Stay With Me (Peter)

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Luke 22:54-62:

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

It had been a long night. The disciples, sick with sadness, had finally collapsed into a restless sleep. They understood their Lord was suffering greatly, but the human heart can only take so much sorrow. So when their friend and brother shows up with a band of soldiers, they are all taken off-guard.

Peter, in confusion and fear, draws his sword and strikes one of them, opening up a gash on the side of the man’s head where his ear used to be.

With a touch of his hand, Jesus gives the man a new ear. “No more!” he says to Peter. “Put it away.”

Bound by the words of his Lord to do nothing, Peter watches his Lord bound and taken away. He still holds the sword limply in his hand. The final rebuke stings in his consciousness. Everyone else scatters. But Peter stays fixed to the spot, as the torches of the mob disappear in the darkness.

Then something rises up within him. That can’t be the last. He somehow knows those will not be the last words Jesus speaks to him. But something equally strong holds him back. He follows, but from a distance. By the time he reaches the gates of the high priests house, they have been locked behind Jesus. So Peter waits, and finally a servant girl is sent to let him in.

“You’re not one of them, are you?” she asks.

“Of course not,” he says. But when they come into the light of the fire and she sees his face, she again questions him.

Another was there when he cut off the man’s ear and he attests to the resemblance. “I saw you with him in the garden.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he says.

It was a bad idea to speak. They mock him now. “Listen to his accent, he’s a Galilean too! He must be with him!”

“I swear, I don’t know him!” Peter yells. But the crowing of a rooster drowns out his curse. Like a rush of blood to the brain, it comes back to him. Other words spoken by his Lord: Tonight. Deny. Three times.

In shame, Peter runs from the courtyard.

He doesn’t let the darkness of the night dissuade him, or the betrayal of a friend turn him away. He doesn’t let the rebuke of Jesus deter him, or the guard at the gate keep him out. But in the face of his own failure, his faith doesn’t hold up. And when it matters most, he leaves the one he loves most.

An old friend and a long-time pastor once told me that he’d never known anyone who stopped following Jesus without large or persistent sin in their own lives. Either too large for them to take it to God in the first place (so they thought), or instead of going to Jesus again and again to let him pay for it, bit by bit, they let their own shame push them away from him.

Any time we sin we deny Jesus. The question is, will we run from him?

Why are we so quick to attribute omniscient judgment to Jesus’ warning to Peter, “You will deny me three times”? Why do we read condemnation in that last look his direction? What if he wasn’t saying “I told you so”? What if he said it to prepare him? And when the trial comes, he looks to see what Peter will do.

Jesus is facing the suffering death that will save Peter from all his denials, do you think he is holding anything against him in that moment?

Peter is, in the very instant of his failure, fully forgiven.

Jesus is abandoned by all his followers and all disciples but one. He’s about to be mocked, beaten and killed. Peter is his best friend. What would it have meant to Jesus to have Peter with him in his darkest hour? Jesus turns to him and if Peter had looked long enough he would have seen that those eyes did not condemn him, they were saying, “Stay with me.”

I believe Jesus is saying the same to us in the moment of our denials, our sins, our failures. It is only in his presence that we can be washed clean.

We don’t have to follow at a distance any longer. Our sin no longer separates us. Will our shame?

“Stay with me. I’ve taken care of everything. Stay with me.”

Dousing the Altar (Elijah)

The God who answers by fire

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from 1 Kings, chapter 18.

When our story starts, Ahab, the coward king of Israel, and Obadiah, the head of his household, are scouring the land of Israel for a spring that hasn’t yet dried up in hopes that they’ll find enough grass to keep their horses from dying. The Jordan river has evaporated into sludge and even the brook that the prophet Elijah (who started this whole mess) was getting his water from has run dry.

You’ve got to hand it to Elijah, he’s not one of those prophets who just waits around for someone in power to summon him. He shows up and shows them who’s in power. He made his galling entry to the biblical scene in the previous chapter by telling King Ahab that there wouldn’t be rain, not even dew, without his saying so. Nor was there, for three and a half years. You can see why Ahab is not thrilled he’s shown up this time.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down . . . And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

Remember that they are in a drought. Elijah himself doesn’t have water to drink. Imagine what the people felt watching gallons of it being dumped out. I can’t even imagine where they got it. It wasn’t the cattle on the altar that was the sacrifice, the livestock was already dropping like flies. The real sacrifice was the water, running over, pouring down. All of it consumed in an instant.

