Oddly, I keep remembering the first time I got mad at the church. I have always had a sort of temper, but I rarely remember whatever I was angry about. Honestly, I just don’t. My husband loves this about me.
I do remember the first time I got mad at the church so clearly because I was so eager to learn more about God and had started trying to study the bible. And it was Christmas time. And the adult Sunday school class was about the nativity story. Great, I thought, this is an excellent place to start. I’ll start at the beginning. Isn’t there a song about that?
So it was interesting to learn that there are only two nativity stories, one is in Matthew and one is in Luke and that they are distinctly different.
It was interesting to learn that Matthew’s Joseph plays a large role, and a lot of it in dreams. There’s a sort of mystical quality I liked about Matthew’s version.
It was wonderful to have to more accessible Luke story, and to wonder how uncomfortable the trip to Bethlehem must have been for Mary. I started to imagine the story, imagine the stable — likely attached to a house — being rather cozy and warm.
And I got really angry when the third or fourth class was about pulling it all down. The teachers told us that Jesus is extremely unlikely to have been born in winter. There was a sort of ancient history of creating “birth stories” for beloved people in that era. Politically for Jesus to “compete” with other religions, he had to have a mysterious Godly birth. Nor can the two versions of the story be easily compared. And all the dream stuff in Matthew, so clearly made up! And so on.
I was absolutely furious. None of that was important to me. What was important to me was the story.
And I was scared. I didn’t realize it then or for many years. But I didn’t want my newly found faith to be made frail; I didn’t want to sink back into the despair that had left me open to God’s zapping love.
The gift this anger gave me was my first “Christian” poem. And many many poems thereafter….
Here’s my “first” poem:
It started as a dream for Joseph
No, actually, it started as a deal
He and Mary’s father discussing dowry and dickering
like for a horse.
And then discovery of damaged goods.
So, okay, it started, for Joseph, as just business as usual.
It turned into a dream.
A dream with angels, a dream of freedom for Israel.
Imagine being chosen to protect God’s son!
Hear what I think:
God picked Joseph because he listened
He listened to angels in a dream. How long had God
searched for a girl willing to say yes and
a man willing to listen?
Reality started on a cold night, in a stable,
or maybe not cold or a stable. This I know:
Giving birth hurts.
Turning dreams into reality hurts.
Hear the cries of pain, the pleading for it to be over,
See the blood, the mess, the ugly cord connecting
God’s son to Mary, and there’s Joseph,
holding the knife
carefully, carefully, barely breathing, cutting Him free.
I know, warm or cold, inside or outside, Joseph and Mary shared
a look between them of wonder and amazement.
God big enough to create himself so small inside Mary
and is now helpless before them.
Joseph’s all ready to die to protect Him.
Even though right now he’s so scared he can barely breath, and
with just the tip of his finger he touches God’s soft, warm, helpless red face
The best bible studies are discussions, where all sorts of things get discovered together, and no one’s voice is silenced and no one’s questions are wrong. But no one is left afraid of losing faith either.
The word for where I’ve found myself is “literary” (not “literal”), where I use all my tools of being an English major: themes, characterizations, narrative, motifs, patterns, plot, everything.
Wonderful things arise!
(And perhaps check out stuff I’ve written about Matthew and Luke and so on: for example: