Friday, November 5, 2010

Pretty sure Matthew 23 just ate my lunch

Well, not entirely. I did have some yogurt for the sake of my digestive tract.
Still, I decided to stay at home on Friday of this week like I was trying to make my practice here in Kenya. It helps me feel centered having a day to rest and work from home. I generally spend the day editing photos and puttering around. Today i felt the need to get into my Bible. I have dropped the ball on that especially lately. I thought i was doing so well, but stress steals my peace and the moment i feel stressed out I turn to a lot of stupid things to return my joy... like television. Culture stress kicks my butt. I hate being followed by people begging for money, getting yelled at to point out that I am, in fact, a white girl on foot, and not being able to communicate clearly or even understand some of the people I care most deeply about here. So I think "shoot... I need some America," and I turn to our biggest export: media. Strangely this is probably the exact thing that causes me the most grief here. People see Americans as being rich, promiscuous, and self-centered and most of that comes from our media, and the rest comes from the bad choices of many individuals, aid groups, and governments mainly.

Today when I felt the itch to get back into scripture I could tell it is because I have been super deprived of it. God's word lives in my heart, and I know that because in weird moments, it moves its' way past my mumbling and lips and says things to people. I am always a little shocked when that happens. I think I have my parents to thank mostly for raising me with scripture, and then after that I think I have classical choral composers and hymn writers to thank. My nose has never been in that book as much as I think it should be. Memorization plans as a child didn't really work for me. I am really really good at committing words to semi-short term memory. This is part of what made me an annoying teenager... when my parents or teacher would say "Bekah, did you hear what i said!?" i would repeat it back to them word for word. totally obnoxious. They probably should have been asking me to paraphrase or contextualize instead...because that might have actually worked out.

Regardless, i got into Matthew 22&23 today, mostly because that is where I left off in October. I am not one of those Christians worth my salt, because I don't think I have ever really gotten through the Bible in one year successfully. I've been trying to keep up with a reading plan, but i still suck at it. I am however one of those people that hardly ever reads a book twice. Probably because when I read a good meaty book, I tend to read the page over three times or so the first time through. It takes me forever to get through even short books... but i do actually remember things and tend to actually use the things I read. Everything from Annie Dillard and CS Lewis to Hemmingway and Roald Dahl has synthesized their way into my world view. So, when I reached Matthew 23 today I really was floored.

i actually love this part of scripture. Mostly, due to the fact that in Godspell when Stephen sings this part of scripture I really can feel it. I did not, however, realize just how much this was tied into what I am doing now and how ridiculous I feel as the hypocrite still trying to work for justice in Jesus' name.

Okay... In Matt. 22 Jesus has just gotten done outwitting the Pharisees in a sort of "kicking a** and taking names" sort of style. It's pretty awesome, and i for one come out of it thinking "yeah! that smart guy over there... I am on HIS team, suckers!" It had to be pretty awesome to be one of those crusty disciples at the point thinking "our teacher is THE MAN!"

But then Jesus lays into his pain and longing for the righteousness of the people he has just schooled. He aches at their actions and groans in longing for their return to the fold of God. It's pretty intense. The whole chapter whirls me around, but there were four chunks that really kicked me this time:

14 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You devour widows' houses and make long prayers just for show. This is why you will receive a harsher punishment.

Part of the reason this caught me, i am sure is that the last version of bible I had probably didn't include it except as a footnote. That confuses me a little, but beyond the this-version-that version discussion, this really stuck me.

I have been praying and keeping in my thoughts one of the ladies I have the privilege of working with here in Kenya. Doro is the backbone of the cafe and she challenges me to be someone of firmer resolve and steadfast character. She doesn't do that by her words necessarily but by her actions and interactions. Doro actually pulled me aside one day and told me I was a 'person of integrity.' That sort of blew my mind, seeing that I am often a world-class flake in my mind. This week has been especially tough because Doro has been 'up country' moving her mom from the family shamba to a new house off the family property. Doro was actually using her week to build her mother a new home. She let me in on a little here ad there about what was going on. She told me she had a 'very bad' uncle that she will have to talk to when she got there. it wasn't until after she left that someone filled me in that this 'bad uncle' was threatening the life of Doro and her mother if they didn't move her mother of the family land. This is fairly typical in Africa, and Ian actually did work regarding the land rights of widows when he was in law school, but it still shocks me. this man is kicking his own old and sick sister of their land. Not only that he has threatened her life and the life of her children. What are we doing about this!? This isn't some hypothetical situation. One thing I have learned in Africa, that if it is happening here, it is probably happening in a more quiet and sneaky way in my own country.

