Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Life in the Desert

Moses must have seemed scary when he lifted his rod and it turned into a serpent. He must have seemed unusually powerful when he lifted his rod and the Red Sea parted. He brought back the Ten Commandments from God.

But there was just one problem. His people had short attention spans. After they were out of Egypt and on the other side of the Red Sea, they discovered that they didn't have enough food. All of a sudden, they were nostalgic for their former lives in Egypt. They had food in Egypt. OK. So they were slaves, but they were well fed, happy slaves. Really? Sometimes, nostalgia provides a bizarrely false image of the past.

The former well fed slaves experienced a miracle. They received bread from heaven and meat (quail). The food must have been delicious. It was called manna and it was white like coriander seed. It looked like wafers made with honey. They were able to store a great deal of the manna. It lasted for years.

These nomadic people kept traveling because they were walking to the promised land. They didn't have a compass and they walked in circles. Before long, they found themselves in a place where there was no water. Since human beings cannot survive long without water, these people were not doing well. Once again, they blamed Moses. They said that he led them into a certain death. Dying of thirst would not be a good way to go. Moses got an earful. He spoke to God about the complaints. He said that the people were ready to stone him. That would be a sad fate for Moses. God told Moses to strike a rock with his rod and water would come out of it. Sure enough, that was what happened, and the Israelites decided that Moses wasn't such a bad guy after all.

But Moses was a tired guy. It seems that he had to judge every last dispute and that he never got a moment's rest. That changed when his father in law, Jethro, arrived. He let Moses know that he had to work on delegating authority. Jethro gave Moses a system for delegating authority. Apparently, it worked. And that was a good thing because it wasn't like Moses could just go off for a nice vacation.

More on Moses later!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I will readily admit that, when I first started reading Exodus, I was not especially enamored with Moses. The tale of his early childhood certainly was dramatic. His mother hid him so that he wouldn't get killed by the Pharaoh's minions. After Joseph and his brothers passed away, a new pharaoh came along. Well, the new Pharaoh discovered that the Israelites were mating and were reproducing like rabbits, and he got a little panicky that his people would soon be outnumbered. He told the midwives to kill the Israelite babies shortly after they were born. So the Israelite ladies gave birth to their babies without the assistance of midwives. At this point, the minions were called in to do in the baby boys.

Well, Moses' mother didn't want her son to be a statistic so she hid her son and then put him into a basket and sent him down the river, where he was rescued by the Pharaoh's sister, who saw him as a cute little thing. So she adopted him and, oddly enough, got his mother to be his wet nurse.

Moses' upbringing wasn't really described but, at some point, Moses' temper got him into trouble because he killed an Egyptian who was tormenting an Israelite. The Israelites weren't especially pleased with Moses' actions, either. Needless to say, Moses had to leave Egypt rather abruptly. He went to the desert and started a new life. He married and became a father. He spent many years away from Egypt. He grew up but not completely. When God called on him to go back to Egypt and free his people from the Pharaoh's oppression, Moses tried to get out of the task. He claimed that he was slow of speech and unable to do what was requested of him. His brother Aaron was better at that sort of stuff. Pick Aaron! Not me!

So Moses and Aaron went to Egypt... and, at this point, the story got exciting. Moses and Aaron let the Pharaoh know that bad plagues awaited him if he did not let the Israelites go. Unfortunately, God caused the Pharaoh's heart to harden, despite infestations of flies and frogs and locusts, attacks of boils, rivers of polluting blood, and other unpleasantness.

The story has become a battle of wills... Moses and Aaron vs. the Pharaoh of Egypt. It's got heroes and villains and action and adventure. As in most stories and strife and conflict, it seems that the ordinary people get the worst of the situation. In this case, it's the Egyptians. They struggle and suffer, mainly because of the poor decisions made by the Pharaoh, who comes across as more in love with power than with his own people.

Anyway... more later...
The Exodus of the 19th century... slaves running from bondage in the American south to freedom in Canada. This monument, called Freedom Crossing, is in Lewiston, New York. The slaves crossed the river at night to avoid being grabbed by slave catchers. The other side of the Niagara River is Canada.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sibling Rivalry

