Saturday, August 29, 2015

It is our hearts that define us, not our technological achievements.


So tonight we, Marsha, Russ, Steve, Leila  and I gather to continue our adventures through Genesis beginning at the end of chapter 19 with hapless Lot again.  Even though he wanted to settle on the little town Zoar, for some reason he wants to become the first official caveman in Genesis so takes his daughters and moves into a cave with his (now ) unpartnered daughters.

Concerned that they have no other way to carry on their family, assuming there’s no other men around, and as perhaps payback for Lot’s previously offering them up to the aggressive Sodom mob, they get him drunk and get him to have sex with them. The resulting children, Moab and Ammon, are good negative backstories to explain the general disdain for Moabites and Ammonites. As she was reading the story, Marsha drew a breath because she could see what was coming. But then she expressed her admiration for their willingness to cross boundaries to keep their line going, to do what was necessary regardless of  moral strictures.

Next (20) as Abraham and Sarah go to Gerar, we get a replay of their previous experience with pharaoh in Egypt. Once again, Abraham presents Sarah as his sister. Once again, God alerts the ruler, in this case, Abimelech, as to what’s going on and once again, Abraham goes off with oxen, sheep, slaves, land and silver. Considering how well this hustle continues to go for Abraham, no wonder he keeps doing it.

A couple of notes though. When God speaks to Abimelech and refers to Abraham as a Prophet, that is the first time he is referred to in that way. And perhaps because of Abraham’s power, granted by God, to bless and curse, regardless of Abraham’s courage or integrity at any given moment. So God leaves this in Abraham’s hands and when Abraham prays for Anbimelech, he is blessed. And perhaps that is the only ultimate point of this story, the complete dependability of God’s keeping God’ s side of God’s covenant. Steve points out how different this is than a contract, which is always conditional.

Next we come to the birth of Isaac. (20) So in honor of the significance of laughter in his conception story, he is named Isaac. And his circumcision at 8 days marks the beginning of the tradition of the bris. History’s first. Now Sarah’s laughter is of joy, not derision, but pure laughter.

Isaac and Ishmael are being raised together and Sarah seeing Ishmael playing with Isaac leads her to demand that the two be put out.  Howard-Brook raises various possible  meanings of the word playing (metzacheq) ranging from normal play to mocking to sexual connotations. (Steve sees all that as unnecessary…Sarah is is solely concerned about inheritance. )

Abraham loves and cares for both his boys and is deeply troubled until God promises to take care of Ishmael as well. He too, will be a nation, though apparently not as blessed as Isaac’s progeny. (The Muslims, of course, have a different version of this story…) About to perish in the desert, Hagar places her child under a bush. (Obviously the teller of this tale at this point  doesn’t see Ishmael as a teenager) She prays, God responds, water is provided.  They live in Paran and Ishmael gets an Egyptian wife.  Here we see that God’s care and concern is universal, just as a woman from another culture and people has faith equal to Abraham and Sarah. (This story in Islam becomes a connection to Mecca…)

Finally, Abraham makes a covenant with Abimelech over a disputed well. (Beersheba) And then Abimelech returns to the land of the Philsitines, or as we know them, Palestinians. Our stories and identities rooted in myth as well as history, and in scripture, they are one and the same.

Beyond any theology or ideology or mythology, what strikes me most about these stories is the insight into humanity. The written versions of these stories are at least 2500 years old, in oral form even longer. But I am taken by Abraham’s anxiety around power, his love for his children. Sarah’s anxiety for her child, Hagar’s intense love for Ishmael. Our technology has grown exponentially. The hearts of those who use that technology are unchanged.  The human heart remains a work in progress, constant and unfinished. It is our hearts that define us, not our technological achievements. The telling of stories to explain our adventure in living is the same never ending story. Ours to continue.



Late in the day. I step outside. Again, a half-naked person asleep on the steps. And this time I recognize him….it is Edward, the only person to have been permanently banned from our steps. (Due to all the times I had to clean up after him.) I try to wake him. Tell him he knows he’s not supposed to be here.  He semi nods, waves his hand.  He’s pretty far gone. Next time I come out, I try shaking his foot. He semi nods, still doesn’t move. As I'm leaving the building, I notice a trail of urine from Edward all the way down to the sidewalk. As I get on the bus, I call Leila to tell her the police will have to be called.  Later she texts me to tell me they had to take him away. E very so often, he returns into my life. He returns to the steps.

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