Tough old book

Reading Scripture? Love doing that. Imagine doing that though as a Palestinian (and currently when both Netenyahu and certain nationalistic prophets equate Palestinians with the Amalekites!!!)… or reading certain parts as a woman… or as a host of other people. What if one grew up with the pain of definitely not being the ‘favourite’, then go on to read about choice within family, such as God being quoted as saying:

I have loved Jacob,
but I have hated Esau.

Yes it is a tough book at times.

I love to think (and sometimes love to say a little tongue in cheek, ‘the author of Hebrews, she says…’) that a woman (Priscilla) wrote Hebrews. It certainly does not seem that any of the other New Testament books are likely to have been written by a woman so let’s at least claim this one. (Paul does not seem an option – the style and content is just not like his. Maybe Barnabas?)

A woman? Maybe… but we read,

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel… (Heb. 11:32).

Who was ‘Barak’. In Judges 4, we read of Barak:

At that time Deborah, a prophet, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Position yourself at Mount Tabor, taking ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand.’ ” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”

The hero(ine)? Deborah. The ‘judge in Israel?’ Deborah. The one who gets rebuked? Barak! Yet we come to Hebrews 11 and not a mention of Deborah, and Mr. Barak is promoted to the list of heroes of faith. What on earth do we do with this? A re-writing of the history? A deliberate erasure of a woman’s part in the story?

This absence of Deborah’s name probably means Priscilla was simply not the author, but it also further highlights that there are biases in Scripture.

Scripture written in another era and not written to us. Not to be judged by our era, and for us not to live in that era. Live within the story but do not be confined to that time as if the story has been fully written, with nothing further to be said. The letters are typical of that era (genre wise) but they are ever so radical. What about Paul’s claim that we are ‘letters’? Ever so radical in our era or nothing to say?

I appreciate why people bang the drum of ‘back to Judea-Christian values’ by which is meant ‘back to the Bible’… but what if we began to think backwards to our day from the future rather than forward to our day from the past? That just might make us highly creative, provocative but deeply relevant to the situations aruond us.

It is a tough old book; but the story being told (even when the wrong names appear and Deborah does not get a mention) if we follow that story will make the book difficult to read but the rewards will be incredible.

Commands to commit genocide; damning whole people groups; gender divisions… all of that is present within what we read… but let’s read about the past and read from the future.


Reading too much into it all?

I have a title – really what I think, interpreting my recent travel. And put beneath it a sub-title: reading too much into it. Whatever… I live my life by convictions…. correction, my level of integrity is related to living my life by my convictions, so the title is the title, and the sub-title is a possibility that I have to be open to but cannot live my life by. (My ability to waffle does seem to be pretty powerful.)

I am in the UK for 2 days. An early start yesterday to catch a flight. I had an alarm set for 4:40 but woke at 2:20. What does one do? I rolled on to one side, closed my eyes… no, that is not working… other side… no. So there it was. But in truth it had been a week more or less like that, somehow the air had been ‘thick’. It did mean I was well in time to catch my flight.

Plane left on time (Alicante to Gatwick). It landed ahead of schedule. Taxied toward the gates. The stopped… eventually the pilot coming on speaker – there is a plane occupying our gate, once it leaves we will pull in. Well, for whatever reason the other plane did not depart. Pilot – we will make our way to a new gate they have assigned us. Taxied. Stopped. Eventually pilot says – there is a problem with (and I think he said) the navigation system on the gate to bring us in; once they have fixed we will dock in a short while. Waited… they did not get it fixed!

So eventually they use the steps that are built into the plane itself and there we are now with a walk and back entry to the airport. I proceed with my one carry on bag, nothing to pick up on the luggage belt, so move as quickly as possible as I have a train to catch (on my way to a funeral – more later on that). I get to passport and there is no line. I am it, so right through.

I go to the train – only a 100 metre walk. Buy my ticket. Ah yes, the voice of the announcer. Sorry the train is delayed, we are in process of forming the train! (I presumed that this was not a ‘we have just put in an order with the manufacturer’.)

So now the train is late. Then comes the announcer. The train for Reading (my train and I am getting off at Dorking) has a platform change.

I might have got up early, I might be somewhat sleep deprived (pulling on your sympathy with that comment) but I am noticing a pattern all connected to time.

  • I wake too early…
  • … OK let me be ‘spiritual’ please… the heavens are clear and we are ahead of schedule.
  • I should have been on a train and on my way easily 20-30 minutes after landing, but it was just shy of 2 hours!
  • Cannot dock where we should – it is already occupied.
  • There are alternatives, but we cannot be guided in there.
  • We will make a back door entry.
  • I am not with excess luggage.
  • I am straight in as I have full access and permission.

