Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Can't Help It, I Love These Guys... And Cats.

So I posted a video these two engineers made last year and couldn't resist posting this one too. I watched it twice straight through giggling the whole time. And my poor Potter couldn't figure out where the other cats were coming from. Thanks for the clip Ginger!

Scary Stories of the Bible II

If you want to read the story first, the text for 2 Kings 4:8-37 is here


The story takes place in a territory in northern Israel at the foot of the slopes of the Hill of Moreh. The town of Shunem was about15 miles away from where the prophet Elisha had a home, but just a few miles from Tabor where there was an Israelite Sanctuary.

This episode occurs during the reign of Jehoram (or Joram), second son of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, roughly 850 BC. From all indications, King Jehoram gave lip service to God, allowing Elisha freedom to preach and travel, while at the same time granting similar freedom to pagan religions. While he wasn’t as heinous as his infamous parents, I guess he just liked to keep his bases covered.

Like last week’s story, our hero is Elisha, a man of God, a prophet, but second only to him in this story is oddly enough a woman, a wealthy woman who invites town visitors into her home for meals and conversation. When she recognizes Elisha as a man of God, she persuades her husband to build Elisha a room on top of their house for whenever he passes through town. (Holy men were often put in rooms on top of homes to be kept free from the profane and mundane rituals of the household).

The Rabbis who read this ancient text praise the hospitality of the Shunammite woman and learn from her conduct that everyone should bring a Torah scholar into their house, give him food and drink and let him enjoy all that they possess. The Shunammite woman is mentioned by the midrash as one of the twenty-three truly upright and righteous women who came forth from Israel.

The woman’s name is not given, but she is described as “a great woman.” In Hebrew, the word translated “great” in the KJV and “well-to-do” in the NIV has several nuances of meaning, wealthy being only one of them. This description was used of Abraham in Genesis 24 and is often used to describe an attribute of God. Being great included character and influence. Even though her husband was generous, the wealth belonged to him and his male heirs. Her greatness in the eyes of God and the prophet Elisha was not dependent on her economic status. Her wealth gave her the means to support Elisha’s ministry. It was her kindness and generosity that made her great as well as her continual worship of God.

Pretty cool! We like strong women here!

So Elisha accepts this giving woman’s hospitality and as a blessing to her asks her what she would like to receive from God. Insisting that she has all she needs, yet another noble attribute of contentment and humility, Elisha eventually learns that this rich old woman is barren and gives her the gift of a child.

Reminiscent of Sarah and Hannah and Elizabeth, this unnamed and barren but remarkable woman gives birth, of course, to a son.

Some years later though and while the details are scanty, most commentators suppose the child falls victim to sunstroke, a heatstroke caused by direct exposure to the sun. Out in a field of grain, the boy must not have had any protection from the intense rays of the Mediterranean sun. Being a child, he succumbs quickly, feeling the first symptom as a massive headache before fainting.

When her husband sends the complaining child in from the fields, the Sunnammite woman feeds him and nurses him. But when the child dies in her arms, the she lays him in Elisha’s bed in the back of her house and leaves on her donkey hollering back to her husband that she has to go see Elisha immediately, and is off… 15 miles to go.

Elisha spots her from some distance and sends his scoundrel of a servant, Gehazi to go check on her. Now Gehazi was probably Elisha’s assistant like Elisha had been to Elijah, but unfortunately Gehazi lacks the integrity and spirit of his forerunners. We learn about his misdealings in the next chapter and what his envy for Naaman’s money makes him do. But Gehazi doesn’t come off so well in this story either.

Gehazi reports back to Elisha that the old woman is fine, but when she finally reaches Elisha, she clasps his feet in a true sign of submission and desperation. Gehazi steps forward to push her away from his master. Interestingly, the midrash understands “le-hodfah” or “push away” as an abbreviation of two Hebrew words meaning the “majesty of her beauty,” and surmises from this that when Gehazi went to rebuff the Shunammite woman, he pushed the majesty of her beauty, that is, between her breasts. The Rabbis observe that although Elisha was extremely careful in sexual matters, Gehazi acted differently. Although the latter was a man of great Torah scholarship, he had several shortcomings including licentious behavior.

