>Oh, Yada, Yada….

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Who would have thought three little Hebrew letters, Yod, Daleth, and Ain would have caused so much trouble? Put ’em all together and they spell Yada–not the “Yada, yada,” of Seinfeld fame, but the Hebrew word, “to know.”

In those three letters, we sure place a lot of assumption.

The online Hebrew Lexicon I often use has about 20+ meanings for the word yada. ONE of them is “to know carnally.” The word is used 983 times in the Hebrew Bible. In 973 times, it means “know” in the ordinary ways you and I understand the word “know” in English. Only in ten of those times do text scholars believe yada means “to have sexual relations,” and even in some of those times it probably doesn’t mean “consensual, loving sex.” For instance, in the Genesis 19 story–the famous “Sodom” story, the implication is “forcible sex”–gang rape in particular.

So, it turns out, that our little aside, “He knew her…you know…in the Biblical sense,” is pretty much urban legend. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when the Old Testament says “know,” well…the “Biblical sense” is “know means know”–just like you and I mean “know” when we say, “Oh, I know so-and-so.” Whaddya know.

Yet on this little Hebrew word, some folks hang the moon and stars on so called “Biblical” notions of homosexuality. Go figure.

Genesis 19 is a lousy story to hang that on anyway. Lot doesn’t exactly handle the situation in a manner we would now want to champion for modern family values, anyway. When the angry mob shows up, demanding they want to “know” the two strangers (angels) at Lot’s house, what does Lot do? He basically tells them, “Oh, no, you can’t have these two guys, they’re my guests. But ya know what? I got a couple pre-teen daughters out back that y’all can have your way with–how’s that instead?” Oy gevalt.

Couple that with the fact ancient Hebrew is, as is modern English, rife with colloquialisms. We find them in the Hebrew scriptures all the time. A Hebrew word for foot (regel) is translated as “genitals,” in some passages. Some Hebrew words are used in their exact opposite context. There’s a lot of room for getting things lost in translation.

Yet the moment we find a hidden or sexual meaning in some of the words, we totally go “Beavis and Butthead” over it. “Heh heh. He said “foot.” he said “know.” Heh heh.”

So much of this, I think, is what Louie Crew describes as “the ick factor.” He often points out that if we personally think something is icky, it’s our tendency to have our feelings of ickiness validated. I would take it one step further and add, “If we think it’s icky, we’d prefer our projection of God to think it’s icky too.” But I kind of find it all a little bewildering. There are plenty of sexual practices that are legal in this country, that I personally find icky, yet I don’t feel a huge need to have God pass judgment over the ickiness.

All I’m saying, is, “There sure is a lot of yada, yada about yada.”

>Breaking up the big freeze

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(Photo from the author of Staying Awake)

Job 28:25-30:

Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, 26to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, 27to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass? 28“Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? 29From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven? 30The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.

If you’re wondering what the photograph above is, it’s a rather up close and personal view of the auger blades of the new snow blower our church recently purchased. This was something that we went back and forth on for years on whether it was “worth it” to purchase one. We would bring it up now and then at church, and rarely at vestry meetings, and then always talk ourselves out of it. “Oh, we could buy it, and end up only using it once or twice some winters. It’s just another thing to break down.”

Another problem is, I’m the person who normally shovels the snow, partially because I’m the junior warden, but partially because I have always enjoyed the quiet time doing it, in a “monastic work” sort of way. For most folks, the snow magically disappeared, so the need for a snow blower didn’t seem apparent. Since I liked doing it, and I had the time, it was not a big deal.

Last year, however, things changed. I started having less time, as some things with my work schedule changed. Also, for some reason, we always seemed to have snow on Friday or Saturday, and last winter it was almost like every Saturday I was shoveling, to get church ready for Sunday. For a lot of reasons, it got to be something that started “owning me.” I had created an expectation that was partly real, partly my own projections of others’ expectations upon me, and partly a few real expectations that I get it done to a certain set of specifics. I started being in situations where I had been tied down at the last minute and had to hurry through the job, and was feeling certain levels of disapproval now and then. It made me feel caught in the middle, knowing what I needed but really uncomfortable to say so.

I realized a snow blower would make my life easier, but I had a lot of reasons why I felt “now’s not the time to ask.” So I didn’t. I could have asked others to help, but I seldom did. My life (at least on the weekends) is more flexible than folks who are “householders.” I didn’t feel right asking others to change their plans on the weekends for something I used to have time to be solely responsible for. I also knew you can only cry “help” so many times before people get tired of it.

But you know the old saying…”better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know.” So, like the ice that collects on the sidewalks, I was “frozen.” Frozen as in that passage in Job. It wasn’t a crisis, it wasn’t even anything that I can put my finger on as good/bad/indifferent. It was just frozen. I was okay with the job (I like the exercise, frankly), but the time frames were freezing me in place and freezing my imagination. I could not bring myself to ask the church for a snow blower. I was afraid it would seem “all about me.” After all, I would be the one to use it 95% of the time.

