Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Meditation on Ezekiel 16

And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, "Live!" I said to you in your blood, "Live!" I made you flourish like a plant of the field...

Ezekiel 16:6-7a
This is to me one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture. The image of us as an unwanted child, cast into an open field to die, rejected by parents who wanted nothing to do with us, is at once heartbreaking. Then to see God as the one who walks by, sees us wallowing in our blood, about to die - to see Him stop and speak words of life and love to us, to care for us and make us His bride, is breathtaking. The rejected orphan becomes royalty. The one who possessed nothing possesses everything.

Then Ezekiel turns the world on its head. This chosen one, this orphan who was taken from the pool of blood she lay in and raised up to become the Bride of God, becomes a whore.

But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passer-by: your beauty became his. (16:15)

How lovesick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! (16:30-32)
I read this and feel sick. I see this woman, who owes God her very life -- who, without Him would not even have breath, let alone beauty -- take that life and beauty and spend it on everything but Him. She becomes worse than a prostitute, giving away her body and refusing payment. She spurns His love and wastes herself on cheap replacements. And to think that this passage refers to God's Bride, the church, His chosen people! This should not now nor ever be. It makes me feel low, for I know I am guilty of the same things.

God takes action:

Therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, and those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy.(16: 36-38)

This seems fair and right. What punishment could be too much for the travesties such a Bride committed? Her debt is far too much to pay back. She owes her husband all - her life, and certainly her faithfulness. And she has done nothing but sin against Him, breaking the covenant they entered. He raised her up from nothing; does He not have the right to return her to nothing in the face of this ingratitude and rebelliousness?

But the story doesn't end there, and this is what is so mind-blowing to me:

Yet will I remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant...I will establish my convenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for all you have done, declares the Lord GOD. (16:60,62-63)

Atone? God will atone for all that this whore has done to Him? He will make an everlasting covenant with her? How dare He! If she has proved to be so recklessly unfaithful in the past, how can He dare to make an everlasting covenant, one that shall never be broken? How can He dare to pay for the sins she's committed? He is a fool, we are led to believe. Were this a story about a human couple, we would be wanting the man to find a woman far more worthy of his love; we would be advising him to stay out of the relationship with this woman, for she is abusive and self-destructive. We would wish him to end up with the girl he's always been friends with, but never really thought of romantically, and go off happily ever after, forgetting he was ever once married to the cheating scum that was his first wife. But God is not like this. While He is a jealous God who demands that we acknowledge His grace and mercy and love, He is also a God who delights in lavishing grace and mercy and love on those who are not even close to deserving it.

Ezekiel 16 is a love story beyond all love stories. It goes beyond the typical happily-ever-after to paint a picture of a love that forgives the utterly unforgiveable. It paints a picture of love that transcends all known class distinctions: instead of the nobleman and the peasant's daughter, this is the Sovereign of the Universe and his outcast bride. And while all love stories have their calamities before their happy endings, none have such calamitous occurances as this. The bride who sleeps with anyone who wishes to? The bride, a whore who pays her lovers, rather than the other way around? The bride, who spends her husband's riches on sex with other men? This nobody, this girl thrown out from society at birth, who gets it all and doesn't even see how very blessed she is - she is the one on whom His affections lie! And yes, while He for a time allows her to go her own way, removing her from His house, he takes her back, forgives her, and pays off her debts again. And the thing is, we get no indication that she necessarily becomes a better-behaved bride when she reenters God's household.

How are we any different: we, purchased by God out of our nothingness, raised up by Him to heights of glory we couldn't otherwise imagine, yet never satisfied, always searching, using God's grace not to honor God, but to purchase for ourselves other lovers? We are so easily distracted. We forget to whom it is we owe our very lives. We take for granted that God will be there to receive us back when we grow tired of wasting ourselves on pleasures. I waste time on meaningless things, like playing on the computer or watching TV, when I could be in the Word, or serving my neighbors in some capacity. I complain about traffic. I complain about my job, or lack of one. I seek to persuade myself that I'm better than others by pointing out their flaws. And at the end of all these things, I become no better than the whore-bride, who takes the beauty and riches of God and spends them on filth.

