Revenge (Part 1)

I don’t like everything in the Bible.

There, I said it.

Like take this little gem for example.

Judges 14 and 15.

The story starts out like this: “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’”

As if she was something to own.

Samson’s parents say what parents say in these situations: Can’t you find someone more like us, instead of choosing one of them?

Sampson says what sons say in these situations: No really, she’s the one. I have to have her.

At this point in the story, my blood is boiling. This young woman is not an object to have–she is a unique human individual with worth and value and purpose all her own. 

But then comes this minor little detail, in parentheses: “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.”

Just perfect.

We’ve made the all-too-natural slide from objectification to exploitation.

She is to be had because God has a job to do. 

So, she’s being used, but never fear, God is using her.

Then, the rest of the story unfolds as follows. Sampson goes to find her but he encounters a lion first, so naturally, under the power of the Spirit, he rips it up with his bare hands. But he keeps that a secret. Probably a wise choice. Then, he goes and talks to the girl, and decides he likes her (notice this was not a factor in whether or not he had to have her–that part was already decided). Then, he returns some time later to marry her, but, for old times sake, visits the old lion carcass, where he finds bees, and, therefore, honey. He takes the honey to eat, and brings some for his parents, but doesn’t tell them where it came from.

His violence has turned sweet.

Sampson throws a feast and tells the guests a riddle. He places a bet with them, so they want to solve it, but they can’t. So, they threaten to burn his wife and her whole household if she cannot coax it out of him. So she does. But he’s a sore loser, so he goes and strikes down 30 of her people (all in the power of the Lord, of course) and returns home angry. Meanwhile, the wife is discarded, given to one of Sampson’s friends.

He leaves her there.

Objectification.

Exploitation.

Deception. Half the truth.

The temporary taste of sweetness, of being satisfied.

Power.

Threats.

Betrayal.

Revenge.

Isolation.

It starts with an us and a them and it ends with just a me.

It ends with a man, intent on his own satisfaction–in relationship only as a means to an end.

It ends with a woman who was an individual, a person so unique that Sampson could notice her, go find his parents, return to her town, and pick her out of a crowd. But now, her identity is lost and reduced to just another member of her people group.

She is one of them.

_____________________________________________________

Chapter 15 begins with Sampson, around the time of wheat harvest, going back down to visit his wife.

What use for her he has this time is unclear.

He is then informed by her father that the family was under the impression Sampson hated her, so they gave her to someone else.

She was a hand-me-down.

Even though he is offered another woman in her place, Sampson is angry: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.”

A right.

Really?

No personal responsibility at all? Obviously, giving your wife away wasn’t your choice, but can you at least own up to creating some of the context?

Let’s rewind.

You selected her like ripe and juicy fruit at a market, married her, told her an answer to a riddle, wished you hadn’t, struck down 30 of her people, and left her, and you are justified in your revenge because you have been wronged in return?

I mean, giving away your wife might be awful, but this isn’t an isolated decision. It had context.

It didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened in a system.

And thus begins a deadly and torturous pissing match.

Sampson ties foxes together and lights them on fire and sends them to destroy the Philistines crops. When they find out it was him who lit foxes on fire, they light people on fire and kill his wife and her father. When Sampson finds out they did that, he kills many of them and retreats to a cave. The Philistines come looking for him and so all of Judah is now threatened and waiting on an explanation from him. How could he have put everyone’s safety at risk?

His answer: “I merely did to them what they did to me.”

His people give him over to his enemies but God gives him a power boost, he breaks free, and uses a donkey jawbone and kills a thousand men.

A thousand.

Violence multiples quickly.

Then he was thirsty and God made sure to give him water in exchange for all his hard work (which is another topic for another time).

From one man who couldn’t have the woman to whom he felt entitled to thousands dead.

Because, as Rob Bell observed in his sermon Forgiveness is Personal, revenge always escalates.

Revenge always escalates. 

And it takes out those who had nothing to do with it anyway.

_____________________________________________________

Thousands of years later, humans have finally figured out how to build tall towers.

