24 October 2017

Shameless Self-Promotion

I have started a side-business where I finish craft projects for people who don't have either the time or skill (or both) to do it themselves.

The site is at Craft Project Rescue.

If you know of any one who has an unfinished craft project that they keep meaning to finish or wish someone would help them with, please send them my way.

21 October 2017

Perplexed

The daily office for Friday includes Matthew 11:1-6 most of which is a pretty straight-forward message from Jesus to John about the work Jesus is doing. This is in response to John asking: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

The part that I find perplexing is verse 6 where Jesus says: And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. I understand, based on other New Testament stories that there were plenty of people taking offense at Jesus and his ministry. However, in the context of John's question-- is Jesus the one-- it seems an odd response.

I spent some time poking around on the Internet to see if there was more context to this verse and found several commentaries that mentioned that the word translated as offense (σκανδαλιζεσθαι), is more akin to hitting against or stumbling over a thing.

When I put the Greek word in Google translate for fun it gave me you're scandalizing as the suggested translation.* That translation intrigued me. Would that make the verse: And blessed is anyone who you're scandalizing.?

It is the 'Blessed is...takes no offense' structure of the verse that perplexes me. I am blessed if I take no offense in what Jesus says and does?

Thinking about it that way combined with the 'stumbling block' concept from other translations, gets me to the idea that if I do believe in who Jesus is and what Jesus does as a part of his ministry, then I am embracing Jesus and not finding him offensive or a block to my own faith.

In my experience, the phrase: don't be offended can be used as a way to shut down conversation about a topic or as a watered-down phrase that tells people how they should feel in a given situation. It doesn't seem to have the power or meaning that the verse seems to imply is there.

Or it could be me, sometimes I have to take the long way around to understand an idea.

In this case, if I believe in Jesus there is no offense to be taken, no block to stumble over, and no scandal created.

-=-=-=-=-=-

*Note to actual scholars, I know it's not best practice to put words from ancient Greek texts into modern translation software but it gave me a different way to think about the root word without being a Greek or Biblical Scholar myself.

If any Bible or Greek scholars wish to comment on this and give me more information about the concepts and context of this verse, I would love to learn more.

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

07 October 2017

Intentional Imperfection

I've written before about the importance of imperfection. Lately I've been thinking about it more and more.

Tonight I was watching a video on how to knit a fair-isle sweater by a woman who has been knitting longer than she could read, her mothers and grandmothers all knitted. It was how they earned money for the household, and how they could barter for goods, and how they kept their families warm.

By the time she made the video she was a grandmother herself and had returned to knitting for her own pleasure and to pass the knowledge on.

As the video progresses and she gets to one of the fiddly finishing bits, she offers these words of encouragement if your work is less than perfect:

My golden rule is will the man on galloping horse notice.

To me this was a reminder that even the most skilled among us don't require perfection at every stitch in their work.

I believe their is a paradox in the level of mastery that someone can attain in a skill. That paradox is that it is not the people who require perfection of themselves that become masters, it is the people who realize when and how rarely perfection actually matters.

If anything, the desire for perfection can prevent mastering a topic or a skill because people who give up after making a mistake or because their work is not perfect don't hang in there long enough to get more skilled.

Also, humans only have so much time in a day. To get better at something we have to spend time doing it. To even maintain a skill we have to keep putting time into it.

I know at times I can be hesitant to do something because I can't do it up to a standard that I think is important, mostly because I'm afraid of being judged and found wanting. However, my experience has been that when I step up and act (or knit, or sing, or suggest a political action) people around from friends to strangers on the Internet respond positively.

We were not created to be perfect beings, yet part of us seems to yearn to be perfect.

Again and again, my own experience is that there is no perfection this side of heaven (if there is a heaven & I don't actually count on that).

Waiting to do something until my skills are perfect or the moment is perfect or until I have found the perfect words, results in me missing opportunities to be active and present in this world.

And since I'm a little shaky on the existence of any other world after this one, I'd better not waste my limited time waiting around for something that can never come.

Just yesterday I was participating in a webinar with a yoga teacher and the phrase the came up over-and-over again was:

Something is always better than nothing.