But as the narrator in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever says of those rascally Herdmans, “And that’s not all,” the midrash has a few other stories to tell on Gehazi.

Like, he did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

Elisha took his staff and instructed Gehazi: Go and place the staff on the face of the boy, that he may live, but say nothing on the way. According to Jewish tradition, Gehazi thought that Elisha was sporting with him, and he did not do as the prophet had told him. On his own initiative, Gehazi turned to everyone he met along the way and asked them: “Do you believe that this staff can resurrect the dead?” I picture him kind of like Wormtail in Harry Potter, scurrying around doing what his master tells him to all the while thinking he’s all that and a bag of chips when he’s just not. According to another tradition, when someone met him on the way and asked him: “From where have you come and to where are you going?” he would reply: “I am going to resurrect the dead!” Consequently, when he came to the son of the Shunammite woman, his efforts were for naught. And so it is Elisha who must come to the boy in his room. Elisha lay upon the dead child and placed his mouth on the boy’s mouth and his eyes on the boy’s) eyes, and began to pray to God. True to the ancestry of Elijah his mentor, through the Spirit of God Elisha brings the dead boy back to life.


I don’t even want to go there. It’s very strange. The whole story reminds me of my friend Frank who had cancer and went to a Chinese doctor in Illinois to have him lay hands on his salivary glands or something. This guy, who also works with the Chicago Bulls I think, had a dead fish in his fish tank and when he secretary buzzed back to tell him that Frank was in the office, she also mentioned the unfortunate predicament of the fish. Not to worry. That little doctor of Eastern medicine came out and scooped the fish out of the fish tank and put him in his hands and blew on him and I’ll be darned if that fish didn’t come back to life. Frank was standing right there watching!

Thankfully he healed my friend Franks glands too, but I think you get my point.

Our Halloween story about a dead boy suddenly turns into something straight out of A Chinese Ghost Story or something.

I mean it’s weird. Lay on the boy and transfer God’s Spirit or your qi (chi) or whatever and the kid comes back to life?

Man, sometimes God calls us to do some pretty scary things.

Sometimes we live up to the challenge, like Elisha. Through us God is able to do some amazing things. You should have heard the testimony last night of Caroline Boudreaux who started the Miracle Foundation for orphans in India. One woman has brought so many dead and empty children back to life; she even puts Elisha to shame. You can change the world if you follow God’s call!

But other times we end up doing our own little cowardly dance like Gehazi, very Gollum-esque, tossing God’s call back and forth across our tongues deliberating what to do, and from one hand to the other, weighing the idea of where following God might get us and what it might demand of us.

“Open your door to God,” Preacher Will Willimon writes, “O.K. Just remember: this is a real God, not some make-believe image of ourselves, not some tame deity you can have over for a chat. Break bread at the table of the living God, you don't know how you'll be surprised.”

The Shunammite woman opened her home to a holy man and look what happened to her life. A holy friendship, a son, a death a resuscitation, and as we read earlier in the service, eventually an evacuation from the town due to famine and upon returning seven years later receiving all her land back full fold.

Imagine what would happen if we opened up our hearts.

Anne From A Window

I love Anne Frank and always have since I played her in The Diary of Anne Frank on the stage of the Missouri Theater seventeen or so years ago. Here's a lovely article on the only video footage we have of Anne and of what it means to be one who looks out windows...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Post You Must Read (especially if you know women or have heard of the church)

Please please please go read this blog posted by an Emergent Methodist named Jessica. it's hilarious and discouraging and awesome.

Here's my favorite quote...

"In implying that women should accept discursive erasure of their spiritual experiences in order to be liberated, those outside of church are performing the exact same violence that those inside the church have been doing for centuries. Guess what? Y’all both need to knock it off."

