’s a woman of courage.”

I also think of my colleague in ministry, Mandy Olson. She has had to face all kinds of demeaning questions because, gasp, she is an ordained woman serving as the lead pastor of our church. I marvel at how she always holds herself with dignity and grace when she faces insensitive queries about her calling. And, it’s not easy leading in an urban context, either. Because of our context, she wrestles with another cultural script which is that Christians do not often treat Muslims with compassion, yet just the other day she reached out to our Muslim neighbors to assure them we wish them well. That gesture took courage, let me tell you, because it means there may be fellow Christians who will question her actions.

But such ridicule is, well, ridiculous. The short of it is: her courage is an example to me.

I think of my friend Sabrina, who stood up to drug dealers and gang members in her neighborhood, all the while homeschooling her children and teaching them to be strong in their faith. Talk about courage! Now, what’s amazing about Sabrina is she would say she didn’t do it alone; her husband was right there with her in it. But, the fact is, without Sabrina and her courage, nothing would have happened. It took her strength, wisdom and perseverance to see it through.  

I could go on and on, listing the many women I’ve had the privilege of knowing throughout my life, but the point is: it’s time for us to wake up and see the incredible gifts each person brings to the world, regardless of their gender. Men do not have a lock on courage, nor are men exempt from cultivating qualities our culture regards as “weak” or “feminine.”

Men, we need to learn from women. We need to help disrupt the cultural script that portrays men as “courageous” and women as “supportive.” In God’s kingdom, such roles do not partition neatly. What we see in the case of the Exodus narrative is that the courage of women springs from compassion and is marked by great wisdom and wit.  Men would do well to learn from women as mothers and daughters, sisters and friends, colleagues and leaders.

To the women in my life I say this: God has given you countless gifts. I thank God for you and I pray you are able to use those gifts to help the world flourish as God intends. Don’t settle for what culture says you can be because God made you to reach for the sky.  After all, you descend from women like Shiphrah, Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter. That is a noble legacy, indeed.



Sunday, November 13, 2016

supermoon



tonight is the night
of the perigee syzygy
a pair of connected things
in opposition to each other
like the sun and the moon
or the moon and the tide
and the perigee syzygy itself
syzygies itself if i may say so
with the apogee syzygy
which is if i may say so
that same pair still connected
in opposition to each other
syzygied if I may say so
but less threatening to each other
if i may say so because
they are further from each other
but what i know of the perigee syzygy
is that we notice it more than the apogee syzygy
because the perigee syzygy is when the moon is biggest
and the tides turn more strongly
and if a theologian may say so
ships run aground and the earth quakes
but we don’t worry so much about it
because the light is also brighter
on the night of the perigee syzygy
because God syzygies himself
and herself so close to our hearts
and when God syzygies himself
and herself so close like that
it feels like a disaster
and a wonder all at once
and the tides pull stronger
and we feel further away
from each other
but really we feel that way
because we are closer to each other
than ever before and it makes us all uncomfortable
because who wants the moon in your face
when you think you’re the sun

this is is this a question or a statement

on the night of the perigee syzygy
maybe it is both





supermoon
by troy cady  









Friday, November 11, 2016

what we don't know

what we don’t know
a poem to honor Veterans
by troy cady

When i say we
i mean, of course,
those like me
who have never served
as you have served.

What we don’t know
is the price you’ve paid,
the lives you’ve saved,
the pain you’ve borne
and the bruises you’ve worn.

What we don’t know
is the life you lost,
and what it cost
your family,
the broken bones,
the sacrifice of dreams
and a place called home,
the desolate places you’ve roamed,
hoping for hope.

What we don’t know
is the fear that laced
tight your throat,
what you saw when God’s face
vanished from sight,
like flight from the shore
at night in a storm.  

What we don’t know won’t hurt us
because
what you know is what can hurt us.








Wednesday, November 9, 2016

what i said to my son this morning



I drive my sixteen-year-old son to school every weekday and we often always listen to CDs or the radio on the way. This morning my son wanted to listen to a “Christian” station. Around 7:20 the radio host opened up the lines to take some calls.

