Hold the Course

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

At thirteen I was taller than many of my classmates and very much stronger.   I was a shot putter on the track and field team, and was good at sport in general.  Despite my size and strength, I was often bullied, precisely because of those characteristics.  I however held the conviction instilled in me by my mother that it would be wrong for me the harm a smaller child. Therefore, I endured the bullying.

At thirteen, I had teachers who saw me as clever, and some diligently tried to convince me of my non-physical abilities.  But I, whether because of the bullying, or whether I had something to prove to myself, stayed fixedly focused on athletics.

High school was an uncomfortable turning point.  By fifteen I had stopped growing and settled in at five foot – seven.  I still competed in the shot put, but each year my ranking fell, as others first caught up to me in size and then surpassed it.  My response was to practice more, spending long hours with the weights and in the shot put ring.  I remained strong, and especially strong for my size.  My academics, however, were not a priority.  Yes I got mostly A-s, but not consistently so.  My senior year, I even took only the classes I needed to graduate.

Alas, I am no athlete.  I got a job, married, and went to community college, where I got A-s yet again.  Then I joined the forces, where academically I did well even being noted on three occasions as “honor man”  in military schools.

I left the forces, and went to uni, and then into ministry.  I eventually even did graduate study at the University of Cambridge.  I am still no athlete, but I am, as my teachers at age thirteen tried to show me – clever.

So what advice should I give a thirteen year old me?  Give up the sport, you will end up too small?  Hit the books, your future lies there?

No!  The message to the thirteen year old me is:  “Hold the Course.  The path you are on is the one that will make you – you!”

Padre

Haunted Wordsmith Nonfiction Prompt: What is something you would tell your 13-year-old self?

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Believe: A Cinquain

 

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Believe!

Believe in what?

Believe in you today.

So, I will believe in myself

Today

 

Padre

 

Genre Writing Challenge: Cinquain

Inspired by tanka, the cinquain is comprised of 2 syllables in the first line, 4 in the second line, 6 in the third, 8 in the fourth, and 2 in the fifth. Plus, poets have the freedom to add or subtract one syllable from each line.  (Writer’s Digest)

 

[I will make my usual Friday Foodie post tomorrow, sorry for the disruption of my usual blog schedule.]

An Attitude of Entitlement

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There has been a lot of discussion on the issue of entitlement of late. Michelle Obama has cited an attitude of entitlement among men, and there have been been blogs on the subject of regional and national attitudes.  It seems though that this concept, that one group of people should assume privilege over another, has been with us far longer than the present debates.  Whether it is British over their imperial subjects, the Party over the “ordinary” Soviets, or any other construction of presumed position.

This was true in the time of Jesus as well.  Luke 16 gives an account of a rich man and a poor man that slept rough at his gates. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 

Here we have a man accustomed to his riches of purple and linen.  He has feasted and not merely dined, and he has a house with gates and not just doors. When he dies he is sent into torment, and seeing the poor man in the presence of Abraham, he calls on the patriarch to send the poor man to comfort him.  His attitude of superiority has not been tempered by his situation.  When it is explained to him that he is beyond help, his concern shifts to his family, but even still he does not see the error of his attitude to Lazarus, for he again calls for him to be sent to serve his (and his family’s) needs.

So what do we do about this assumption of “I am owed” something?  When I was in the forces we owed a symbolic respect to superior officers.  This was manifested with a salute.  Interestingly, we were repeatedly reminded that this rendered courtesy was not directed to the person, but the position: “You salute the uniform, not the man.” There is a check on entitlement, if only but one.

With that aside made, we need to remember that all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and as such are “entitled” to the same share of dignity.  Jesus expanded on this when He called on His followers to ” . . . ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these {along with loving God} (Mark 12:31).” He even used a despised Samaritan to illustrate His point (Luke 10).  

