All posts by RaeBear

About RaeBear

I’m as complex (and as simple) as everyone else. Richly blessed, battling depression and anxiety, good days, bad days. I was zapped by God’s amazing love and grace when I was 28, and life has never been the same again. Not always happy. Not a pod person now. And oddly (not-so-oddly?) the love of reading, and especially all thing science fiction, transfuses my reading and understanding of being a Christian. Being a child of an inter-faith marriage transfuses my being a Christian. Being a feminist transfuses my being a Christian. It has been like learning a new language, in a new country. And it has been like coming home. Or falling in love. And there are things that will never, ever, make sense to me. But God’s amazing love and grace, that makes sense. That transforms. My gift will never be to be a “church lady”. My gift will never be talking to strangers. My gift will never be with power tools and mission – trust me when I say things go disastrously badly when I’m involved in mission. Where God can use me, I hope and pray, for the glory of God and the benefit of the people of the God and to build the Kingdom here, at hand and to come, is in biblical storytelling. Not a sweet little blog about how to be a good nice sweet little Christian. A blog that – I hope and pray – opens up and shares the scripture. It isn’t rules. It isn’t sweet. It’s stories. We’re all stories. Stories all the way down.

Interrupted by books, 2018

(the fiction list)

I’ve read over 170 books so far this year – reading is my favorite thing, I read all the time. My list is not books published in 2018, it is just the best/favorite of the hodgepodge that I read this year. And it isn’t in a ranked order, just a random order.  For the record, no one has paid me, and no one has sent me books. 

The Magicians (and sequels) by Lev Grossman

(2009)

I owe so many people apologies. This series is brilliant. First off, the writing is luminous and clear and enthralling – the writer gets that books are something to sink into, to swim in and to escape the dull, dreary world. He gets that some of us long for them to be real. Well… the good parts of real. What happens if you do get to go to a magical college but magic is hard, brutal work? What happens if, as a magician, you find your way into the world of your favorite children’s book and then things get complicated? And things get dark.  It turns out our world has magicians and Quentin, a brilliant high school senior,  is invited to test for acceptance atBrakebills, one of the elite magical colleges in the world. Quentin’s high school crush, Julia, has her own arc, as do the students he becomes close to at Brakebills. The subsequent books entangle more and more storylines, but they all work together for good, becoming more complex as Quentin himself becomes more mature. While the SyFy channel tv series sort of envisions the series and is entertaining, it does not have the same structure and poetry; it is really quite different. The books are much much better. This is a combination of Narnia and Harry Potter but strictly for adults, because seriously some shit goes down. It completely works. I’m reading the last 100 pages of the last book very slowly to make it last. Although I am starting to believe that despite everything — and magic always has a price — there may after all be a happy ending.

Solo by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess

(2017)

Told in poetry, that is brilliant, funny, real, heart-breaking, amazing, this is the story of Blade, who is the son of a famous and infamous musician. When the story opens, Blade is 17 and his life is about to be ruined by his drunken father and family secrets. Or perhaps saved, as he ends up on a journey. While the bones of the story’s plot are about as old as time, the storytelling is truly brilliant. For a YA novel it absolutely surprised me and swallowed me whole. I think all ages would like it, but I also think that teen boys who don’t even think they like reading would like it. It is that engaging – and deep and rich. Plus I heard Alexander speak last winter at a conference and he is just amazing and funny and kind.