The first caller says, “The way I see it, it doesn’t really matter who won the election because God is still in control.”

The comment seems harmless enough and the host agrees with it wholeheartedly. In fact, the comment feels a little hopeful to many people…hopeful enough to seem good, but today something prompted me to pause and comment on what was said.

I must admit, too many times I have let moments like that go by with my son because I figure…he’s happy…why get all depressed talking about something heavy on the way to school? But today I decide enough is enough. I have to say something. After all, passive good is no better than active evil. In fact, in most cases, it’s worse.

Yes, I have to say something.

Why? Because my son came out of his room at about 6:30 this morning and wanted to know who was elected President while he slept. I told him and we processed it a bit. But now, in the car on the way to school, I was warming up for round two.

See, I stayed up last night for most of the election coverage on television. When it got towards the end, I could see who was going to win. I decided I needed sleep and I retired for the evening. Before that, however, I had spent about three hours with an eye on the muted television screen while intermittently browsing Facebook.

Facebook is sometimes unhelpful in times like these but last night I noticed several patterns that I felt shed light on the situation—and the one pattern that troubled me most was a comment that I saw repeated by too many friends.

It was this: “What am I going to tell my children about this? Policy and politics aside, how could we elect a man like this?”

The question about our children is, in my opinion, one of the most important questions we could ask right now. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a question that isn’t more important than this one.

In addition to being a dad to two children, I have the advantage and privilege of working with children. So, after a night like last night, my first thought goes out to the children.

I weep for them. They are the most vulnerable. They will reap what we sow.

Since I know many parents may be struggling how to talk about this with their children, I offer what I said to my son (and what I want to keep saying) in hopes it may be helpful to you. Here goes, paraphrased a bit:

“I have hope because there are people like you in the world. You are our future. Those who are older than you have messed things up for you and for that I am sorry. But I have hope that you and your generation will help make this world a better place.

“Learn from our mistakes and learn from our successes. There’s plenty of both. But do not give in to hate and fear. It is always the right thing to defend the weak. As you get older you will have to do what we often failed to do which was to strip bullies of power. It’s not fair that it will fall to you to do what we did not do but I want you to know you have a chance to do it, all the same.”

I paused a bit and said: “I’m proud of you. I’m glad you’re my son. You are a good person.”

That was before we left the house. When we got in the car I asked him if he wanted to listen to music or news. He said music, of course. But then, when the caller came on the radio I had to say something about the “God is in control” message. I turned the radio down and said:

“Okay. I’m sorry but I have to say this. Nic, what I want you to know is that faith in God does not give us a free pass to just throw up our hands and say, ‘Oh, well. It doesn’t matter anyway. God is in control.’ God gives us a say in how things turn out. We are free to choose and influence the situation. That’s the whole point. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be love. Love that isn’t chosen isn’t love. So, yes, God may be in control but God lets us have a say in things.

“We’re supposed to use that freedom to help others. We are supposed to look out for those who are wronged, for the weak, for those who need help. We’re supposed to offer food, clothing and shelter to those who have no home because of war or other hardship. That’s up to us. God won’t do it for us. We have to do it. We can shape the world. We can make a better future and we need to stand up for what’s right and good. I’m just glad there are many like you who will help do that.”

Now, I know that many of you reading this have younger children and it wouldn’t be apt to say such things to them but the essence can still be the same. I invite you to think how you can use this time to build up the children you know. It is a wonderful opportunity, in fact.

In these coming days, children will need the guidance and nurture of adults to reinforce what is good and true, noble and loving. I advocate that we do not shield children from the diverse forces of oppression in our world, but rather we talk about it with them to remind them that human agency is not negated by confidence in God, nor is faith in God rendered obsolete by merciful action. Rather, talk with them about how confidence in God is a source from which redemptive and compassionate action flows. When we treat others with compassion, we treat them as God treats all of us. Wonder with them what they think God’s part is and what they think our part is in all this. I know from experience they’ll have some wonderful things to say.

