Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where did you come from, where are you going?

Besides totally putting me in mind of Flannery O'Conner (which, shame on me for passing up everything she has written for another Steeple House novel last night!), this part of genesis 16 is one of the first in Genesis that really resonates with me as The Way God Is. Reading it yesterday alongside John 4, I almost-kind-of-got the continuity between God, here, and Christ, in the gospel. For Hagar, and for the woman at the well, the Centurion's son, the man by the pool, the fundamental difference between Christ and everyone else is that Christ saw them. He knew who they were, and it mattered to Him. Not because they were anything significant themselves -- not according to those around them -- but because they were, are, of infinite worth to Christ. To God. He loved them.

My spate of theological back-and-forth with W., my ex boyfriend -turned-lawyer, basically got shut down when I took his idea -- that you are as valuable as you are valued, that for you to be valuable, someone must value you -- and said: does that mean that you, W., who had two parents and friends and whoever that love you, are simply more lovable than a kid in Congo who has no one? And... well... yes, basically. That is the idea.

Basically, yeah, Sarai is worth more than Hagar; she was Abram's wife first. here Hagar has done for Abram what Sarai could not do, and it's not enough; Sarai is still the real wife, and Hagar is still her property. That's painful, right? the belief -- after so long of feeling bad -- that you are seen, that you are enough. And the shock when dude turns around next day and tells his wife: whatever. She's yours. While you have his child inside you.

And in large ways or small ways, I think those moments of shame, of spite, are universal. And it's God, here, who interrupts it. Hagar, because you matter, because I am interested, here, solely in you, tell me where you're going. Tell me where you've come from, what's happened. Speak for yourself, instead of being spoken for. Let me hear and see who you are.

Which is all I need, though when I turn from that it starts to seem I need all these other things. Because at the same time that I want to be seen as all these things apart from who I actually am -- successful, commanding, vivacious, desirable -- I also have this deep need to be seen as I am, not in relation to others, to my work, to my Identity. Just to be seen, not even necessarily approved of, not vindicated. Possibly sent back to a situation that feels uncomfortable, that feels debasing. But first, seen. Accepted, or challenged, or called the task, for who I am, rather than for all the things I am not.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Genesis 16, part 2

Entitlement. I am ugly about this, no lie; in fact, I manage to be both sides of ugly when it comes to this. Like, the other night, unable to put down my book and watch the wire with my husband (because, you know, God forbid I waste an evening on TV), I overhear a character explaining that she can't live on $22,500, a year. Now, that's less than a third of our combined income as a childless couple. And yet, when Z. asks if people actually live on that, I take it upon myself to school him on the number of people who really do -- like my awareness of that makes me any less a beneficiary of the system that splatters wealth "randomly" (but mostly on white Americans).

At the same time, though, I totally feel Sarai on her why-can't-God-just-give-me-a-KID, already. Whyyyy? Because I want it and everyone wants me to have it and everyone would think I was awesome and noble if I was a mom; QED, this must be God's will; QED, I gotta get on that. And what I come back to, after thinking and googling and squinting hard at the notion of slavery-versus-servitude-versus-handmaidenry, is the fact that, regardless of what Hagar is to Sarai according to their society, by verse three, here, she is chattle. Even if they were BFFs, like in some Gone with the Wind depiction of slavery, the point is, Sarai gives Hagar to Abram, so really they are not.

Now, how much of that is about Hagar being a woman, apart from her economic status, is possibly TBD after more mad googling, but when it comes to Sarai and Abram, it's clear that Hagar is a means to an end. And my understanding -- fleshed out awesomely in the second half of the chapter -- is that God does not see Hagar this way.

Before I get the catharsis of thinking of all the ways I'm like Hagar in this chapter, though, I need to look a little harder at the less-sympathetic view of Amanda, the one in which I am so much like Sarai I want a bag for my head. The biggest Sarai-error I commit -- or, at least, the fundamental one that I commit most and that most often leads to the others -- is this idea that God's will is for everyone, myself included, to look at me and think I am awsome and noble. If people would just get with the program and do things the way I mean them to, then I would be the Best Manager Ever and everyone would see how great I was. If kids would stop trying my patience, everyone would see what a loving little beacon of light I am. If I could just have a baby, already, I could be the Best Mom ever.

But God's will usually does not have to do with the world seeing me and thinking I'm an awesome manifestation of God. Since, you know, God was already manifest in Christ, and my ego aside, I have to admit that people would do well to look to Him, not me. I have mixed feelings about the notion of being a witness because, in me, I want to say: well, if I were successful, what a witness I would be. I think it's kind of part of this gospel of prosperity, Prayer or Jabez culture, which I claim (speciously, I guess) not to buy into: if I do good, I am doing God's will, so God is obligated to give me what I want. Or how can I be a witness.

