Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Friends are starting to ask me whether I'm nervous about the birth, and I am. I've never done anything like it before. For as much as I've read and learned and asked, I can't know what to expect. What I really want is for everything to go according to my plan. So much of life is learning to roll with the punches and adapt and make new plans... but I want to wake up with some mild contractions on a morning when my house is clean. I do not want to be the fifth person in 30 years who my midwife has to call back-up for due to a birth already in progress. I want to labor for about eight hours, and I want to deliver my baby at home and hear him cry in no more than three seconds. I would prefer that all of this happen on either December 28 (for the tax benefit), January 1 (for the 1/1/11 birthday), or January 9 (exactly one week past my due date, giving me a week to relax without work or school).
I wonder if Mary had a birth plan, or a set of ridiculously specific expectations, like I do. If she did, I can't imagine it included going out of town at nine months pregnant. It also probably didn't include barn animals. But she had the same promise I have, the same promise you have, which is that no matter what happens or how different things are from expected, God is with us. It's a promise that He fulfilled through a birth some two millenia ago.
The Nativity, from Luke 1 -2
By Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible
Everything was ready. The moment God had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help his people, just as he had promised in the beginning. But how would he come? What would he be like? What would he do?
Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, the darkness, he came.
There was a young girl who was engaged to a man named Joseph. (Joseph was the great-great-great-great grandson of King David.) One morning, this girl was minding her own business when, suddenly, a great warrior of light appeared -- right there, in her bedroom. He was Gabriel and he was an angel, a special messenger from heaven.
When she saw the tall shining man standing there, Mary was frightened. "You don't have to be scared," Gabriel said. "God is very happy with you!" Mary looked around to see if perhaps he was talking to someone else.
"Mary," Gabriel said, and he laughed such gladness that Mary's eyes filled with sudden tears.
"Mary, you're going to have a baby. A little boy. You will call him Jesus. He is God's own Son. He's the One! He's the Rescuer!" The God who flung planets into space and kept the whirling around and around, the God who could do anything at all -- was making himself small. And coming down... as a baby.
Wait. God was sending a baby to rescue the world?
"But it's too wonderful!" Mary said and felt her heart beating hard. "How can it be true?"
"Is there anything too wonderful for God?" Gabriel asked.
So Mary trusted God more than what her eyes could see. And she believed. "I am God's servant," she said. "Whatever God says, I will do." Sure enough, it was just as the angel had said. Nine months later, Mary was almost ready to have her baby.
Now, Mary and Joesph had to make a trip to Bethlehem, the town King David was from. But when they reached the little town, the found that every room was full. Every bed was taken. "Go away!" the innkeepers told them. "There isn't any place for you."
Where would they stay? Soon Mary's baby would come. They couldn't find anywhere except an old, tumbledown stable. So they stayed where the cows and donkeys and the horses stayed.
And there, in the stable, amongst the chickens and the donkeys and the cows, in the quiet of the night, God gave the world his wonderful gift. The baby that would change the world was born. His baby Son.
Mary and Joseph wrapped him up to keep him warm. They made a soft bed of straw and used the animals' feeding trough as his cradle. And they gazed in wonder at God's Great Gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.
Mary and Joseph named him Jesus, "Emmanuel" -- which means "God has come to live with us."
Because, of course, he had.
Friday, November 19, 2010
The first time I talked with my midwife I was about twelve weeks along, and she said something that stuck with me. She said, "You're going to love pregnancy. The first one especially is just magical. But eventually the time will come when you'll have to let go of pregnancy and do the work of giving birth." Yesterday at my appointment I told her that I really hadn't believed her at the time. I said, "I'm still banking on the idea that something in these last few weeks will make me want to get this thing out of me, even if it means labor and then months of sleepless nights."
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Sometimes he makes me look like I forgot to apply makeup or do my hair:
Sometimes he forgets to move the camera strap:
Sometimes he makes me look pasty and crazy:
And sometimes he gets bored and forgets which bump he's supposed to be documenting:
But every now and then, he stops making me ugly and lets me be a cute pregnant lady:
(23 weeks, baby!)
