I thought I would create a space to share some of my life thoughts as well as some my life's adventures and misadventures. I am not sure what is in store for this Blog. I love God, I love my wife, I enjoy reading, kayaking, cooking, thinking about ways to sustainably help the world's poor, and leaving a smaller carbon footprint on this planet—Steve G’s Eclectic World. As life is both an experiment and a journey so is this blog. I hope that you will take what you like and leave the rest.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Glimpses of Jesus in Joseph

I was at my men’s group from church this evening.  We are looking at ten different men from the Bible this semester in the hopes of becoming more Godly men.  This week we were looking at the life of Joseph. 

Each week our group begins with 5 minutes of silence, something much needed in the fast-paced environment of Washington DC.  Then we sing a few songs.  We are a large group—as many as 30 people on a large night.  Following our singing we will have discussion in a large group setting and then breakout into smaller groups.  During this evening’s smaller group we honed on one quote from Joseph to his brothers that really resonated with me.

When Joseph was in his teens, he was, well, a bit arrogant and he happened to be his father’s favorite.  When he was seventeen Joseph has a dream that he shares with his brothers which make it sound like his brothers, all eleven of them, will worship Joseph.  Sibling rivalry is not something new that has come about—this dream truly pisses Joseph’s brothers off.  So much so, that they decide to kill him.  However, a debate over this approach ensues and they decide to sell him into slavery instead.

Twenty-two years would pass between the time that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. Genesis 37-44 captures this story—Joseph has gone through a lot during those twenty-two years—some good, some really bad.  Chapters 44-50 focus on Joseph’s reunification with his family.

Back to tonight’s group.  We had a question for tonight of whether or not God guides or directs our path.  When we broke into our smaller groups someone mentioned Genesis 50:20 quoting Joseph, who is now a man of great wealth and power, responding to his brother’s request for forgiveness while expecting revenge.  Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”  For a bit our conversation centered around whether or not God was complicit with the brother’s selling of Joseph into slavery.  The question was asked in our group, does not God permit or actually advocate for evil activity to show his goodness?—Joseph does state that “God meant it for good.”  

Reading Genesis 50:15-17: "When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil we did to him.’  So they sent a message to Joseph saying, ‘Your father, [not their father but his father’] gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgressions of your brothers and their sins, because they did evil to you.”

This led me to question did Joseph really believe that God actually predestined all these events—was God part of the evil?  Or is Joseph here a foreshadowing of Jesus?  Is Joseph in essence stating, yes of course I can forgive you, but what is that worth? Is it possible that perhaps Joseph’s brothers are so afraid of Joseph that they are forgetting God.  Are we, close to 4000 years removed from this story, oblivious to the rivalrous character of the pagan gods that were a part of Joseph and Israel’s culture that we are missing the prophetic message that Joseph is attempting to share with his brothers? 

If I am one of those 11 brothers I know damn well that there is no pagan god responsible and certainly not Yahweh that is responsible for the actions I took with my jealousy at my younger brother who I betrayed—it was all about my sibling rivalry.  When Joseph says God meant it for good, this is not Joseph saying that God had a hand in this evil action, it is stating that God, Yahweh, can redeem it.  Yes, I, Joseph can forgive you for your evil, but you know what, there is no angry god holding this against you either, Yahweh forgives you as well.  It is strikingly familiar to Jesus statement on the Cross: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Response to Charlottesville

The following response to the Charlottesville tragedy stems from conversations with two friends.  One who is far right and another who is far left.  I am thankful for both of them in my life!

I am someone who has come to have great empathy for minorities.  However, I believe I also need to develop empathy for the KKK as well. In their own way they are oppressed. Their behavior is irrational and that stems from fear. Until I begin to try and understand that fear, I will just continue to revolve in the same cycle. Moreover, I believe that I am not the only one with this problem.

