You Have Roots, Too

I’ve been reading through Exodus. It’s a pretty epic story. I’ve always liked Moses. I loved the animated movie The Prince of Egypt as a kid. And I would plead with my parents to let me stay up to watch The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston when it would be on television near Passover. (IMDB says that Heston was not only Moses in that movie, he was also the voice of God. What a man.)

What’s not to like about Moses’s story? It’s got everything you could want. An evil king. A strong male lead. Magic. A chase scene. A few fight scenes. Blood. A burning bush. And snakes. That’s pretty cool.

Moses was not like this.

Except Moses was nothing like Charlton Heston. He was a man who had been raised as royalty who one day found out he was actually a slave. And that did not create a sense of justice in him. It scared him. He fled Egypt because he was scared. And then when God talked to him in the burning bush, Moses was scared again.

He argued with God. He said, “I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Moses was not a natural born leader. He wasn’t witty. He wasn’t popular at cocktail parties. He didn’t always have the right thing to say.

But God reassured him and told him that He would use Moses’s brother Aaron as a mouthpiece. And then Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites be let  go. And he says no and forces the Israelites to make bricks without straw. Moses and Aaron are defeated.

The people of Israel turn on Moses and Aaron. And Moses calls out to God “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-3).

Then, two things happen. First, God gives Moses and Aaron a pep talk. I’m pretty sure all sports movies are modeled after the book of Exodus. Underdogs train hard. Underdogs are unsuccessful at first. Coach gives an amazing monologue type speech. Cue musical montage to a classic rock song featuring the Egyptians falling prey to the plagues.

Second, the author of Exodus (probably Moses?) stops narration to give a genealogy of Moses and Aaron. At first, it feels like really bad story-telling. It disrupts the flow of narrative; it doesn’t feel entirely relevant; and it’s hard to read.

I started thinking about it, though. Who has genealogies? Kings. Royalty. Important people. No one cares about a slave’s genealogy. Slaves hardly have names.

I think, often, I’m a little bit like Moses, pre-success. I’m angry that God has asked me to do something that doesn’t make immediate sense to me. I think that people are more important than me. I rarely stop to ponder my own identity, my own name, my own genealogy. And so I start thinking of myself as a bit player in someone else’s life.

There are no bit players. In God’s story, we all deserve genealogies.

Turning the Other Cheek Turns Emotions Into Justice

I’ve always kind of struggled with the concept of turning the other cheek and all that.

Our God is one of justice, right?

The Lord works righteousness
And justice for all the oppressed (Psalm 103:6)

So why then are we not allowed to help with that whole justice thing?

A lot of people try to explain this away by saying that we don’t really know what justice is – that only God can judge. I don’t know about that. I know that rape, murder, and slavery are wrong. That’s a judgment. I think I am capable of judging. And we forget that turning the other cheek has to do with someone slapping you. Slapping is pretty wrong, I think. I know that I don’t like it when someone slaps me.

I’m in a Psychology of Gender class this quarter. In that class, we are learning about pro-feminist men right now. Pro-feminist men are men who actively support feminist women to push gender equality. I think pro-feminist men are pretty awesome. Feminist women are pretty awesome, too. It takes a lot of courage to stand up against oppression. But I’ve been thinking a lot about pro-feminist men. I’ve been thinking about how they don’t really have a lot to gain from gender equality. Men are on top. In fact, a lot of men fear that gender equality would mean loss of status for themselves. Pro-feminist men have to believe that gender equality is intrinsically more important than having a wife who stays at home or who is submissive.

There are studies out there that show that the shackles of oppression begin to fall off when members of the oppressor group begin to speak out for the oppressed. Sexism is most successfully combated when men correct their friends when they make a sexist joke or when men refuse to take a job that they have obtained based on sexist hiring practices.

Like most things Jesus taught, the turn the other cheek policy shows a keen insight into human nature. It’s easy to be angry when you have been attacked. It’s easy to clamor for justice, then. But mostly, that’s just emotion. When a friend makes fun of me, I am not mad because my friend has violated the intrinsically moral rule that making fun of people is wrong. I am mad because I was the subject of the ridicule. And if I say anything, it is easy for my friends to say that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. But what if I never got mad when people made fun of me? What if, instead, I made fun of myself?