Ahead of schedule but unable to dock… delays once we land… time and locations are being contested.

Moving forward. I was present for the funeral of Gerald Coates. Someone who was been the biggest influence on my life – partly because my first encounter was when I was 19 years of age and we worked together for some of the subsequent decades.

In my eulogy I recounted a vivid dream he had at the time when he was transitioning from being a postman to that of ‘full time’.

He was driving down a narrow road that was lined by trees. The road ran out, and he came to a big lawn area with beautifully cut, cared for grass. On this lawn were people together, beautifully dressed, engaged with each other; picnics and other activity going on. To his surprise in the dream he did not stop, nor get out of the car to join them but drove across the lawn, disturbed all those people, leaving two big dirty tyre tracks along the way.

The interpretation given by someone in Canterbury was based on understanding two key parts of the imagery. I see ‘people like trees’ and ‘all flesh is as grass’.

You (Gerald) have been on a narrow path shaped by people (men) who have restricted and determined where you will drive (he was Plymouth Brethren by background). But that road has ended. The most beautifully cut, and immaculate grass (humanity) is religious flesh. It has everything in place but is simply flesh. You are destined to disturb all things religious and in the process to leave behind two great huge tyre tracks…

How true that turned out to be. Those of us who knew him could tell stories of his adventures that fulfilled that dream over and over again!

Before going to the funeral I visited the ‘Hub’. An amazing community space in North Leatherhead where I lived with Sue, Ben and Judith. I was very moved while there. One of the initiators in that context showed me around. It was heavy with the presence of God, a space for the community. I felt so strongly that stories are going to be told there, with even events taking place where stories are told. Not all the stories with a ‘Jesus / God’ explicitly in them, but they will be stories about what God is doing, the God who is present everywhere.

Gerald was a story teller.

When Sue and I moved to Leatherhead 13/02/04 – 1 year and a day before she died – I stood on the end of our street to declare – if I live here I have a responsibility and faith that this street will be the healthiest street in all of Leatherhead, and by the roundabout at the end of the street I raised my hands over the street.

The Hub is by that roundabout.

Right toward the end of Sue’s life – she was by then in a hospital so not at home. I have a literal conversation, initiated by the Holy Spirit – I can still remember exactly where I was, what I was facing etc.

If I heal Sue whose story will that be?
Ours as a family.
Wider family, friends… the Christian community
Whose story then?
It will be the story the community can take. It will belong to no-one but everyone can have it.

So… the Hub by that roundabout (story telling by the community)… Gerald – a storyteller… whose story will it be, it will belong to no-one but everyone can have it…

I visit the HUB then the funeral.

I ended my eulogy after telling the dream with a reference to Hebrews 11. That Gerald though dead still speaks. How? Books, videos etc… but it has to be in and through the lives where a deposit has been made. There has to be those who make two great dirty tyre marks all over the lawns that appear to be in order, but ultimately simply religious flesh. (Jesus dies in Jerusalem so we can live / die in Rome.)

Back to my travels… everything in the sky was ahead of schedule. We arrived early. I was lightly packed – one piece of hand luggage. Passport control – there was literally no-one in front of me. Lightly packed, easy travel, permission to enter… all wonderful.

But it take me all-but 2 hours to get from the plane landing to the train.

First ‘our’ gate is occupied.
Then the next gate there is problem their side and they cannot guide us in. We cannot even dock there and are finally removed down the rickety airplane steps, to make a back entry to the airport.
The train is still being formed so late:
Train being prepared so late:
Then change of platform.

A pattern – heavens clear:
Earth travel where the problems are:

Gates are occupied that stop us docking; we struggle to be guided in… I could go on…

But true story telling…

I see major key here. Religion occupies the gates, that makes for immaculate lawns… Acts 15 – although I am not convinced they got it ‘right – they did a good job, but there was a lot of contention in the gates, religious contention.

So they started by story telling. Not tradition, what should be, how do we keep the right order… Stories.
Stories leave dirty tyre marks.

Abandon the narrow path, aim for the neat lawns, get the revs up and kick up a bit of dirt. I know that in the past days something has shifted in the heavens. As I wrote at the beginning the ‘air’ has been thick for days. Something has shifted. Now we need to engage. There are planes where they should not be, they are in our gate; there are navigation systems that need sorting to guide us where we are to dock; there are trains that should have been formed already; there are platforms assigned. There is to be no more delay. Delay held in place through false wisdom, and through the times we stupidly worm our way in with our own agenda rather than simply throwing our lot in with what God is doing.