Two of them are knocked down by them flying planes.

Another plane is flown back down into the land.

2,996 people died.

2,996 lives lost.

It was and continues to be staggering.

It was a terrible and evil decision.

And it was a decision made made in a system, not in a vacuum.

It was an act of war, brought to our soil by those who witnessed our war fought on theirs.

It was inexcusable.

And then we acted like we didn’t create any of the context.

We said, we’ll take your 2996 lives and raise you 150,000.

That’s right, according to the website www.iraqbodycount.org, the total number of civilians (not including combatants) who have been killed as a result of the conflict begun in 2003 is over 150,000.

Now, I understand that the United States may not be responsible for all of them, but that’s 50 times the number of deaths in 911.

50.

Because we saw what they did and we had a right.

Because revenge always escalates.

____________________________________________________

There were houses full of boys.

A boy who was 10 in 2003 would be 22 now.

They spent their childhoods with pounding hearts and vigilant eyes, huddled at home, full of the trauma all around them.

Developmentally, the only way they knew how to make sense of it all was to make us into a very scary them.

Now, they are ready to take their power back in a pissing match all their own. These boys whose childhoods were sacrificed are eager to get their own revenge.

Many of them are willing to give up their lives to get us back.

So, for Christians everywhere, Muslims have lost their individuality.

Muslims are now a corporate they.

Acts of violence are justified. Students are called on to carry guns, to be ready to take life at any moment because of what THEY did to US. 

And my first reaction is shock. I think How could all these people actually think this is the way of Jesus? What could possibly motivate that idea?

And then I read Judges, and it’s a little more clear.

The Bible seems to condone this escalating violence. It seems to justify the defense (and quite frankly the offense) of the people of God in a way that dismisses the entire part we’ve played in the problem.

It seems to suggest that after we are done objectifying, exploiting, and deceiving–after the back-and-forth and all the bloodshed–there will be water.

From God.

For us.

It really does seem to say that.

Or at least half of it does.

But then,

Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Advent, Terrorism, and Women

The story replays over and over again. al Qauda. Boko Haram. ISIS. Infiltrate and invade. Violate and discard women. Kill (or recruit) men. Leave.

Obviously, it doesn’t happen this way every time, but the vast number of widows and fatherless children throughout the middle east cannot be ignored.

It’s such a wild contradiction. Women are so powerful that they must be contained at every level–their bodies covered as the exposure of them alone is powerful enough to “cause” sin, their voices silenced for fear of what they could accomplish through open communication, their education thwarted out of covert acceptance that, armed with information, women are capable of changing the world, or at least the world as men know it.

But, then, in the wake of the slaughter and mass graves, they leave the women behind. Cast aside as though they are worthless, powerless, like they cause no threat at all. No more energy is spent containing all their potential. Instead, the terrorists seem to believe they have stripped these families and communities of their value. They act like burglars who took the diamonds and jewels and left behind the cheap costume jewelry.

The influence they have worked so hard to bridle they now liberate.

What the world is beginning to see is that they have left power in their wake.

Resilient and resolved tenacity.

They have created survivors. 

As Americans, we see these stories and send our prayers and money, but most of us are yearning to hear some sort of solution, hope that this is not the new way of our world.

The sheer vastness of it all can be utterly defeating. None of us has influence over foreign governments, and even those who do cannot seem to use it effectively enough to create change. The soil seems fertile for extremist groups to continue to mobilize within the middle east, and possibly infiltrate countries all over the world.

It’s all so far away. And the problems are all so big.

Any effort we could make ultimately feels like one drop of good in an ocean of evil.

None of us feels like our contribution would matter much in the end.

So, we resort back to the same old tactics the extremists try.

Just as terrorists recognize potential power and shut it down, we begin recognizing potential dangers and propose limits and controls.

Ironically, those who study peace, such as the folks at the Unites States Institute of Peace (USIP), created by Congress in 1984 as an independent, nonpartisan, federally funded organization to provide analysis, education, and resources to those working for peace, have identified one key factor that is necessary, and often times ignored, in the peace process: women. In fact, in 2000, the U.N. Security Counsel Resolution 1325 acknowledged the critical role women play not only in responding to but also in preventing terror.