One woman shared that her yoga practice when she was suffering from severe fatigue was to visualize herself doing the poses and to move one hand to link her visualization to her living body.

Another shared how she had slowly built up from using a chair to do yoga poses to being able to do the full pose.

Both of these women would have no yoga practice at all if they hadn't started where they were with what they had and not waited to be perfect to begin.

This is true of everything in life from flossing to comforting someone in grief and distress. There is no one right way to act, there is no one right way to be, there is no one right way to learn but failing to act while waiting for the perfect moment is always, to me, a sign of fear.

When fear disguises itself as a desire for perfection, I need to remember the grace that my faith gives me.

I see in the New Testament that none of Jesus's followers were perfect. None of them had a sense of the 'right time' for an action. They sometimes made terrible choices, they frequently didn't understand what was going on around them.

Still Jesus choose to be with them. From disciples to tax collectors, from the anointing woman to the hemorrhaging woman to the woman at the well all had something to learn and something to teach and Jesus opened himself up to everyone of them (sometimes with a little prodding). The thing they all had in common was in taking action either by responding to Jesus's call or by approaching Jesus on their own and asking for what they needed.

Jesus, incarnate, welcomed all of the imperfect, foolish people who came to him and encourage them to act more, not less. He might have gotten frustrated with them at times, but he carried on and loved them to the cross and beyond.

For me Jesus becoming incarnated in the world as a person is God's reminder that we were made in an image of God and that God joined us in that imperfection to spur us on as the prophet Micha said:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
~Micah 6:8

Can a man on a galloping horse see the imperfections in your work, your skill, your words, or your love?

If not, your work is good enough. Go out and do what you are called to do, imperfections and all.

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

23 September 2017

Logged Hypocrisy

A little over a week ago, Senator Ted Cruz's twitter account 'liked' a porn video. There were many reactions to the 'like' and subsequent denial on the part of the Senator that he was the one active on the account at the time.

The part of the story I found most interesting were claims that the reason this should be a big deal were not because 'porn is bad' but because Senator Cruz has been an outspoken critic of everything from gay marriage, the right of consenting adults to use sex toys, and generally acting as if he should have control over the sex lives of adults.

So he was being called out not because 'a staffer accidentally liked' a porn video on twitter, but because for years he had a log in his eye about human sexuality and how and when the state should have control over adult sexual expression.

For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?
~Matthew 7:2-4

One of the interpretations I used to put on this quote from Matthew was that when I have a log in my eye, I can't even pretend to see the speck in another person's eye. That is fine as far as it goes.

However, with Senator Cruz's story as an example I think that the log is more than just something that blinds me and makes it difficult to take action on another behalf. I don't see the log in my eye because, I only see it as a speck (or even the entire log) in the eye of the person I am looking at.

I project my log on to them.

When I do that, it is difficult to realize that it is my log that I am seeing. Every effort I make to pull it out fails because I am reaching beyond my own eye and waving my hands around uselessly (or worse, accidentally hitting bystanders).

Once I finally realize that all the splinters I am seeing are really my log it becomes easier (but not necessarily less painful) to pull it out and put it in it's place.

And like many mountains made of molehills, logs can turn into tiny splinters when they are removed and looked at in perspective.

All of this takes work and self-awareness and sometimes I need help figuring out that what I keep seeing is my own log. However, even with that help, I'm the only one who can remove the log and see more clearly from that point on.

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.


This essay was originally published in September 2017 at The Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul

08 September 2017

Now and Next

The first half of daily office gospel reading for Friday is one of a type of passage that I struggle with. To me, It implies that planning for the future is somehow wrong.

This is an issue I have struggled with since the first time I read the bible through when I was a teenager. Since I can remember, I've always been a planner and organizer (of space and time), so it is difficult for me to see any downside to planning ahead.

That said, there are definite downsides to getting locked in to a vision of how life will go.

When I was in high school, my imagined future included a spouse and at least one child (frequently a girl to be given my middle name) beyond that and vague ideas of having a 'job' my imagination did not take me.

My life has been so much wilder and richer than that imagined future. The only constant between my teen imaginings and reality is that I do have both a spouse and a, now, adult child, both of whom I delight in.

