Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Musings: Bullies of the Bible

Sunday in children’s church, I once again found myself struggling with the sanitized version of a Bible story in the Beginner’s Bible. Today Hannah was sad (one teardrop sad, according to the illustrator) because she wanted a baby. (1 Samuel 1)

Before Sister Wives on TLC,
there were sister wives.
All the nasty backstory has been stripped away:  Hannah is in a polygamous marriage, or as TLC would say, she’s a sister wife with Peninnah, a bully. 

All the kids knew what a bully is. We listed ways a bully hurts you:  with fists, with words, by stealing your lunch money or toy. 

So Penny has lots of kids and Hannah has none, and Penny keeps rubbing it in; she’s a verbal bully.

And then you have hubby Elkanah. Here’s how he comforted his wife:  “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Um, well, actually, NO. This is circa 1000 B.C., and if a woman doesn’t have a son, she’s got nothing. Elkanah is going to kick the bucket one of these years, and do you think Penny’s sons are going to take care of “Auntie” Hannah after Dad dies? Very doubtful. Even if they felt so inclined, Penny wouldn’t go along with it. Think of Sarah booting Hagar and Ishmael out the tent door in Genesis.

I wonder which wife Elkanah married first. I’m thinking Hannah, and when she couldn’t deliver the goods, he married Penny, who knew hubby loved Hannah more.

One of the kids Sunday morning actually mentioned that a bully is often someone who has been bullied by someone else! I may have to go softer on Penny. Elkanah emotionally bullied Penny. “I need you to be the baby maker, but it’s Hannah that I love.”

Now imagine if Hannah had said to Elkanah, “Why do you need another wife? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” Cue hysterical laughter. No, it never worked that way in ancient cultures and not today in many modern cultures.

"I got you this double burger
to take your mind off your infertility."
Hannah’s “sister-wife” bullied her and her husband didn’t defend her. Elkanah responded to Penny’s bullying of Hannah by saying, “There, there, sweetie. Have a double helping of meat.” Meanwhile, Hannah’s crying so hard, her throat is so tight that there’s no way can she swallow the beef.

I made sure the kids knew Hannah was way more than one teardrop sad. I demonstrated some wailing for them. I hope I didn’t scare anyone. Oh, and I didn't tell the kids Hannah and Penny shared a husband. I told them Penny was "Hannah's friend."

"What's that drunken floozy doing in my tabernacle?"
1897-W-A-Foster - Published in 1897.
Scanned photos from the book whose copyright has expired
Hannah realizes there’s not going to be any satisfaction from her husband, the great defender, so she goes over his head. She goes to God. But Eli’s in the way. Eli possibly didn’t have the skill set for pastoral ministry. (Ya think???) He sees and hears this distraught woman and immediately accuses her of being drunk. God job, priest. You’re a bully, too. 

I admire Hannah’s persistence in prayer and respect for the priest, even though he had shown her none. Eli never actually apologized for his insult, but he did tell Hannah her prayer would be answered. And it was. She got her baby boy and a bunch more kids, too, but that’s a story for another Sunday.

Hannah was a remarkable woman. God arranged her infertility so that he could make something extraordinary of Samuel’s birth. Samuel was going to be a very important prophet and judge in the nation. He needed a mama who was willing to literally, physically, give him back to God. But Hannah didn’t know that for all the years she struggled with barrenness and bullying. She finally became desperate enough to offer God the deal he had planned all along.

Hannah inspires me to remember that no matter which nitwit appears to be in charge of the situation (myself included), I can appeal to a higher authority. And even when I feel bullied or misunderstood, God knows and loves me and knows what’s best.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Q is for Quick to Listen

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. James 1:19 – 20, NLT

 I’m grateful this verse came to mind before I said something stupid the other night. And now I can write about it.