First John 4:7-8 provides a great starting point in changing our attitudes to entitlement. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Those who love, share.  Those who love, seek to bless those with whom they are in love.  Those who willingly give, move beyond “self.”  When the self is diminished, “entitlement” fades.

Padre

 

“A Love Beyond”

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Sister Claire recently brought a thoughtful and personal message on the love of God.  She noted that, this Godly love was transforming.  It can provide for a timid, or self doubting individual a relationship, and sphere of protection, that no other love can provide.

Many of us seek such relationships outside of God. We at times put our trust in the “love” of others that may be (at least in some measure) self-seeking, limiting, or even down right abusive.  In fact, some of these “all giving” human loves further limit us, as they thrust us into a dependence which continues to diminish us.

Not so with God.  Claire drew her message from the text of  Romans 5.  It showed the context and the extent of a “love beyond.”  Verses 6 trough 8 read in part, ” . . . when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  We we not only in that state of timidity and self-doubt but actually powerless to do anything about it.  Worse still, we were at odds with God.

He in this “love beyond,” nevertheless demonstrated that love by laying down His vary life for us.  This was that first step in transforming us, and an example that there can be strength in “weakness.” His death was not an end, but a beginning.  ” . . . we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (verses 2-5).”

He has transformed us.  He has freed us.  He did not free us from “all” suffering, but rather from the negative consequences of that suffering.  He did not remove the external forces which at times make us timid or self-doubting, but rather taught us perseverance.  That perseverance developed not a self-serving dependence, but a character of hope.  That hope has transformed us into a Spirit-filled people of God.

“God so loved the world,” and yes us timid, sinful, self doubting people within it, “that He sent His one and only Son,” to transform us through that very act of love.  It has transformed at least one of my “little sisters” from a timid, bullied, and at times abused girl, into an inspiring “woman of God.”  One bold enough to stand before others, and deliver this powerful and moving message.

Padre

Bible Ladies (Part 1): Hagar (A study in strength and weakness)

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Fanfani Enrico Hagar And Ishmael

One of the most interesting and sometimes controversial women of the Bible is the matron (or even matriarch) Hagar.  She should in no way be confused with Dik Browne’s comic strip Viking, but should be seen as a woman of mystery, nobility, and at least some measure of faith.

We first find reference to Hagar in Genesis chapter 16, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived (verses 1-4a).”

This has long been a talking point, that any wife might offer the maid to her husband to produce a child with.  Fair enough, the need for an heir was an insurance policy in those days, but this is more of a discussion about Sarai (Sarah) so I will leave it off for now.

What happens next is interesting, however. “When she knew she was pregnant, she (Hagar) began to despise her mistress (vs 4b).”  This may well have been a disdain for being put into the situation of bearing a child as a surrogate, without having a choice in the matter.  Another take is that, she had now become “more important” than her mistress by virtue of her pregnancy, so exploits her new found role as “heir-bearer.” To me, a third explanation is intriguing however.

This view centres around a rabbinic tradition that Hagar was the daughter of an Egyptian nobleman, and that her servant status to the house of Abram was part of the settlement Pharaoh had made with Abram in Genesis 12.  “When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman.  And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.  He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.  But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?  Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had (verses 14-20).”

In this view, this was a woman of noble birth, not a common slave  Her attitude therefore is more haughty (or at least confident) than might be expected, and fits Hagar’s character (or at least pride) in this passage and beyond.

In the biblical account Sarai mistreats Hagar and she flees from the abuse. While alone in the wilderness an angel appears to her. “Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”  The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”  The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael for the Lord has heard of your misery (16: 9-11).”  When she later gives birth, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me. (vs 13).”

She may be noble and haughty at times, but she is obedient to the instructions from God. But, God’s plan was not for the heir to be Ishmael, and in the fullness of time Isaac is born to Sarai/Sarah. Ishmael and his mother are therefore cast out into the wilderness.  “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink (Genesis 21:14-19).”

