Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and felt restless – spiritually restless? It’s not insomnia. It’s not anxiety or worry. It’s when you wake up at 3am and you don’t feel right – you don’t feel at peace. So you get up and go your special spot in the house in order to pray – and I mean really pray – Garden of Gethsemane style. It’s in those quiet (or not so quiet) 3am moments that we recognize the spiritual weight that has become heavy upon us. It’s in these moments that we see the towers of Babel pressing in on us.
Genesis 11 tells a story of how all the peoples of the earth were congregated in one city. The people came together in order to build a tower that reaches into the heavens. They do this so that they won’t find themselves scattered across the world in dissension.
This is how the people of Genesis 11 had a right idea for the wrong reasons. They thought, “Let’s make a tower and a city so big and so grand, that we will reach into the heavens. Let’s not only claim this land as ours so there is no one left to fight us, but let’s build a tower that reaches Babel itself. And once we build it high enough – there we will rule both the heavens and the earth – and there will be no dissension.”
There is this word in Akkadian (the langua franca of the ancient world) called Babilim which means “gate of the gods”. And when you loose the plural “im” at the end, we are left with Babel: “Gate of God”. Yes – it’s an Akkadian translation – not a Hebrew one. But given the era in history this story comes out of, I am inclined to think it’s the best we got.
So the people of earth people built a tower to the very “gate of God”. And do you know what happens next in the story? God has to “come down” from heaven to even see this puny tower that the people have built. They haven’t even come near the “gate of God” – but they were so sure that they had. The people had settled into a large city only to became united in a false idea – a lie: that they could settle and become gods – as long as they built high enough.
This is the world of Abraham’s family: a world of Babel towers.
Continue reading Babel Towers: A 3am Interpretation of Genesis 11
And to the man [God] said . . . “Cursed is the ground in its separation of you. In pain you will eat from it all the days of your life; Thorns and thistles shall come out towards you and you will eat plants of the field. In sweat of your nose you will eat bread until you return to the ground.
Remember, apart from us you took. Therefore, you are dust and to dust you will return” – Genesis 3:17-19
Dust. Ash. It’s such gritty, grimy gunk. It gets stuck under your nails, it stains your clothes. When the grass withers, all that is left is dust. When the fire stops burning all that remains is ash. But today – I receive this gritty, grimy gunk and I put it on my forehead – where all the world will see it.
Ashes on my forehead and dust in my veins.
See, the secret of the Garden of Eden, the one we miss in our cookie-cutter Sunday school class, is the placement of the trees. The tree of life may be at the center of the garden, the place where all life comes forth. But what about the other tree? Where did it come from? Well, if you talk to a well-studied Rabbi (or the early fathers of our faith) you might be surprised to know that the other tree grew outside the garden (I know, it’s easily missed); in the garden of our hearts. And so we ate apart from God. We took from a fruit that grew within us, and not within God’s life-garden.
And so, God reminded Adam – reminds us – that are hearts are nothing more than dust. Our minds are nothing more than dust. Our souls are nothing more than dust. Our blood is nothing more than dust. And to the dust, we will return.
Continue reading Ashes & Dust: Why I Receive Ashes Today
This post is going to be different. I’m not the most transparent person. Maybe it’s a personality trait (INFJ all the way), or maybe I just didn’t develop in this area as I should have. Whatever the reason, writing down my thoughts, feelings, and reflections seems to be the most raw version of me. Here, in black ink, and white pages, the inner abstract becomes an external concrete. And it’s that what every scribe wants?
Therefore, this post is going to be different. I’m not going to assume some voice, or analyze some biblical passage. Instead, I will simply offer me on this Epiphany.