Beresheth Sermon: Scary Stories of the Bible Part 1

“Do you have any inspirational quotes about dead people… specifically zombies?” I hollered over to my colleague and fellow minister across the hall.

Because here I am on October 22, 2009 with Halloween right around the corner (hurray!) writing a sermon on a topic my Beresheth team suggested I do called Scary Stories of the Bible, where in worship we use texts commonly left out of the lectionary and quite frankly, out of church.

I know I’d never studied this story.

But while researching the Lazarus story in the New Testament where Jesus waits four days and then brings poor, dead Lazarus back to life, one of the commentaries I was reading emphasized the difference between resuscitation and resurrection.

Resuscitation: being brought back to life, Resurrection: being given new life.

Cool. I thought. What other resuscitation texts are in the Bible? So I did a little research and found two more. One of which we just read. And in case you blinked and missed it, let me reread it for you…

"So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. As a man was being buried, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet."


Maybe if I retell the story in my own words it will sound better: A man dies. His body is on the way to the cemetery and suddenly some bullies or a gang or some outlaws show up and in a panic the mourners throw the corpse into the nearest grave where it happens to land on Elisha’s bones and magically comes back to life. The man got up and crawled out of the grave, alive.

That is NOT better.

So I did some research.

Turns out that occasionally funeral rituals included a pilgrimage to the grave of someone important or inspirational. Thus the proximity to Elisha’s grave. Additionally, miraculous things happening at someone’s gravesite is actually common in hagiography, or in the study of saints. Yep, the Catholic church would call Elisha a Saint. I guess all the prophets were. And this story definitely shows up in Elisha’s hagiology.

But who was Elisha?

Elisha was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom during the reigns of Kings Ahaziah, Johoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash. The Nothern Kingdom was called Israel which was sometimes at peace and sometimes at war with it’s fellow God-fearers in the Southern Kingdom, called Judah. These two kingdoms came about when after King Saul, King David, and King Solomon there was a civil war of sorts and of course, the country split into two kingdoms, the northern and southern, Israel and Judah. And so the time of Kings Saul, David and Solomon is called the United Kingdom and the time of Kind Jeroboam, Rehoboam and the 38 others who ruled either Israel or Judah is called the time of the Divided Kingdom.

Elisha is one of the prophets during this time of the divided kingdom who was led to power through his mentor, the famous EliJah. Elijah was a great prophet who did many wondrous miracles like calling fire out of the sky which promptly burned up a completely drenched pile of firewood. Elijah spoke God’s truth of compassion and honest worship against the evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He’s also the prophet who didn’t die, yep, another spooky story worthy of a campfire and a bunch of scared little kids, but rather was taken up by a great whirlwind into the sky, never to be seen again.

Elisha is his appointed successor and true to Elijah’s memory, Elisha too performs great miracles and speaks out against unrighteous kings. Thus, “Elijah lives on in the ministry of Elisha; Elisha is Elijah one more time, larger than life.” Indeed, such is the power of God in Elijah and Elisha’s memory that when a corpse even touches the bones of the deceased Elisha, the corpse comes back to life.

And now here we are, sitting in worship, wondering how in the world the story of some Zombie has any effect on our life or our faith.

And it’s not like the writer of 2 Kings gives us any help on the matter. He simply tells the story about as matter of factly as can be. I mean, I would have given it a little more substance, a little more pizzazz. I would have described what it felt like landing on the bones in the grave. I would have described the dead man receiving air into his lungs again, his dried blood suddenly warming up and coursing through his veins again. I would have described his shriek of surprise and the look on his friends faces as they began screaming and running away when he came waddling out of the tomb trying to untangle himself from the mummy rags.

But I also just got done watching Zombieland last week.

Obviously, the writer of 2 Kings didn’t. The facts are there, they’re stated and the story is over. (And when he man comes back to life he probably returns to eating hummus and hallah, not brains and humans.)