It is widely understood that, in order to have global conversations about peace, women must be at the table.

Without the voice of women, peace cannot come.

In their 2011 report The Role of Women In Global Security, the USIP quote Søren Pind, Danish minister of development cooperation, as saying, “You won’t find a fragile state that supports the rights of women. You won’t find a stable society that neglects the rights of women.”

This report stresses the importance of shifting “power relationships” to create lasting peace.

Funny.

The key to helping a nation’s leaders share power, instead of resort to hostile takeover, is to teach the men and women that make up the individual communities of that nation to share power with one another.

Novel.

Shared power creates stability.

We Christians aren’t too good at sharing power.

In fact, the vast majority of evangelical America is convinced we don’t have to.

I was reminded of this reality not too long ago in a social situation where my husband and I were out with our 3 children (all 4 and under). He was in a different room performing some sort of task with one of them (probably changing a diaper if I had to guess) and I had some information I thought might be helpful, so I piped up from the next room over. In that moment, I was reminded by someone else present that if I wanted him to take care of the task, I could not tell him how to do it.

Okay, fair enough. No one likes a back-seat parent.

However, my husband and I both work full-time. We both contribute significantly to the overall family income. So, when it comes to raising our kids and taking care of our household, he is just as responsible as I am. He is not “helping” me, he is just doing his part. He is not doing me a favor that I should simply be grateful for.

The idea that just because my husband is the person acting at a particular moment means I automatically lose my voice perpetuates of the lie that only one person can have power at a time. 

So, as an evangelical culture, we stay stuck.

Because we’ve never learned how to matter at the same time without being threatened by one another.

And our division shows up in marriages broken, churches split, and denominations severed.

On this, the first day of Advent, I am reflecting on this Scripture: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Prince of Peace.

As we reflect on the Prince of Peace this season, and long for a world where peace is truly realized, may we practically connect with the ways we can share power in our own sphere of influence and wonder about how we can support the stability that comes when both sides of the Imago Dei can productively partner.

To Whom Much Is Given: A Thanksgiving Reflection on Whiteness

Back when I had a bulletin board, which was back when I had an office, which was back before every inch of my home was filled with children, I had a $5 bill that hung on the bottom.

It wasn’t currency.

It was a reminder of my currency.

In college, I participated in an activity that I will never forget. A group of students, all from different racial backgrounds, were all positioned at a starting line. Then, we were instructed to take steps forward or backward based on certain prompts. We were told that whomever got to the front of the line first won money in different increments depending on who finished first, second, third.

If you have ever been asked to speak on behalf of all who share your skin color, take two steps back.

If you have ever been to summer camp, take one step forward. 

If you watch media and see people who look like you being portrayed positively, take two steps forward.

If you are the only one in your family to ever attend college, take one step back. 

I was surprised by what was starting to happen. The longer the exercise went on, the closer I got to the front.

I found myself taking smaller steps, shrinking back from the exposed illusion that my hard work and innate talent were not the only reasons I had achieved success.

Despite my best efforts, I “won” $5 that day.

It didn’t feel like a reward.

After learning more, I began to understand those privileges and experiences I did nothing to earn have created for me a savings account of sorts, one I can debit from when my current efforts to succeed are not paying off. Those experiences create skills, perspectives, and connections that can be cashed in at a later date.

So, now, as an adult and parent, I do not worry about whether or not the neighborhood I raise my children in is safe. I don’t wonder if the values I have instilled in them and the bond I have created with them will be strong enough to withstand the pressure toward gang membership. The thought that I would need to convince the world that my children’s lives matter has never crossed my mind. 

I did not chose my race, ethnicity, country of origin, family of origin, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or the historical period in which I was born, but they all give me a head start. 

Yes, I am a hard worker. I am goal-oriented. I can chose long-term success over instant gratification. I am proud of those things, and they do help me succeed.

