We learn history in school right. The sequence of events, changes in culture, technological advances, progress, and growth of peoples and nations. How should we determine what is important? There is so much to know. Are we really learning the story of humanity? Do I understand history as part of my story? I wasn’t alive during the first or second world war, the Civil Rights movement, Reconstruction, or the establishment of the 13 colonies, but I live in an American society molded by all of those events. Do I realize I, too, as a human being, am molded by these events, though seemingly so far removed in space and time?
“The same nation (Israel) that in the Exodus left Egypt to enter the promised land will now be exiled again into another Egypt.”[Holy People, Holy Land]
Something I am learning to appreciate so much about the Old Testament from my theology class is how the events recorded are meant to tell us about ourselves as people. I used to read it like a history book in school. A dry, boring account of unrelatable and distant peoples and places. My class is teaching me to read these sacred books of Scripture in a new light. In the light of the whole story of humanity and its loving Author. I have a unique position now in the present to look back on the Israelite people and see myself as one of them. It turns out, they aren’t so different. They experienced love and loss and destruction and confusion and hope just like me. They cried as I cry and laughed as I laugh. And most importantly, we are actually part of the same story. Some modern historical scholars say the Bible should be read in two ways, separating the “religious” parts from the “profane.” But they, together, tell us something about ourselves. One without the other leaves the story incomplete. Leaves a disassociation from who we are as human beings. Leaves a soul without a body. We don’t live a profane existence. We aren’t animals (though we sometimes act like them). We understand purpose and meaning, feel worth and belonging, long for connection to each other. These things are not profane. And cannot be separated from the events that manifest them in our lives. Experiences tell us something about ourselves. Experiences tell us we are living, breathing, feeling beings with incredible potential if we have the courage to remember who we are.
“The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there.” [Gandalf]
“I can’t just go running off into the blue! I am a Baggins of Bag End!” [Bilbo]
“You are also a Took…” [Gandalf]
[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]
Bilbo, though almost deciding to stay in the comfort of Bag End, goes on the adventure with the company of dwarves and Gandalf. Something inside of him moves him to go. If this scene were cut out of the movie and we just see Bilbo going on the journey, we would miss a significant connection between his identity and his decision. This, then, is the same when reading the stories in the Old Testament. Maybe I am unable to see it or understand it, but there is a significance and purpose to the particular events recorded. Not only because it is the Word of God, though that is certainly enough, but there is something revealed within the journey of the Israelites. Something eternal yet very right now. Something Gandalf reminded Bilbo of, and something I ought to pay attention to because it has a lot to do with my story as well. “You are also a Took…”
“I (Jesus) am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” [John 12:27]
How did Israel end up being freed from one Egypt and on their way to the promised land just to end up in another “Egypt” (or enslaved to another foreign nation)? They rejected their identity, and thus their purpose, as the chosen people of God. God chose the Israelites to reveal Himself as the one true God to all nations. But they did not glorify His name. They chose to glorify themselves, cut themselves off from their Creator and consequently, become enslaved. Again.
Was it easy being the chosen people of God? No. The Israelites were called to stand out. Their purpose was to be distinct, not against the world but “precisely for the world” [Bishop Barron Gospel commentary]. In the above verse from the Gospel of John, Jesus reflects this “trouble” with identity. The Israelites, many times, felt troubled in their journey, falling into despair and forgetting who they are. Jesus, however, in His troubled soul, remembers. The “hour” is His impending crucifixion. His saving death and Resurrection. This is His purpose and who He is. The Christ.
Jesus, of course, embodies the perfect example of the connection between identity and experience. The Israelites, not so perfect, but a caution and reminder to me. I am not exempt from the mistakes the Israelites made two thousand years ago because we share in the same humanity. When I keep their actions in the context of the greater story, their identity as chosen people, I can see how they went wrong or when they stayed true to who they are. I can see how their story can be a part of my own, for better or worse. For promised land or exile. For freedom or slavery.
I learned from one of Emmanuel Ochoa’s “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” that sometimes a man black who is dating a white woman may get grief from fellow black men. Reminding him she is the “master’s daughter.” Referring to the time of slavery when white men owning black people as slaves were called slave masters. The white daughters of the slave masters, then, were the master’s daughters. That doesn’t seem quite fair to say now, though, does it? “It was so long ago.” Just because I am a white female, that makes me the “master’s daughter?” But my dad, obviously, didn’t own people as slaves. How, then, am I the master’s daughter?
I remember when Adam and I were younger, dad, you were always pulling our slouched shoulders back to help our posture. It is easy to slouch. Maybe harmless at first. But as many people now know, sitting at computers for hours on end, slouching comes back to bite you in the back end, literally. It may have seemed tedious at first. You correcting us over and over again to teach us to do it ourselves, to even notice we were slouching. Little by little, we caught on and probably corrected our posture not because we knew why but rather solely because you did it. You were our father. We trusted you. We believed what you did was for our good. We didn’t need to know why it was good or how. That was for you to know.
