19 September 2014

Bible Story

Occasionally I like to post something I wrote for a theology class while in college. Today I am posting my retelling of the Biblical Narrative that I wrote for my Narrative Theology Senior Seminar course at Goshen. Telling the Bible Story as a narrative was not something I was new to when I was given this assignment, though. At Central Christian High School, the Mennonite high school I attended, all sophomores are tasked with telling the Bible Story from memory. (And from what I hear from my young cousins, they still do it to this day.) I remember this as being one of the more exciting and nerve-wracking days in high school. Everyone anxiously going over their notes in the hallway as they awaited their turn. But more compelling than the anxiety was how we were all able to find coherence in this sometimes disparate story. It was so affecting to take all of these Bible stories that we had always known and string them together into a full narrative. It gave us such insight into who God is and what is important to God.

It has been the experience of my life that God is full of Grace. Grace can take the form of patience, forgiveness, guiding, comfort, love and so many others. When I read the Biblical narrative, I read story after story about God’s Graciousness. This is the theme that I have traced in my retelling of that narrative here.

In the beginning, our Great Creator Created the Universe. Perhaps it was created with a big bang and then slow movement. Perhaps it was created in a single week. That is not the point, however. The point is that the Great Creator Created. Everything Created was so divinely intricate and perfect that we will never be able to comprehend the magnitude of our Creation. The Great Creator also Created a balance so sacred that to defy it is sin. All things were Created in Grace.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God and God showed them Grace. They left Eden, but God gave them what they needed to survive. Later, Cain disobeyed God and killed his brother Abel; but God showed him Grace and he left his family. People continued to populate the earth and they continued to disobey God. We are told that God became frustrated and decided to destroy humanity. But, through Grace, God found one Godly and obedient family to save: the family of Noah. God told Noah to build an ark for God intended to flood the earth and start again with a, hopefully, more obedient people. When the flood was over, God sent a dove with an olive branch to show Noah that the land was returning and a God also sent a rainbow as a sign of God’s promise that never again would humanity be destroyed. These have become some of our most sacred symbols.

The people repopulated the earth and, unfortunately, continued to disobey God. But God showed them Grace by calling to Abraham and giving him a new covenant. God promised Abraham a son by Sarah whose children would number the stars and become a great nation; but Sarah did not trust God and Abraham had Ishmael by Sarah’s servant Hagar. But God was trustworthy and gave Abraham a son through Sarah: Isaac. Sarah exiled Hagar and Ishmael but God showed them Grace and gave Ishmael a great nation of his own.

Isaac’s children did become a great nation: the nation of Israel. After some time, there was a famine in the land and God showed them Grace and they found food in Egypt. But, while they flourished in Egypt for a time, the nation of Israel became enslaved. But God showed them Grace by coming to Moses in the wilderness and giving him a mission: a plan to save Israel. Moses did as he was told and God freed God’s people through trial and tribulation. But when they reached the desert, the people began to doubt. Moses went up a mountain to converse with God and to bring the people a decree of God’s laws. But while Moses was gone, the people lost faith and began to worship an idol. Moses was angry at this, but God showed them Grace and gave them a new covenant. God gave them manna from heaven and pheasants so they would not starve. God was faithful. For forty years the Israelites wandered through the desert, searching for the Promised Land. Moses led them for a time, and when he died his son, Joshua, led God’s people. God was faithful and brought them to the Promised Land.

While in the Promised Land, the tribes of Israel were faithful – most of the time. When they were unfaithful, God did not condemn them or disown them or curse them. When they were unfaithful, God sent them a judge to lead them back on the right path. When they were unfaithful, God showed them Grace. But, the people were not content with this system and wanted something more stable: they wanted a king. God told them through a prophet that they did not want a king. They disagreed, so God gave them a king, Saul. But Saul began to disobey God and so the prophet Samuel anointed David. God promised David that he would bear the Messiah. After David came his son Solomon and after Solomon came his son Rehoboam. But then the people began to doubt in their king and, predictably, God had been right and the kingdom split in two.