Nurture children in compassion. Do not speak down to them. They are not dumb. They possess an intelligence that, in fact, can educate us as adults if we will listen carefully and learn from them. If a troubling scenario arises, ask them what they think would be the right thing to do. You will see: they will know and they will be very thoughtful about it. Often, their response may be different than what you think, so be willing to change your mind and heart, be willing to let yourself be led by children.

Above all, let them know that hope is alive because of them. Don’t say this in a way that makes them feel pressure, but say it in a way that fills their chest with enthusiastic optimism and creativity. There’s little else that is more empowering than to know someone you look up to believes in you, respects you and cheers you on.

Now, I don’t mean to say that, humanly speaking, we can become whatever we want, but with faith in God as a compass, we can go to joyful places we have not been to yet.

Finally, if we mess up, we need to be willing to say sorry, ask forgiveness and then offer whatever we can to make it right. Children learn this when adults model it. Children see very little of this in our public leaders, so the best way they will experience it is from you. Practice humility and gentleness with the children you know.

Our children will learn many things these coming years. It is up to us to do at least one thing right: help them be compassionate, creative and courageous. Help them be thoughtful and mindful of others. They have a voice. Listen to it.

That is what I want to tell my son these days and I invite you to do likewise.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

sukkot



Last Wednesday was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. 

Now, forgiveness yields freedom and God’s freedom calls us to pilgrimage. To be free is to journey.

I like the way theologian Jürgen Moltmann puts it: “The first thing liberated beings do is to enjoy their freedom and playfully test their newfound opportunities and powers.” (Theology of Play, vii.)

For instance, after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they could go wherever they liked. They were free, indeed. But which would be the best way to go?

God, in mercy, led the people to show them the best way to go by giving them signposts along the way.

First, God led the people by the sign of fire and smoke.

Second, God showed them the best way to go by giving them the Ten Commandments. They are the “ten best ways to live,” according to Jerome Berryman, author of Godly Play.

The third sign ordered their coming and going, resting and working in a rather unique way. It was the sign of the tabernacle.

The tabernacle was a sign to the people that God would be in their midst, at the center of their community, as they went on pilgrimage from slavery to enjoy their new freedom.

And so, it is fitting that soon after Yom Kippur there is the Feast of Tabernacles called Sukkot. We are in the midst of Sukkot right now. This year it began on Sunday October 16 and ends on Sunday October 23.

It is also called the Feast of Booths and, to observe the festival, many Jews today build small shelters on their property. Just up the street from my home, there is a large apartment complex with a small courtyard in the middle of the building’s three wings.  Every year our Jewish neighbors who live there build a shelter to observe the festival.

The booths and the tabernacle portray home as a temporary place. God is on the move and, because our true home can only be found in God, the journey with God becomes our dwelling place.

The message is clear: don’t settle. Be ready to pack up camp and follow where God leads. Your livelihood is found in freedom and adventure.

I am drawn to this way of thinking about home because of its playfulness. To be sure, there is tension intrinsic to this sense of home because we are accustomed to thinking of home in incarnational terms, theologically speaking.

The incarnation is that moment in history when God became flesh in Jesus and “made his dwelling among us.” It was the moment when God “settled down”, so to speak, and grew up in a neighborhood, making a home in a small town in northern Israel. It’s fascinating that when God took on flesh he never left the land of Israel.

Yet, by being present to a specific location, God unleashed a work in the world that is beyond comparison. The Christ-event begins with the incarnation (making a home) and ends with a part of the story that still hasn’t ended: Pentecost.

And Pentecost is that part of the story where God moves wherever he likes in unpredictable ways.

Thus, boundary and freedom are always connected.

Notice that in the incarnation God imposes limitation on God’s self by becoming a human while at Pentecost the Spirit moves humanity to freely follow the untamed purposes of God.

Taken together, the two form a dialectic that continually stand in tension and this is the very quality that constitutes play.

But what’s even more fascinating is that each part of this dialectic, taken on its own, contains the tension of boundary and freedom.

On the one hand, the incarnation represents a boundary in that God becomes self-limited, yet it is by this very limitation that God playfully breaks the rules. After all, who would have ever expected that God would become a human and truly “make his dwelling among us”? The incarnation comes to us as a surprise precisely because the infinite becomes finite. The categories can no longer be partitioned neatly. In the incarnation there is boundary, and by that boundary there is freedom.