And this, I believe, is why there is so much suffering in life. Just as God hands His bride over to her enemies in the story, He also hands us over to trials in life, to remind us who it is who delivers us, who it is who purchased us from death. We are spiritual amnesiacs, in constant need of reminder of God's faithful love through the suffering He allows in our lives. By our suffering, we are reminded of the fact that we need God.

God's love is vast; it must be, for His wife is such a whore. May the difficulties and trials we face constantly remind of His faithfulness to us in the midst of our unmeasurable unfaithfulness to Him, and may we love Him more deeply as a result.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Reflection on the "W"

I hate the "w". Probably too passionately.

On the one hand, I get the feeling that having strong feelings of this sort for a letter - an abstract concept with a randomly-assigned speech value - is rather silly, but I have to say, I can't help it. The "w" is, without question, my least-favorite letter. (My favorite letter is "T", but that's a whole other story.)

I have several theories about the source of my hatred for this letter. I think that it stems mainly from the pronunciation of the letter when spelled. Double-you. Doubleyoudoubleyoudoubleyou. What other letter takes so much time to say? A?B?C?D?E?F? etc, etc, ad nauseum. Each and every other letter is one short, easily pronounced syllable. They roll off the tongue easily. They practically leap from the mouth. Not the "w". The "W" fits awkwardly in the mouth; the tongue must twist itself several times for this one, simple, rebel letter.

My question is: why? When the Powers That Be were assigning names to the letters, why call this one the "double-you"? For one thing, if we want to get really technical, we'd call it the "double-vee," which is even harder to pronounce than "double-you."

"What should we call this letter, fellas?"

"Well, it kind of looks like two v's stuck together, doesn't it?"

"That's it! The double-vee!"

Mumbling: "Doubleveedoubleveedoubleveedubblebeedammit! This isn't working!"

"Well, so double-vee's out. What are some other options?

Mumbling and muttering. Finally: "Well, if it weren't so pointy it would kind of look like two u's..."


"Doubleyoudoubleyoudoubleyoudoubleyou.... Well, it's still a mouthful but since nobody has any better ideas, we'll go with it."

Had I been there that day, I would have not-so-gently reminded the Powers That Be (PTB) that they typically, up until that point, had named all the letters for the sounds they made. A? Whaddyaknow, the letter "A" sounds a helluva lot like the sound it makes! B? Makes a "buh" sound! V? Sounds an awful lot like "vuh"!

Why break the pattern? What, for crying out loud, would have been wrong with calling it "wee"? Or "wah"? Or at least -and here's a novel thought - INCLUDE SOMEWHERE IN THE NAME THE SOUND THAT THE LETTER MAKES!!!!! By that logic, they should have call the the J, "hooked-I". Or the V, "inverted-A-without-the-horizontal-line."

Barring the H, W is the one letter whose name cannot be immediately associated with the sound it signifies. Great thinking, PTB.

I think my vitriol towards this letter is exacerbated by the fact that I am from Washington state. Every acronym this state has that freaking three-syllable word in it. Washington State University, University of Washington, Washington State Department of Transportation, etc.

This makes it that so, often, it takes more syllables to say the acronym for something than it does to say the actual name of the thing itself. This strikes me as a travesty.

Plus, it reduces us to coming up with ridiculous alternatives to saying the acronyms. Take the state universities: University of Washington. UW. Now, no one calls it "You-Doubleyou," at least not if they're from Washington. They call it "You-Dub." Which, if you're from somewhere, and you heard someone say "you-dub," you would never immediately associate "dub" with the letter "w". You would think this person was stupid.

Or Washington State University. WSU. Not called "Doubleyou-ess-you." No; this one becomes "wazzu." Which frequently is also a reference to the buttocks. Not necessarily a name you wish to associate with a place of higher education.

My alma mater, to my knowledge, has not found a way to avoid its unfortunate acronym: WWU. Western Washington University. Known in the state as "Western." Never, ever, known to ANYONE as "Doubleyou-doubleyou-you." Trying saying that even once, at the same speed as you usually say acronyms. That last "U" is a killer, isn't it? No wonder it's either called "Western," or "Western Washington University." The acronym's too hard to say, and would just confuse people.