I wonder if the warnings about living too much in the future are in part warnings against getting locked in to one idea of what the future 'should' bring and thus missing opportunities in the 'now'.

One of my own weaknesses, and a flip-side of being a planner, is a tendency to get grouchy if a plan is changed without my input. That grouchiness does not add anything to my own experience or to those around me. It can drain the fun and spontaneity out of a gathering.

There are times when sticking to a plan is helpful and necessary and there are times when flexibility and the ability to 'go with the flow' are necessary. I'm just not very good at the flexibility half of the equation.

So, I take this passage as a reminder that my plans are not sacred. They are not holy writ (as much as I might like them to be treated that way), they are an idea of a future that has not come yet and if my plans don't come to fruition, is it really a good idea to stay locked into them?

Even if I have a plan, massive events like wildfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes are all larger than I am and can sweep both me and my plans away.

Rather that invest energy in 'how it should have been' this passage encourages me to use that energy to adapt to what is actually happening around me and to embrace events and people that are more than anything I could ever imagine.

-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.


This essay was originally published at the Episcopal Cafe in September 2017.

26 August 2017

The Ones Who Stay

The Old Testament lesson for Friday's daily office is a bit of a ramble for it is the middle of a series of stories of uprisings against David.

In the midst of the passage we are introduced to Barzillai, an 80-year-old man.

Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. The king said to Barzillai, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you in Jerusalem at my side.” But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? Today I am eighty years old; can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king recompense me with such a reward? Please let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.
~2 Samuel 32-37

I was struck by the idea that we can reach a point in our life that accepting the hospitality of another, even that of a king, is a burden rather than a blessing. Barzillai ends up sending Chimham in his place and David promises: "Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you; and all that you desire of me I will do for you."

At this point in the story, David is on his way to reclaim his throne after being ousted by his son Absalom. Absalom has been killed and his followers defeated.

The passage from the reading is part of a sequence of David repaying follows or redressing wrongs that came out of his flight from Jerusalem. He is trying to reward Barzillai. However, given the unsettled nature of the narrative at this point in the story, it is not surprising that Barzillai might want to stay home rather than go tramping about with a king in David precarious position.

Even setting aside the multiple reasons Barzillai might have for not joining the king at his side, I think there is a time in everyone's life where the need for hearth and home overrides the need for adventure.

Many times the stories of the bible call out for people to leave home and find a new place in the world. In the old testament alone the major patriarchs all end up leaving home, frequently at the direct urging of God or God's angels.

This is the rare story where someone articulates the value of staying home, not only because he professes that he will be a burden on the king, but because he sees his own end is coming and he wants to die at home "...near the graves of my father and my mother."

David offers what he sees as a reward to a faithful supporter, but to Barzillai the gift would be too costly. For once in his life, David listens and does not insist on having his own way.

Barzillai is old but not helpless. He has resources and is willing to use them to support the king and help him return to the throne. Barzillai still has the power to take action.

Sometimes it is easy to assume that because someone is a stay-at-home or because they can't do as much as they used to, that somehow they are completely useless.

I combat that feeling in my own life. My various weird medical issues make it difficult to engage with people, even people in my own household. Even when I 'get stuff done' the limitations I face can leave me feeling both useless and hopeless.

So this story helps me. It puts in perspective the idea that anyone is 'old and useless'. Just because Barzillai wanted to stay home did not mean he was accepting a passive role or that he was waiting around to die.

If Barzillai had not been home to welcome David and his followers and to help feed and shelter them, then David might not have been able to support his forces and win back his kingdom.

By staying home, and using his limited energy strategically, Barzillai paved the way for David's victory. We don't all have to be adventures, sometimes the adventurers come right to our door and need the help of those who stay.

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All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

This essay was originally published at the Episcopal Cafe in August 2017.

10 August 2017

Enough

Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
~Mark 9:24

The above quote is from the gospel reading for Friday's daily office. It struck me because it seems to contradict itself.

'I believe,' the father says. That seems pretty comprehensive.

'...help my unbelief!' the father says in his next breath.

It is as if in the very moment he said 'I believe' he realized that he didn't, really. However, the line just before the father's statement is: Jesus said to him, 'If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.'