And the same is true of Pentecost. The Spirit, who is as uncatchable as the wind, gets “caught” by us. By taking up residence in the human heart, the Spirit of God, who may be found everywhere, can now be found locally in the specific faces of limited human beings.

So, with the incarnation we have a boundary that leads to freedom while at Pentecost we have freedom with boundary. The two cannot be extricated from each other.

This tension is foreshadowed by the meaning of the tabernacle. God, who goes before the people in the column of fire and smoke in the wilderness wanderings, is unapproachable. Yet, God wants to dwell among his people, to be known—so God also places himself in the middle of the camp. God is thus both center and circumference.

The tabernacle assures us that God is our home. It is a place of pure presence. Yet, the tabernacle is intended to be put up for a season and then carried with the people when God prompts them to break camp and move out. God is thus a home that never stays in one place.

I love how God shatters our either/or categories. How playful!

Yesterday afternoon I was out for a bike ride and, as it was nearing sunset, I passed many Jewish neighbors making their way to worship. Everyone was clearly happy, not just because it was a beautiful afternoon but because of the specialness of the holy season. As I biked south on the path, a tall man with a full beard, dressed in black suit with a white collar shirt and a big black hat, saw me coming his way. He smiled broadly and said, “Isn’t this a lovely day? How are you?”

Among other meanings, the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that we are on pilgrimage with each other, no matter our differences. Along the way, God is in our midst. It is up to us to notice the movement of God in those we meet on the journey, to celebrate the life of God who is ever-present, but never merely static. This God opens our eyes to see the world, made in colorful beauty, and one another, sacred, sought and seeking.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

when the hurricane hits



Run for high ground. The hurricane hit land.

We have radars to track these things. We could tell the storm was coming. People predicted it.

But some didn’t want to leave their home. And those that ran for safety are now living in the throes of confusion. When they return home there will be no home. Everything will be gone. It seems that all is lost.
…………………

The election is only a few weeks away. Come mid-November a new reality will begin to sink in. But here in these weeks leading up to Decision 2016 it feels like a hurricane. Very disorienting.

What have we built and how did we build it? When the storm passes, what will become of what our hands have made? Will we build more of the same?

I wonder if anyone knows how to build differently. One thing is certain: if we didn’t see the storm coming, we weren’t paying attention.
………………

A conversation. He said: “It felt like the storm would never get here. We watched it and watched it, night after night. On Tuesday the news said three days. On Wednesday…two days. Okay. Well, it’s coming. Thursday: one day.”

On Friday they drove north and west, further than most. By then, traffic was not so bad. Those who were going to leave…left already. Those who decided to stay…stayed.

“It felt like the storm would never get here. It was very slow.”

The system seemed to crawl, so when it hit land, the storm seemed more severe. The winds persisted, the water accumulated. Nearly 17 inches in the space of 10 hours. If you were in your home, you endured listening to the wind beat against the house while the power was out. It was very frightening.

The problem with the hurricane was its speed. It was anything but momentary. It lingered. Still, you could see it coming.

But few prayed for wisdom in the waiting. Decisions were made momentarily for a storm that was anything but momentary.
…………………………..

The news cycle seems to portray the latest revelation about the candidate as if it is, well…news.

It isn’t. You could see it coming, if you were paying attention.

The attempt to control the message should concern us. It’s a manufactured storm designed to disorient and provoke fear, to call forth a cycle of attack and counter-attack.  And the unmitigated hubristic response should concern us. The proud lies cut a swath of terror. Anyone who dares stand in the way of the tempest will be blown to bits.

This is not a place one calls home. This is spiritual exile brought on by the storm.

In exile the lies now enslave us. We hardly notice them anymore. We have come to expect them. We have fact-checkers but our response to their reports bears no weight because everyone is lying. It is simply a question as to whose lies seem less threatening.

But a lie is a lie. A peaceful world cannot be built on lies because lies are chains that are hard to break. This is spiritual exile brought on by the storm and the spin swirls faster. It has become a hurricane. A crisis.