This episode is also fascinating.  When Abraham sends them away, he gives them food and water, but no material wealth. It is a symbolic point being made, that Ishmael and his mother have no claim of inheritance.  They are sent off with the bare minimum.

Now in the desert, the water gives out.  Hagar leaves her son in the cover of a bush and goes away to mourn his impending doom.  I marvel at this in two respects.  The first is that this woman who adamantly held to a name for her son, given by an angel, would ignore the same angel’s prophecy that Ishmael would become the father of a nation.  Okay, despair is a powerful thing.  Many of us might well have done the same.

The second point to ponder is that she removes herself from her son so she can’t watch him die.  I am not going to judge, for every person deals with this scenario in a personal way.  She clearly does not want to witness the most terrible event in her life – her son’s death.

On pondering this, I myself could not do the same.  I have lost a child.  If I had that day to live over, I would have given anything to have had just a few more precious moments with her – even if they did culminate in her death.  It seems, a common approach.  Mary made her way to the cross of Jesus, and many others have sought those last few minutes even if ending in pain.

In Islamic tradition, however, Hagar’s actions are not quite as passive.  Yes, she may well have in the end went to the side to sob, but before that she is said to run back and forth throughout the area looking for water (an event reenacted every year as part of the Hajj pilgrimage).

Here again is a woman of dignity and of will.  Her faith may have waned, but her spirit doesn’t until the end.  An end, in which God again intervenes, and she sees the needed water.

This proud woman’s last recorded act is to secure a wife for her son in Genesis 21:21, a wife not of the local tribes, but of her own people in Egypt.  This is often cited as supporting evidence of her Egyptian noble status.  Why would a slave return to the land of her captivity, or seek a wife for a free born son among the lower rungs of society (he former peers).  As an Egyptian of good family, however, she might well seek a suitable wife from among her peers and extended family, fit for one who would sire “twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps (Genesis 25: 16).”

So what can we learn from this “Bible Lady?”  First, whether noble or base she had pride and self-assurance.  This was especially prevalent when she was following the lead of God.  Secondly, she obeyed God.  This was true in her returning to Sarai, and in the naming of her son. Finally, she like us had lapses in her faith.  There is much to this last point.  Her faith (and remembrance of the God’s promise) started to fail.  But, just when she finally gives in to the despair, God stepped in and “opened her eyes.”  We can take heart in that.  God is faithful, even when we are not.  He will lift us up, especially when we have hit bottom.

Let us seek the emulate the strengths of this woman, Hagar; and let us learn from and grow from her weaknesses.

Padre

[I will post several other studies on “Bible Ladies,” though the order will not be systematic but rather as my musings and ramblings lead me].

 

 

I’m Not A Number

As I was reflecting on my visit to Portmeirion, it called to mind the cult television series The Prisoner which was filmed there.  The main character, known only as Number 6, is incarcerated in the Village, and repeatedly seeks to escape and to assert “I am not a number, I am a free man!” 

Many of us can share in his view.  We hate the idea of being a number, or faceless customer.  We strive to assert our individuality and are jealous of our identity.  And, why shouldn’t we?

The Prisoner Shop, Portmeirion

The stripping away of identity is one of the marks of institutions.  Hospitals, insurance companies, and the military are replete with those who want to know account numbers, service numbers, or assorted other “identity checks” that fail to have anything to do with what we ourselves see as “ourselves.”

In one of the darkest episodes of modern history this erasure of identity was practiced by the Nazi regime. People considered enemies of the Reich were stripped of possessions, positions, and even names.  One such individual was Czesław Ludwiczak, Auschwitz prisoner 72124. He like many of his fellow inmates resisted this depersonalisation. In December 1942, he received a ring crafted for him by fellow prisoners who were metal workers. Upon it were the initials CL, a prisoner triangle, and his prisoner number. He was more than that number.  He was a man.  He was CL. He was Czesław.