Here is a picture that I found of Jacob and Joseph at this website (take a look; it's a really nice website)
If you have brothers or sisters, you'll find that, no matter what your age may be, there will always be rivalry. You're just not going to get along all of the time. People don't choose their relatives, after all. Thus, there are bound to be personality clashes and arguments. Family members know you well and they know how to push your buttons. And you know how to push their buttons and irritate them, just as they irritate you.
I have three sisters and we don't always get along perfectly. We are a regular human family, after all, not a sit com family, in which all communication challenges and disagreements are cleared up in half an hour, minus all of the time taken up by commercials (which, these days, is a tremendous amount of time). We communicate poorly at times and we make inaccurate assumptions about one another. Sometimes, our expectations of one another are unrealistic. But my sisters and I don't stay angry forever. We squabble, but we apologize and forgive and we let the source of irritation go (until the next time!!!).
OK. Well, in the Bible, there are so many examples of sibling rivalry. The feuding between brothers seems to lead to nothing but disaster. They don't seem to have the concept of forgive and forget. They truly let their battles and their jealousy get out of hand. It started off with Cain killing his brother Abel. Cain was jealous of Abel so he killed him. Cain was punished because he killed Abel and then tried to cover up the crime by asking God if he was his brother's keeper. Cain ended up by being a wanderer. God put a mark on his forehead so that he would not get killed by "hostile people." The hostile people, by the way, are never identified. They're just hostile.
Another example of sibling rivalry occurred much later. The first twins mentioned in Genesis were Esau and Jacob. They actually began feuding while still in the womb, which distressed their mother, Rebekah. The boys were very precocious. Since they hadn't been born yet, they had no social skills. Their mother was thrilled to have children. They were an answer to twenty years of prayers on the part of their father. Rebekah had to wait a long time to get pregnant because, like other women in the Bible, she had fertility issues. When Esau and Jacob were born, it was obvious that they were fraternal and not identical twins. They looked very different from each other and they had very different personalities. Their parents did very little to stop the rivalry. Rebekah favored Jacob and Isaac favored Esau. Jacob was able to trick his father into giving him the blessing reserved for the older son. Apparently, neither brother learned any social skills. Even though Jacob and Esau were twins, Esau was born first and, thus, was the older brother. This ensured that the rivalry would continue for years and years. Neither brother was willing to "kiss and make up." They did, however, separate and they focused on their own lives.
So, fast forward a number of years. Jacob was sent off to spend a few days with his uncle Laban. He never left. After working for Laban for a long time, he ended up by marrying Laban's two daughter, Rachel and Leah. Jacob was a busy man, with two wives (sisters Rachel and Leah) and two mistresses, both servants in the home of Jacob's father in law. Jacob had twelve sons and at least one daughter (Dinah). Jacob was not shy about showing his sons and the world that Joseph was his favorite. He gave Joseph a colorful coat. That made the brothers angry. Joseph was the son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel. Poor Rachel later died while giving birth to her other son, Benjamin. Jacob had all of his other children with Leah and with the two maid servants. Rachel had fertility issues, like Rebekah and Sarah and other women in the Bible.
Anyway, the brothers conspired against Joseph. They wanted to kill him but, instead, sold him into slavery and then told their father that Joseph was deceased, killed by a wild animal. That made Jacob cry.
Joseph ended up in Egypt and had all sorts of adventures. He ended up in jail because his owner's wife wanted to have an affair with him and he refused and she got her revenge. Well, Joseph's talents as interpreter of dreams eventually saved him. He told the Pharaoh that the disturbing dream that he had meant that there would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine and that the only way to keep everyone from dying was to collect food during the seven years of plenty and save it so that people would be able to eat when the famine struck. The pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he made him a big shot with a signet ring and a gold chain around his neck and a chariot and a lovely Egyptian wife.
During the famine, the brothers went to Egypt to buy food because they heard that food was available for sale.
Lots happened and, to make a long story short, the brothers discovered that Joseph was still alive, and the family was reunited. The discovery was made because Joseph decided to test his brothers. He had Benjamin framed for a theft that never actually occurred. Judah spoke out on behalf of his youngest brother. Judah acknowledged that he and his brothers had done a terrible thing to their brother, Joseph, whom they believed to be deceased. They begged Joseph, whom they didn't yet know was Joseph, to show mercy to Benjamin. In this story, the brothers were able to let go of jealousy and animosity and were able to accept responsibility for their bad behavior. At this point, Joseph let them know that he was not dead, that he was their long-lost brother.
I'm still reading this adventure so I'll write more about it by the end of the week.
Only two days left for Genesis!
Oh, and Andrew Lloyd Webber made a really fun show from this story, called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I've seen it, in different locations, three times. It's very entertaining and the music is fun. Watch it, if you get a chance!
More later!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Trust and Faith