I’m one of those pathetic people who live on Facebook. I blame it on my publisher who wants me to publicize and promote. The theory is if you like what I’m eating for supper, you will click over to Amazon and buy my books. ( Is it working? The link is on the right.)
So of course I shared my new experience preparing a garden fresh spaghetti squash, topped with butter, salt, and pepper. Some friends responded, suggesting other toppings. It was this comment that pushed me onto the path of “quick to get angry and quick to speak,” the opposite of the verse above.
Sour cream - dairy and if you must do it - low fat though I think not from photos of you and salsa - minimum calories. As for butter, well, what is life without butter??
Wait, whaaat? My friend assumed I would NOT use low-fat sour cream because she has seen from photos of me that I’m a lardo who loves to inhale food?! My feelings were hurt. After being painfully thin in the early years of my life, I’m now carrying a number of excess pounds. (The number will not be revealed. If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you, probably by smothering you with my blubber.)
But this was the first time anyone actually called me fat. (That I know of!) Since I’m also forgetful, the insult slipped my mind until I reviewed the post a few hours later. Then it hurt all over again.
I pondered deleting the comment. I pondered confronting my friend in a private message. Then I remembered James telling me to be slow to speak (or type) and slow to get angry. I decided to attempt doing this God’s way, and within minutes an alternate interpretation of my friend’s comments came to mind.
Maybe she meant I would NOT use low-fat sour cream because she has seen from photos of me that I’m NOT a lardo and I don’t need to worry about the calories in high test sour cream. Because this friend has always been kind and supportive, the new interpretation made much more sense.
My anger and hurt feelings disappeared, replaced by relief that God’s warning had stopped me and given me yet another opportunity to shake my head and laugh at myself.
What's not to laugh about?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays

Here are ten real questions gleaned from your Facebook posts. If you know the answers, please tell the rest of us.

10. What are the 3 wisest decisions you ever made?

9. Who still loves root beer floats?

8. If I disappear, will you look for me?

7. Is the pen still mightier than the keyboard?

6. Who keeps putting all the math books in the Horror Section?

5. Why am I the only one he's not listening to?

4. You can dress like a country girl, but can you work like one?

3. Why don’t people whistle now?

2. Why doesn’t someone invent a clear toaster, so you can see how toasted your toast is while it’s toasting?

And the #1 real Facebook question is:

1. Does anyone have a set of bongo drums I could borrow for several weeks?

I hope to make Top Ten Tuesdays a regular blog feature.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday Musings: The Word Preaches Itself

            Wednesday evening I attended the midweek service at my husband’s adopted church In Maryland. Gene’s been working at Andrews Air Force Base all summer, and he chose this particular Baptist church and stuck with it. When he worked at Ft. Drum a few years ago, he found a Presbyterian church he liked and even sang in their choir. 

            What struck me Wednesday night in Maryland, and I mentioned it in Sunday School in Pennsylvania, is that often what I learn in a church setting is not necessarily what the pastor is trying to teach me. I can possibly attribute this phenomenon to two factors:  my personality and the power of God’s Word.

I hope that includes those
who wander in the Word.
            I’m a wanderer. I turn to the passage the pastor says, but then I wander off while he’s talking about it. I look back. I look ahead. And I find something I need to know, to believe, to obey, to wrestle with. Some of my best ideas have come while I’ve been a silent captive in a stained-glass cell:  Advent readings, devotions, song lyrics, lesson plans.

            So that’s the “me” part, but then there’s God’s part. His Word (according to His Word) has innate power to preach itself without any help from the preacher. For example, Isaiah 55:10 – 11 (NIV) records God saying,

God Words is purposeful, like rain.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven, and do not return to it
    without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

This may have been the sword Paul had in mind.
            And the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (4:12, NIV)

            The Isaiah passage encourages me as a teacher of Bible to high school students, while the Hebrews passage strikes terror in my innermost being. Isaiah is warm and fuzzy, while Hebrews is as comforting as a sword covered in my own blood.

            Wednesday evening the preacher whose name I never caught, but whose Southern accent I remember, was teaching from Micah 7 and a bunch of other passages. About what? I can’t recall. But I remember being struck by a few lines in Micah 7:18 and I highlighted them and made a note in my Kindle Bible:

Who is a God like You, removing iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not hold onto His anger forever, because He delights in faithful love. (HCSB)

            The note I added:  “The two can’t co-exist.” 

Anger and faithful love—mercy in other translations—can’t live together. They have incompatibility problems, irreconcilable differences. One of them has to move out. God packed anger’s bags and sent it packing because he preferred mercy’s delightful company. 

            What a splendid insight! How pleased I was with myself! Until the double-edged sword twisted. What about me? As God’s child, I should imitate him. 

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us…Ephesians 5:1, 2 (NKJV)

            But somehow I keep the bad roommate around. I tend to feed anger and starve mercy. It’s an ongoing struggle, maybe like an addiction. I quit anger like some people quit smoking:  often and with no lasting effect. 

            So God’s Word, with little or no prompting from the preacher, reminded me to keep wrestling with this. Keep praying about it. Keep trying to imitate my Father. Keep basking in his mercy.

            I hope to make Monday Musings a regular blog feature, highlighting happenings—sometimes sacred, sometimes silly—of Sunday School, Worship, or Children’s Church.

             Tune in tomorrow for another new feature, Top Ten List Tuesdays.