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Ludwiczak’s Ring from Auschwitz. Photo: A-BSM Collections Department

 

While institutions may well attempt to distill us into faceless, nameless statistics, God does not. “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Is 43:1).”  God knows our names.  He values each of us a individuals.

Jesus remarked, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God (Luke 12:6-8).”

 

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We are not numbers.  We are the children of God, bought with a price.  We are people with a name (not a number) written in a Book of Life.

How’s that for identity?

Padre

 

Beyond Doubt and Even Giants

Pastor Vince brought his message from Numbers 13 this week.  He focused on the power of God in our lives in making things change.  If it is not our circumstances that are modified, it is often ourselves.

Drawing from the same passage, I would like to reflect on the mindset of the people involved.

“23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.”

So far, so good.  The scouts of Israel find that the land that has been promised is truly an abundant one. But . . .

“31But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim).”  Yes, the land is great, but there are giants.  We can’t do it.

Despite coming out of the land of Egypt with power.  Despite the parting of the Red Sea, they still had a slave mentality.  “We aren’t good enough.  We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t big enough.”  Does it sound familiar?

But hope is found in the preceding verse, “30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it’.”  Caleb saw potential, not doom.  He and Joshua were ready and willing to go, not just onward, but right away! No slave mentality here, but faith in what they had already witnessed.

Do we see the giants or the grapes?  Do we see strong cities, or the God who divided a sea?  Can we, today, look beyond doubt?

PadreAbhar-iran

The Magic of Words

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Humans are endowed with imagination, and this has aided us in the symbolic medium of language.  We can communicate beyond the easily apparent.  We can describe a far-off land, or even better – abstract concepts.

An experiment I try with every first year class is to ask them to show me “one.”  I am then usually presented with an assortment of single fingers, pens, and books.  To which I respond, that is a finger, pen, etc. Some then turn to writing the figure “1,” to which I respond, “Then show me five.”  To this I am offered a “5.”  I in turn say, “There is only one symbol there.”  The end comes with the realisation that one or five are merely concepts.  You can see “one.”  One pencil, yes; “one,” no.

So it is that our language captures the concepts and constructions of our imaginations.  It is indeed a kind of magic.  I can tell you of a peaceful lagoon, with waters that glisten with the lustre of crumpled foil, that has been smoothed out.  The blue is that of a robin’s egg, and the sand a coral white.  Many of you will be able to share this invisible image with me.

There is the wizardry.  We as adepts in our own tongues can create “reality” from nothing!

How absolutely powerful is the creation account of the Judeo-Christian scriptures?  For we in our use of language are “in the image of God.”  God said in Genesis “Let there be . . .” and it was so.  In John’s gospel we similarly see, “In the beginning was The Word . . .” and nothing that was made was made without Him.  God created with words, and so do we.  [Don’t get me wrong, and think I am equating creation with “magic,” I am merely illustrating the power of words, and any verbal creation of ours must by necessity pale to true physical creation].

We then, as agents of this verbal power should create with good intention.  The words we use to paint a sunset, can also be used to bring darkness on the soul of the one we criticise.  With great power verbal magicians, comes great responsibility.

Padre

 

Picking Winners

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When it comes to picking friends and influencing people, Jesus on the face of it was a little unconventional.  When He chose His disciples He picked 4 (perhaps 6) fishermen, known for their outspoken, not always politically correct or sensitive utterances. He also picked a tax-collector, Matthew (always appreciated by the public), and a political activist, Simon.  He chose no rabbis, rich men or celebrities.   He spent time with other tax collectors (Zacchaeus), and reputed prostitutes (Mary Madeline).  Yet, this group of unlikely spokes people changed the world.  James, the fisherman was martyred, and Peter imprisoned. They were loyal and though not well educated or influential, proved that Jesus saw with the eyes of God what potential people held, not just what the world sees.

Do we do the same?  We who are chosen, have been called not because “who we are,” but because “what we can become.”

Padre