It took our interim priest to point it out. He was quite surprised that the church in the northernmost reaches of our diocesese, the place in the diocese “most likely to get snow”, didn’t own a snow blower. He simply said, “you all need to get one.” So we did.

Take a look at that picture of the auger blades. That thing breaks up the ice like you would not believe! We got a good snow blower, a two stage one, that has a powerful auger and a blower driven by a powerful motor. What I discovered is, well, honestly, driving it is a blast! It has taken what used to be a two hour job and turned it into a 45 minute job for me.

But the truth was, “the face of my deep was frozen.” It took an outside observer to see it, and to give me permission to ask for what I needed.

How many times in our own prayer lives are we afraid to ask for something for ourselves? How many times do we get ourselves in a life rut, and accept it, often even without complaint or an awareness that it IS a rut, until the rut becomes so deep it’s hard to drive out of it? The heck of it is, so many times, we would do it gladly and willingly. We might not be a single bit resentful of the rut. But we freeze. We convince ourselves, “it’s just not gonna happen, so why wish for what you know you can’t have?” We are mostly content and occasionally unhappy. It’s not “that bad,” so we don’t worry about it.

This, I believe, is the value of the prayers of others. It’s the value of a community of faith. What we no longer see as us having a need for “deliverance,” others see right away. It’s easy to see the “major” things from which we need to be delivered. But the “minor” ones are more obscure, more veiled. We might not see them, but those who care for us and pray about us, do. In that “seeing the frozen parts of others,” we deliver them…and they deliver us. Those “minor deliverances” add up, and our being relieved of them renews not just our souls, but the souls of those who care for us–thanks be to God!

>The possibilities within "impossible"

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Zechariah 8:6:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts?”

I had to admit I burst out laughing tonight in my EFM class when this picture showed up for our Theological Reflection. You have to remember, I am often a one-person snow shoveling operation at Trinity in the winter, and I take a special pride in being able to outdo First Christian Church next door, who has a snow blower, and First Methodist Church down the street and around the corner, who often has more than one person shoveling, and a four-wheeler with a blade. Granted, we have a smaller amount to shovel, but all things being equal, I have been able to keep pace with them most weekends. So, in some ways, this picture has some laughable amounts of personal meaning.

So I was a bit of the odd person out when, the more I looked at this, the less daunting it became. Interestingly enough, I started imagining the sounds and feelings that went with this picture–dead quiet except for the wind and the movement within the tops of the trees–and the sound became more inviting the more my mind’s ear could hear it. I had to ask myself, “Why does this picture not fill me with despair and resignation?”

One of the things that seems to be evolving within me is an increasing recognition of what is totally out of my realm of control. Mind you, I am far from perfect on this one, but I am sensing an increase of an ability to “let God handle what I immediately realize I can’t control, yet have faith that things will work out somehow.”

When I looked at this picture, I could instantly recognize that one person cannot remove that wall of snow. But neither was my immediate reaction that the snow NEEDED to be removed. Perhaps it is supposed to be tunneled through, climbed over, or circumvented–or maybe even left alone, and I was to turn around and go back to the place from whence I came. So my first thoughts were not, “What am I supposed to do?” but “What is supposed to be accomplished?”

Perhaps that thought is an inkling of recognition that these choices are not about my will, but God’s.

The prophet Zechariah lived in strange times, about 500ish B.C.E. Israel was in exile in Babylon. His prophecies were more about having faith that things would be changed, and more about bringing hope in the center of exile, than it was “what to do about it.” His prophesies gave vivid imagery of “what is to be the glory of Israel” but did not really put a time frame on it…merely, “Someday.”

It’s easy to look at the snowpile and immediately assume the job is for you to remove it, alone, without bothering to survey the situation. That may not always be the case.

I was so struck by the ease of which I started hearing the noises in this picture in class, I decided to meditate on it last night before bed, with myself as the person with the shovel. I realized “over” could suffocate me, if I hit a soft spot. “Remove” was not an option. “Cut a path” might be an option, but not before checking out “around.”

Then I thought a little about “what was on the other side?” If it was “home,” then it makes sense to find a way through or around the pile. But what if what lies on the other side is unknown? Perhaps it is not time for me to experience what is on the other side of the pile until the thaw. Perhaps there is something “frozen” within me that must slowly melt.

Then I imagined myself as a person on the other side of the pile. Do I even know there is a person with a shovel on the other side? Did I need rescuing of some sort? Is the pile someone in my past, in which a seemingly impossible wall lies between us? Or is it the person with the shovel who is “lost” and it is my job to find a way to go around and say, “Come with me?”

It brings me back to the prophet Zechariah. Imagine trying to sort out prophesy that is not meant for you or your generation, but to still use it to provide hope. How many times in our lives are we to be prophets to another generation, but not our own? Any of us who teach those younger than us, whether students or children or grandchildren, wonder that sometimes.

But I invite you to also spend some time with this image of the snow pile and see where it leads.