The Israelites lived through times of great faithfulness and times of great disobedience. God sent many prophets to try and keep God’s people on the right path, but they would not follow. After a time, the Assyrian Empire took the Promised Land from the Israelites and they were forced to live in exile. But this, as God’s Grace may have intended, was not a time of trial only – this was a time of great renewal, as well. The Israelites looked to the mistakes of their past and the hope of their future and established Judaism. The Jews lived faithfully and continued to struggle with disobedience, but had formed a strong and unbreakable community bond.

Out of this community came Jesus, son of Mary. The Jews had become too focused on doctrine and laws that God needed to Gracefully remind them of what was important. Jesus came to help guide people toward that end. He was given a believer’s baptism by his cousin, John the Baptist, at the start of his ministry. He then went on to gather twelve disciples to follow him and teach with him. He taught using stories, because he understood the way people come to understand things. He told his followers stories of seeds planted among weeds, shepherds who do not neglect even one lamb, workers in the field receiving the same wages and prodigal sons. In the life and teachings of Jesus we are taught the importance of showing Grace in all things. He forgave sins and healed the sick. He comforted the widow and cared for the fatherless. But he lived his life counter to the powers and principalities and because of that, suffered a death on the cross. But God was Gracious and gave us hope in Jesus’ resurrection.

While the Biblical narrative is one that has shaped much of my life, it isn't something that I think of as a coherent whole often. I struggled to come up with a clear theme, but when I did, it all seemed to flow so naturally. Once I chose Grace as my theme, it became the obvious theme. Grace is the theme of my life, the theme of my understanding of God; it only makes sense that it also be the theme of my Biblical narrative.

12 September 2014

Sabbath: A Holy Reset Button

Did you miss me last week? If you can believe it, I literally just forgot. Not like, kinda forgot, but also kinda remembered like the week I was going to the Nisly campout; but legit didn't think of it once all week until Friday at 5:30pm when I was talking with my momma on the walk home and she asked about it. I was pretty annoyed with myself, but also recognized that I've been working harder than I've ever worked for a job this last month and so I extended myself a little grace.

On Saturday, I had the idea of posting a follow-up to the previous week's Labor Day post and write about Sabbath to post on Sunday. But since I'd been busy from work all week, I hadn't had time to do housework and I became consumed with it all day. On Sunday morning, I woke up not feeling well, so I stayed home from church. At the time, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to write that blog. I got myself all settled in the windowsill (the best place to write, if you can't be outside) and started researching Sabbath. I wrote a few paragraphs here and there, but just couldn't seem to get my brain to catch up with me. I spent the whole day in front of that computer trying to will something interesting to happen and nothing did.

I don't know how I missed the irony while it was happening. There I was, trying to write a blog about Sabbath rest while blatantly ignoring my own need for it. That's why nothing was coming: I hadn't refreshed, so I had nothing to give.

For Lent this year one of my disciplines was No-Screen Sunday. On Sundays, I wouldn't watch TV or use my computer and I would only use my phone for phone calls. It was both the most difficult and the most rewarding of my Lenten disciplines. On the Sundays I was home, I would spend the day cooking, cleaning, reading and listening to records. And while all those things are lovely, it was a real challenge to cut out something that has become such an integrated part of my life. But setting aside a day to do things totally differently and take a break from my usual routine was refreshing. At the time, I likened it to a reset button.

Without giving myself a break from the steady stream of work, I had no time to reset. I'm like a computer that needs to be restarted because it's running really slow. I know you've all experienced it: that moment when you realize your brain capacity is maxed out and you are no longer able to do even the simple things. I was there on Sunday, but I ignored it. And the real trap is the idea that you're too busy to take a break. The truth is, we all work better when our heads are clear and our hearts are full.