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
"What do you think it is, a boy or a girl?" I would ask at various times during the day. (Pete never claimed to have any intuition about the sex of our baby, which bothered me to no end. Once I pointed out that he should have intuition, since he was the one who determined the sex. "I'm sorry," he said. "I guess I wasn't really paying attention at the time.") He wouldn't ever answer my question, so I would follow it up by asking, "Do you think it's a boy?" to which he would nod in response.
He would shake his head.
"So you think it's a girl?"
He would nod.
"But you just indicated that you think it's a boy."
And so on. We repeated this exchange no less than three times a day for fifteen weeks, and then scheduled our ultrasound for the very first day that they allowed us to schedule it. I devised a brilliant scheme: the ultrasound tech would put the "results" in a sealed envelope for us to open with Pete's family at the reunion in Lake Geneva that same day.
The ultrasound went really well, but no sooner had we walked out of the office when I noticed a big, obnoxious, telling grin beaming from Pete's face.
"YOU KNOW!" I said, shaking the envelope in my hand. "HOW DO YOU KNOW?"
"Did you see something on the screen?"
"You don't know."
"HOW DO YOU KNOW?!"
In the end, the joke was on Pete, because the "female" that he saw on the screen referred to ME. He spent all afternoon imagining life with a daughter -- pink, dolls, pigtails, a wedding aisle -- and then we pulled "It's a Boy!" out of the envelope and he about fell over. It was an emotionally taxing day for Pete, followed by an emotionally taxing weekend for me, as the tech's office was closed and I couldn't call to ask why Pete had seen "female" on the screen. We sorted it all out by Tuesday.
So it's a boy! I knew it all along, anyways, and here's why: I have always been a boy magnet. Baby brothers flocked to me, one at a time, four in a row. Just look at the chubby-cheeked baby boy perfection I was surrounded with:
See what I'm saying? It only makes sense that a boy magnet would also be a boy-making machine. Our firstborn shall be a son, and judging by the boy-genes I have been bestowed, he's gunna be a cute one.
So bring on the blue stripes, miniature sailor outfits, and the quarter-sized sports equipment; bring on the trucks, the cars, the Thomas the Tank Engine and all of his friends; bring on the guns made out of everything including lunch items, the pitch-perfect machine gun noises that I still can't make, and the spit-infused sound effects to elaborate hot wheel crashes. Ask or tell me anything about your penis, little boy, and I'll respond without a blink... although I may spend a few minutes laughing into a pillow behind a closed door. If you look embarrassed about your underpants (and I know that look well), I'll look away until you get into the tub. My cabinets will always have a sufficient amount of Band Aids and peroxide, and my feelings won't be hurt when you lurch out my arms when daddy gets home. You know why? Because I am a pro at this. I got this one. You are one lucky little boy, and I already already feel like the luckiest mom in the world.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Pete was in the living room as I was looking through pictures of fetal development. I found an amazing, high-tech, biology-book worthy photograph of a baby at our stage of development, and marveled at it. I look at these pictures every other week or so, and so much happens in that amount of time that it amazes me.
I set the photo as our desktop background (replacing a glamor shot of an airplane flying over water) just as Pete walked into the office. I said, "Pete, look at this amazing picture. Can you believe that's how developed our baby is right now?" He looked at it and said,
"Ugh. That looks like a dead baby. And please don't change my desktop background."
(Okay, now that I'm writing this, I'm starting to think that my following reaction was completely justified. Well, almost.)
Feeling a rare sort of rage creeping up from my toes to my chest, I silently stood up and walked to the dining room, where I began rearranging piles of magazines on the table. I do this when I'm upset -- I pretend to clean things. Pete has forbidden me from pretending to clean the kitchen when I'm angry because he often has to play interference, catching plates and glasses that I accidentally drop.
Pete followed me into the dining room and said, "Okay, you're upset. Tell me why."
I took one of the magazines off its new pile, walked silently to the living room, sat on the couch, and pretended to read.