So, today, I'm going to write about trust and faith. There are various activities that people in groups can do to develop and to build trust. These include things such as being led around on somewhat difficult terrain blindfolded (sometimes the leading is just verbal, as the person is told where to step and where not to), falling backwards and trusting that someone will catch you, and other exercises. Here is a website that describes a variety of Trust Exercises.
Basically, however, we live on faith, as well as on trust. A person who completely lacks both won't be able to function very well. We have to trust that our houses are structurally sound so that when we get up in the morning, the house won't collapse. When we cook, we have to trust that our kitchens won't catch on fire. We drink water from the tap and trust that the water is safe enough for us to drink. When we go out of the house, we trust that our cars are safe, if we are driving, or that we will be safe from cars and from other dangers if we are walking. We don't spend all of our time fearing that we will be caught in a tornado, and earthquake, or a typhoon. We trust that we will be given sufficient warning of dangerous conditions so that we can avoid putting ourselves at unnecessary risk.
When I go on long walks with groups of people, I have faith that I will get along with my walking companions and that I will walk in safe places and won't get hit by cars or attacked by strangers. I don't worry about where I will sleep at night or if I will have enough food to eat. 
But when we lack trust and we lack faith, we become scared and we act from fear. We may tell lies because we are afraid of what might happen if we tell the truth. We may act in ways that harm others and are even contrary to our own needs because we are afraid to trust.
One of the things that I have noticed in my reading of Genesis is the issue of lack of trust and weak faith. In chapter 12, Abram (who later became Abraham) and his wife Sarai (who later became Sarah) were fleeing from famine and they traveled to Egypt. For some reason, Abram was afraid to tell anyone that Sarai, a beautiful woman, was his wife. So he claimed that Sarai was his sister. When the truth was found out, the couple had to leave Egypt. In fact, Egypt suffered from a variety of plagues because of Abram's lie. In chapter 20, Abraham and Sarah traveled to the land of the Gerarites and were the guests of the king, Abimelech, king of the Philistines. Abraham was ruled by his fear. He believed that the people would kill him if it were found out that Sarah was his wife. Once again, he told people that Sarah was his sister. And, again, the truth came out with disastrous consequences.
Years, later, Abraham's son, Isaac, was traveling with his wife, Rebekah. They too ended up in the land of the Gerarites and became guests of Abimelech. The tale is told in chapter 26. Isaac believes that the men of Gerar will kill him if it becomes known that the lovely Rebekah is his wife. Because he is afraid, he tell exactly the same lie that his father told. Rebekah is his sister, he says. Eventually, however, the truth comes out and Abimelech warns everyone not to molest either Isaac or Rebekah.
Rebekah, on the other hand, showed a great deal of trust when she met the servant of Abraham at a well. This tale was told in chapter 24. Abraham had sent his servant to Rebekah's town to find a wife for Isaac. Apparently, the servant was one heck of a matchmaker. He waited by the well and along came Rebekah. He asked her for some water. Not only did she provide water for him, she provided water for his ten camels! He gave her a golden nose ring and golden bracelets as a sign of his gratitude. He went to the home of Rebekah's family and told them about the proposed marriage of Rebekah and Isaac. Rebekah did not know Isaac at all. Yet she willingly went with Abraham's (unnamed) servant and she married Isaac. They immediately fell in love and had a happy marriage.
Below is a painting of Rebekah at the well. The painting is hanging at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Rebecca at the Well, 1580/1585
Samuel H. Kress Collection

Friday, January 11, 2013

Alice's Bible Challenge!

Father Earle King, the pastor of Saint Martin in the Fields Church here in Grand Island, said that he was going to read through the entire Bible in one year and he said that anybody who wanted to do the same could join him. He distributed a list of readings for the year. I thought that it would be interesting, so I picked up the list.
On December 31st, I began my program of daily Bible readings. It didn't take long before I realized that spending a year reading the Bible would be a great adventure! We have three readings per day. The first is from the Old Testament. The second is a psalm. The third is from the New Testament.
So... I have been reading for close to two weeks now. I have to say that Genesis is quite entertaining. It is better than any soap opera that you could watch on TV. It is full of interesting characters who do all sorts of stuff that often times is not in their best interests.
Genesis is truly the book of beginnings. It starts with the earth being nothing but a dark, formless place. God created everything: the sun, the moon, the stars, the grass, the trees, the water, the animals, the plants, the people! He created everything out of nothing and he made humans to be the stewards of His beautiful creation.
When I take walks, I try to be mindful of God's beautiful creation. I try to look at everything around me and to see beauty because nature truly is a gift.
And, speaking about creation, as an artist, I can reproduce what I see and interpret what I see in two dimensional or three dimensional form. But, as a human, I cannot create anything new.
So... more stories later, connected with my Great Biblical Adventure.
Oh... and by the way, the Bible that I chose to read is  The Orthodox Study Bible. It is a wonderful Bible and it is beautifully illustrated. I definitely recommend this Bible to you if you are looking for a Bible to read.