The same nation that in the Exodus from Egypt had its shoulders pulled back and posture corrected as freed people slouched again into exile as slaves. How does this happen? It was easier. The Israelites forgot Who freed them. Turned away from their purpose. Forgetting God, they forgot who they were and looked to other things. Forgetting their Father, they looked for freedom elsewhere and found masters.
“The same nation that in the Exodus left Egypt to enter the promised land will now be exiled again into another Egypt.”
The same nation that in the 13th Amendment left the institution of slavery to enter into unified freedom and human dignity is now exiled again into many “Egypts.”
My humanity is shared. My whiteness is shared. I am a part of the whole story, and one of the terribly painful wounds of that story is the dehumanization of black people at the unrepentant hands of white people in America. Just as the idolatry of the Israelites tells me of myself so does the reality of the master’s daughter. I am the master’s daughter when I forget God. I am the master’s daughter, dad, when I forget I am your own. Or when I choose to reject your fatherhood and correction. I reject your fatherhood, I reject my identity as your daughter, and I reject my purpose. I reject my humanity and creatureliness. I decide I am my own. And when left on my own, it is easier to slouch.
“For some reason, we fall into the trap of preferring drama over healing, fear over peace, conflict over freedom. Even when God has performed great miracles in our family, careers, friendships, health, and spiritual lives, we chose to hold tight to the pity party rather than celebrate God’s mercy, truth, and love for us!” [BIS devotional_Tricia Tembreull]
What am I to learn from the Israelites and the master’s daughters, then, in the greater context of our shared humanity? They fell to foreign invaders who became their masters. Or carved for themselves figures out of gold to call their masters. It’s not foreign invaders and golden calves in my life I fall to. My dad was no slave master, yet I often find myself as the master’s daughter. Instead of the safe and loving hands of my Father correcting my posture, I turn to things that let me slouch.
“Acedia, or sloth, is the condition of heart that shrinks back from difficulties and arduous efforts and is content to wallow in sorrow rather than suffer while trying to succeed. God calls Israel to great things, but slavery in Egypt appears easier to them than the work of obtaining the good that God has in store. This condition of the heart is one that brings a progressive sense of depression and is marked by a constant sense of sadness. Acedia, in other words, is the heart disease that often sets in when we give up faith and the pursuit of greatness to which God calls us.” [Walking With God: A Journey through the Bible]
Slavery to feelings appears easier.
Slavery to sexual impulses appears easier.
Slavery to gluttony appears easier.
Slavery to greed appears easier.
Slavery to gossip appears easier.
Slavery to arrogance appears easier.
Slavery to lying appears easier.
Slavery to cheating appears easier.
Slavery to selfishness appears easier.
Slavery to pride appears easier.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever…[1 John 2:15-17]
I didn’t realize it then, but confidence from a father is unlike any other. I still let my shoulders slouch sometimes. But I remember the feeling of your firm and gentle hands. Though seemingly a small gesture, this is what fathers do. This is how fathers love. They see the small things. And love in the small details. They take care of every part of you. Every hair on your head. Every opportunity to remind you, “I see you, I know you, I love you.”
Confidence from the Father is unlike any other.
“Holiness may sound quite boring. Mark Twain famously joked that if Heaven was all it was said to be, he would choose Hell. Yet, rather than a state of boring and static self-satisfaction, holiness is radical freedom from our selfish crimps and narrowness. The greatest ecstasy is to go out of oneself in the fire of divine wisdom and charity. Holiness is when we lose our violent pretenses to be God, and instead embrace the reality of creatureliness, of receiving everything from God. It is like being a child again in the best way; but it is also like being a mature adult in an unimaginably glorious way, because by becoming fully creatures again, children of God, we freely enter into the self-giving love who is God, and share in the full personhood of this unimaginably glorious dance of infinite wisdom and love. Holiness is not the drip of one moment succeeding another; it is the eternal and timeless fount of inexhaustible wisdom and love.”
“We generally avoid coming to terms with our desperate need for holiness, by ignoring or hiding the consequences of our sins. “Holiness” and “justice,” in this way, come to seem abstract, impractical, or even merely boring.” [Holy People, Holy Land]
Boring like all those dry history lessons. Boring like all those stories in the Old Testament. It is easy to slouch.
How many excuses, how much petting, does it take to make a master’s daughter? How many swears does it take to create deaf ears? How many times referring to human beings in vulgar and less than dignified terms does it take to create poisonous lips? How many ways can the life-giving sexual union be described as a power play, pleasure plea before the safest place on the planet for life, the womb, becomes a grave? How much fear, pride and disordered wisdom does it take to create hardened hearts choosing the wallow of slavery over the ecstasy of freedom?
Well, it is easy to slouch.
I love you dad,
Your missy babes