Moving on-
23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. 24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel!

I found this especially fascinating because of the food references. We love spices in our food in this family. i forget that spices were a huge part of wealth... or rather are a huge part of wealth. The spice trade etc etc... Still, thinking of our money in the terms of spices is somehow eye-opening to me. It isn't coins or cold hard cash, but it is more than a piece of paper tied to a hypothetical construct. These are things I can see, touch and even taste. Mint... love it in my tea... dill... what is felafel with yogurt sauce without this? cumin... my salsa always needs a little or a lot. Sure, tithing is great and giving to charity is wonderful, but the gain is part of what is in question here. If we need the exploitation of others in order to have our 'stuff to give back' what good is it? Ian and I had a big talk about our temptations with materialism last night. i won't lie... I love a good fruitful shopping trip. BUT I did learn a few years back that industries are abusing people in a number of different ways. Slave labor, child labor, environmental dishonesty and abuse. Environment may seem like a strange one, but it effects the lowest of the low far before it ever effects the middle class or the wealthy. Dumps, factories, chemical storage sites... these things are often located in areas of low income and damage those people first, not to mention that the potentially hazardous material handling is also left to those who cannot afford to have a better job. Something is very wrong here. We may be giving our 10%, but how are we getting the full 100%? What are we spending the other 90% on? Are we harming others? Maybe not even in a way we can see, but it ways we can't see? We are happy to give to the bell ringer from Salvation Army, but where did that extra change come courtesy of? Have we strained the gnat and missed the camel?

This next one has been getting me for a couple weeks without having even read it in a while.

29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn't have taken part with them in shedding the prophets' blood.' 31 You therefore testify against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' sins!
Blerg! I have often thought about what my life may have been like during crazy historical times, like the underground railroad or the holocaust. What choices would I have made? Sure I nearly venerate those who have gone before that have done amazing things for their fellow man in the face of danger, persecution and death. I visited Wilberforce's grave in Westminster and felt very connected to the abolition movement and thanked God for the work of his people. i have walked by statues of Ghandi in DC and been thankful for those that stand up for the rights of those who are being oppressed and preach peace. I have pasted quotes from Mother Theresa in my closet to read each day.. but what am I doing here and now. Yes. I currently live in Africa working with refugees and women in difficult circumstances, but have i bet the family farm? I don't know. I don't think so. Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's famous quote "well-behaved women seldom make history," has become a battle cry for feminists the world over, and I love it. In fact I love it and hate it because it challenges me. Am I too well-behaved in my world of development work. There are things at point at that make me feel warm and fuzzy that "no... i am still woman! hear me roar!" but i continue to wonder if I squelch that voice of God that dwells in me, and remain satisfied with high marks in behavior. Am I merely decorating the tombs of the prophets? or am I really trying to dig in with abandon to the mire of life that this world is presenting me. I have said it before, being in this position is much more challenging to my every-day faith than I thought it would be. i have more excuses to let little things slip because "i have been being so good!" Or I can ignore the needs of hose around me in more intelligent ways than I ever knew existed. Am I really daring to be the solution, or am I relishing in my decor or sainthood? That is tough.

Lastly... this:

37 "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! " The city who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing!
I see this as one of the most sorrowful expressions of longing that I know of. i want this to be my longing for the people around me and for myself. I want to hear Christ's call to be gathered, and to run. i think of the pain of seeing parents who have tried to guard their children from danger ad vice only to see them continue down a broken and desolate path of self-destruction. How much more does a creator then hurt for the thing he has created that has become destructive in general, and even withe the ability to turn back and become an agent of peace does not?

God! I can hear you telling me you have my number. Don't let me off easy. I am worried about asking that.. but don't know what else to ask.

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