Here's my proposal, and I think it's a relatively simple one: Replace the pronuciation of "Doubleyou" with "wah". It's easy to say, takes no effort, and creates an immediate association
with the letter's sound, and makes things so vastly easier for Washingtonians. No longer will WSU be associated with the hindquarters; no longer will UW sound like a command from Tarzan to one of the three men in a tub, and while WWU might then sound like something a speech-impeded cheerleader might say, at least it would be pronounceable. Even George W. Bush would no longer be referred to as "Dubya."

See? Everyone would be happy.

So, join me in the "W" revolution! (Cue "The Times They Are A'Changing")

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Mariners

It's no secret that a large part of my heart is devoted to this, once again, hapless baseball team.

I'm one of those fans who fell in love with the Boys of '95, and hasn't looked back since. And I've been faithful to them ever since, laughing with them, crying with them, screaming at the umpires with Sweet Lou, enjoying the incredible ride that was 2001, writhing in misery over the slow decay that overcame them after Lou's departure. I believed beyond reason in Richie Sexson, wanted so badly for Gil Meche to come into his own, despised the flop that was Jeff Cirillo, and hoped highly in the rise of King Felix.

And this year - this year, I so firmly believed that it could be The Year, the year they'd take it all. They believed in themselves, they were strong in character and in confidence. They were a unit. They had the chemistry. And they stayed in the race the whole way.

Until now.

All of a sudden, as it has so very often in the past, the bottom has dropped out of this team's barrel of playoff dreams. They've lost 15 out of their last 18 games, fallen out of a wildcard lead to trailing it by 7 games in third place. They're reeling in the blows they've suffered. They are, for all intents and purposes, done for the year.

And it saddens me to no end. I feel a little bit like a lover who blindly returns to the partner who cheats time and again, knowing that I'll take her back in the end, that there will be no repercussions. There may be a screaming session or two ("How could you to this to me!?! Again!?!") But in the end, nothing will change. I'll go on believing that next year will be The Year, that it'll be 2001 all over again but with a World Series victory at the end, that all Seattle will stand up and embrace the team that I have loved so desperately, and that they'll forgo the general cynicism that most Mariners fans seem to suffer from.

So here's to next year: this time, I swear, it'll be The Year. Mark my words. I mean, it's not like I say that about every year.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Paradise Now

Paradise Now is an Arabic film that details the journey of two Palestinian suicide bombers who must decide whether or not they truly wish to die for the cause. I've been looking forward to watching it; Sarah and I picked it up at the store awhile ago at "Buy 4 for $25" sale as the fourth movie, and just last night we had a chance and were both in an emotional frame of mind to watch a movie about suicide bombers.

Generally speaking, I find myself to be much more identified with the Israeli side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even more so that I have been reading The Haj by Leon Uris, which is rich with detail about the history and development of that conflict. When the Jews first started arriving in Palestine, it was because the Palestinian Arab leaders were selling off land that they thought was useless. There was no invasion of Jews, and the division the country experiences now is due not to Jewish/Israeli hatred of Arabs/Muslims, but the other way around. The two sides never made peace when the Jews began to buy and build on the land, and when the conflict escalated into violence and the Arabs lost, they still would not acknowledge the right for the state of Israel to exist. And now, with the land in partition, the Palestinians have only themselves to blame. Israel does not seek their destruction; it seeks its own preservation.

Paradise Now follows two friends who have previously made the decision that they wish to commit a suicide attack together. They are finally called on to do so, and one agrees eagerly, but the other is hesitant, contemplative. As they cross the fence between Palestinian and Israeli territory to meet their accomplice, a guard drives up, and they are forced back across, getting separated.

One makes it back to the headquarters of the terrorist organization, but the other - the seemingly hesitant one - does not. With a bomb still strapped to his chest, he makes an effort to get back in contact with his handlers. But when he returns to headquarters, they have left, fearing that he has betrayed their location.

His friend goes out in search for him, and in the process they both reevaluate their decision about giving their lives for the cause in this way. The friend who at the beginning was so eager to give his life has a conversation with a girl which convinces him violence will only beget more violence. The other, however, only ends up far more solidified in his resolve to die. He soliliquizes at one point that life as a Palestinian is like serving a life imprisonment: always behind bars and wires; that there is no point to living when one lives as a slave.

