Healing a daughter of Abraham.

Jesus noticed a woman who was disabled by a spirit while he was teaching in the synagogue one Sabbath. She was bent over and could not completely straighten up, and had been this way for 18 years. Jesus called to her and said “Woman, you are released from your disability!” He laid his hands on her and she was instantly restored to health and began to praise God.

The local synagogue leader was indignant because Jesus had worked on the Sabbath. He said to the crowd “There are six days in which people are allowed to work – therefore come to be healed on one of those days and not on the Sabbath!”

The Lord answered him and said “Hypocrites! You all work on the Sabbath! Don’t you untie your ox or donkey and lead it to water on the Sabbath? Satan has tied this woman, a daughter of Abraham, for 18 years. Shouldn’t she too be released on the Sabbath day?”

All of his adversaries were humiliated when he said this, and the whole crowd was rejoicing over all the amazing things he was doing.

LK 13:10-17

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The card catalog is gone. Get over it.

I checked out a lady’s grandson today, and then she lost her mind. He was 7, and had three picture books. I should have known from that alone that something weird might happen. These are way beneath his reading level.

I gave him the books and gave her the slip that tells when they were due. She looked at it and said “I hate this.”

It could have meant anything. Maybe the books were due when they were going to be on vacation. Maybe she thought he should have checked out more than three. It could be anything, so I said nothing. Better to not give people ideas about what to hate.

She continued, shaking that slip of paper “You have to keep up with this. You can’t just look in the back of the book.”

I said nothing. I’m not responsible for these new-fangled computers. I’m not the reason we use them to check out books. I can’t fix it – and more importantly, I don’t think it is broken.

I said nothing, as I am wont to do when people are venting. Often saying something only makes it worse. Often, they just want to be mad, and I’m a nearby target. It is one of the dangers of working with the public.

She wandered towards the door, continuing to mutter. She looked back at me, with my stunned face, and said “What – you don’t remember that?” Of course I do. I grew up in libraries. I’m a lot older than I look too. I remember back then. I also know now.

Now is better.

I said “You can renew online – and you couldn’t do that before.” It was the first thing I could think of. She scoffed. She rolled her eyes. She left.

The way we have it now is better. I wasn’t working in the library system then, but I’ve heard the stories. Getting books from another branch was very difficult. Having a hold on a popular book meant the librarians had to keep a long list and check people off. This is impossible with a 21 branch system, with thousands of circulating items.

These days, you can check out and return at any branch. These days, you can check out 100 items. These days, you can request and renew items online, any time of the day – even when the library is closed. You can even download an ebook, and audiobook, a movie, or an album.

You couldn’t do any of that before “in the good old days”. The good old days weren’t even good. This is a lie we tell ourselves.

People were really upset when we got the self-check computers. “I’m computer illiterate!” they’d howl. “This is going to put you out of a job!” they’d screech.

They learned. We kept our jobs.

They were really upset when we did away with the card catalogue too. But they like being able to order books from other libraries. They like being able to know if the book is on the shelf or checked out before they go look for it, too.

Computers can make things easier. It is people that make things hard – on themselves. Adapting to change is the most important life skill that can be learned.

And for the love of all that is holy – don’t yell at the clerk behind the desk. She can’t fix it. She didn’t even cause it. You’re only making her day harder by your need to complain.

All the pieces are good.

The sixteenth-century mystic Isaac Luria’s conception of obstacles that get in the way of worshipping God were called kelipot (in Hebrew). They were seen as the forces of evil that constantly tempt and distract us, keeping us from directly experiencing God.

A modern writer by the name of Arthur Green explains this concept by saying:

“Luria claimed that creative energy, in the form of divine light, was sent into this newly emanated world from the mysterious core of divinity. The light was contained in certain ‘vessels.’ The emanated world was not sufficiently holy to contain God’s light, however, so the vessels smashed and the sparks of light were scattered. The broken shards of the vessels, which are now called kelipot, cover those sparks or keep the divine light hidden. As such, they become active enemies of those who seek light however, in the sixteenth century.”

From “These are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life”

What an interesting idea that the very things that get in the way of experiencing God are in themselves divine sparks of light!