To survive and to break the cycle of lying. It seems impossible.    

…………………………….

But exile has an upside. It becomes possible to shatter illusions when you hit rock bottom. We do not have to kid ourselves anymore. When you are in a foreign land, it becomes apparent you are no longer home.

Here in this strange land, we have stories of home to remember, to relish in the telling. The best one is an origin story. It can orient us, if we let it.

This has happened before. A group of people in exile remembered an origin story and found their bearings. They knew what to do because they knew who they were.

In Babylon, the Jewish exiles put together the pages of their history to remember the beginning, to recall their identity. The storm had hit like a hurricane. Suddenly, their home was destroyed and they found themselves in foreign territory.

Here in this strange place, with no hope of returning home, there were at least two ways of remembering the genesis. And these exiles needed both versions of the story, like grasping bread in one hand and wine in the other.

…………………

In one story, there was a God of mystery, hovering over the formless void, unafraid of the dark, deep, wild water. God, unfazed, speaks and says, “Let there be light.”

And the luminous world as we know it, at once terrifying and soothing in beauty, was made: the sky and sea, the land and plants, sun and stars, fish and birds, animals and humans. To be sure, it is a work of such dazzling complexity that it still fascinates us anew millennia later. Last night’s moon made us breathless and today’s red leaves meet death with fanfare. Yes, the creation is dazzling and complex.

Yet, this account of the creation portrays it as a work of simple grace, each part good and necessary, each part exactly what it is without pretense. There are no lies here. Just goodness.

Peace in the midst of complexity. Shalom in the presence of transcendence. That is our genesis.

This world sprang from peace. God, undaunted by the wildness of the abyss, spoke a few restful words and smiled when he beheld what was made.

Thus, when everything was made, what could God do but return to rest? The world as we know it sprang from Sabbath and returned to it. Our lives are ordered by rest. Even God’s work was restful.

That is good news to exiles. After all, what is the one thing slaves never get? Rest.

And restful work is play. God made the world in play and God played when he made the world.

The theologian likes to ask, “Why did God make the world?”

There are many good reasons, no doubt, but the best answer is: because God wanted to make the world. That’s all. It’s an expression of delight.  The world was made in joy.

We like to paint Genesis 1 as a text about God’s power, and it is—but God has no power apart from joy. Why else does Scripture say the joy of the Lord is our strength? If God’s joy is our strength, it is also God’s strength.

Yes, God’s power is joy, the fruit of which is shalom.

……………………….

We tell this story as the Jews in Babylon told it. In exile.

The dissonance between our present reality and our origin story is apparent. It unsettles us even as it orients us.

The choice to remember the story when all seems lost is the choice to hope. By remembering the story, we declare our intention to persist in the pursuit of peace.

Such persistence is hope. Hope is a quiet rebellion, the choice to believe when everything is out of whack. Because it believes, it needn’t coerce. The strength of hope is its dogged but unforced persistence.

We persist in the pursuit of peace, no matter the circumstances.

And so the Jewish people were told by God to seek the peace of their place of exile. They were told to build homes there, to pray and work for the prosperity of…Babylon. That word from God came through the prophet Jeremiah.

And that bit of instruction shocked them. But it makes sense. To remember the origin story is to seek peace in every place, since the origin story is a testament to a world where peace enjoys complete dominion in every place.

The alternative is to despair and give up on the origin story.

The Jews in exile have another story about what happens when we give up on our origin. It is a story in a place called Shinar. There, the people had given up on the origin story so they had no recourse but to make a name for themselves. They decided to make a great city with a tower. We know the place today as Babel and the Jews in exile knew Babel as Babylon.

I believe there are too many instances today where we see this story in action, where Babel’s blueprints are dusted off for another round of building.

After all, the political banter feels like…babbling.

“We want to make a name for ourselves. Let’s build something everyone will admire so that if they are lucky enough to live here they will thank their lucky stars but if they are one of the nameless multitude on the outside they will wish they were here. But there is only so much room here. So just let them go on wishing.”