"Okay, you are very upset. Tell me why."
Since I was pretending, I decided to pretend that I was an adult and, rather than act out on the anger I was feeling, ask questions to understand where Pete had been coming from and why he had such a morbid reaction to a beautiful picture. I opened my mouth, took a deep, calming breath, and burst into tears. "What is WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?!?!" was my first resolution-seeking inquiry.
Pete took a step back. "Okay, now you're unreasonably upset. Go ahead."
"I am NOT being UNREASONABLE," I informed him, wiping snot from my nose and attempting to focus my eyes. The rage had reached my head now.
"Joy, it isn't a picture of our baby. And why do you look so crazy? You've been so good throughout this whole pregnancy... even more emotionally stable than when you're not pregnant. Where is this coming from?"
I stopped blubbering and snotting and coughing and eye-darting as he finished his sentence. This is what shock feels like, I thought. I gripped my magazine. "I want to throw this magazine at you," I said. "I want to THROW IT AT YOU but it wouldn't HURT ENOUGH!!!! More emotionally stable than when I'm not pregnant?!"
He started laughing. Laughing. He probably wouldn't have done so if there were any sharp utensils lying around, but since all I had was my magazine, he laughed at me. "Yes, you've been very stable. I hear all these stories about crazy pregnant women, and I thought, 'Holy cow, Joy's going to be a trip.' But you've been great! And I'm just saying, let's not go down this road here. Let's just go back to Super Pregnant Joy."
By now I was sobbing and hyperventilating again. "So because I'm pregnant, my feelings don't matter right now," I wailed. "And I suppose when I'm you know, uh, SCREABING [that was supposed to be screaming, but snot was in the way] in LABOR, you'll just tell me to, I don't know, walk it off or something."
He hiccuped a little trying to suppress his laughs.
"And for another thing," I said, "It's not your desktop. It's OUR desktop."
"What are you talking about?" He looked bewildered. "What about the desktop?"
"YousaidthatIshouldn'treplacepicturesonYOURdesktop," I blubbered, the sobs rising and rising. "Butit'smydesktoptoo,weShareit!!!"
"Joy! Just tell me why you're so upset."
He waited until my eyes stopped darting around my head, until my sobs settled into a slight sniff, until some of the anger seeped out of my ears and the ends of my toes.
"I was excited over what I think is an amazing picture," I said. "I didn't care what you thought about the picture, but I wanted you to be amazed at how developed our baby was. I wanted you to say things like, 'Look at its fingers! Look at its nose!' And you should have figured out that it was important to me, because I had made it the background photo and I called you over to look at it. And finally, you should never say, 'dead baby.'"
Pete nodded. "Okay, I understand now. And you understand that I did not intend to hurt you or to say anything bad about our baby. I love our baby. Our baby is great. That wasn't our baby. Whatever I said about the picture probably came from a place of ignorance. I don't know how they take those pictures, okay? I know now that it was really a live baby, and that white ghostly stuff was... I don't know... the placenta? You're laughing now because I said that was the placenta, so see? I'm ignorant. And I'm not going to tell you to 'walk off' the labor pains. And it is our computer, not my computer, you're right."
"Just.... stop talking," I said. "And we'll be find." [That was supposed to be fine, but there was some leftover snot in the way.]
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The sheer volume of decisions that you have to make before you have a baby is on par with planning a wedding. Wedding planning is simply making decision after decision, day after day, until suddenly you're naked in a hotel room wondering what you've gotten yourself into.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
"Well, I bet you don't know what that does," I said, pointing to a large machine-type object. "What does that do?" Pete asked solemnly. I readjusted myself on the butcher paper and smoothed out my gown. "Oh, oh you just wait." I had no idea what that did.
Amy finished and left the room and I got dressed. "What did you think?" I asked Pete. He nodded a few times. "Fascinating," he said. "It was something." His eyes were a little wider than normal and he didn't seem to be blinking.