Then, when someone was making fun of another friend, I could say something. Because people would say “Hey, Spencer is usually so chill about joking around. We must really be out of line if he’s not okay with this joke.”

That’s what turning the other cheek does. It creates a world in which people know that your emotions are not tied to your sense of justice.

God is Gestaltian

There’s a psychological school, theory, or effect (depending on who you talk to) known as Gestalt psychology. Gestalt is a German term meaning “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form.” Pretty heavy stuff.

The basic Gestalt effect is best summarized by the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There are a lot of different pictures and optical illusions that demonstrate the Gestalt effect. But here’s a relatively good one:

Instead of just seeing three Pacmen and three acute angles when looking at this picture, most people see a white triangle overlapping a black-outlined triangle and three black circles. That’s good ol’ Gestalt working hard.

The Gestalt effect, as a concept that was talked about, originated in the late 19th century. Until then, most people thought that if you studied a thing’s parts, you were studying that thing.

To the modern mind, ingrained with Gestaltian thinking, the idea that people didn’t consider the Gestalt effect seems absurd. I was pondering this absurdity when I remembered the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:20:

 For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.

And there it is. The truth of the Gestalt effect right there in the Bible. One person plus one person does not equal two people. It equals two people and God and a dynamic relationship.

Love is Not a Currency

If I ever write a book, I think it’s going to be called Lies People Tell You. Because there are a lot of them, and it would be easy to come up with new chapters.

There’s a lie out there that says we can run out of love.

That’s not true.

Love is not a currency. Let me repeat that: Love is not a currency.

You can’t run out.

I wrote a post about a week ago about reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I have one major problem with the book – the assumption that love is a resource we can waste. In the first chapter, Joshua Harris tells this story about a girl’s nightmare. She’s at the altar on her wedding day and as her husband is saying his vows, all of the girls he’s slept with start walking and standing around them. I’m rather sure love has nothing to do with all of this.

I think the reasoning for this kind of fear comes mostly from Proverbs 4:23, which says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring  of life.” Nowhere does this verse say “guard your heart or else you won’t be able to give it to your future spouse.” But that’s how a lot of us read it. And, certainly, sometimes it feels like that’s what’s true. We fall in love for the first time, and when it ends, it feels like we will never be able to love at that level again. That’s all just faulty reasoning, though.

I think we are supposed to guard our hearts because we are special and valuable, not because our hearts and our love are finite. God wants us to share our specialty and value with people who deserve it, people who have earned it. That makes sense to me.

We have been offered everlasting, infinite love. The least we can do is offer that to others.

I Wish I Went to High School with Isaac

I don’t talk to many of my friends from high school anymore. It’s a bit of a shame because they are all really cool people, and they would all probably be a really good influence on me. Most of them are all super responsible, routinely get to bed before midnight, and know what they want to do with their lives.

I do this thing, though, when I am having a bad day. I cyber-stalk all of my high school friends. I do it because it makes me feel worse about myself. It’s the same line of reasoning that makes girls watch chick flicks right after they have been dumped. My high school friends are all incredibly put together people who are mindful enough not to be internet downers. It’s probably not true that their lives are perfect (because no one’s is) but that’s the way it seems to me.

It’s all really self-indulgent and annoyingly embarrassing that I do all of this.  I probs shouldn’t even be sharing it with you.

Anyway, I was reading some Genesis the other day. And I got to the part where Isaac meets Rebekah for the first time. A little background for you:  1. Isaac was 40 years old when he wedded Rebekah. I’m not sure how the whole maturing into adulthood thing worked in the Bible because, you know, people were living to be 175 and stuff, but we have that whole movie The Forty Year Old Virgin. That movie is funny because it is absurd to think that someone so old would be a virgin.

2. Isaac didn’t know Rebekah was coming. Abraham (Isaac’s father) sent his servant to find his son a wife.

So for over fifty verses leading up to the meeting, the narration has been focused on Rebekah. We don’t know what Isaac is up to. And the first mention we get about him is this:

Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. (Genesis 24:62-3)

Isaac was meditating when Rebekah came! He wasn’t worrying that as a forty year old he was doomed to be alone. He wasn’t stressing out about if he was ever going to get married. He wasn’t waiting for a wife. He wasn’t cyber stalking his friends and self-indulgently comparing himself to them. No, he was meditating. He was spending time with God. He was enjoying a beautiful evening.