For those of you who don’t know – Epiphany is the day the church celebrates the arrival of the Magi to a two-year-old Jesus. The Christmas season which is 12 days long (or 14 depending on your tradition) is ended. While we have awaited something during Advent, then celebrated a child’s birth in Christmastide, it isn’t until this day that we recognize, as the church, who He really is. Before today, he was the “with us God”. But today, we know who he is. He is our King. He is the Messiah. He is our teacher. He is our prophet. He is our priest. He is our groom. And we are his disciples, his bride. He is coming to save, redeem, make-right, and complete the tear within the world: the tears within our lives.
Today, we collectively have an Epiphany.
Continue reading Epiphany: My Search for My King
A note on the following:
First, this post is meant to be performed, therefore, the written form is missing an important element: Herod’s paranoia. When I perform this, the “craziness” starts to come out about half-way through and builds and builds until the end. So when reading, remember that there is a very unstable voice behind the words. Herod was brilliant – but he died a very sick man.
Second, everything written is meant to be historically accurate. But for the purposes of simplicity, I wrote this with the omission of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Since only people who have studied Second Temple Judaism would be aware of it’s existence and political influence. Therefore, every time you see and asterisk*, know that I am referencing the Davidic monarchy instead of the recent Hasmonean one.
Advent with King Herod: Peace
History has not been kind to me. And you, you people here in the pews are the ones who turned me into a villain. You have turned me into an old, fat King who gave orders to kill your favored child, the alleged King of the Jews. I have to scoff at that. There is no such thing as a King of the Jews, nor will there ever be! You call him a king? I’m not even a King, yet your silly Holy Book calls me one. So let me set the record straight. Maybe you care to hear my side of the story. My name is “King” Herod, and what I did – I did for peace.
Continue reading Advent with King Herod: Peace
From the time I was old enough to help out my mother, my mom had a favored topic of conversation: pregnancy. She had trouble conceiving – so I grew up hearing about how I was her miracle child. I was conceived late in her life. And as I grew up, she told me how she related to the matriarchs of old. She told me she was like Sarah, who wanted a child. But it wasn’t until Sarah accepted the child God wanted that she bore one. She told me she was like Hannah, who wanted a child so bad that she was accused of being drunk as she prayed for a son. So my mother, being a godly woman, prayed that same prayer Hannah prayed. She asked for a child that was within God’s plan. Not for one that she wanted. I was the result and my name is Mary.
Not only did I grow up hearing about my mother’s barrenness – but I also heard about it from my cousin Elizabeth who we visited every year after the barley harvest. Although Elizabeth is my cousin, she is my mother’s age – the child of my mother’s oldest sister. And Elizabeth and my mother held something in common: they simply struggled to conceive.
Continue reading Advent with Mary: Joy
Out of all the people in our Holy Book, I think I might be one of the most mysterious. People debate about me all the time. Some say that I was young, in my early twenties, when I decided to marry. After all, that is when the average man got married in my day. Then others say that I was older when I married her, that it was my second marriage, that I already had a few kids by my first wife who died young.
Some say I was a well-learned man, that I had a formal education, that I taught my son the Law. Then others claim that I didn’t know much at all, at least in book smarts. The truth is, you don’t read much about me in scripture at all. My name is Joseph, the carpenter. And I am the earthly father of Jesus Christ.
If you came here today seeking the details of my life, I must confess, you will be disappointed. But if you came to hear to listen to my story – and the struggle I’ve been in – then maybe you won’t be disappointed at all.
Continue reading Advent with Joseph: Love
This is intended to be performed as a monologue for the first week of Advent:
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you” – no that doesn’t sound right. “Greetings.” Clears throat. “Greetings. Behold, you will conceive and bear a son” I’ve delivered a lot of messages in my lifetime. More than you can imagine – most of them have never been recorded, not even in your holy text. But this message, this new message I’ve been practicing is confounding even for me: the ever-watchful Gabriel, one of the 7 archangels of heaven.