 That is a narrative borne of despair. It is only told when we give up on our genesis. It is the ultimate alternative to hope.

Hope remembers our origin of peace. It is not America’s origin. It is our common human origin. It is a narrative for everyone.

…………………

Because God made everything in play, God made it freely and God made it in freedom. You cannot play if you are forced to play a certain way.

This is the crux of the second origin story: freedom.

The world was made in delight, in dazzling complexity and gracious simplicity, blessed and good—united in diversity, colorful and rich, fruitful and pulsing.

And the world God made is good because it is free.

Now, the scandalous grace of this freedom lies in the fact that God limits the exercise of his power so the human creation has space to exercise its power. It is real freedom.

This is the God who walks among us and needs to ask, “Where are you?”

Modern day evangelicals do not like that question from God. It doesn’t seem very godlike. What kind of God has to ask where his pots are? Doesn’t he know?

“Of course he knows!” the Christian says. And then they conjure a reason that this particular question appears in the text.

But the text doesn’t record such a reason. You have to reach back or forward to get the reason. Taken on its own, the second origin story makes God seem like he really needs to search for us.

And the writer wants us to let that sink in. The God of Genesis 1 who knows everything chooses to be a God who seeks the truth, as if he needs to discover it.

“Where are you?”

Yes, it is real freedom. We can go where we wish. Depending on where we go, God has to come chasing after us, looking for us, seeking us.

That’s God’s mission. To win at hide and seek, to find us because we chose to run away.

It’s a story. Don’t get uptight about the theological errors that disturb you in this discourse. The errors are meant to disturb you.

Or comfort you.

Depends on if you’re lost or found.

……………………

This origin story orients the captives by remembering that even in exile there is a greater freedom. No one can take away your freedom to do the right thing. No one can take away your freedom to trust God at his word. No one can take away your freedom to love. We can care for the world. We can “name” the animals. We can work the ground. We can choose to give our heart to others. We can give and share, drink and laugh, tell stories and dance. We enjoy innumerable freedoms.

This origin story reminds the captives that the highest freedom is continuous with God’s dominion. In fact, the only boundary in this freedom is the boundary that marks the land outside the place of God’s dominion.

Thus, the paradox of this origin story is that the boundary itself does not lie north, south, east or west of the human locus. After all, you can’t outrun God by going in any given direction. The only place you can outrun God is at the center. 

That’s right. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is “in the middle of the garden.”

Yes, that is a direct quote. The story says it.

And the story says this boundary tree is placed right next to the freedom tree; that is, the tree of life. The freedom tree is also in the middle.

The story says it.

The tree of life is a tree that represents the ultimate liberation: freedom from the boundary of death itself.

Now, because the human creation was made in freedom, humans are presented with a real choice.

Some think it unfair and unwise of God to put a so-called tree of temptation right in the middle of the garden.

But, consider: it wouldn’t be fair of God to make us free and then deny us the freedom of real choice. That’s not freedom. The play of God necessitates our choice not to play. That’s freedom.

So, the freedom tree necessitates a boundary tree. And both lie at the center of the situation.

Thus, real boundaries are not crossed by walking. They’re crossed by wanting what God doesn’t want.

Since God made us in freedom, when we want what God doesn’t want, we experience our new freedom as alienation, pride, envy, suspicion and greed.

We are still free but the quality of our freedom is corrupted and subject to decay.

When we act according to desires that aren’t God’s we become free to manage the anxiety that comes with such a choice. Thus, the second origin story tells us that having children and rearing them well becomes a source of angst. Working becomes stressful as we strain and groan to make a livelihood and retire well. We begin to fear the non-human creation and make it subject to us. We rape the earth. We begin to fear one another, which leads to violence. The violence has a mimetic quality to it. We see that a measure of power and security may be obtained by force of will over another. So, the violence escalates. To put others in their place we need to kill and we worry if we are making the right decision to attack or appease aggressors.

The storm swirls. It becomes a flood. We are going to drown in it. We hope that somehow our anxiety will be laid to rest if we just work harder at it and try to manage the hostilities in this unsafe world.