A few minutes later we followed Amy to a larger room with dim lighting and impressive machinery. Amy hadn't been able to find the heartbeat with the Doppler, so she wanted to get a quick peek with the sonogram. She put some jelly on my tummy, pressed something cold against my skin; my heart flickered with the screen. There was my baby's head resting in a cradle of shadows; there were my baby's arms and legs flailing in liquid, computerized motion. "I see it!" Pete said, marveling at its head and appendages. I tried to hold still, but every time the little bean on the screen waved, I giggled. "It's a beautiful baby," Amy said, satisfied with the heartbeat and the measurements.
I forgot all of my reservations about high frequency waves--I wished that I could just sit there with my beautiful baby all evening, waving and giggling. I see you, I told the baby through telepathic powers that I've developed over the last ten weeks. You don't know it, but I see you, and even before I saw you, I loved you.
"Okay, I'm convinced," Pete said proudly, and the screen went dark.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
One of the verses I'm most boggled by is Genesis 6:5. "God was sorry He had made man." It's not boggling to me that He regretted making man; I imagine there have been other periods in history that God was grieved to the point of total regret. I'm boggled, of course, because of God's vantage point. In the moment before he decided to make man in his image, what was He envisioning? What did he see beside the faulty trajectory of his children's hearts, the knowledge that some would turn out very badly, the price they would cost, the ways they would grieve him? Or rather, what did he write on the "pro" list that made the difference? Sometimes I judge God for creating humanity even though he could see ahead to the Holocaust, but here I am making a baby after the Holocaust happened. God knew Hitler was to come; I know that Hitlers are out there for the making. Our vantage points are not altogether different.
But anyone who has ever acknowledged the artistic element to their being understands that creation has very little do with items you can name on a pro/con list. Creating something feels a little like magic and also like obedience. It feels like a precarious privilege, and making a baby feels like the most dangerous thing I have ever done. It's like painting something with my eyes closed for the Queen to hang in the main foyer--I'm blindly going about my masterpiece. I'm more nervous than if I were writing a song to sing in front of a million people. I'm more sheepish telling people that I'm pregnant than I would be to tell people I write poetry. (I do not write poetry, by the way. I just imagine that's a sensitive thing to tell people, based on the anxiety that I feel when someone tells me they write poems.)
The only thing I'm sure of is that I'm doing something kind of wonderful. I know because yesterday I rubbed my belly and whispered, "I can't wait to meet you" to bundle of diving cells in the shape of a seahorse, and then turned to God and said, "Please. Please." Like it was the most important thing. Like I already knew that it was good.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The essay is titled Afternoon of the Sex Children. It was written by Mark Greif, published in n+1 in 2006, then published again in The Best American Essays of 2007, which is clearly a misleading title. It should be American Essays Robert Antwan Liked Best in 2006. Nevertheless, hats off to editor Robert Antwan, because Best American Essays a very good series and Afternoon of the Sex Children was a very good essay.
The essay started, of course, with a discussion of Lolita, and whether Nabocov was a pedophile. Greif acknowledged all of the common literary interpretations that let Nabocov off the hook, but said that he felt they aren't honest about the real controversy. The problem with Lolita is that it's too vivid, too real. The author was too capable of sexualizing a twelve year old girl, too skilled at assuming that mindset for the sake of narrative fiction. But Greif credited Nabocov with something he is not usually credited to be: a social critic. "We are in the afternoon of the sex children," Greif writes. "Nabocov only saw the dawn."
Twenty pages about youth and sex later, Greif got down to his main point. Maybe child molesters and rapists are not an anomaly of our society, he suggested, but rather the worst product of our society.
Think of it this way (and this is my own analogy, so don't blame Greif if it's flawed): What is the worst reduction of a society that over-emphasizes thinness and that parades skin-and-bones models in its magazines? The most tragic product of that culture is someone who starves herself. It seems too far a stretch, too incomprehensible, except that it's real and is far more pervasive now than in previous centuries. Anorexia and other eating disorders are psychological illnesses, but we accept that our culture breeds the disease, which is why we're seeing so much pressure on media and fashion to stop featuring unhealthy models.
