29 July 2014

Lot's Wife: I Turn Around

Genesis 19:1-29 | Luke 14:25-33

"No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)

It was easy
when all was fine
and I did not have to choose
between you
and all my other loves.
It was easy
to follow you
when I could have the rest as well.

But now
with the choice before me
I see it was never
easy at all.

And in one moment
I think back
and think of the cost
and what I have to leave.
Family, possessions, home,
all I have known,
all I have loved.
And I think of the things
you want me to let go.

Can I let go
and trust in you -
give it all away
that you return it all
more than a hundredfold?

It is too much.
It is too hard.
I can't give it to you.
Or: I don't want to.

Now that it comes to it
I don't think
I want to give it up at all -
and so


[March 2012]

Counting the cost...

I tried in this poem to portray Lot's wife as one person who has the chance, who knows about God and stands before the choice of following Him - and in the end decides it's too much, and she doesn't want to give up all the other things of life.

Following Jesus can be costly - it means a change of priorities, a change of allegiance, God now ruling our lives, and that can mean giving up on things we love. So it's something we need to be serious about. God gives us grace, but it's not a cheap grace! In the end, though, it's worth it - it is better to lose out now, and suffer the consequences of following Jesus, than suffer the consequences of not following Him. He wants to save us, and He knows what is good for us - like God led Lot's family out of Sodom in order to rescue them, when He calls us to follow Him it is in order to save us.

Why did Lot's wife turn back? Isn't it in some way understandable - all the things she knew and grew up with behind her, and no chance for a last good-bye? It seems a bit harsh what happened to her. But was her changing into a pillar of salt God's punishment, or the consequences (e.g. of not running away quickly enough from the effects of the "fire and brimstone") He was trying to save her from when He forbade her to turn around?

Obedience to God can be costly... but when He asks us to do difficult things, painful things, it is for our good (even if we might not see it at first), and the benefits outweigh the loss.

Picture by Gustave Doré

27 July 2014

Lydia: The Wall

Acts 16:11-15

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

I used to live behind a wall,
a barrier separating me
from Those Out There,
and them from me,
tall and wide,

Some bricks were laid
by society,
some by religion
or family,
some laid by others,
some by myself,
and so the wall grew.

Some bricks were pretty,
others I hated,
some made me feel safe,
others, imprisoned.
Some I wished I could break away -
others I never wanted to,
and so the wall stood,
my friend and my foe,
separating me
from Those Out There,
and them from me.

There it stood,
Gentile and Jew,
woman and man,
Greek and foreigner,
slave and free,
rich and poor -
my neighbour and me,

and sometimes
I felt safe
because of the Wall -

o Lord,
you broke it down.

Down it fell
as men took women seriously -
this woman -
Down it fell
as Jews entered a Gentile home -
my home -
to eat.
Down it fell
as you gave me
a new life,
a new perspective.

Let me live
a life without walls
in your House without locks
where all may come in.
Let me invite,
not push away,
and share your hospitality.
You broke down the wall
between Heaven and Earth -
you break down all walls
separating me
from Those Out There,
and them from me,
that we may live
the Kingdom of God
where all are welcome
and all are free.


[27. July 2014]

As I read Lydia's story, I realised Paul and his team were breaking two taboos and overcoming two cultural-religious barriers:
  •  They shared the Gospel with a group of women - they took the women seriously, which was not so usual in those days, by speaking to them as equals who are also entitled to an opinion and to hearing the good news of Jesus.
  • They went to Lydia's house to eat there, even though Lydia was a Gentile (i.e. not a Jew). Jews did not eat in Gentiles' houses because it was deemed as "unclean". Even though she was a "worshipper of God" (a Gentile interested in Judaism and believing in the God of the Bible) she did not count as a Jew (there are practical steps of conversion first) and so that may have gotten her different treatment, and exclusion in some things (e.g. Gentiles were prohibited from entering the Temple in Jerusalem, on pain of death).
In many ways I believe the Gospel is about breaking down barriers. Sin causes barriers between us and God, and us and other people. We excuse many of these barriers by saying it's our culture, or bringing up religious reasons, or saying it's for security. So different from the first human beings, Adam and Eve, who had absolutely no barriers between them, being "naked but not ashamed" (Gen 2:25). When Jesus takes away our sin and renews our hearts, I believe He wants to take away those barriers as well: cultural barriers, barriers between locals and foreigners, barriers between generations, barriers between women and men.

What that means in practice is: we should no longer distrust or hate or look down on others. We should accept others because Christ accepted us - welcome them, allow them a space in this world and in our hearts. In my country, some people are afraid of foreigners and want to keep them out - I believe we need to drop that fear and reach out to foreigners instead, and show them welcome and love. Jesus wants to bring an end to "us" and "them" thinking. To bring an end to wars that base on demonising the opponent and just separate people further.