Nevermind that water doesn’t burn. Put the very last of what you can’t live without on the altar before God and see if He will not set it ablaze.

Elijah knew what he was doing. He once asked a widow to do the same thing.

He finds her gathering sticks in the wilderness. They are, she tells him, so that she can take the last of her flour and the last of her oils and bake it into something for her and her son to eat, after which they plan to die.

Elijah tells her, “Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” It’s actually offensive, what he asks her. Take all you have to live on . . . and give it away.

If God is not taking what you’re giving Him, maybe it’s because what you’re giving Him hasn’t cost you anything.

Jesus described another widow in the same circumstances, note his wording: “ . . . she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

He condemns those who give out of their “surplus.”

I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing,” said King David. He wasn’t talking about offerings at the time, he was talking about the purchase of the land where the temple was going to be built. David understood. Deep sacrifice prepares the place for deep worship.

The point is not price, it’s heart. After all, Elijah’s complaint against the people of Israel is of halfheartedness. Verse 18:21 says:

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.

Are you all in? Like Elijah, who promised that oil poured out would not run dry. Like the widow who gave her two pennies and gained an eternal testimony. Like Abraham, strapping his own son to the altar, or God, hanging His up on a cross.

If you don’t think you have anything to give that your life depends on, just give your whole life. What we so often forget is that the water would have been used up anyway, the oil and flour would barely have lasted a day, our lives will be spent whether or not we choose what they’re spent on. Don’t think that you can save your life by trying to keep it, Jesus said, you will lose it either way.

Lay it out on the altar. And the God who answers by fire, He is God.

The Memory of Light (Moses)

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Numbers 20:8-12:

“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.

I don’t know a lot of people who claim to understand why God kept Moses back from the promise land, even if they can explain the reasons He gives. Moses is one of my favorite bible characters and I’ve always grappled with this seemingly insignificant scene that seems to matter so much to God.

What went wrong here? I’ve read so many answers and none of them seem to satisfy.

So, let’s play this thing out. Do me a favor here: Go outside and find a rock and a stick, preferably big ones. And then hit the rock with the stick a couple of times. Really. Go ahead, I’ll wait.Francois Perrier, Moses draws water from the rock

You’re not going to do it because you know water is not going to burst forth from that rock no matter how many times you whack it with that stick. That’s not the way it works.I think Moses and the people of Israel probably had a similar understanding of things. I don’t think that hitting rocks with staffs usually had the effect of being able to hydrate a nation of people in the dessert, or they would have been doing it all the time. So maybe it’s the lack of dependence that upsets God . . . but the idea that by hitting the rock Moses was relying on himself and not God seems a little suspect to me. It was a miracle either way.

I’ve read that it was Moses taking the short-cut God didn’t like. Moses was pretty robust for an old guy, but sorry, even if he’d been an Olympian rock-hitter, it’s easier just to talk to the thing. So maybe it’s the lack of effort that put God in a mood . . . but I think, more often than not, we make the things we do for God harder, more complicated, than what He’s actually asked of us.One commentary suggested that it was the violence of the act that God was opposed to. Moses hits the rock. Twice. So God is some kind of a stone-rights activist, right? And maybe it was Moses’s anger that God was judging . . . but time and again God is the one angry at the people and Moses was the one talking Him down. Hitting the rock is exactly what he’d instructed Moses to do the time before this. Exodus 17:6:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Ah, there. That’s it.

How often to we live on the word we received from God weeks, months, even years back, instead of being in current relationship with Him? We rely on old light to illuminate a new path.

I wish, I very much wish, that when Moses had hit the rock the water had not flowed. He makes quite an impressive show of it with his little speech and his staff-robatics. And maybe it’s the glory-seeking that gets God’s ire . . .

What gets me is that no one knew the difference. The blessing wasn’t withheld because of Moses’s disobedience. The earth didn’t open up and swallow anyone. The people never needed to know that God had said “speak.” For all external purposes, everything looked good. It had “worked.” Hadn’t it?

And that’s too commonly the way we live our lives. But if you evaluate your relationship with God based on whether or not there is water coming from the rock, you’re missing the whole point.

Moses had betrayed the very thing he had going for him. He was the one who spoke with God face-to-face. He was His friend. God trusted him and he trusted God. Didn’t he?

“You did not believe in me,” God says. Under pressure, Moses believed in what he’d done before, what he knew worked, the established model.