Perhaps even more dramatically than we esteem slenderness, we prize youth--both the season of youth and, when the season has past, the appearance of youth. So, what's the reduction of a culture that idolizes youth and that now sexualizes childlike images for adult purposes? The worst product of that society may very well be adults who have sex with children.
Just look at us. Every magazine cover has a headline promising the tricks to a youthful look, women are throwing botox parties in mass attempts to erase the proof of years, and an entire generation of men now think that the "Catholic school girl look" is sexy. Out with the naughty librarian hiding behind her glasses; in with the schoolgirl hiding behind her books. It doesn't follow that every man who likes a plaid skirt is sexually interested in the minors who wear them, but it follows that some of them do. Doesn't it?
Sexual fascination and abuse of children is perverse and infuriating--seemingly too far a stretch from our obsession with unlined faces and youthful bodies. But perhaps our society has infected our worst and most dramatically punished criminals--the ones who Oprah interviews in a three part series, the ones who I shake my head at in utter confusion and disgust. Me who has worn braids and knee high socks at the age of 23, and who already slathers on eye cream. Even if it's the speck in your eye and the plank in another, if you look closely you may be horrified to discover that both the speck and the plank come from the same diseased tree.
Greif believes that it's basically too late for us--or, rather, he admits that it's too late for him. He's too immersed. But maybe we can lay the groundwork so that our grandchildren have a healthy frame of reference in order to scrutinize and criticize our distorted attitudes towards age. It would have to start by a remaking of our sexual value system and by prizing the qualities of adulthood over the qualities of childhood. Sophistication is sexy. Experience is sexy. That proof of laughter around the mouth and eyes is sexy.
And is it hardly worth mentioning that, biologically, the procreating years start in youth and peaks in one's 20's? If there's anything that our sex-crazed and pill-popping culture is perhaps right about, it's that sex isn't just about procreation. Ladies, think of how exciting it would be to be in your 30's, perhaps even after you've bore children, and to know that your sexiness is just starting to form, not just starting to fade. That your most alluring attributes have something to do with maturity, with grace, with wisdom--not the shiny hair or taut flesh of your youth. Maybe we would spend more time developing those attributes that only improve with age, rather than mourning the loss or fretting the impending loss of vitality that diminishes.
Sexuality is a treasure for our children, intended for them to blossom fully into in adulthood; it's not a quality of youth for adults to exploit for our own doomed purposes. Perhaps our distorted attitudes about age are abusing both the gift of sexuality in adulthood and, for many victims, the gift of innocence in childhood.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
A few months ago Kathy said, "We're going to Israel, and we want you both to come. Will you?" For two people who read the Bible, watch the news, love history and love to travel, Pete and I were shockingly uninterested in Israel. I always assumed that if I went, I would go in my 60's--I guess because most of the people who go to Israel seem to be in their 60's. But who would be crazy enough to pass down a free trip to Israel? We said yes immediately.
A couple months after that, Pete interviewed for a new job. The person he was interviewing to replace was leaving for a two week missionary evaluation, and the company informed him that they wouldn't hold his job for two weeks. When Pete brought up the Israel trip during the interview, his soon-to-be boss said, "We might be able to get you one week off. Possibly. Maybe." Our flights were already booked and the trip was nearly three weeks long, but not taking the job wasn't an option. He took it.
As our the trip approached, we started to look at our finances. It dawned on us that we weren't going to be going on a free trip; we were going on a trip that cost three week's wages. The timing was rotten. We were preparing to pay nearly $4,000 in taxes, after which we would be officially broke. Suddenly we were going on an extravagant trip to a place we weren't very excited about, and Pete didn't even have the time off work.
It happened this quickly:
One week before the trip, Pete's boss managed to bring in an out-of-work instructor to cover Pete's students.
Five days before our trip we had our taxes done, and we found out that our tuition credits added up to an $800 refund, not a $4,000 payment.
We got on a plane.