Rage against the Dying by Becky Masterman (and the series)

(Brigid Quinn Series book 1, 2013)

What I love is that Brigid Quinn, our heroine, is 59 years old and a retired FBI agent and newly married. This is remarkable in fiction – an older woman who is strong and independent and in love and newly married to a great husband. Brigid is amazing and interesting. I have gobbled up all three of the books that are out so far and I hope there are lots more in the pipeline – I really like the writing and really like Brigid. “Thriller” is not my normal wheelhouse, but the writing and characters deepen the genre. If you actually like thrillers and serial killers and stuff, these books should be your jam.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

(2017)

Many storylines and many characters face the consequences of a new power unleashed in our world –suddenly girls have the power to zap people, a physical power that negates the power of physical strength that men have and then some. The playing field is suddenly level or completely upended. Published in October 2017 I think this predates and certainly was written before the #metoo movement. I could not help wondering if the author would have written it differently if she were writing now. And it made me wonder if #metoo and many women winning public office and so on does not and has not really changed anything? Will a world with more women in power be a better world, a more perfect world? It would be foolish to think so, actually. Does power always, inevitably, destroy? The frame of the story is delicious as we get a glimpse of the future of this world where “the power” is taken for granted and archeologists cannot make sense or interrupt the ruins of a past world that was balanced differently and certainly do not understand the significance of the ubiquitous “bitten fruit” image carved on so many relics they find. This is science fiction well done: take a “what if” and build a world and put some people in it and see happens. And I could hardly put it down, it was enthralling. The questions have lingered with me.

Among Others by Jo Walton

(2011)

I’m so late to the party with Jo Walton. This book won the Nebula in 2011, the Hugo in 2012 – and it is a rare book that is really unique, straddling the line between what is real, what might be real, and growing up. The young heroine is struggling to escape a troubled childhood and the story is told in diary format – so I gave this a hard pass for many years. Oh my gosh. It is so good! Especially if you are a reader of beloved science fiction and fantasy and stuff. It is practically a love letter. Magic or madness? This was my year of reading Jo Walton actually, and everything she writes I have loved, but I am limiting myself to this book for this list. Coming out in 2019, she has a new book entitled “Lent” that takes place, apparently, in 15th century Florence. I can hardly wait.

Year One by Nora Roberts

(2017)

Like a Stephen King novel, it starts with a sickness that wipes out our world. And in our world, some people have “magickal” gifts. And others hunt. Is the world ending or beginning? Has everything been lost? Can human nature change for the better or is a battle between good and evil ongoing? This was full of action and wonderful characters to root for and horrible characters to hate. It is truly a page turner and fun. I am glad that is the start of a series that I suspect will hold together because you can absolutely trust Nora Roberts to write a wonderful story.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

(2004)

Lou Arrendale is a high-functioning autistic adult born just too late into a world that has cure autism. He and his friends are employed for their unique skills and suddenly are offered experimental surgery that is an expansion of the cure given to babies and children. Will Lou still be Lou? As he tries to decide what to do we see his unique gifts and we realize, as Lou does not, that someone hates him. And the gift of a cure may be, in fact, not a gift of kindness but a profound act of hate even if the cure itself is still something good. The ending is surprising and just as beautiful as the rest of the book. Who are we, actually? Are we shaped solely by our brains? Are we shaped by a delicate combination of head and heart and society and family? Is there some “core of you”? But as much as this book raises these sorts of thoughts – that linger in my mind – it also is simply and purely a very excellent read, a very good story, beautifully written.

The Witch Elm by Tana French

(2018)

Tana French’s writing is delicious, smooth as chocolate. Told in the first person by Toby, whose easy life of luck and charm ended one night when he surprised burglars in his apartment, we are swept into a story of suspense that grows and entangles as many characters appear and reappear. Recuperating at the family house of his uncle, a magical place of family gatherings and a garden grown wild, a human skull is found. Whose is it? How much do you trust the storyteller? How much truth does one person know? Where will the past lead Toby as his future recedes and changes before him? In the end, is he still living a life of luck? The writing is wonderful, the characters are top notch, the suspense and angst – this is just brilliant, as of course, all Tana French’s books are. I literally could not stop reading this.  