This goes along with the idea that there is only one force in this world – and that is God. If we truly believe that God is the only divine force, then we cannot believe in God and the Devil – for that is to say that there are two forces at work. Even if you think of the Devil as lesser than God, you are still seeing the Devil as another power, rather than a spark of God.

We are told that there are only two things in this world – that which we know to be good, and that which we don’t know yet to be good. It is all good – we just can’t see it yet.

Why do women have to cover?

Why don’t Muslims cover up men’s eyes rather than cover up women’s bodies? Why don’t they make some sort of headband/facemask combination that forces their eyes downward and makes it possible for them to only see a few feet in front of them while they walk? It would make life difficult for them but it would certainly stop them from accidentally becoming aroused by women and being unable to control themselves and feeling like they have to attack them.

They must think that women are very powerful and that men have no power at all. Merely by existing, merely by showing an elbow or a calf, a woman can cause a man to lose his self-control. If he has so little self-control then doesn’t this mean he has no self-control? Why do women have to cover themselves up for modesty when it is the fault of someone else if they cross a line?

If I am an omnivore, should I stop eating meat in front of vegetarians for fear that it will make them start eating animals? This is the same issue. It is saying that my actions control another person’s actions.

The Muslim faith is not alone in this. There are sections of the Orthodox Jewish faith that have women not only cover their heads because their hair is seen as sensuous, but the women have to shave their heads as well. The idea is that by shaving their heads (at least monthly) there is no chance that a hair will accidentally show – and thus accidentally weaken a man’s resolve.

I have a strong belief that the original intent of Islam and of Orthodoxy was not to control women, and to reduce men into knee-jerk autopilot sex machines. I believe that both faiths originally respected both genders. I have a suspicion that over the many years since the faiths’ inceptions some radical detours have been made by well-meaning, but control-happy people (namely, men).

How about we stop coddling men by making policies that say that women are responsible for men’s behaviors? How about we stop saying “boys will be boys”? How about we expect men to have self-control, and not feel the need to disturb (and I’m putting it lightly) women?

On speaking with the dead.

Jesus tells us a parable in Luke 16:19-31. Pay special attention to the last line.

19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’25 “‘Son, ’Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’ 27 “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

Now let’s look at a verse from the prophet Isaiah –

Isaiah 8:19-20
19 When they say to you, “Consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.

We too live in a time where people would rather consult “spiritualists” than God. But perhaps they can’t hear from God. Where is the connection broken? Sometimes God doesn’t talk to humans. Sometimes we don’t talk to God.

This reminds me of the story of Samuel, a young prophet, when he first was called by God. Pay special attention to verses 1 and 7.

1 Samuel 3:1-10
The boy Samuel served the LORD in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the LORD was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.2 One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. 3 Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the LORD, where the ark of God was located. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” 5 He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call,” Eli replied. “Go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Once again the LORD called, “Samuel!” Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call, my son,” he replied. “Go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel had not yet experienced the LORD, because the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 Once again, for the third time, the LORD called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

What if we live in a time where God is speaking, but nobody is listening? What if we think that only ministers can hear from God, but everybody else can’t?

Jesus came to make us all like brothers – equal.

Matthew 23:8-12
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

We are all able to speak to God and to listen. Jesus’ death tore the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies.

Matthew 27:50-51
50 Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51 Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.

There is nothing anymore that separates the direct experience of God from everyone. It is no longer a place just for the High Priest. There is no “them” and “us” when it comes to access to God .

You no longer have to consult spiritualists or mediums or even ministers. Why get it second-hand? Go directly to the Source and hear it for yourself.

(All Bible translations are HCSB)

Mental slavery

“It is a curious but little known fact that the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years never once asked to go free. Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible do they say to Pharaoh or Moses or God, ‘Get us out of here!’ All they say, and they say it a lot, and in a lot of different ways, is: Life is hard: we don’t like it.
This may explain why God had to put on such a big show with all those miracles and plagues. If God had simply wanted them free, God could have just made them free. But that wouldn’t have been enough. The slaves themselves had to want to go free. Only by watching all those great signs and portents might they, little by little, begin to realize for themselves that there was a power in the universe even greater than Pharaoh, a power dedicated to freeing slaves.
What had to be broken was not Pharaoh’s will, but the dullness of their own routine, the comfortable reliability of putting up with things the way they were.”

– From “Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary” by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.