How do we use our moral imagination to find creative solutions rather than dig our heels into "our side"? Questions to the protesters maybe: What is your favorite hobby? What is your favorite sport? Or perhaps offer them something cold to drink.  Find some kind of common ground somehow which will allow each side to humanize the other--I seriously doubt that the anti-protesters in Charlottesville were able to see past the hate from those they were protesting.  Therefore, they were incapable of recognizing the humanity of those they came to protest against and, if we are honest, that really makes them not that far removed from what it was that they were protesting—they see the hate, which causes fear. Then that fear is transformed into their own anger which is then transformed into their own hate which makes dehumanization the logical next step.

When I went to the protest on immigration earlier this year outside of the Supreme Court building in Washington DC I was frustrated. There were all of these jokes at the expense of 45. I was frustrated with myself because I felt a nudge inside me that wanted to be part of the crowd response to dehumanize 45. I did not participate in those chants but there was a strong part of me that wanted to and disgustingly I did laugh at a few. I was also frustrated with those that did choose to participate; for them failing to recognize that they really were not any different from what they were protesting--As Dr. King states "an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And the dehumanizing of any human is an injustice. That protest became more about what we were against rather than what we were for—In essence we became exactly what it was that we were protesting against. That mob mentality is counterproductive and dangerous as it stems out of fear and anger rather than love.

One of the many things I and admire, respect and love about Dr. King was that his actions and organizing always came from a place of love and humanizing the other. He said, the ends never justify the means, because ends are found in the means. Our means must always begin from a place that resemble what we want our ends to be.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

If Two Heads Are Better Than One What about More Than Thirty?

Several weeks ago my wife and I were riding in the car discussing the books that we had recently read when my wife made the observation that she believed it was foolish and even a bit arrogant not to spend a good chunk of our time reading.  She stated that a book is an amazing gift; that a writer has done all of this research on a topic and then we get to be the beneficiary of this research in a compact package.  I, of course, agree with this.  Shortly after this conversation “A Land Full of God” arrived in the mail.  With this book we get to be the beneficiary of the research and life experiences of not just one writer, but more than thirty.  Paradoxically, while nearly all of the writers are Christian diversity abounds in “A Land Full of God.”  “Some are Catholics, most are Protestant, several self-identify as evangelicals.  Some profess to be Christian Zionists and others are more ardent advocates of the Palestinians.  The authors are theologians, historians, world politicians, Middle East experts, religious leaders, and pastors of local congregations.”  Moreover, these writers come from multiple continents and countries adding to the diversity.

Besides the contributors being Christian each contributor has their own unique connection to the Holy Land and a passion to see a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Aziz Abu Sarah writes in the preface:

We do not know of a mass movement with people like Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon who are able to try and border-cross between different groups and break down barriers while seeking to help others to also cross that border.  Instead, we see people strengthening each side of the border, building up taller and stronger walls of division.

By definition, American Christians are already engaged in the conflict of the Holy Land because they have so much at stake in the land.  The question is, how can Americans most helpfully engage?

Sarah’s observation is sadly too often true.  However, what you will find in “A Land Full of God” is essays more focused on seeking to understand the other side and in the process breaking down walls rather than building them.

One of the most helpful ways for Americans, particularly the Christian Church in America, to engage is to listen.  Famous peacemaker and Notre Dame Professor John Paul Lederach writes in his “The Moral Imagination:"

Stillness is the prerequisite to observation and the development of a capacity to see what exists.  Seeing what exists is the prerequisite of transcendent imagination…The paradox is this: Stillness is not inactivity.  It is the presence of disciplined activity without movement.  Stillness is activism with a twist.  It is the platform that generates authenticity of engagement, for it is the state that makes true listening and seeing possible.

Here we have more than thirty narratives— thirty opportunities to be still, thirty opportunities to observe, thirty opportunities to see what exists, thirty opportunities to authentically engage, thirty opportunities to imagine, thirty opportunities to listen.  This is a book I will highly recommend to friends and peers.