So while you're at it, please pray for an end to the war in Gaza, and for people on both sides to strive for reconciliation and an end to the violence. Pray for an end to "us" and "them" thinking, and that the walls of hatred can come down, in Jesus' name. He reconciled us with God - so let us now aim for the reconciliation between people, between us and our neighbours, because Jesus did not only die so we can "go to heaven" - He died and rose again so we can live a new life, a life in His example, and I believe that needs to be a life without walls, a life without hate, a life of reconciliation with others and of love even for our enemies.

11 July 2014

Mary mother of John Mark: Prayer of Faith

Acts 12:1-17

Praying without faith is like trying to cut with a blunt knife - much labour expended to little purpose. For the work accomplished by labour in prayer depends on our faith: "According to your faith [not labour] be it unto you." (J.O. Fraser)

teach me to pray
the prayer of faith.

So often I ask,
not expecting to receive.
So often I leave loopholes
just in case you don't answer -
as if expecting
nothing will happen anyway.
Where is my faith?

As you answer my prayers
I see my lack of faith.
Why am I so surprised
when I see that you hear?
Why do I react in disbelief,
when what I've been begging for
becomes real before my eyes?

teach me to pray
the prayer of faith -
to know that you hear me,
and that you are at work,
that you do the impossible
beyond my wildest dreams -
o Lord
teach me to believe.


[January 2013]

Peter was in prison, but was miraculously saved. Meanwhile, Mary and a group of Christians met in her house and prayed for him. They were so focused on praying that they got annoyed when the maid, Rhoda, disturbed them to say that Peter was just outside the door. They did not believe he was actually there!! "Don't bother us, we're praying" - meanwhile the answer to that prayer stands right outside the door.

How often do we pray but not really expect anything much to happen?

Picture from the Catacomb of Calixtus.

06 July 2014

Daughters of Men: Withered

Genesis 6:1-4

"The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose."

in a forbidden embrace,
breaking a boundary
that should not be crossed,
by a wrong desire
that should never have been.

You have taken me,
plucked me like a flower
so that I can wither
in your arms -
arms that take but do not give,
arms that wanted me
but never asked
what I wanted.

What was meant to be good,
a blessing from God,
is twisted to shame,
turns into pain,
becomes my cage -
because you came
and took me,
plucked me like a flower
to wither in the fire
of your wrong desire
that never really wanted
but only my beauty.

Like a bee you will move on
to the next and the next and the next,
taking all you choose
to fill your hunger
that never will be filled.
What was meant to be good
is overshadowed
by selfish lust
that destroys in my heart
all the love that I wish
so wish I could share -

all the love that has withered
in that forbidden embrace
that took without asking,
that took without loving,
that came from somebody
I thought I could trust.

Oh God -
Your world is withering away,
and we fall
deeper and deeper
into this mire
of wrong motivations,
of evil desire,
being hurt and causing pain,
seeking only our own gain -
if even angels fall,
what is the hope for us all?

And yet I will believe
that You are the gardener
ready to heal
and water this withered flower
to life again.


[6. July 2014 - and it took almost all day]
I wrote two and a half completely different versions of this... = =

Gen 6:1-4 is one of the most confusing texts in the Bible (I think) and I sat studying it almost all day (and it's a rather depressing text to study).
Now first off: there's disagreement among theologians whether the "sons of God" in the text are (a) angelic beings or (b) descendants of Seth ("good guys" / loyal to God) who intermarried with descendants of Cain ("bad girls" / unbelievers).

I go with (a) because that seems much more likely (e.g. looking at the way "sons of God" appear in Job, where they are clearly angelic beings), and because I don't agree with the "good guys" and "bad seductive girls" idea. In fact, after studying it all day, I see this text as the beginning of sexual immorality, and a case of woman-grabbing. And if it was actually angels doing it, that makes it all the more dreadful. I understand the text in this way because the active ones are the "sons of God", not the women. All the women do is be beautiful - it's the guys who go and take "any of them they chose" - which sounds a lot like polygamy or promiscuity. Doing research I read somewhere that the Hebrew verb doesn't even necessarily imply marriage.

Genesis 3-11 depicts a world falling apart. Gen 3 there is the Fall of Adam and Eve: they lose trust in God, listening to the snake instead, and take the forbidden fruit, giving in to desires for greatness and being like God etc. Gen 4 we have the first murder: Cain kills Abel out of jealousy. Gen 6 then shows the beginning of sexual immorality: the good gift given by God being twisted into something bad and damaging. In Gen 6 man and woman are no longer in the kind of relationship described in Gen 2, a relationship of equality and supporting one another - it seems to me more like the women have been turned into objects. That is what sexual immorality is... ruining the relationship between woman and man, messing up the motives for being together, distorting what ought to be something good, so that it becomes a way to hurt each other and oneself.

Which is why in the poem I focused less on the forbiddenness of human/angel matches, and more on the abuse that was happening (though it's not as strong as in other poems of mine...). So I guess the poem might work even if you do not want to view the "sons of God" as angelic beings. Either ways, they are not "good guys"...

Picture: sculpture by Daniel Chester French.