Continue reading Advent with Gabriel: Hope
Psalm 36: A Personal Translation
REBELLION utters, like a prophet, to the wickedness in the secret places of my heart. There is no fear of God in front of his eyes. For REBELLION flatters himself in his own eyes finding his CROOKEDNESS not hated. The words of his uttering are CROOKED and treachery. He does not act insightfully towards goodness. He plots CROOKEDNESS upon his bed and he stands upon a path that is not good. He does not reject evil.
Oh Lord! Your COVENENTAL SUBSTANCE is in the heavens! Your faithfulness extends into the clouds. Your righteousness is like the high places. Your judgments are like a great deep. Man and animal alike, the Lord saves from REBELLION.
What COVENENTAL SUBSTANCE, God! That sons of man, that we, take refuge in the shadow of your Law. We are saturated from the fat given in sacrifice in your house. And from a stream of Eden you allow us to drink. For with you is a spring of life. In your light, we will see light.
Your COVENENTAL SUBSTANCE pulls the ones who know toward you. And your righteousness pulls our hearts to standing heart. Do not let a foot of pride come to me. And do not let the hand of wickedness lead me to wander! There, the makers of Crookedness are fallen. They have been laid down and have not been able to stand.
_ _ _ _ _
I would love to introduce you to two obscure characters within the Old Testament. These abstract characters do not have names and you won’t see them pictured in a children’s Bible. However, they are present nonetheless. In fact, they are in almost every biblical narrative. And much like the cartoons that display an angel on one shoulder with a devil on the other, so too do these entities exist; only they do not reside on our shoulders. I will call our hero, Chesed (חסד). And the villain, I will call Pesha (פשע).
Now this villain, this Pesha, cannot fully be understood by himself because he is intimately linked with his two brothers. One younger, and one older. And this brotherhood is known as sin. The first brother is named Chata (חטא), but here, I will call him Offense. We encounter Offense all over the Old Testament. Offense is the most basic understanding of sin: this brother demonstrates that something is not right between God and man, or between man and man. And this disordered relationships is known as Offense. Offense was present when the Isrealites circled around a golden calf, and so, the Levitical Law was born to combat against it.
Continue reading Psalm 36: A Story of Three Brothers
I will always remember the first time I fell in love with the Bible. I don’t remember how young I was, maybe fifth or sixth grade. I was sitting in bed as my Dad tucked me in at night. Maybe I was asking a question about the Sunday School lesson that I heard that day. Or maybe I was confused over something that I read in the Bible. I don’t remember exactly what I asked, but I will always remember his strange response. He told me a story:
“Sarah,” he stated calmly, “Do you know that Yellowstone is a super volcano and when it erupts it will end America?”
I think my face must have crinkled, “Umm . . . I didn’t know that. That’s kind of scary.”
He smiled back at me, but kept going. “Imagine that Yellowstone Park erupted today and buried half the United States in lava. Imagine that the rest of the country perished due to starvation as ash covered the continent. Civilization would cease and it would be decades before plants could grow again. Imagine that after the destruction no one came back to the US for hundreds of years. In fact, imagine that our English language is lost, our culture forgotten, and our artifacts buried deep in the earth. Imagine that the internet was forgotten and our way of life passed out of existence.”
This was getting pretty heavy for my pre-teen self – but I kept listening.
Continue reading Biblical Imagery: A Simple Antidote
“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground . . . In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” -Genesis 2:9
We live in a time and culture that questions God. We question why bad things happen to good people. We question why there is suffering in a world when there is a loving God. Essentially, we wonder why God allowed there to be a tree in the middle of a garden that we couldn’t eat from called, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I mean, really God? Why would you do that to us? It’s like saying “Don’t think of a pink elephant” and then instantly asking, “What are you thinking about?”
To which the only answer can be, “A pink elephant . . . obviously.” For there was no other option given. However, that is not the world that God created in the garden. For God created two trees in the middle of the garden. There was the infamous Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but more importantly, there was also the Tree of Life.
Continue reading The Tree of Life and The Problem of Evil