On our overnight stay in Galilee, our little group lingered over dinner and talked about the journey leading up to this trip. Pete and I talked about the time off work and taxes, and what a miracle it all seemed on this end of it. Then Jon said something that I've been contemplating ever since. He said he senses that God is calling people who have no agenda for Israel to come to Israel. For the first time, I felt like I understood why I'm here. I came with absolutely no agenda. You can call it prophetic ignorance or a nuanced view, but I have very little opinions about Israel and its politics. I didn't come to minister to Israel. I didn't come to bless or be blessed by Israel. I guess you could say that I came to experience it, but I didn't have any expectations about what I would experience. A few days before we departed, Kathy had asked me what was on my list of things to do in Israel. No such list existed.
Everything about this trip is so far removed from how I typically travel and anticipate travel, which makes it easy for me to believe that God really did invite me here. I didn't choose to come. I don't even know how I got here. God brought me here without an agenda, and he wants me to listen for His. This trip has been the single most important (and timely) lessons in missions and life that I have yet learned: Listen. Listen, listen, listen. If you get the invitation, by all means, go! But then sit and listen. Experience and listen. Ask questions and listen. Pray and listen. Ponder what it means to listen until the word 'listen' has lost all meaning, and then listen some more. It's a discipline to perfect yet never achieve. Listen.
The other night Pete and I were in bleachers watching a basketball game between the Orthodox Club and the Muslim Club. Pete leaned in and asked, "So, do you want to move here?" I said yes, immediately. Maybe we'll move here someday, maybe we won't, but our ears are more open now then they were before. God can take me anywhere now, and I won't be surprised when I land and say, "I have no idea how I got here."
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Maybe it's because I'm traveling in Israel with my mother-in-law, but I've been thinking about Ruth lately.
A couple days ago Kathy asked our group if we think that Ruth and Boaz slept together when the Bible says that she "laid at his feet." For those who have even briefly studied the context and the language of that verse, the general sentiment is usually, "It would be nice to think that they didn't have sex, but it sounds as if they did."
As I've been mulling this over and reading Ruth's story, I have a new attitude towards Ruth and her illicit night in the sack. It doesn't matter whether Ruth had sex with Boaz, because the heart of purity is not adherence to a stagnant set of rules. The heart of purity is obedience.
"One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, 'My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you where you will be cared for? It not Boaz a kinsman of yours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself ... when he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.'" Ruth 3:1-4
"'I will do whatever you say,' Ruth answered." Ruth 3:5
"The Genealogy of Jesus ... Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth." Matthew 1:5
"We do not know for sure that this is the place of Jesus' crucifiction and tomb," he said. "Millions of people think so, and there is compelling evidence that suggests that it is. But first I will tell you what we know for sure: Jesus Christ died, he was burried, and in three days he rose as our Savior and Lord. That's what we're sure of, and the rest is useful speculation."
Here is the Biblical criteria for the location of the cross and tomb:
Jesus was crufied outside of the city at a place called Calvary (Gargatha), which means simply "The Skull." He was burried at a nearby garden, which was owned by a rich man. The tomb was sealed by a stone, which we know from archeological evidence was an unusual type of tomb.
Here is how The Garden Tomb fulfills that criteria:
It is located outside of the city. The little "cliff" has indents that make it look like a skull (you can still see the two eyes, but the mouth is now covered. Nothing else tells us that it was known as The Skull, but it is an intriguing observation). The garden is adjacent to the skull-like cliff, and was owned by a rich person. (They know this because of the water system and wine press that they excavated.) And finally, archeologists know that the tomb is at least 2,000 years old, and though it is missing the stone that sealed it, it has grooves which would have acted as a track for a rolling stone.
Even though this can't be counted as evidence, I definitely felt a certain power and presence in the garden, unlike anything that I've felt at the other holy sites.
"This isn't a holy site," our tour guide said. "It's a bus station. We don't have much information about the place of Jesus' death and resurrection... it's as if the disciples weren't very occupied with the geography of it all. Any why would they have been? They had their Jesus back. This is, at the very least, a useful image of Jesus' death and resurrection. The important thing is that we serve a living Savior. Even if this isn't the right empty tomb, the right one is also empty."