In this moment, the son is having a seizure and the father is watching in anguish.

Like the hemorrhaging woman from two weeks ago, this child has been suffering for a long time with this illness.

Like Jairus, this father has been watching his child suffer, only able to watch and try to keep his child from additional injury.

He has told Jesus that the boy has fallen into flames and into water in the past.

Even in this moment of great duress, the father is honest. He wants Jesus to save his son. He wants to believe, but he can't quite get there on his own.

He asks Jesus to help his 'unbelief' and while nothing else is said of faith or belief, Jesus does drive out the possessing spirit and heal the child.

I suspect my own faith is much closer to this father's than to the hemorrhaging woman. She was rock solid in her belief that just touching Jesus would heal her. Given the number of times in the Gospels that faith effects a change (following Jesus, being healed, walking on water) it is tempting to think that Jesus only responds to those of 'true faith'.

However, in this story we see someone who understands that faith is necessary while in the midst of doubt that he could ever have such faith. I think the key to this story is that the father asks for help, not only in healing his child, but in finding his own faith and that Jesus accepts that and goes on with the healing.

The father's offering of a desire for faith was enough.

-=-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

This essay was originally published at the Episcopal Cafe in July 2017.

26 July 2017

Contrasts

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat[a] to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

~Mark 5:21-43

I have read the story of the woman suffering from hemorrhages many times and heard many sermons on the topic. However, it wasn't until I read the Daily Office appointed for Friday that I realized that this portion of Jesus's ministry is two, intertwined stories.

First we have Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, who comes to Jesus and pleads on behalf of his own daughter. Jesus agrees to go with him.

On the way the woman with hemorrhages, whose name is not given decides to risk touching Jesus's cloak in the belief that Jesus has the power to make her well again.

We don't learn her name but we learn more details of her suffering than we do about Jairus and his family. She has spent more than a decade with her illness. No doctor had been able to help her. She had money to spend on her illness and had spent it all in hope of a cure. She was left with no money and no cure, she was worse off than when she had first become ill.

After having to face this disease, it medical and social consequences, and the steady diminution of both her health and her wealth for twelve years she puts faith above fear and reaches out to Jesus.

It is only after she has been healed that she fears Jesus's response. However, when he calls out in search of the person who has touched his power she does not give into her fear; she in fear and trembling, confesses her action and the faith that motivated that action.

She believed first and feared second.

Jesus affirms her faith and confirms that she has been healed. More than that, he tells her to go in peace. He makes it clear once more that she has done rightly and should have no fear going forward. He heals both her body and her spirit.

Jesus is then interrupted by some of Jairus's friends who say that his daughter has died and he should stop bothering Jesus.

Jesus tels Jairus not to fear and they continue on to Jairus's house.

Jesus gets all of the mourners and extended family to leave the house. He states publicly that the girl is not dead, just sleeping. Then he, Peter, James, John, Jarius, and Jarius's wife (another unnamed woman) go to the bedside of the little girl. Jesus calls her back into life to the amazement of the parents and the disciples.

However, where the healing and affirmation of the faith of the hemorrhaging woman was public, Jesus insists that this event be kept secret. He orders all present not to share what has happened and in his next breath orders them to round up some food for the risen girl.

Two things strike me at this point. The girl's age is given as '12' the same length of time time the hemorrhaging woman suffered. Also, she is a girl and not a grown up.

I wonder if part of the reason Jesus insists on secrecy is because this girl is still a child. Unlike the hemorrhaging woman, she did not choose to come to Jesus for healing. It was not her own faith that made her well, but that of her father.

I also wonder if the nature of the two illnesses made a difference in Jesus's behavior. With the hemorrhaging woman there were social as well as health implications to her illness, she was continually ritually unclean due to her bleeding and she had been that way for as long as Jarius's own daughter had been alive. There were probably people in her community who only knew of her as the bleeding woman. The fact that Jesus, before witnesses, proclaims that she has been healed may be an incidence of him seeing that she would need more than just physical healing to go on with life. She would need to be publicly declared clean of the taint of blood to give weight to her own declarations.

The girl, on other hand, does not need to be seen to have been publicly healed. The fact that she is alive is enough. If anything, she and her family might benefit from privacy.