But, I often wonder if there is a minority mom out there somewhere who is living on welfare, or a transgendered woman who is dismissed and misunderstood, who might also have what it takes–who also knows about long-term investments, goals, and working hard–who doesn’t have my life even though there isn’t a single reason why not that she could have actually controlled.

To say that I’m thankful today seems disrespectful.

Of course, I am thankful, but it is much deeper than that.

I am privileged. 

To say I am thankful infers that I was given something to be thankful for, which infers I was given something that others intentionally weren’t, which infers that the giver left others out on purpose, which infers they might not have deserved the privileges I have.

This mentality serves to perpetrate the insidious belief that the “haves” are better, or more deserving, than the “have nots.”

It also creates a picture of a God who is generous, but only sometimes, to some people.

So, why do (White) Christians gravitate so much toward the meaning of Thanksgiving? Why is it so much more than turkey and football to us?

For lots of reasons.

We understand that gratitude is important.

We understand we serve a good God and that the good things on earth come from him.

We understand that staying tuned in to our abundance can also keep us aware of the needs of others.

Those are all true and good things.

Lately, I’ve been feeling something else mixed up in there.

I’ve been feeling pride.

We have gotten being privileged confused with being deserving. 

Being deserving is about us. About how good we are. It makes us feel noticed. It’s comfortable.

But being privileged doesn’t make us comfortable, it makes us responsible.

To whom much is given, much is required.

Being responsible is entirely different altogether.

Responsibility is uncomfortable.

Inconvenient.

Burdensome.

And it requires action.

Thankfulness can be passive. 

Thankfulness can be words we speak around a full table, in a safe neighborhood, with extra money in our checking account.

But thankfulness can also be active.

Active thankfulness is about recognizing our privilege and deciding to leverage it in ways that level the playing field.

What are we doing to to ensure that skin color does not determine a person’s opportunity to make a life worth living in our world?

Maybe today at our Thanksgiving tables, we can share what we are thankful for, because that’s important.

Maybe we could also share ideas for active thankfulness. Not a plan made up of grandiose gestures but rather simple decisions, intentional conversations, and small acts.

Instead of merely being thankful to God, we could create ways to actually be a representation of God’s heart toward the marginalized. 

 

 

 

 

Prayer for Paris

Come, Lord Jesus.

To a nation who will never be able to forget, who will be marked and changed and forever different.

To world leaders with decisions resting on their shoulders–stones thrown in an ocean of violence, the ripples of which are impossible to predict.

To first responders and aid workers who are tired and pressing through.

To the critically injured, whose bodies are working to heal physical wounds that pale in comparison to their fractured emotional reality.

To parents trying to explain evil they don’t understand themselves to children in the face of stolen innocence.

To mothers and fathers who lost a piece of themselves, who need a body to grieve over to feel like this is even real, but don’t have one.

To spouses who woke up two days ago thinking they would have a hundred tomorrows only to have them all ripped away.

To children who will grow up without a mom or dad, forever unable to escape the knowledge that we cannot count on life.

To brothers and sisters and friends who lost the only person that knew their secrets, saw their worst, and loved them anyway.

To desperate refugees, who have experienced fear like most of us have never known, whose only hope is that the terrorists who stole their lives do not scare the rest of us out of offering them a new one.

To young boys who are vulnerable, scared, looking to feel worthy and valuable, who were taught the way of violence by a war fought on their soil and are eager to show us what they learned.

To all who are paying the price for someone else’s pain.

To those hell bent on hope, who are determined to stand toe-to-toe with the worst humanity is capable of and believe that love still wins.

Bring irrational grace.

The Truth of Emotions

Driving home from work last night in our newfound 6pm darkness, I was listening to my local Christian radio station. Right before I arrived home, one song ended and before the next one played, the radio announcer shared a few thoughts, all leading to this: “Our emotions lie to us.”

My compassion for what it must be like to broadcast one’s thoughts in real time, unfiltered, over the airways (something, for me, I know is a terrible idea) doesn’t change the fact that this statement is fundamentally untrue.