How many of us are stuck in the same place, day by day, year by year – a whole lifetime of thinking that things aren’t good enough? We get by, muddle through, but deep down we are miserable. Deep down, we want to be free but we aren’t brave enough to ask for it. Maybe we don’t think we deserve to be free. Maybe we think we are stuck in this room and the only way out is the one way door of death. So we wait for it to come to us, or we rush towards it. We stay in that room not even really alive.

We don’t call out – we don’t ask for help. What we see is what we get.

After Isaac is born, things don’t go well between Hagar and Sarah. She asks Abraham, her husband and the father of both boys, to send Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness. This is certain death. He doesn’t want to do it, but God assures him that things will go well. God says nothing to Hagar at this point.

Genesis 21:14-21 (HCSB)

14 Early in the morning Abraham got up, took bread and a waterskin, put them on Hagar’s shoulders, and sent her and the boy away. She left and wandered in the Wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she left the boy under one of the bushes.16 Then she went and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she said, “I can’t bear to watch the boy die!” So as she sat nearby, she wept loudly. 17 God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy from the place where he is. 18 Get up, help the boy up, and support him, for I will make him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the waterskin and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy, and he grew; he settled in the wilderness and became an archer. 21 He settled in the Wilderness of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

God heard their cries and answered – and “opened her eyes” (see verse 19) to see a well of water in the desert. This isn’t a spring coming out of a rock. This isn’t a miracle of water in the desert that didn’t exist until just that very moment. This is a normal, everyday well that Hagar didn’t notice until God opened her eyes.

There are wells near you all the time. You just can’t see them, because you don’t ask to see them.

They say that alcoholics and drug addicts won’t benefit from treatment until they get so far down that they ask for help. This seems cruel – we don’t ask people having heart attacks if they want to go to the hospital. We just call an ambulance.

So what is the difference? We have to want to be free – but first we have to know that we are enslaved.

The best part? We have a loving Father who is ready to help us, as soon as we ask.

Starter marriages

So many people seem to have starter marriages, the same way that people will get starter homes. When you have a starter home, you have it with the idea that when things change, you accumulate too much stuff, or when you have a child, you’ll get a bigger home. It’s what you can handle and afford at the time but you understand that you could always sell it and get another one.

People have marriages in the same way these days. When they get to be too big or too much they get divorced and move on.

What about the marriage vows? What about the idea on ‘till death do us part’? What about ‘for richer or for poorer’? What about ‘in sickness and in health’? Maybe people can’t handle the “poorer and sickness” parts, and were hoping they’d luck out and get the “richer and healthy” part. It is a package deal, and a crapshoot. You get both, in unequal proportions.

These vows – which are made in front of friends and family and sometimes a minister – don’t seem to mean anything anymore. These are legally binding vows. There’s a document that is signed for the state as well. This is a legal contract.

Perhaps what people mean is that they say “I’ll stick with you as long as things are good. I’ll stick with you as long as you suit my purposes. I’ll stick with you as long as I like you.”

Marriages aren’t about convenience or comfort. Marriages are about committing for the long haul. The other person may drive you completely up the wall but that doesn’t mean that you get to get divorced. The bliss that you have at the beginning of your marriage doesn’t last long. What do you do after that fades?

I’m not quite sure about people who get divorces. Now if you’re on the receiving end of a divorce that’s different. If your spouse initiates it and will not reconcile you don’t have much of a choice. But if you initiate then what do your vows really mean? How can you be trusted to say you’ll do anything? If you can’t honor your wedding vow, then why can you be trusted at work? Why trust you with a home loan? What does your word mean?

Marriage is kind of like buying a present with someone and you’re drawn to the pretty wrapping paper. But once you open the box and start looking inside, you realize that it’s a machine that has a bunch of pieces. They are all jumbled loose in the box, and there’s no instruction manual. You have to figure out how to put it together along with the other person. You both are pulling out pieces and you’re wondering how they go together to make this machine work, this machine called marriage. Since you both come from different backgrounds you both have different ideas about what parts go where and what parts are more important than other ones. But you still both have to work on this thing to make it go. You can’t just throw it away once it gets difficult. You can’t just keep looking at the pretty wrapping paper and wondering why it doesn’t match this difficult thing that is on the inside.