Month: May 2016

Keeping My Head Above the Waves

I began Dr Lester’s Old Testament class with excitement and a little apprehension…especially with the foreign technological expectations spelled out in the syllabus. I remember my teenage and college kids’ response as I asked them what my twitter handle should be – they were creative and slightly inappropriate…but I embraced this new way of expressing my learnings. During the first couple of weeks, I experienced anxious excitement, and dug in – I looked forward to being stretched and challenged academically. However, this semester brought a very different and tragic outcome, changing my life forever.

My husband of 26 years passed away suddenly during week four of this semester. He was 56 and we had just experienced a wonderful weekend in the mountains together, with some of our closest friends. A sudden heart attack took him just an hour or two after we had said good night to each other, and after he told me he hoped I knew how much he loved me. The heroic actions of our friends (both medical professionals) and the paramedics of the tiny mountain town of McCall, Idaho couldn’t restart my husband’s heart. I lost my best friend and the man I was to share an empty nest with this fall. My kids lost a loving and amazing Dad, Boise State lost a professor who impacted many, many lives and our community lost a coach, servant and friend. With such a public loss, my family and I have experienced not just our own grieving, but also the deep sadness of many whose lives Scott touched. Friends who have walked along side us and carried us through these past months have helped us move through each moment – and as I look back on even those very blurry first few weeks, I know God was present comforting and gently pulling me forward.

Psalms had been one of our first units this semester, and after Scott died, I found peace, anger, loneliness and hope as I read them each morning. I found connection with ancient writers seeking to make sense of the events of their lives, too. I know that, in time, I will revisit many of the readings and lectures of this course. The unpredictable rhythm of grief, and my hunger for normalcy and learning and hope has called me to be patient with content from our studies that I long to understand more deeply. I have been drawn into so many of my classmates’ blogs and comments, and that has helped me connect with a community whose faces I may never know. Being part of this class has allowed me to continue pressing on, breathing, looking forward.

The end of this Spring Semester marks the half-way point for me, as I pursue Deacon’s study with the goal of becoming ordained in the United Methodist Church. My summer plans had included traveling to Chicago for one of my on-campus course requirements, but I have postponed those plans for now and will pick up my online coursework again this Fall. I would like to thank Dr Lester and the Garrett faculty and staff who have been praying for me and encouraging me.

Blessing to all of you in Spring Intro to Old Testament. Thank you for leading and expressing your new understandings. I have leaned into your words, questions and observations all semester.

Jenny

(Addition/engagement with the text)

I found Bandstra’s description of the Shema interesting and see the connection of Moses and a last ditch effort to remind God’s people who they are before Joshua assumes leadership. If they are to survive, they must remember that God is their one true God.  “…the command to love Yhwh is central to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is not a theological or philosophical treatise but an encouragement to Israel to remain in covenant relationship with the God who brought them out of Egypt and preserved them through the wilderness.” (Bandstra, chapter 5)

“Hear o Israel: The Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5)

Shema means: Hear, or Listen and obey – Moses doesn’t want this important information to go in one ear and out the other. I like what author John Ortberg said about this passage, Moses didn’t say, “O Israel, think for yourselves. Go with your gut. Maximize your bliss. You are the autonomous center of the universe.”

This creed reminded them that loving God is as necessary for life as the air they breathe. These words were to shape their lives and actions, and would impact their future. This went beyond practicing laws – these were the very tenants of their faith and had to be personally taken to heart. The Deuteronomist was punctuating for the Israelites that there was only one God for them. Period.

 

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Family History

(Q.1, “National Character)

One of the main themes running through the national history of the Israelites, is their concern for descendants and heirs to their blessing. Yhwh’s covenant to Abraham, that his offspring will number the stars (Gen 15:6) required that Abraham and Sarah actually have children. With seemingly no pregnancy possible, Abraham took matters into his own hands and had a son through servant Hagar. This theme punctuates the deep concern for extinction of Abraham’s family line, but also importance of an heir through Abraham, as promised by Yhwh. “Perhaps the fixation on such matters reflects the monarchic setting of the Yahwist narrative and its consuming interest in heirs and succession with the royal house of David.” (Bandstra) Throughout Abraham’s life, his activity and living demonstrated “righteous” acts or “God-approved” acts (Bandstra) and describes the character of this key figure as one who stands in relationship with, and dependence on God. The history and righteous character of the Israelites is further illustrated with Abraham’s near compliance with Yhwh’s request to sacrifice Isaac. This event symbolizes for the Israelites that Yhwh will test, but will also ultimately provide.

Throughout the key ancestral stories, the Israelites are keenly aware of their shortcomings and character flaws. From Abrahams lapses of judgment and parenting of a child with Hagar, Jacob’s trickery of Esau’s birthright, Josephs’ superiority complex and many other examples of less than exemplary role models, the Israelites did not attempt to hide the humanness of their fore fathers.

I’m a descendant of Swedish immigrants on my Mother’s side. A significant story told by my grandmother was my great grandfather’s journey to America. He had witnessed the deadly beating of his brother at the iron mill where he was employed, and so he booked passage to the United States where he could pursue a more promising future. However, after arriving in New York, he was faced with discrimination (“dumb Swede”) and was assaulted and robbed. My Grandmother told of how he kept his money in his shoes and refused to take his shoes off even to sleep. His feet became so swollen it was nearly impossible to walk. But he made his way to Illinois where he started a new life and family. This ancestral/family story has always represented perseverance to my family and me. That even in the face of terrible trial and hardship, there is hope and a better future.

As I’ve been reading the Old Testament stories with new eyes, I’ve become aware of how important the telling of those stories was in sustaining the identity of the Israelites. These stories represented God’s faithfulness to God’s people in the way of promise of relationship with God, promise of descendants and promise of homeland. The stories of key individuals demonstrate human choices and mistakes, but ultimately a desire to walk in righteousness, which was then blessed by God. The same can be said about the story of my Swedish ancestor and the impact it’s had on my life and my family. Circumstances will forever impact one’s journey, but carrying the history of perseverance guides one’s attitude and actions.