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

(2018)

Told by six-year-old Zach, my book group debated quite a bit if the story really truly could be told by a six year old. Maybe, maybe not. Regardless Zach is a sweetie-pie and his family is suffering deeply because Zach’s older brother was killed in a school shooting. Complicating the death of the old brother is the fact that he was not a “nice” kid, he was not a “good” boy. Almost too real in the conflicting ways of sorting through the maze of grief and guilt and anger, seeing it all from the eyes of a child makes the story that much harder. The author brings the horrific to grave light and never once makes a school shooting just a plot device. The author wrote a good book that is heartbreaking on so many levels, and yet with an essential hope and optimism that doesn’t deny the dark. I would never have read this if my book group had not decided on it, and I have surprised myself by putting in my top reads this year.

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Genesis 1 and “good”

So God is calling things “good”. What does this mean? Oddly the Hebrew word means very much what it means in English. It doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean morally good or beautiful. It means good — we can have a good person, a good dinner, a good hammer, a good poem. My dad would come home from work and every day as far as I know bounce into the house and call to my mom and say, “what’s the good word?” And my mom would laugh and kiss him. 

So in Genesis 1 the light is good, the oceans, the earth, the vegetation, the swarming creatures and great sea monsters, the sun, moon, stars and the animals, including the wild animals and the creeping things that creep along the ground. And humankind. In fact,  
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. ” 

I think it is important that God wasn’t creating perfect. (I live by “perfect is the enemy of done”. I guess my lovely readers can likely tell, ha!) And yet it is very important to note that compared with many (most?) ancient creation myths, this is a positive creation. It is good.

Here’s one of my sources for help when diving into the specific meanings of words. 

Genesis and poetry

Mary Szybist’s poem “In the Beginning God Said Light” has much to mull over; these lines knocked me flat:

God, did you make us
to be your bright accomplices?

How it changes things, “accomplices” instead of “companions” or “servants” or ….insert your word. Not to mention “bright” — what a way to invoke “light” and to contrast with some feeling that an accomplice would be a shadowy figure, limmed in darkness.

A powerful poem all the way through.

Genesis 1 and royalty

While I still stumble and forget Genesis 1:1-25 I feel a push to start exploring the hard verses of 26-31. God creates humankind, just as God created light and great sea monsters. And called it good! In light of all the tragic past and present we humans were created intentionally and considered good by a loving God.

Rabbi Shai Held writes (beautifully) in the November 7, 2018 issue of Christian Century, “that in ancient Near Eastern societies, it was the king who was thought of as an image of God…Genesis 1 will have none of this. It is not the king who is the image of God but each and every human being, male and female…. we are all kings and queens.”

And we are to respect each other, cherish each other, as Jesus might say, “Love one another.”

Which is sometimes very difficult.

What might the world look like if everyone — rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief — were to be respected as royalty?

Reclaiming Jesus starts the same way in point 1.

Put some skin on the idea — envision the person presently in your life who causes you to gnash your teeth? Maybe your spouse was annoying recently (although not my spouse!)? Think about your beloved young adult children and how they basically know nothing, how wet behind the ears they are, and try to respect them. Perhaps it is a neighbor, or perhaps there are people where you work who seem less than … nice. Let’s not expand further up the chain to how hard it might be to respect — utterly and completely — some of the people in the public realm past and present. Let’s stay grounded in our family and our neighbors. Because that is hard enough.

My father, who was perhaps very annoyed that day and perhaps I did something or said something to trigger this, once said to me when I was about 13: “You think you are a princess. You are just shit.” I don’t know what I did. I don’t want you to think badly of my father; no human parent is perfect and sadly children remember more the bad than the good. But I remember my hurt like a blanket that covered me in numbness. Sometimes I think that blanket still wraps me up. Because reading about how we are to respect everyone makes something inside me squeak angerly — well, when other people respect me, then I’ll give respect for respect.

Which obviously is not what we are called to do. We are called to grace people with respect. We are given grace by God who undoubtedly sees exactly my flaws and loves me anyway — I remember in my late twenties being wrapped in a moment of such deep love from Him that it changed my life forever, the moment God zapped me with love. (I think I’ve written about this before, the most beautiful and wondrous moment of my life.) God’s love redeeming human flaws, mine and my father’s and yours and hers and his and theirs.