And it did work. They usually do. But it betrayed the very life of their relationship.

To believe  in God is to believe that He lives. To believe that He’s real, and He speaks into the present moment.

You can’t see your way by the memory of light. You must carry it with you.

The One Who Was Chosen (Leah)

Fuhrich's Joseph and Rachel

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Genesis 29:16-35.

One more thought on having a good life: Rachel was Jacob’s choice. Leah was God’s choice. There are three people who I don’t want to be in that story. Rachel, who got the guy but was so oblivious to the lack of God’s favor in her life, she even blamed Jacob for it. Jacob, who didn’t accept God’s merciful intervention when it came (and ended up with not just one miserable, bickering marriage because of it, but four). Leah, who was loved and blessed by God but in the end would probably have chosen to be loved and blessed by her husband even over being in the line of David and lineage of Jesus.

And that last one is the important part, because I want to choose God. God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Hosea married a prostitute, Esther married into a harem, not because they were unloved by God, but because they were chosen by him.

Years ago I had to write my parents a very hard email about the end of a relationship. This quote is part of that letter. (In case you’re wondering, yes, my emails do often read like a Lenten blog series.)

Read “Unrequited Love” my post about Leah on the IndiaAnya blog.

Beating the Ground (Joash)

Dyce-JoashArrow(600x417)This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from 2 Kings 13:15-19:

Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow.” And he put his hand on it, then Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. He said, “Open the window toward the east,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot!” And he shot. And he said, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram; for you will defeat the Arameans at Aphek until you have destroyed them.” Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground,” and he struck it three times and stopped. So the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times.”

This passage was on my mind when I woke up this morning. I should say when I woke this morning, because there was nothing very “up” about it. Despite the tirades you hear these days against busyness, I like being busy. I like feeling that my life is full — full of people, full of activity, full of tasks, even full of work. But mostly, full of meaning. That’s why I became a writer, I want to deal in the currency of meaning.

I’ve had the blessing, for most of my life, of having work that is meaningful. I know why I’m doing it, and even when I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, the pursuit of meaning gets me through. But in every job, in every household, probably in every life, there are some things that just need to get done, with no particular purpose in them but allowing the thing after that to get done. And I HATE that stuff.  I don’t have tirades about busyness, I have tirades about laundry.

And that’s why I woke this morning with the story of a half-bit king of Israel running through my head. Joash is best known for having a really evil son, Jeroboam. He’s not even evil enough himself to be truly infamous, and besides the above story and his shoddy use of metaphor, the book of 2 Kings only mentions his death — several times, as if the author was glad to get rid of him — and follows it with one of my favorite biblical literary devices, “As for the other stuff he did, I’m sure someone else wrote about it.”

Why Joash was so unremarkable? Maybe this story gives us insight.

Elisha was dying. Joash had come to him for a final blessing. Maybe the king was hoping he would get to see the prophet go up in a chariot of fire, like Elisha had witnessed Elijah’s ascent into heaven. Instead, Elisha tells him their enemies will be completely destroyed, and then he asks him to do the smallest of things: to beat his arrows into the ground.

Joash does it, and yet he doesn’t do it . . . he obeys the prophet, but his heart is not in it. If Elisha had asked him to sacrifice 40 bulls and 70 rams on the hills above Samaria, he would have hurried to accomplish it, if he had told him to fashion a sword of gold and rubies and carry it into battle, he would have obeyed with gusto. At lot of the commentaries on this passage say that Joash just didn’t want it bad enough, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here at all.

I think he’s actually disappointed with the smallness of what he’s asked to do. It was not the greatness of the task that daunted him, it was the trivialness. Oswald Chambers writes:

It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God: but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things . . .

Bows and arrows were not glamorous fighting instruments back then, they were the common-man’s weapon, not the stuff of kings. Any shepherd boy would have known how to use one from childhood. Yet the old, wisened prophet puts his own hands over the king’s hands on the bow and tells him to shoot for the victory, to do the small thing for the grand goal. To “serve wholeheartedly,” Paul put it, “as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” 

How often is that our task in following Jesus? Every. Single. Day. To feel the hands of the Lord put over our hands . . . and then change the diaper, or wash the dishes, or write the memo. It may feel like you’re beating arrows into the ground, or your fist into a wall, or your head against a keyboard. But the smallest of tasks may be the Lord’s arrow of victory.