The truth is not that emotions lie but that each emotion can only tell us part of an important truth.

The rage a man feels when he discovers his wife has cheated honors the value he places on fidelity. His sense of betrayal—a testament to the vulnerability of trusting another with your inmost self. His desire for revenge is a (flawed) mirror of God’s love of justice, and his sadness reflects the emptiness of living in a world not originally meant for us, one that fails to deliver the glory a part of us still knows we were created for.

The profound disappointment a woman feels when she is not chosen for a promotion she really worked for honors the sacrifices she made, the instant gratifications she delayed, the hours she may not have invested in her family because she believed this alternative investment would pay off in ways that would bring them life later. Her resentment may in some cases reveal the glass ceiling that still exists and the ways in which our American ideals of hard work still fall short for so many Americans.

Emotions are story-tellers.

The problem with emotions is not in the E, it’s in the motions. It’s in the actions emotions convince us to take. When rallied, emotions can be the impetus behind changed laws, million dollar fundraising campaigns, and the miracle of a tiny human life. But, they can also motivate an unrelenting bully, a hidden manipulation, or a gruesome murder.

Emotions are ball-hogs. They don’t like to get credit for the assist. They want to do a full-court press and take their own shot. When one emotion separates itself far enough, we become vulnerable. When rage disconnects from our feelings of betrayal, vulnerability, sadness, and hurt, it is more likely to convince us it’s a good idea to have our own affair. When our resentment gets the only word, divorced from our disappointment, we might step on another woman’s hard work to ensure our next promotion, and lose empathy and fairness along the way.

Emotions are powerful.

And when the church comes into contact with powerful things, things that might cause good but could also be dangerous, its response if often to suppress, control, regulate, and bring them into submission.

Just in case.

Emotions are not liars. Emotions are truth-tellers. Indiscreet and inconvenient truth-tellers.

They tell the truth-story of our most inner world.

When we are convinced they are liars, conniving manipulators that are a powerful force to resist AND that giving into them shows our weakness, it’s a set-up for failure.

We will have them anyway.

We will act on them anyway.

At least Jesus did.

He told the story of his disappointment, sadness, disillusionment, and anger in the face of exploitation in the form of tables scattered on a temple floor.

This means our emotions are a part of our Imago Dei.

When the church convinces Christians that part of their Imago Dei cannot be trusted, it sets off a chain reaction that leads to one of the most powerful emotions of all: shame.

Pretty soon, we are hiding ourselves and the world doesn’t get to see us anymore.

And then, the Imago Dei has become invisible.

The very ones God chose to display himself to the world, drawing it into his redemption story, have decided they cannot risk the exposure.

Sex and Water

For our anniversary this year, my husband took me on my first walk across the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. As we walked further and further away from solid ground, from the edges, from the places where I was sure what was underneath me, I got more and more afraid.

I finally got to the middle, I looked down, trembling, and I saw death.

A few weeks later, a friend posted on social media about a bridge near her home known for suicides where a young 17-year-old woman had jumped the day before. She asked us to show up and tie a ribbon to remember and to show support for those who are struggling through depression. Later that day I went to the bridge. I walked to the middle. I could barely even look down, and I was terrified.

I mean, this water, it can swallow you up, it can take away your body’s ability to move itself and drag you through a thrashing current. It can fill spaces that it’s not meant to fill so that what’s supposed to be there doesn’t have enough room. It’s powerful enough to carve mountain rock and inhale a shoreline. People lose their lives to this water.

Sexuality is like water. It can surge through you, carving out paths that weren’t there before. It can take over and send you moving through its current in a way that you do not know how to stop. It can swallow you up and become the only world you know how to see. And it can seem to fill spaces that it was never meant to fill, taking away the space of what was supposed to live there instead.

Sexuality is powerful.

It was created by a powerful God.

We have this thing as humans when we come into contact with power. We get afraid.

When fear shows up, it usually brings some friends along, friends that can ease the nervous energy of fear and give us the illusion it’s less likely to ruin us.