Having been healed by Jesus might cause unwanted attention. I wonder if Jesus had groupies like modern media stars do today and if ordinary people who had brushes with him and his disciples wound up with early-day Jesus-groupies camped on their lawn hoping to get a glimpse of people whose lives had been touched by Jesus.

I've always wondered why, in some stories, Jesus is insistent that the people touched by his power and those of his followers that witness the resultant miracles are told to keep silent and not proclaim to all and sundry how they have been healed, while in other stories, word is spread far and wide of the miracles of Jesus.

It is in this story that I see for the first time that the condition that each person brings to Jesus is a combination of physical, social, and spiritual suffering. Like a careful doctor or therapist, Jesus seems to tailor his approach to each person's needs.

At no point does Jesus say that the people he heals must worship him. He does not have a cookie-cutter response to each person, or to their family and friends who are frequently witnesses.

The one thing he does seem to say in most cases is 'your faith has made you well'.

It is the choice of those who have come to him that brings their healing. It is their action that saves them. If they had stayed home, or given into their fear and turned away as Jarius almost did, then they would not have been healed or seen their loved ones healed.

Time and time again Jesus heals those to come to him. He frequently gives more than they ask for: forgiveness of sin, public confirmation of healing for example. But the one thing he does not do is go in search of people to heal.

They come to him in both fear and faith and by that faith are healed and told to fear no more.

It is the message to 'go in peace' that comes through in this reading. The hemorrhaging woman took on her own healing and Jesus gave her that and peace.

The girl was lifted out of death into life and Jesus insisted that her family give her peace through their silence about his part in her healing.

It is embedded in our worship via the Song of Simeon in Morning and Evening Prayer, in the service of Compline, and in the Daily Devotionals:

Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;

We can say it at the end of every Eucharist:

Deacon: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.

Jesus strove over and over to show us that our own faith is was brings us closer to God. Like the hemorrhaging woman or like Jarius upon hearing of his daughter's death, we still experience fear mixed in with our faith as we try to figure out what our faith is impelling us to do.

Jesus sees our fear and reminds us all to 'go in peace'.

-=-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

This essay was originally published at the Episcopal Cafe in July 2017.

12 July 2017

Incidental Details

David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper...
~1 Samuel 17:20
David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage
~1 Samuel 17:22

It is not a new thing to say that we are all bit players in the lives of others. In the section of 1 Samuel for this Friday's Daily Office we see David heading to Elah where Saul's army is fighting with the Philistines. He has been sent by his father to deliver a care package to his three older brothers and to their commander. He is also charged with bringing home some word of how his three brothers are faring.

This is simlar to 1 Samuel 9:3-14 where we see Saul sent off by his father to find the missing donkeys.

In each of their stories, both young men were sent on an errand that changed their lives forever.

In this story we are not to that point, yet.

David must first leave the sheep with a keeper before he can set out on his errand.

Then once he has arrived at the camp he must find the keeper of the baggage and leave his things in the that person's charge before going to find his brothers.

Both of the keepers in this story are mere bit players. They have no names, only duties that allow David to go further into his own story.

While David is talking with is brothers he hears, for the first time, the challenge of Goliath. He begins asking questions of the men around him.

David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” The people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done for the man who kills him.”

His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab's anger was kindled against David. He said, "Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.”
~1 Samuel 17:26-28

One thing about siblings, they sometimes know more than you do about your motivations. It is interesting that David's focus is more on what 'a man' might get from defeating Goliath, than on what it might take to do so in the first place. I wonder if the focus on the spoils of victory was one of the things that alarmed Eliab?

Whether Eliab knew his brother was going to challenge Goliath or not, he does seem to be trying to put his brother back in his place as a bit player in Eliab's own story and not as a principal in the narrative.

This reading ends with David asking:

David said, "What have I done now? It was only a question."

Which I personally tend to imbue with a certain whiny, self-justified tone that I can't figure out how to convey in writing. However, I think most folks have either used that phrase or had it used on them (especially by the above mentioned siblings) that it is not a unique experience.

Later in the story we see David rise from youngest son in a large family to King of Israel in Saul's place.