You see, it’s the unexceptional things that reveal our heart, and God is concerned most of all with hearts. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” There’s prophecy for you. Elisha had foretold victory, but Joash revealed his own character. And in the end, his character was his fate. The fullness of the goodness of God is always available to us, in all things big and small, but it is our own hearts that determine if we lay hold of the of the victory, or not.

A Letter to India’s Other Sons

india_delhi_rape_protests_dec_2012_7

Disclaimer: This is a very biased, partisan, limited view . . . but it is mine. I had a chance to speak before, but I kept silence. This time I can’t.

Last week, I shared this article to my Facebook timeline. It was one of the many references to the BBC documentary India’s Daughter that were heating up my Facebook newsfeed, from all over — but mostly from my male, Indian friends. The one who originally posted the article had left with it a comment that broke my heart. He wrote:

“No Jyoti was not really India’s daughter. She was who she was despite being in India. Her family was counter culture and so was she. The rapists however — India’s sons.”

I thought I was engaging in a conversation that was mostly Indian, but an American friend responded to say thanks, that she didn’t know it was so bad for women in India. Out to breakfast with another friend a few days later, she asked me, “Is that really the view of women you encountered in India?” This gave me pause. Because, of course, I’d read the articles, I’ve seen the documentary, I hear the warnings. I knew this was the way Indian men saw women. But I could think of only one single instance during my four years living in Delhi where I myself had experienced that.

One of the most recent headlining rapes in India spurred inter-religious upheaval because the rapist was Muslim. My closest Muslim friend in Delhi was a 17-yr-old girl who lived down the street from us, and her father adored and cherished her. He had a beard and belly to put Tolkien’s dwarves to shame, and always greeted me enthusiastically and teased me about my poor Urdu. I felt welcomed, honored, and safe in his presence. He was just one of many Muslim men in the neighborhood I knew I could go to if I needed help.

The most respect I’ve ever felt from anyone in my entire life was from an Indian pastor who used to come to our prayer meetings. We were two young, foreign women who had the vision to start a prayer movement for a nation, and he never even hinted that we didn’t have what it takes, he never showed more deference to the men in our midst. He said again and again that what we were doing mattered, and that if we kept it up, we would make a difference. He was years older than my dad and he had dedicated his entire life to rescuing girls out of prostitution in Calcutta.

These were the Indian men I knew. I realized there was another side to this story that wasn’t being told, and it was my side of the story.

During my last year in high school and my first in college, several of my friends “came out” that they had been raped. Among them were a couple girls I had mentored in a church small group, and one, very dear, soul-friend. I was devastated, shaken to my core, angry. I railed at God, wrote embittered poetry, researched everything I could, finding stats as high as one rape for every four women in the U.S., and I began to talk about it . . .

What I found out was that people didn’t want to talk about it. Men, good friends of mine, avoided my eyes, they changed the subject, they completely disengaged. Women told me to hush up about it because I didn’t want to be THAT girl. “What girl is that?” I asked. “Oh, you know . . . ” “No. No, I don’t know.” Why did caring about the fate of women make me a scourge to men? I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand how being for women could ever make you against men, or how being against men could ever be for women.

Dismayed, shamed into silence, I put it behind me and moved on. But years later, living in what would come to be called “the rape capital of the world,” that silence began to feel like a liability. How could I be protected from something I couldn’t even talk about?

And then something happened, something bigger than me or my fears, bigger than America or India, bigger than all our cultural taboos. The New Delhi, December 16, 2012 gang rape. It shook the whole world to the core. And, as happens when the world shakes, it launched a tsunami — right at India.

In the aftermath, I encountered a completely different attitude from the men in my life. They were the ones who brought it up. They looked me in the eyes when they talked about it. They asked me if I felt safe. They asked me if I was safe. They told if I ever wasn’t, to call them, at any time day or night, wherever I was. They would come and get me.

And I don’t mean one guy or two. The sentiment was expressed by friends, and friends-of-friends, brothers-of-friends and boyfriends-of-friends, pastors and neighbors. Not all of them were men of God, but all of them were godly men.

So was it because they were Indian? Or because they were godly?

At the time, both my older brothers lived in Delhi, as did at least four other men I’d known for years. Men I would trust with my life. I worked (though at a distance) with a score of others. All American. All believers. And none of them even mentioned the rape.