And, as we scheme solutions, the storm continues to swirl. It becomes a hurricane. We are caught. It seems to linger. We wait for it to pass. But it is not moving on. And once it has moved on it will only be for a time. But, wait and see: it will come again. This time with a new name.

It's still the same storm. It just has a new name. And it will be just as devastating.

This is our freedom.

This origin story is as instructive as it is disturbing. The Jewish exiles told it, I believe, because there is at least some comfort in explaining the existence of pain. It helps us make sense of how things got to be the way they are today.

………………………………….

Storms are generated by pressure. Two forces collide and the sky can’t contain it.

Many experience the campaign season as a storm because of this. The irony is: both sides employ a singular force to generate the storm. One force comes from below and claims democracy will end if the other force wins. The other force comes from above and claims democracy will end if the other force wins.

It is the same force coming from opposing locations. The competing narratives create confusion and anxiety but the storm is our own making.

We tend to lean towards one force or the other in an attempt to calm the storm. We feel our side is the magic side that will put everything right. But our mentality is complicit in creating the storm.

Besides, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every power-move on one side, there will be another pushing back. And the storm will do nothing but continue to grow in strength. The pressure will increase. The opposing force will not diminish by force.

……………………..

The two origin stories describe well the reality of forces that stand in tension with one another.

In Genesis 1, we see a transcendent God. In Genesis 2, God is immanent.

The Genesis 1 story speaks to the storm and says, “Nothing ends without God’s say so. God started everything and nothing will be finished until God’s work is finished.”

The second story speaks to the storm and says, “Humans choose their own ends.”

The first story shows God’s action; the second story shows restraint.

We are troubled by the two stories because they feel problematic to us presented side-by-side. The transcendent God of Genesis 1 does not act in Genesis 2-3 when we most need him. We need a God who is imminent, but immanence without transcendence is limited. The second God asks where we are precisely at the moment when humans are most in need of his omniscience and presence. It is as if the two stories presented side-by-side are the human way of asking, “And where are You, God? Weren’t You supposed to be here? Weren’t you supposed to know what we would make of ourselves? Weren’t you supposed to save us this heartache?”

But what troubles us even more is the tension presented by the paradox that the first story tells us we are good and then the second story tells us we are not. Which is it?

That is why we have a storm at all. We are good and we are not.

We look around and we see the image of God in one another, so we know, deep down in our soul, that we are spectacular in holiness and mystery. The very breath of God fills us with life. We are sacred and creative. We are capable of sublime music and ponderous art. We possess in our collective humanity an infinite expression of form and color. There is something of God in us.

And we are free. Free to choose the good, but also free to choose death. We are equally as capable of generosity as we are of greed. We can envy or exult in another’s success. We can serve or dominate. We can consume or generate. We can trust or suspect. We can illuminate or obscure.

That is why we have a storm. God would call out the best in us—and we would call out the best in each other—but we choose not to do so.

Fortunately, even with the limitation God places on God’s own action in the second story, the first story is still told first for a reason.

Throughout the course of history, the textual editors could have reversed the order. They could have started with a God who knows not where we are.

But the experience of God by the people of God never warranted such an edit. The experience of God by the people of God in exile confirmed that, in spite of the evil so prevalent in the world, God’s fundamental nature is unfazed by the chaos we perpetrate.

Still today God hovers over the wild, dark water and calls forth life. God’s voice is more persistent than ours. God’s voice is hope and joy even when life feels threatening. The imprint of hope in the human spirit is not ours; it’s God’s. God hopes more than we do. His word is a word of hope. His life is a life of joy.

That is why the first story has always been told first and always will be told first. We are made for more than our faulty choices. We are made to begin again.

And when that finally happens, the storm will be over. There will be rest, fullness of rest and joy. There will be play and worship forevermore. Work and family life will not be accompanied by anxiety. The creation will flourish. Our mouths will be filled with laughter and those who have sown in tears will reap with songs of joy.

Whatever happens with the storm these next three weeks, let us remember there is a God above the storm and we are made for better things. Let us live as the people of faith did in exile long ago, remembering whence we came, whose we are, and who we are free to become.  All is not lost.