Think about God creating humankind in God’s image and likeness — whatever that might mean — and think about how that makes us, all of us, rich with something precious. And let’s start with respecting each other, gracing each other with gentle kindness.

FTGOG

Happy Thanksgiving

Even in the midst of darkness, let us be thankful.

Even in the midst of joy, let us be thankful.

Even in the midst of angels unaware, let us be thankful.

Even in the midst of confusion, let us be thankful.

Even in the middle of the night, let us be thankful.

Even at noon, full of the illusion of competence, let us be thankful.

Thank you Readers!

Thanks be to God.

 

Back to Genesis 1 and thinking about word choice

Genesis 1 starts in the NRSV of the bible:

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

the earth was a formless void

and darkness covered the face of the deep,

while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

I often use The Schocken Bible, vol. 1, “The Five Books of Moses” translation and notes by Everett Fox when looking at Genesis:

“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth

when the earth was wild and waste

darkness over the face of Ocean

rushing spirit of God hovering over the face of the water”

 

So how I have internalized it for storytelling is

“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth

the earth was a formless void

and darkness covered the face of the deep

And God’s spirit hovered over the face of the water.”

 

I love the sense of creation as still being in progress by using “at” and “creating”. I like “formless void” better than wild and waste although the poetry of wild and waste is wonderful. My own imagination just brings too much to “wild and waste” and I think we need to be careful about that — this is a situation where we should be very careful to not “know” what the void is; how “wild and waste” look or sound or feel. “Formless void” is a picture of “nothing” and keeps the focus on the chaos of nothingness (I hope). I love “face of the deep” — again “the deep” brings more mystery. And what is the “face”? That is such a strange word choice. I am not scholar enough to know why that word choice is so consistent, but if anyone does let us know in the comments!

And myself, I want it clear that the “ruah” — the wind — isn’t just some wind, some movement of air. It is God’s spirit/energy/presence/mystery. It is a something of holiness. It is somehow connected to or invokes the Holy Spirit — right here in the beginning.

I rarely do anything with the New King James Version, but here is that translation (from Biblegateway) which I like:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

The earth was without form, and void;

and darkness was on the face of the deep. 

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

There are so many translations and so much delicate and exquisite delight to take in words.

FTGOG!

Mark 12:38-44 and another twist

So the first twist to this story, Mark 12:38-44, what I think of as a living parable, is to beware of the perfectly respectable scribes. But the next twist, I think, is not that we are to give all we have to live on as the poor widow did. Stay with me. I think it is to know why we give, and to give honestly and from the heart.

I think that Jesus was watching the crowd putting in to the treasury and waiting, waiting, waiting for the example of giving that he wanted to use to show the difference between giving when you are rich and giving when you are poor.

While time doesn’t seem to pass in the story, note that “the crowd” shows up. When the “the crowd” shows up ….watch and listen. The crowd is easily amazed. The crowd does what is normal and proper. The crowd isn’t good or bad or lost or found. The crowd puts in to the treasury, as is right and proper. Many of the rich in the crowd put in large sums. I think a lot of time passes as Jesus waits and watches the crowd.

Jesus waits.

And a poor widow shows up who puts in only 2 small copper coins.

This is what he needs. He calls the disciples to teach them (and us) the difference between giving out of abundance versus giving out of poverty. I truly don’t think he is trying to shame us all into giving until it hurts, until you have no more to live upon. After all, that means merely that the treasury will be used on you.

I think he is showing that giving out of abundance is not the same thing as giving out of generosity or faith. It can be a way to easily soothe the pangs of conscience. A way to prove how rich you are. A way to play at being a nice person. A way to win.

The widow was giving out of hope and faith? We really cannot know her motivations for giving, but we know that she did not have to give anything and that no one would praise her for giving such a tiny amount. In fact, they might have criticized her. What good would her 2 small coins do?

But the rich? Did they just give large sums for show? Just because it was a habit? Was their heart in it?