That same dark week in December an American girl in the Midwest committed suicide because she said she was gang-raped by a quarterback and other members of her high school football team, and no one believed her. In fact, she was ridiculed by the team’s coach and publically humiliated. (I searched for the original article but couldn’t find it — partly because the combination of “quarterback” and “rape” turned up so many results.) Obviously, there was something hugely different in the gravity of the cases. There was also something different in the public response. Everyone said, “Some people are sick.” Many said, “It didn’t happen.” A few said, “If it did, it was her fault.” No one said, “There is something very wrong with our culture.” Where was our shame?

The difference I saw, first-hand, in Delhi was a corporate admission of guilt. While the whole world was denigrating India, I was prouder to be part of that country than my own. I was proud to take responsibility with them , and say, “We won’t stand for this.” Yes, there were people who defended it. There were those who said it wasn’t all wrong, and others who thought it wasn’t wrong at all. But the voices that were the loudest said, “What have we done?” And many of those voices were the voices of men.

So I ask again, was it because they were Indian? Or because they were godly?

I believe the answer is both.feminsert3

Dear sons of India, all of you who are outraged at the actions and attitudes of your brothers. All of you who are men, and Indian, but ashamed of what being “Indian men”  has come to mean in our day and age. Any of you who saw that documentary and refuse to let what those men said be the last word spoken . . .

You are not who you are despite being in India, you are who you are for the sake of India. For such a time as this. You have been made countercultural because the hour has come for the culture of rape to be countered.

When I posted that article, an Indian ex-pat sent me a note in response. He wrote:

“After watching the [India’s Daughter] documentary, it doubled my confirmation that India is the place I need to be. It’s heartbreaking . . . there is a just God who I know will make India the lighthouse it was meant to be to other nations.”

That simple message is the message. God has not put this is in the hearts of American men, because it is not their hour. It is your hour. And I believe when their hour comes, they will follow India’s lead on this one. God is like a skilled surgeon, He shines a bright light on a place when He’s about to cut it open. And now that His scalpel has been set to the skin of India, He’s not going to stop until He’s cut out the infected organ and replaced it with a new one.

Your part is to keep the light shining. Keep bringing it up. Keep asking the right questions. And keep doing the things that make a difference. We cannot change the fact that, in India, women are surrounded by men. But we can change the men they are surrounded by.

This is not a women’s battle. This is YOUR battle. Not waged at rallies in the streets, but every time you are in the presence of a woman, and every time you speak to another man.

So let me tell you about that one time, the time I did encounter this view of women. It’s another thing I’ve kept quiet because it was hard to talk about. But we, all of us, need to start talking about the hard things.

I wish I could say I only took an auto that night because I was a ten-minute drive from home, but I probably would have taken one anyway. It was six months before Jyoti Singh’s rape and, though I sometimes worried what would happen to me if I got into an auto after 10 at night, especially in that neighborhood (my neighborhood), on that night I was just annoyed at being overcharged for a distance that wouldn’t even register on his meter. He took me straight home, on roads I knew. So we were outside my house when he grabbed me, and he touched me inappropriately, sexually. It was just a moment, and I did the only thing I could think to in it — I shoved him away, and I ran.

I have never thought about that night without wondering whether I should have Maced him, or given him a good uppercut, or screamed till someone came who would do worse. Whether I should have made him rue the day he messed with me. Instead, I prayed for him. As I walked, safe, into my building, behind guarded gates, I felt the anger of a just and vengeful God. And I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it burns against those who touch His beloved. That man had no one to intercede for him but me. So I forgave him, and I asked God to do the same.

Now, looking back, that seems extraordinary to me. What allowed me to have that response? I think it was that I was safe. That man didn’t know that a mere twenty feet behind me was a chowkidar, with a big stick, who I trusted. He didn’t know that the buildings on both sides of me were full of men who would still, to this day, beat him to a pulp if they met him and knew what he’d done. I was surrounded by men. And ten-to-one they were on my side.

That is the feeling I want every Indian woman to have, at any time day or night, wherever she is.

When men can be trusted, women can be free. When men can be trusted, women don’t have to be afraid. And when Indian women are free and unafraid, that is when India will truly be great.

It’s up to you.

The Bloodstained Dreamcoat (Joseph)

Owen Jones - Joseph dreams of stars
This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Genesis 37, 39-41.