And scholars say this is intentional: “it is important to note that the narrator does not linger on the ‘miraculous’ but presents each occasion in almost matter-of-fact terms…The reader is thereby pushed away from focusing on the spectacular in itself and asked to discern the theological and religious import of what is being stated.”

So what’s being stated? What’s the point of Zombieland, I mean, verses 20-22? What theological wisdom can be gained from this scary story of the Bible?

Quite frankly, it’s that God is powerful. And God doesn’t just act in religious settings. God acts in every area of Israel’s life.

Did you know while all the prophets of the Old Testament warned the Kings and people that God did not like the way they were treating their neighbors and enemies, while they warned that justice would flow like a mighty fountain and that it would flow against God’s people. While all this was happening, despite the King’s or the people’s unrighteousness, God continued to work on Israel’s behalf. Indeed in chapters 13-14 of 2 Kings, “god acts on behalf of the faithless Israel… God’s compassion and promises continue to shape Israel’s life in the midst of its evil ways.”

In other words, “the most fundamental witness of [the Elijah and Elisha] stories is that Israel’s God makes true life possible in every sphere.” Even in politics. Even in relationships. Even in schools. Even in churches and synagogues. Even in war… Even in the graveyard.

And I guess that is good news.

Because we all have our fair share of faithlessness. We all experience times when we abandon faith for societies’ whims. We all choose coping mechanisms over prayer and perseverance. We all choose to be selfish rather than compassionate. We all choose to judge when we should offer grace. We all choose death when we should be choosing life. And God is faithful to us despite us. There’s always hope for new life… even if you’re dead as a doornail. And while maybe God isn’t going to resuscitate you after you’ve passed on, plenty of us feel dead enough inside that we could use a breathe of fresh air, of God’s air, of God’s spirit, waking us up inside.

And that may be the scariest part yet, letting go of ourselves enough to let God’s life take over. This is America and we like to be the best, look the best, know the most and accomplish the most whether that’s our success in academia, success in the business world, doing the most at church or downing the most at our favorite bar. To let go of our need to be in control and instead live by faith, to let go of our cynicism and live by hope, to let go of our fear and live with intellectual and emotional integrity… that is to receive life. Life that is waiting for us no matter what we do and who we are.

Life is always available if we’d just be willing to take it. I just hope we don’t get so far gone that we have to fall into a dead man’s grave to wake up to that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Nope, this is not a joke, this was real advertising. Check out the article about digitally altered advertising here. Obviously I think this is wrong, wrong and wrong.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Almost Famous

"Hollywood, come and get me Hollywood," floated through my head all day (kudos to whomever catches this movie reference.)

Yep, Hollywood bound we were. And after a twenty minute drive, we were there, walking the stars, sizing our hands and avoiding all the people dressed up like famous characters. (Zorro practically accosted me).

We went to the Graumann's Chinese Theater where lots of stars' hand prints and footprints and cigars (Woody Allen) and dreadlocks (Whoopi Goldberg) and even a pistol (I can't remember whose) are saved in cement. My favorite print of the day was of course Judy Garland who, alongside her daughter, was an amazing singer and actress.

After we walked the block and mused at all the (literal) stars on the pavement with names etched in gold, (some real - Jeff Bridges and some not real - Mickey Mouse) and after I got startled after running into Samuel L. Jackson outside the house of wax (damn those statues look real) we decided to go back to the Movie Palace and actually watch a movie. We were in luck as Zombieland was just about to start, so we bought tickets and popcorn and took our seats.

Unfortunately, it's October, which means it's almost Halloween. Now, you will rarely ever hear me say the words "unfortunately" and "Halloween" in the same sentence, but on this occasion, it meant that I had to watch the previews for the four scariest movies coming out around Halloween and since I hate horror and scary movies, this was traumatizing.