As I was doing the research on Sunday, it occurred to me that it could seem as though Jesus did not value Sabbath. He was constantly rejecting the pharisees' laws about how to observe it and doing what he wasn't supposed to. It seems to me, though, that this is simply another example of Jesus' rejection of legalism. Sabbath had gone from a day God gifted us for rest and had been morphed into a day of rules and regulations. It was no longer about taking a break, but about conforming to rigid expectations.

But Sabbath, at its core, is a break from all that. It is a day when the rules and expectations of our usual life no longer hold any sway over us. It is a day when we can relax the grip that responsibility holds on us the other six days of the week. A day to unplug and restart. A Holy reset button.

So, I'm hoping to find a way to give myself the grace to take a break and hit the reset button this weekend. To remind myself that busyness is a symptom of not getting enough rest and not a road block to it. I hope you're able to do the same.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
~Exodus 20:11

01 September 2014

Labor and Rest

Happy Labor Day! I love a holiday. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that I get jubilant for Thanksgiving, giddy over Halloween, ebullient about Valentine's Day. I love a theme and celebrating - I am truly my mother's daughter. So, I want to celebrate Labor Day. I suppose in order to celebrate it, I have to figure out what we're celebrating.

Labor day originated in Canada, of all places. The Industrial Revolution made twelve hour workdays and seven day workweeks a commonplace reality for workers. In Canada, labor unions were illegal, so the workers had no collective bargaining power to make any changes to this unsustainable and unfair system. In 1872, thousands of Ottawans marched to the house of the Canadian Prime Minister to protest and later that year, the anti-union law was repealed. That day became a sort of annual Canadian labor celebration. In 1882, an American union leader visited Toronto's worker's parade. He thought it was such a good idea, that he proposed a similar celebration in New York City on September 5 (to fill the holiday gap between July 4th and Thanksgiving). The first Labor Day march took place in 1882 and focused on rallying for an eight-hour workday. A few years later, the march was moved to the first Monday in September and the celebrations began to spread to cities across the country. However, since it was not yet a recognized holiday, workers often had to lose wages to go to the parades. Oregon was the first state to legalize the holiday in 1887. It wasn't recognized nationally, though, until President Cleveland's harsh and bloody response to the rail worker strike in Pullman Illinois made recognizing Labor Day as a national holiday a political necessity. 

So, I guess what all that means is that today we celebrate unions and workers. I just wrote that and I don't even really know what it means. I guess to celebrate labor unions, it would be helpful to have an idea of what they've accomplished. The first thing that comes to mind for me, is the eight hour workday and five day workweek. 

Like I mentioned earlier, the Industrial Revolution brought on twelve hour workdays and seven day workweeks. And, unlike farming, the work wasn't seasonal so there was no chance for a real respite. Some companies allowed for Sunday's off so their workers could go to church, but many jobs had few days off during the year. Even with the strength of labor unions in the late nineteenth century, the first five day workweek didn't come until 1908 and that was only at one New England cotton mill to allow for Jewish workers to observe the Sabbath on Saturday. But it still wasn't until 1926, when Henry Ford instated a five day workweek at all his factories that the idea really gained strength. And yet it was not adopted nationally until 1940 when a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act went into effect that called for an eight hour workday and five day workweek. This act was lobbied for heavily by the labor unions. Without them, it can be argued that we still would not have this necessary respite from the workweek. 

On this particular Labor Day, I appreciate this respite even more than usual. I simply cannot imagine not having two days dedicated to a break from work. Everything needs a time to rest. The fields are left to lay fallow every couple years so they can recuperate. All bodies require some sort of sleep cycle. Even God took time to rest on the seventh day. Rest is an ordained part of living. But too often days off from work are viewed as days to do work at home. I know I'm guilty of it. But I want to try and keep my sabbath holy. To take these respite days and really use them to take a break from work and live in the stillness of being enough.

So this Labor Day I am celebrating weekends. The God ordained and nationally recognized need for rest. I hope you have a restful Labor Day.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
~Genesis 2:2-3