I want to clarify something I said in my last post about having “to choose between ‘a good life’ and a God life.” Though that is the choice as I saw it then, it’s also a false dichotomy. The “God life” is a very good life, and a good life can be a very hard one. Hitching your wagon to His star will not keep you from suffering anymore than hot-tailing it in the opposite direction will. And I think this is important because, as I get older and see more and more of my friends choosing other lives than the God one, the number one deciding factor is always disappointment. It’s sickness, failure, bankruptcy, loneliness . . . In short, they expected something better from God than what I got.

I’m not talking about presumption. I’m talking about justifiable, even biblical, expectations. The kind of things we teach our children, and preach from our pulpits. If I wait upon the Lord, He will show me His will for my life. If I steward my business well, God will make it profitable. If I save myself for marriage, God will bring me a worthy husband. If I marry the one God tells me to, we won’t have any trouble having kids. If the Lord has promised, He will fulfill. If I delight myself in Him, He will give me the desires of my heart . . .

It’s different for every person what will test their faith to the breaking point, but I believe we all get there. The five thousand were disappointed when Jesus refused to give them more to eat. The rich young ruler turned away after God didn’t “meet him where he was at.” And even John the Baptist was offended when the kingdom he’d heralded didn’t keep him from being imprisoned . . . or beheaded. Ouch.

In the face of personal failure and unfulfilled promises in my own life, my faith survived. I got up, I dusted off the ashes, and I continued to follow. But something else in me died: my ability to dream. I could still believe, but I could no longer hope. I knew that God was wholly good, but I doubted that he was fully powerful. Otherwise, why had He failed to come through?

Owen Jones - Joseph cast into the pit

When God began to encourage me to dream again, I asked Him to tell me about Joseph. Why, if God was going to give Joseph dreams, did He show him reigning? Why didn’t He warn him about the years in slavery, about his life as a prison warden? Not only did God not warn him about that, He gave him a dream calculated (strategically, I’d say) to aggravate his brother’s resentment of him. Next thing he knows, he’s pleading for his life from his own family, he facing the prospect of starving to death at the bottom of a pit, and then his identity is stripped off his back and his life is sold for petty cash.

I was talking with some friends about this series the other day and joked that, though Ezekiel is one of my favorite bible characters, I’d have to call a post about his life “God is Mean Sometimes (Ezekiel).” I’m not usually one to skim over hard verses. I kind of enjoy reading Revelation, I actually love the God of Job. But the God of Ezekiel baffles me.

The way God treats Joseph baffles me, too. Take for example his second dream: “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Jacob scolds him for this. “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”

Will they? When does that happen? Like the sheaves of grain in the first dream, Joseph’s brothers bow down to him as ruler of Egypt. But by then, his mother is already dead. In fact, she was probably already dead when Joseph had the dream. So it’s possible Jacob is talking about Leah here. But based on where she was buried, it’s likely she was also dead long before Joseph was released from prison.

And Joseph himself also baffles me. What was it about him that let God know he could gamble on Joseph’s faith and win? What do we even know about Joseph before his young life is in ruins? (My only answer is this must be the greatest testament to the buoyancy of children who are deeply loved by their fathers!)

Owen Jones - Jacob blesses Joseph

During those years, through betrayal after betrayal, how did Joseph keep up faith that God had not betrayed him as well? In a way, God had betrayed him. Joseph himself says that it was God who arranged for him to be sold into slavery. It took 25 years for him to know why. Maybe during that time he just thought, “Well, I got it wrong. God doesn’t speak through dreams after all.” But we know he didn’t because it was eventually his faith in God’s interpretation of dreams that got him out of prison — as simply as it had gotten him in. What if somewhere in all that time he had just given up on dreams? Where would we be?

We can’t know what was going on in Joseph’s heart or head. We don’t have eighteen chapters of him ranting, like Job. All we know is that at the very end of everything his answer is, “Am I in the place of God? . . . God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

And all I know is my faith would not have withstood that test. Sitting there amidst the ruins of my hope, I’d tell God this. “I’m not him. I’m not like that. You gambled wrong.” I wasn’t a phoenix who would rise from the ashes.

Jesus told John’s disciples to tell him, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” When thousands turned away from him, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” And Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”

So this is the part of the post where I’m meant to solve the riddle. But I don’t know the answer yet, I’m still learning to dream again. I know it’s there, somewhere just out of my reach. I know it has something to do with Peter’s answer to Jesus (I’m going to talk about Peter and the other reason we turn away from God in another post). And I know it has something to do with that second dream, the unfulfilled one, the impossible one, where they were not sheaves on the earth, but stars in heaven.