Can I be mediocre at my job, only marginally successful, and be a witness? Can I be childless, when I want to be a mom, and be a witness? Can I stay in New York and sometimes look stupid and sometimes be the boss people roll their eyes at an sometimes have to raise my voice at kids, and be a witness?

I think so. I have to trust that this is so, since God has not seen fit to make me perfect and successful and an ER surgeon/missionary/mother to 12/model site coordinator. I have to think that it is probably a blessing when we fail, as much as when we succeed, given our basic tendency -- my basic tendency -- to screw up, to construct best-laid plans that dissolve when you touch them, and then to blame you for touching them. The comfort in these first, Sarai-focused versus, I think, is how God's strength ends up being made perfect in sarai's weakness. Not because she meant to do that (my favorite claim when things fail and then get pulled together by a Deus-ex-machina at the last minute). But because (still!) it's not about Sarai; it's not about me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Genesis 16 (part 1), or, the ladies of the house

So, obviously, when it comes to failing gloriously, and in the exact ways that I fail, Abram is, like, the appetizer. Sarai is my nomadic doppelganger*, all, "God has not allowed me to bear a child" this and "Let me fix God's divine plan" that. I mean, ouch. The flip side of being attached to one's own performance in the world is that beating yourself up for not Accomplishing Things can start to look a lot like sulking because God didn't "allow you" to accomplish them. The basic assumption -- that we are here to do things, to be things, to fulfill some personal destiny or purpose -- is flawed, I think. Since, as I so enthusiastically remind my mom on a near daily basis in 1992, I didn't ask to be born. God doesn't "allow" or "not allow" me to do anything, really; anything I do is the result of the God who created me.

Sarai, like me in my non-blogging life, is not getting it, not so much. Genesis 16 totally reads like she'd just be here, having babies, except God somehow missed the boat and now she's 90 and Abram just needs to let it go with this waiting on the Lord. Marak Halter's novelization of Sarah's story, Sarah, has Sarai growing up in a fantastic heathen city that puts me in mind of Josh Whedon's Firefly series, crossed with a high school trip to Pompeii. If Sarai is a "convert" who married into this single, invisible, non-child-granting God, her desire to stop waiting around into her tenth decade makes more sense, and begs the questions of me -- who has internalized more Adventist Hymns than most people have heard of -- what's my excuse?

* I don't think this word means what I think it means....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Genesis 15, or, It's not about you/Abram

Sometimes reading Abram is kind of suck. There are the parts in which he doubts God, sure -- parts where he is all headstrong and passing his wife off as his sister and thinking he knows best. But Abram has this faith, this closeness with God, and I don't know how to get that. I imagine it is a long process; at this point in Genesis, I think, he's probably over a hundred, since in the next chapter he forces the issue of kids with the Sarai and Hagar debacle.

But really. He's there, going into trances, ready to offer up his son, and I don't have the faith to let go of my pride and be a good wife and stop saying snotty things to my husband's Man Friends.

Still, it strikes me that, when God comes to Abram, he starts out with, "Do not be afraid," suggesting that Abram was not in the most faithful place at that moment. And what is it that Abram is he afraid of?

He could be freaked out by God showing up and talking to him -- but it seems like God is addressing a fear that was plaguing Abram before He, God, showed up, a fear that motivated Him to come talk to Abram in the first place, a fear a lot like my own: that he, Abram, doesn't matter, isn't doing what he was meant to do. That something is wrong. I mean, here God shows up promising a "very great reward," promising, in so many words, that Abram really does matter -- like, a lot -- and Abram goes flat-out emo on God: "What canst thou give me?" (15:3). What difference does it make? Everything dies with me; nothing means anything. I am useless, a joke, a failure. And the implication, fleshed out when he continues: You made me this way.

So God shows Abram something, takes him out and shows him the stars -- for the sake of His analogy, yes, but also, I think, as a reminder: I am in charge, and however low your expectations of yourself, however you think you've failed, I didn't come here to talk about you. This isn't about you; it's about what I am going to do for you. It's about what I will make you. You don't have the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself, or buying into the people who think you don't matter, because I am here, telling you that you do, and you will, because I will make it so.

And that's what triggers Abram's the act of "righteousness" -- and I love this wording, in 16:6, because Abram's faith is not righteousness, but God counts it as as righteousness. When God takes over our lives, He also takes responsibility for the results -- good or bad. If our faith is in Him, then we are not in a position to evaluate our lives -- whether we are MDs, housewives, social workers, janitors, homeless. What counts is our faith, the results of which reflect on God, not us (not me).

So there is no reason to be afraid of not measuring up -- only a reason to continually, daily, hour, place our faith in God so it can keep being about Him, and what He will do with us, and this perfect love, driving out that gnawing, unanswerable fear that we are not enough, that we are without standing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

pursuit: Genesis 14

Genesis 14

I may hold up on posting more free-associative encounters with Genesis and blog for awhile about The Beginning of Wisdom, in an effort to get caught up and, maybe, have some kind of guidance – even if it is philosophical rather than spriritual – when it comes to Abraham.

As it stands, Bass and I are still at the second, revised creation story – and while that is enlightening, I have fought long and hard to get over my innate tendency towards reading 500 pages on the idea of the thing, for every page of the thing itself. Plus, I'm getting a kind of hero-worship thing going on with Abram right now, so I'm pushing forward.

MAybe because of my Abram Thing, Genesis 14 comes together better for me now than it has in the past. I still kind of glaze over when it comes to the account of all the battling kings, themselves, so anyone who Gets that, let me know. But then Abram comes in, and I am struck, again, by just how powerful a figure he is: "When Abram heard that his kinsmen had been taken prisoner, he mustered his retainers, men born in his household, three hundred and eighteen of them, and pursued as far as Dan…” (14:14)

I get caught up in a "Jesus and only Jesus" focus when it comes to the Bible; I seem to immediately move from “this is the primary thing” to “this is the ONLY THING, as in, nothing else can be instructive, period.” But that can’t be the case; I don’t think people were entirely without a sense of what God is, what love is, before Christ. I mean, God was love then, too, right? But we just didn’t see it.

But here it is, in Abram: the love that hears in one minute that your kinsmen are lost and in the next minute is taking action to save them. That love that pursues it object from Dan to Hobath to wherever and brings back not only that object but the women, the children, the possessions.

Abram’s love for Lot, here, is a picture of what we are to live like – not a picture that is perfect, and certainly not that Love itself. Abram, here, is what secular people would say Jesus is, I think. He is living the way we ought to live, the way one who is connected to God would live. The fact that we didn’t get that is the reason -- or, an appreciable element of the reason -- why Christ had to come. He says as much to the Jews: guys, you already saw Abram pursuing his kinsmen, and that is what My love does for you; that is what it makes you. Since it didn’t help you, since you claim to be Abraham’s children but don’t pursue each other that way, don’t even get that it is that love, that pursuit, that matters, here I am, Christ, to show you what this Love is.

I believe that this pursuit is what God wants from us. Not to say Abram was perfect; not to say that he the goal in the way Christ is the goal. But then, I think that, on some level, it’s a mistake to look as Christ as a "role model". Christ is God. I don’t think we can hope to emulate Him; we look to Him to experience Him, because we need Him, not because He is a template for us. He doesn’t guide us so much as He sustains us. As a role model, maybe Abram makes more sense and shows more humility. I don't think Christ really wants us thinking we can emulate Him. All we can do, at the end of the day, is go to Him. Christ is the Word; Abram is a man, living the Word -- trying to.

So here is the Law, I guess – as much as the commandments are the law. When you learn that your kinsman has been taken prisoner, pursue them. When your kinsman is lost and hopeless and being a dick to you, pursue him. When your kinsman is doing time for drugs, pursue him. When he is released from prison and doesn’t know where to go, pursue him.

When he is leaving you snotty messages on your desk at work, pursue him. When he is your employee and he calls out for no good reason, pursue him. When he is eight years old and is banging his head on the wall and yelling that he hates you, pursue him.

When he is rejecting you and you needed him and he has let you down again, pursue him. When you both hurt each other and he is not ready to admit where he was wrong, pursue him.

When he is sitting on the subway asking for money and you’ve had a long day, pursue him. When he is homeless and no one sees him, pursue him. When he is in Haiti and has just lost everything, pursue him. When he is in Asia and is being trafficked for sex, pursue him. When he is visiting Asia to exploit a trafficked child, pursue him. When he is dying of AIDS in South Africa, pursue him. When he is suffering from dementia, pursue him.

As far away as he is, as little kinship as he is showing, as uncomfortable or awkward or inconvenient or demanding as the pursuit is – pursue him. That, I think, is how God told Abram to live. Not just for his own life, but to be a blessing to us – because this pursuit is a blessing. To be what God calls us to be, to do what He calls us to do, is a blessing.