We can look in a mirror, most of us, perhaps. And we can wonder and hope that we are giving — however small or large — out of faith and for justice.

I would have expected Jesus to praise the rich for giving large sums, no matter why they were giving. But that isn’t what happens. That’s the twist. Jesus cares why you give.

Give for the glory of God.

Mark 12:38-44 and parables

I think at a surface reading of this living parable — a story that is intended to be heard as a real event that happened as opposed to a type of fiction — it is easy to think “yep, those rich folks who don’t help people, they are in trouble” and leave it at that. And that is not wrong. But Mark 12:38-44 is also, I think, exactly like a parable — I think to the people then, and to us now if we let it, it is shocking. I think there is danger all around this story. It turns the world about in a twist. I’ll be getting back to Genesis but I’m the lay reader this Sunday so I’m working on this passage.

So thing about parables is that they have a twist. If familiarity has rubbed the shock off, then it is on us to press on the scripture, to envision how the people who heard Jesus talk would have thought, or how the people those people told might have reacted. It is on us to take the gloss off and put the twist back in so that the bible breaths back to life. Or perhaps rather, up to us to let the holy spirit shock us back to life by breathing life into the scripture.

So… Jesus says “Beware….”

He doesn’t say “look” or “Truly I tell you” or “How about that guy” or “Despite how nice they look and act, rich people are a problem”. He says “Beware”.

Wouldn’t you expect that opening to be followed by “Beware of criminals!” or “Beware of strangers!” or “Beware of those with loose morals.” Or “Beware of snakes!”

“Beware of scribes….”

Scribes??? Scribes were respectable. Scribes were experts in the Law of Torah,  and relied on for marriages, wills, and all the legal stuff of day to day life. Not the Roman laws, but the laws of Judeans, from the bible. They studied; they worked hard. It would be an honor if your son was one. It was important. Yet Jesus says to beware of them, to be careful around them, as if they were a snake or a falling tree or some danger.

This is shocking. This is the twist. I imagine some of the listeners chuckled a little, and then maybe a little more as Jesus describes them — those scribes like to walk around in long robes, be greeted with respect, get the good seats and the good invitations. Well, who wouldn’t? Wouldn’t that be nice? Some of the laughter might be because some of the scribes are obnoxious in their airs and superiority? Then Jesus says “they devour widow’s houses….”

Now no more chuckles. This isn’t pulling down the pretenses of those above us in the social ranking. This is saying that the scribes are dangerous, something to be as wary about as a snake or a criminal. This is not something that people say, out loud, in the open.

I imagine the crowd leaning forward and also darting glances around hoping not to be seen or heard listening to these dangerous words.

Beware of those high in rank who hurt others.

More to come about the widows, but for now, thanks be to God!

 

Interrupted by the In-between

Although I am writing this before the mid-term elections here in the U.S., you will be reading it the day after. Will it be a blue wave to be able, finally, to begin to rein in that person in the white house? Will it be more than borderline? Will it be another crushing defeat as on Nov. 9 2016? If it is another crushing bitter defeat, is there any hope for my country? Every time I think “this is as low as it goes”, then it goes lower. Might it be a beacon of good news, of a restoration to order and decency and hope.

By the time you read this, we should know.

The polls would have us believe as I write this that things are 50/50 – but I refuse to believe as I write this that half our country would allow that man and his policies and his hate to continue unchecked.

By the time we read this, will I have to face that?

The “in-between” can be liminal space, a space to open to God, a space to wait for way to open. It can be a place or time or situation to do more than endure, but instead to actively learn and listen and talk and share and pour it out to God and feel His love fill us. I have in the past two years learned more about civics and politics than I ever imagined. I rage at my younger self who just didn’t care, not in a deep down way. There is no place or time or situation where God cannot enter. We can – no matter what – love God and neighbor today and tomorrow and onward.

God can make a way through no way. Let me pray for next Wednesday that regardless of politics we can together pray, burning with passion, “Our father, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Let your love flow like a river, Lord!