Friends like rules, control, regulation, and rigidity.

The friends help tame the powerful thing, and bring it into submission.

And then we feel safe.

On the bridge, my husband asked me, “But can you appreciate the beauty of it?”

The thing about fear is that it narrows our vision. It covers over and cancels out some reality in exchange for other reality.

It trades beautiful for terrifying.

The other thing about fear is that it wears costumes. It usually looks like something else on the outside.

When we are feeling vulnerable in our relationships, we don’t usually say, “I’m afraid to open up to you, to show you me, because I am fearful of whether or not you will prove safe.” Instead, we say, “You’re an asshole.”

Our attacks, accusations, and manipulations are often times actually fear.

Sometimes, so are our compliments, favors, and sacrifices.

Because fear doesn’t always have to look scary.

When we talk about purity in the church, it can look like holiness, like devotion, like innocence, obedience, and protection. And sometimes it is.

It’s not that we cannot value purity, it’s that we also need to get honest.

We need to name, that as a church, we have looked over the bridge into the swirling sea of sexuality, and we have gotten afraid. Afraid of its power, and what we’ve seen it do.

So, while our messages about sex in certain cases may have been accurate, even accuracy laced in fear comes out sideways.  

So, why do we talk about sex the way we sometimes do in the church, like it’s something that should be carefully regulated and controlled in black and white ways lest it ruin us entirely? Well, for lots of reasons.

Let’s start with this.

We are afraid of its power.

Our knowledge that it is supposed to be beautiful cannot outweigh our sense that it is also dangerous.

Until we can own that, we cannot have an honest conversation about what a powerful God intended when He created this powerful act through which, incidentally, life can come.

Welcome

Welcome to a new community.

My intention is for this to be a place where we can explore why we believe what we do about God.

There are many authors writing brilliantly about what we believe and the impact those beliefs should have upon the kind of people we become in the world. My desire is not to simply add one more voice to the already existing conversation. I hope instead to provide space where we can explore the undercurrent that moves the flow of our faith, the unseen forces that control its speed and direction. I want to ask questions about not only how we develop theologies, beliefs,  and worldviews but also why?

What, psychologically, is our primary motivation for having and holding our most sacred thoughts about God?

I’m not so much interested in, nor am I the most qualified to speak to, how exegetically or hermeneuticallwe arrive at certain tenants. While I know our beliefs are our best interpretations of concrete information, like cultural context, exegesis of the Greek and Hebrew language, corroborating historical documents, and more, there is actually a lot more going on than we realize. Other forces affect our interpretations–things like unconscious fears, shame, insecurities, power, privilege, pride, oppression—and which side(s) of it we’ve experienced, our families of origin, birth order, quest for anxiety reduction, natural temperament, social standing, socioeconomic status, and most of all, our human propensity away from uncertainty and ambiguity and toward perceived clarity.

These are our blind spots. I have them, and we have them—individually, corporately, institutionally.

They are like the area between the sheet rock and walls, gaps we vaguely know exist but haven’t explored, defined, or made use of. But they are taking up real space inside us, guiding us toward, and away, and around, and changing the way we see and interact with God, each other, and ultimately ourselves. They are shaping how we portray our faith to those who don’t share it, and even our ability to see ourselves first and foremost as the Beloved.

Sometimes we find ourselves unexpectedly in these deeper tunnels of ourselves. Sometimes we push on a bookcase inside and hear something twist, and discover that behind it is a whole other room, new space, that has always been in us but we have never known what lived there. And when we aren’t able to see our secret passageways alone, sometimes we have others who can come in and look behind a few dusty picture frames or under a few loose boards for a lock or latch, just the right question or prompt, that can illuminate a new internal room.

And slowly, we develop capacity.

We become bigger.

And we see a bigger God.

That’s the point of this journey, isn’t it? That God gets bigger?

I have no idea what musty rooms I’ll explore in myself along the way, or what we’ll be able to discover together. That will depend on who shows up and what tools they bring along. I hope you’ll join us.