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
"First of all," he said, "You did not come to Israel because you chose to. You came because you were invited. And the blessings you are going to receive will run so deep that you will not be able to explain it to anyone back home, and you will hardly be able to discuss it amongst yourselves."
The seven of us were sitting on stools in a gift shop, listening to Moshe. Moshe is an Orthodox Jew, psychologist, book author, scholar and business owner who regularly closes his doors and turns his gift shop into a discussion room. Moshe wears regular clothing and a kibba (that head cap thing); he's short and lively and laughs easily. He speaks perfect English, and he speaks it quickly. Clearly he has a lot more to say than he has business hours to say it, and roughly five minutes into his introduction, I felt a dull panic knowing that I wouldn't get to hear everything that I needed to hear from him.
The discussion: What do Orthodox Jews and Christians have in common? Where do we disagree? And is possible that we each get a better look at the big picture when we seek to understand one another?
Moshe turned out to be one of those blessings of Israel that we were all touched by and have hardly been able to discuss. I recorded most of the conversation and took notes in a fury, but the recording is faint, my notes are jumbled, and all that I'm left with is a deeper understanding. Here are some of the highlights that I've managed to process and reflect on:
- Christians and Jews share the same language but often have different definitions and meaning behind the language. He said that the average Jew does not know that Christians believe that Jesus was God. We must have looked a little dubious, (after all, Jesus' deity is central to our doctrine), but he repeated, "If you told an average Jew that Christians believe that Jesus was God, they would correct you and say, 'No, they believe he is the son of God.' To them that means that he was man, sent by God; a prophet."
Another misunderstanding: When Christians talk about the Law, they describe it as a burden that they are glad to be free of. Moshe explained, "The Jew has no context for that. What could be more wonderful than fulfilling the wishes of your beloved?" He gave an example of when his pregnant wife woke up late at night craving an orange, and they had no oranges in the house. Moshe drove all over town until he found a market that was open, and then he didn't just buy one orange. He bought so many oranges that they eventually had to throw some away. His beloved wanted an orange; he brought her a bushell of oranges. Nothing is more fulfilling to him than fulfilling her wishes, and that is how the Jew feels towards God and His law.
- The Jewish understanding of blood sacrifice is different than ours. To them, the sacrifice was never about covering our sins for God's sake. "Cover them how?" He asked. "As if anything is hidden from God? No, our sins do not separate God from man, they separate man from God." He explained that blood sacrifice was a gift from God to man that, in effect, covers our sins from ourselves so that we could return before the presence of God feeling made clean. (This reminded me of the story of Eden, when Adam and Eve hid from God. God wasn't suddenly blocked from Adam because of sin--he came looking for Adam just as he always did. Adam was the one hiding in shame, and because he was ashamed, God gave him clothing to wear.) Moshe explained how this meant that the Jews were never expecting a final blood sacrifice from their Messiah--for them it's about continual repenting and covering and entering.
- The Jewish doctrine of hell is drastically different than ours. Moshe said he doesn't believe that God is interested in eternal punishment, but in eternal instruction. (This reminded me of God's character in the Old Testament, which of course is His same character today.) He described two levels of hell. One sounded a lot like my understanding of purgatory: the lost person realizes his or her mistake ("And that realization burns like a fiery flame," Moshe added); then God takes the next step in instruction and redemption. Doug said, "It sounds like you're describing a God of second chances when it comes to salvation." Moshe responded, "I'm describing a God of third and fourth and fifth and eternal chances."
The second level of hell occurred when a person was truly lost. He didn't explain what 'truly lost' meant, but I suppose this would be a person who was not interested in God's second or third chances. At that point, he said that the person would simply, "Poof!" cease to exist. No hellfire, no flame, just total absense of being.
I jumped in. "What you're describing sounds a lot like C.S. Lewis's description of hell from The Problem of Pain," I said. "He believes that a soul cannot exist when separated from God, so eternal separation from God would mean ceasing to exist." Moshe nodded and said, "Yes, actually, Lewis' belief about hell is remarkably similar to the Jewish belief." (You gotta love an Orthadox Jew who can quote C.S. Lewis, which he did, several times.)