It did set us up for the gruesomeness that was the Zombies storming the beginning of the movie, Zombieland, but after the first twenty minutes when the plot finally became more character driven, I emerged from underneath my ball cap and actually was able to watch most of the film. It was hilarious and had an amazing cameo in the middle of it. Don't worry, I won't tell who and spoil it for you.

To end the day we ate at a diner where of course I had to order a chocolate malt.

Yum! What a perfect ending to a perfect day. "In fact," I told my friend as we drove home, "I wouldn't mind moving out here to become a famous movie star."

I suppose I'll have to settle for being called beautiful by some black guy dressed up as Zorro outside a movie palace in Hollywood before he moved on to his next panhandling mission.

Almost Famous. Figures.

My San Diego Zoo Experience




It was cool. Don't get me wrong. But it was weird too.

Like, how many zoos are so big that you can't tour it all in one day (or at least five hours)? And how many zoos have a bus AND an express bus that tour the grounds? And how many zoos are so complicated and with maps so insufficient that one can get LOST for an HOUR in ONE section of the zoo.

Damn those monkey trails. I never want to see another monkey again.

Y'all seriously. And we finally determined that up in elevation was actually down on the map which was eventually helpful. But not before it was 2pm and we still hadn't found the restaurant we were trying to get to.

Despite the episode of Lost that we were apparently being filmed in anonymously, some of those animals were AWESOME.

For example, there was a POLAR BEAR. What? And he was playing in the pool when we rode the Bus (but not the Express Bus) around the zoo. So we stopped to watch a minute and he was hilarious tossing his ball around the water and splashing around.

Unfortunately when we were viewing him later through the glass up close and personal, he was having some sort of personal problems He kept walking to the corner of a small covering like a hut, walking directly into the same right corner, then would take six steps backward diagonal left, swinging his head from side to side. Over and over he did this same movement. Like he had Tourette's or was performing a not so sacred rain dance. We stood there captivated though, watching the same thing over and over again because, well, he was a Polar Bear. And that was pretty amazing.

"Sorry we're destroying your habitat," I called out to him as we left.

And even better than the polar bear was the lion. And maybe it's because I'm reading through the Chronicles of Narnia right now so I'm a little biased in fondness for giant cats, but I checked with the others and they agreed, the Lion was the best. Because we were (maybe) ten feet away and he was sitting there chewing on a bone (a big one) like Sophie or Janie. It was amazing.

No wonder they're the kings of all the animals.

Other than that, there was a very cool flourescent yellow snake, some lame pandas whom the park totally talked up but who were actually in these small habitats sleeping in such positions that you couldn't even see their faces, and about a million bajillion deer of a thousand different varieties. "Probably to feed the lions," Amy determined.

So, back to the bus. The original bus, not the express mind you, although the express bus looks just like the tour bus only it has "Express" written on a green sign across the front of it.

This is Amy and I on the bus, the original bus. Not the express bus. Which was fun and a great way to tour the park in 45 minutes. Except the original bus tour was obsessed with the express bus and Brent and Amy couldn't tell you how many times the driver reminded us of "the express bus that looks just like this bus but with the word Express across the front on a green sign."

That became the butt of many jokes.

So at the end of the day, when we were tired, we decided to take the Express bus back to the entrance/exit of the park.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. And finally when I was about ready to pull my hair out (because the zoo was about to close and I hadn't bought my fuzzy stuffed animal yet), it showed up. Green sign and all. So we boarded, rode a few minutes and then it stopped. "Now this is Panda Canyon, and if you want to exit the zoo you go up the moving walkway, to the tower and take a right," the express bus driver announced.

So we got off. And you get one guess as to where we were.

Monkey Trails.

That bus had NOT taken us to the exit, but as Brent figured out, had taken us from the far east side of the 100 acre zoo back north (up on the map but down in elevation). And of course in true dysfunctional map and bus form, they called this drop off spot the exit. And so we walked and walked and walked to the exit. And as soon as I bought a stuffed Lion, we left.

Goodbye Polar Bear, goodbye Lion, goodbye Express Bus.