I can understand that sentiment. I certainly can, and it saddens me to think that many Palestinians are suffering for the sins of a few. But it cannot be argued that this imprisonment suffered by the Palestinians is anyone's fault but their own. Israelis are not a terribly narrow-minded people; I am quite certain that were the Palestinians to choose to integrate into Israeli society peaceably, that they would be welcomed. But collectively they do not choose to do so. They decry a lost homeland, but in truth that homeland is only lost because they would not allow the Jews to come and live there peacefully. They chose to fight them when they arrived.

So, I am sorry for the Palestinians, trapped in their own homes. But to accuse Israel as responsible for that imprisonment is faulty. They should use that feeling of imprisonment to motivate their own people to lay down arms, and live side by side as neighbors with the Israelis. It's natural to wish to lash out at the prison guard, but when it's your own actions that sentenced you to prison in the first place, what good does striking the guard do? It just lengthens your sentence.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

"Simple Man"

I didn't write it, but I probably should have for how well I think it encapsulates the philosophy I try to have on life. A fella by the name of Jonah Werner wrote and sang it, and he does a pretty darn good job at both. Would that we could all be "simple men" (oh ok, simple people.... sheesh, you PC police are everywhere...).

Some say strangers are the strangest ones you meet
I bet a few good folks would say the same of me
It's the same old song with a different beat
I've got a homegrown soul, and homeless feet
I've got a black-beard face and dirt-stained hands
I've got a carpenter's build and a farmboy's tan
I didn't come with much, and I'll leave the same
And I live just for today, 'cause I'm a simple man

Lalalala lalalala

Some say good comes from livin' it up
But better than good is just having enough
And saving the rest for those in need
'Cause when you go you know you gotta leave it
You shoot the stars, you better shoot the moon,
You better seize the day, it'll be gone soon
You can call me crazy, you can call me sane
but not a whole lot's going to change 'cause I'm a simple man

lalalala lalalalala
Oh I don't know too much about anything
What I know is enough for now, and it's enough to make me sing

You've got to look at the morning as a brand new day
Pray for the babies and amazing grace
Sing halellujah for the river running and look for glory coming home again
Use love as your legs not love as your cane
Shout for the bread and dance for the rain
Do with what you got, with all you can
That's what I do and that's why I'm a simple man

lalalala lalalalala

Simple's not just enough for the road
Simple is faith and a little kid's hope
It's love that lasts and a life that's free
Without that simple'd be a complex thing
So put down your pack and come follow me
On this sojourn called simplicity
And I'll walk with you, and I'll give you a hand,
'Cause that's what makes me me, I'm a simple man

The Saddest of Days

Today I committed a fatal error, one from which there was no recovery.

I accidentally deleted my blog.

I lost years and years of posts, and many poems and journals that I had no backups to.

I nearly cried.

But I didn't end up crying; I forged ahead - recreating from the ashes what you now see before you. And I do have to say that the new features now available on Blogger do make it much easier to customize.

Still, the sadness that dwells in my bosom over what has been lost has not yet fully sunk in, and I'm sure when it does there will be a few tears shed. (Ha. I just said "bosom.")

I say this tongue in cheek, but in all seriousness, this blog has been such a creative outlet for me that this is really no small loss. I wish that there was some way to recover them, but I can see none. Perhaps some tech-savvy wizard will happen upon this site and tell me the miraculous process for resurrecting dead posts, but I do not pin any hopes on this. I'll accept what has happened as the Hand of the Almighty, and will press ahead, no looking back.

And in an attempt to do so, allow me to point out a few new features, most notably the "Jesse Recommends..." sections you'll see to your left. These are lists of some of my favorite books and movies of all time, in descending order, typically, although in what order they fall often changes according to my mood. I should add a "Current Recommendations" list as well, in which I list books and movies I've recently read or watched that I can recommend.

So, welcome to "The Cleverness of Me" remix edition, and please join me in a moment of silence for a blog that met its fate before its time.