However, for those inside the story, nothing is certain. David is still the annoying youngest brother who seems to be more interested in what is going on at the front than in accomplishing his twin errand of delivering goods and then returning home with news of his brothers for his father.

His brothers don't yet know that David will slay Goliath. There is much that they know of David that is not in this story.

I do think it is helpful to look at the one piece of information about David that comes from his brother: 'I know your presumption and the evil of your heart'.

Given the messy and complicated nature of David's time as King, Eliab may have given us insight into the future king.

-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

This essay was originally published at the Episcopal Cafe in July 2017.

29 June 2017

Serendipity and Saul

Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.” He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to the boy who was with him, “Let us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.” But he said to him, “There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honor. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.” Then Saul replied to the boy, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we?” The boy answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God, to tell us our way.” ... Saul said to the boy, “Good; come, let us go.” So they went to the town where the man of God was.

As they went up the hill to the town, they met some girls coming out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?” They answered, “Yes, there he is just ahead of you.... Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” So they went up to the town. As they were entering the town, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the shrine.


~1 Samuel 9:3-8, 10-12, 14

In the Old Testament reading for the daily office for Friday we see Saul setting off to find his father's donkeys. At the end of their resources, when they are out of travel food and out of ideas for where to look, the way his helper suggests going to see the 'man of God'.

Saul resists initially and it is only through the helper's persistence that they go into the town and meet Samuel. Out of that meeting, Saul becomes the ruler over all of the people of Israel.

On the one hand, the story later tells us that God had warned Samuel that Saul was coming; however, Saul had no inkling of what was in his future. He was just searching for lost donkeys and feeling a bit lost himself after not finding them after a long search through Ephraim, Shalishah, Shaalim, Benjamin, and finally Zuph.

Serendipity plays a role in Saul becoming King. It has played a less critical but possibly more fun role in my own life.

In 2000, my mother and I made a sort of pilgrimage to Norway. Her father, my grandfather, had been born there in the early 1900's and when his mother and father emigrated to the United States they left family behind. Mom and I first visited our cousins, including the man who was first cousin to my grandfather and who had visited us in the 1980's. Our cousins' took us around the greater Olso area and showed us some family landmarks, including the apartment building where my great-great grandfather and lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his parents and 7 siblings.*

After visiting with them, we were on our own for the rest of our trip. While in Oslo, we walked around downtown with no particular plan in mind. We went to a modern art museum which featured half of a cow embalmed, which was not our thing. Then we stumbled up on the Postal Museum which used dioramas to tell the story of the development of the postal service in Norway. All of the displays were in Norwegian so we both tried to guess what the real story was and made up our own stories based on what we were seeing in each diorama.

It was a little like theological refection, in that we engaged with the material and then thought about what was speaking to us in each story. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon. When we reached the end of the museum, we realized that they had handy little brochures in English that provided translations of the text at each diorama. I was actually glad we hadn't found those at the beginning of our tour as our way of going around and telling stories to each other was much more fun.

It was after that time spent wandering around a museum that we never knew existed that we decided to intentionally embrace both spontaneity and serendipity in our travels. Mom has always been better that that than I have so it was a great lesson for me.

Saul's search for donkeys that ended up in his being anointed ruler of all Israel reminded me of the power serendipity can have in my life if I let it.

Later, on another trip, mom suggested that we take a boat to the Isle of Staffa and see Fingal's Cave. I'm not the best on the water and was initially resistant, but then I remembered that trip through the postal museum and also that the chances that I would ever get even the opportunity to visit Staffa were nearly zero. So I said yes to something that wasn't planned and wasn't something I would have tried on my own.

Like Saul's helper, my mom encouraged me to try something I was resistant to, she answered my questions, and made it easy to say yes and I went on to have an amazing adventure that I will treasure for the rest of my time on earth.

Without his helper, Saul would have given up the search for the donkey's and would not have met Samuel. And while his reign did not end in glory, he had an amazing opportunity that he would have missed out on if he had not allowed himself to be persuaded to visit the holy man.

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*What is known in my immediate family as the "nostalgia tour".

All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.

This essay was originally published at the Episcopal Cafe in June 2017.