I think I should be a bit more like Isaac.

Justin Timberlake is the Eye to My Little Toe

Apostle Paul used to be one of my least favorite writers in the Bible. I think I was kinda using him as a scapegoat. I could just kind of pawn all of the stuff that I didn’t like about the Bible off on him. That wasn’t very fair of me. Paul didn’t have it all that well. He was kinda being attacked wherever he went, and he had multiple parties trying to kill him. He was imprisoned a seemingly infinite number of times, and he lived most of his life alone with very few companions. But through all of that, the man is still one of the most loving and gracious writers that has ever lived.

I am finally starting to build an appreciation for this incredible man. It’s through no action of my own. A lot of people have been graciously walking me through it. But I was with a group the other day and we were talking about this passage Paul wrote, Romans 12:3-21. I don’t know if you are religious or whatever or how you feel about Jesus or whatever. It doesn’t really matter. Romans 12:3-21 is still just amazingly good. It would take me like centuries to talk about the whole thing, but I do want to talk about 3-8. So that’s what we are going to do.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

This is one of the most comforting passages I have ever read. Paul is telling us that we don’t have to do everything. We just have to do the stuff we are good at doing and then do it really well. I often get it into my head that I need to do everything. When I see people doing things that I can’t do and doing them really well, I get jealous. For instance, I want to be a performer sometimes. I fantasize about dancing, playing music, or acting in front of thousands of people. I really really really want to be Justin Timberlake.

The truth is, though, that I’ve not been blessed with the performance gifts. But what I can do is talk about complicated things in a way that a lot of people can understand and jive with. (Although, JT can probably do that as well. At least, he makes people jive.) While that may not be as glamorous as bringing sexy back, Paul says it is just as important.

Paul compares the Church to a human body. None of us is all of the body, but we are all a part of it. Just because the eyes get to see the world doesn’t mean that the little toe is any less important. Do you think the little toe ever gets jealous of the eyes?

What do you bring to the table? Tell me what you think. Would you like to see more posts where I talk about Apostle Paul and Justin Timberlake?

Praying for Pokemon Cards

I struggle a lot with prayer. I never know how specific I should get with my prayers. Should I be asking God to give me Ferraris, introduce me to Zooey Deschanel, and become a best-selling author? I don’t know. But sometimes I feel like a little kid when I pray, asking for things that I think I want but actually don’t. What was the number one request of child Spencer? Pokemon cards. Do I still use my Pokemon cards? No. I wish I had asked for books. Lots and lots of books. And I feel like this is what it’s like when we come to God for something. God knows our own destinies infinitely better than we do and so asking an omniscient being for things seems a bit childish.

For a long time, I thought prayer was silly because of this passage from Jesus in Matthew:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. (Matthew 6:25-26)

Notice how this passage says nothing about prayer. I was severely misguided in my thoughts. See, Jesus, only a few verses earlier is teaching his disciples how to pray. I guess I always kind of glossed over that part because it wasn’t a very compelling story. But there is a very compelling story of prayer that happens really early on in the Bible.

This story occurs in Genesis 18. Abraham has been hanging out with God for a while. Abraham was one of those cool people that God actually walked around with. And they chatted, probably hiking mountains together and watching the sunrise and cool stuff like that. But in Genesis 18, God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities that have fallen into such sin that they would make Las Vegas look like Heaven on Earth. This doesn’t sit well with Abraham. So he asks God if God will save Sodom and Gomorrah if there are at least 50 righteous people in these cities. God grants that He won’t. And Abraham asks, “Well what about 45?” And again God grants that He won’t. All of this goes on for a while until Abraham gets down to 5, and God again grants that 5 righteous people would be enough.

This story is so powerful. Obviously, God never intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there were righteous people there, but it was important that Abraham ask for their salvation. Sometimes, we get it into our head that if God already knows everything, then we don’t need to ask him for anything. But God wants us to. He wants to have a personal relationship with us. He wants to talk and hear about our lives, and even though He knows how He can make it better, He wants to know how we think it could be made better.