Moshe's understanding of hell ressonated so deeply with me that I could feel my eyes welling up throughtout that part of the conversation. I told Moshe, "The God you are describing--a God of eternal redemption over eternal punishment--is exactly the God who I know and love and follow. And the hell you are describing is the description that I've adopted in my heart, even though the Christian doctrine I've been taught doesn't support it."
- Finally, I asked Moshe what the Jews make of the ressurrection. His first point was that ressurrection does not indicate deity (as there are other examples of resurrection in the Bible). I asked him, "What does it mean to you that Jesus rose from the dead?" He said, "It means to me that something very big happened, and I don't understand it entirely." He didn't apologize for being vague, nor did he seem to be waving off my question.
"One of my favorite verses in your New Testament is in 1 Corithinans, when Paul speaks of seeing in part now, and later in full," Moshe said. "In other words, we are all going to be surprised. If you're not surprised, then you're not walking with God. Doctrine will never surprise you, but God will always surprise you."
If I hadn't chewed over that last part, I think I would have left the conversation today thinking that I was surprised by doctrine: the way our doctrines differered, where they collided, how they sometimes seemed like pieces to the same puzzle. But I think what surprised me the most was that in listening to an Orthadox Jew--really listening, and sometimes truly understanding--my faith in Jesus Christ deepened, and my view of the Father expanded magnificently. Doctrine can't do that. God did that in me.
"It's all about the Father, isn't it?" Moshe said, standing up from his stool to open the shop and greet his customers. "Everything that Jesus ever did was for the Father. He didn't come to bring glory to himself, but to show us the Father."
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I expected the holy sights to bring my faith to life, but it has done something else, too. It has brought my faith down to earth. I had very definitive pictures of certain places, probably based on the curriculum and coloring books that that my Sunday School teacher used, and everything is different. The shepherds hill? It's a rocky little hill right next to Bethlehem. Seriously, you can walk from the hill to the manger in about twenty minutes. I know, because we did. I had never thought of it before, but the angles must have appeared in a vision to only the shepherds, because otherwise the entire city of Bethlehem would have seen them.
Every holy sight has a church built on top of it. We hired a tour guide to lead us through the church on top of the grotto/stable where Jesus was born. The church is divided into separate worship places for Assyrians, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and maybe a few others, most of whom were performing services. There was a service taking place in the stable, so we weren't allowed to enter. Our guide brought us to the door and said, "There was a hole here... I know it. Ah!" We each took turns peeking into the hole, and I decided that I preferred it that way. I saw just enough to see it, and not enough to completely alter the way I have always imagined it.
We were going to visit the Herodian, but decided to stop home for a quick nap, which turned into a four hour jet-lag recuperation. After we woke up, the ladies decided to go to the market, with Nikki leading the way through Bethlehem at night. (Nikki is a 21 year old missionary who lives in the Father's House by herself. She seems to know half the town of Bethlehem, and they all seem to love her.) We walked for over an hour in the streets and allies, stopping occasionally for fruit or dry goods or pastries. (Oh, the pastries. Oh, oh, the pastries.) Every door was open to something fascinating: men in barber chairs getting a shave, men in Islamic dress bowing in rows, shop owners smoking and arranging their merchandise. I tried to take it all in while cars honked and flew past us, sometimes barely missing my toes.
And that was basically my first real day in Bethlehem. We came home and ate pizza downstairs (who knew that pizza in Israel could rival pizza in Chicago?), played cards, drank tea.
Oh, the breast milk thing. I typed that title and forgot to incorporate it into this entry. Our tour guide at the stable church told us a lot of stories "from tradition," (as he said), which he did not buy into as "a practical man." Among them: before Mary and Joseph fled with baby Jesus, Mary accidentally squirted some breast milk on the wall, and all of the stones turned white. "This is from tradition," he reminded us. "But, like I said, I am a practical man. So, you know. There you go."