30 April 2007

Dance with the One You Love

"Dancing is like painting with your feet," Kara Graves.

For the past few months, I took a dance class with my wife and several other people who are apart of our church family. Insert joke here.

We learned three different kinds of dances: Rumba, Fox Trot, and Swing. Like anything, becoming a good (or even respectable) dancer takes more than one three month class. For most people, it takes several years of practice, mistakes, and growth. Don't be fooled by Dancing with the Stars.

Nonetheless, dancing has taught me a great deal about married life. Here are some things I've learned about myself and my sweet wife.

1. Leading is important but only if you are dancing with someone else. In dancing, someone has to lead. If one does not lead, one does not move. But the leading is gentle, subtle, almost undetectable. Dance purists insist the man must always lead. However, when the man is a bit slower than the woman in picking up new steps, it helps to have a woman who's not afraid to step out and lead for a little slice of time. A great "lead" dancer appears not to be leading at all. This is important for men who are overbearing, dominating and demeaning to their precious wives. You are not simply dancing with yourself...You are dancing with another person.

2. Leading is important but only if your partner is willing to go with you. If your partner does not trust you they will not follow you totally.

3. Practice, experience and embarrassment are priceless. There is no subsitute for being off the couch and on the dance floor. Putting yourself in a vulnerable position is as important as what happens once you find yourself in that spot.

4. Laughter really is the best medecine. If you are a person who is "all business all the time", one session of learning Rumba will cure you.

5. Everyone can dance. Notice I did not say everyone can dance well. But everyone can dance. I did not say everyone should dance as some are called to dance with different people in different ways (i.e. Jesus and Paul were both single, called to singleness).

6. There aren’t as many people watching as you think. You do not have to be something you are not meant to be. You do not have to compete with other people. God is writing your story one page at a time.

7. There are some still watching however. One's marriage is the greatest indicator of character and integrity. I have not met too many people who can hide once they are married.

8. A new dance partner will only mean new problems/challenges. In a culture (the West) where many claim to fall out of love, I challenge the very notion of falling in love. I choose to love the person I'm married to regardless of the outcome. I'm not suggesting that those who are divorced have taken the easy way out for I know many who've bee rescued out of dark situations. But many fall prey to the idea that the deep longings in their life will be met if only the meet the right person. Only the loving God revealed in Jesus sits on that throne.

9. The best teachers are the ones who remember how hard it really is to dance well. People who dance well make it look easy. And it makes the rest of us sick. But they had blisters on their feet and frustration in their gut at one point.

10. Finishing what you start is a sign of maturity and inner strength. It takes curiosity to start something, maturity to finish it.

11. There are moments of chaos and solidarity, learn to enjoy both. Some dance sessions went well, others were full of mistakes and missteps (mostly on my part).

12. In the midst of other dancers it is important to keep your eyes on your partner. Rowan Williams once wrote, "The hardest place to live is right where you are." That is no truer than in the context of marriage.

I wanted to write something about the connection between dancing and sex but alas, I've been censored by my dance partner. So, I'll end with this little nugget. I prefer to think of our relationship with God as a holy dance. God is leading but we are invited to move (or not move) with the divine. It takes years and years of practice to become a follower of Jesus who dances in the truest rythyms and to the clearest gospel cadence.

23 April 2007

St. Paul's

If New York City is the “city that never sleeps” it is also the city that loves to worship. There are some amazing churches in New York City. Known for its diversity, population (nearly 20 million), the epi-center of life in West, God is on the move in this place.

One of the churches that impress many visitors to New York is the Riverside Church, located uptown Manhattan. Founded by the Rockefeller family, the Riverside congregation is one of the most important churches in recent American history. This is the home of one of the twentieth century greatest preachers, Harry Emerson Fosdick. That name might not mean anything to you, but he influenced whole generations of black preachers in this country. Dr. King delivered some of his most important sermons at Riverside during the Civil Rights struggle. It was after one of his trips to Riverside that JFK and Dr. King met for the first time forever changing the course of American Politics: In 1956 the majority of African Americans voted Republican, in 1960 the majority of African Americans voted Democratic. A very similar shift to what many white conservative Christians experienced in the 1980 election with Ronald Reagan. Riverside is not just a building; it is a part of the American story!

On one recent trip to New York, I was walking around Union Seminary (which is located right across the street) and could not gain access into the campus for it was after hours. Not realizing Riverside was directly across the street, I stumbled in the lobby reading inscriptions until I came upon a huge mural dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is like a baseball fan stumbling upon Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium.

One could also step into St. Patrick’s Cathedral not too far from Times Square and Rockefeller Center. St. Patrick’s boasts more important funerals per capita than any church I know of. From church leaders, to business entrepreneurs to famous athletes and entertainers-St. Patrick’s is an icon in the American religious landscape. I was walking through St. Patrick’s by myself with my winter cap on when a security guard asked me to take it off as a sign of respect. I completely understood but at that same moment a woman walked by with her Cocker Spaniel inside this holy place. I looked at the guy and shrugged, he shrugged back like “there’s nothing I can do.” And of course, I'm thinking..."if the dog had a hat on would you make her take it off?"

You might be most interested to visit The Brooklyn Tabernacle Church located in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. I first learned about this church when their pastor came to Woodmont Hills in Nashville, a church I was serving while finishing school. The pastor, Jim Cymbala, had a vision to build and grow a truly diverse church that represented the diversity of the borough of Brooklyn. Today, after starting with a few families in a rented facility, it is a church of several thousand often considered the most diverse church in the United States. The last two years, I’ve take a group of students to one of their prayer services for a powerful hour and a half of imprecatory prayer. There is no “praying for the hands and minds of the doctors”—they pray in authority and power. It is interesting how those two words function in churches comprised of minorities: authority and power. Some leading church thinkers tell us that the more and more the church is pushed to the margins of our Western “church-fatigued” culture the more crucial it is that churches demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus over and against all other powers and authorities.

But the church I am most interested in these days in NYC is St. Paul's.

St. Paul’s; it is located right across from Ground Zero in the heart of Manhattan. St. Paul’s is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use. It also plays an intriguing role in American history.

George Washington worshiped here on Inauguration Day, April 30, 1789, and attended services at St. Paul's during the two years New York City was the country's capital. Above his pew is an 18th-century oil painting of the Great Seal of the United States, which was adopted in 1782.

Directly across the chapel is the Governor's pew, which George Clinton, the first Governor of the State of New York, used when he visited St. Paul's. The Arms of the State of New York are on the wall above the pew.

Among other notable historical figures who worshiped at St. Paul's were Prince William, later King William IV of England; Lord Cornwallis, who is most famous in this country for surrendering at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781; Lord Howe, who commanded the British forces in New York, and Presidents Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and George H. W. Bush.

When the World Trade Center came crashing down that dark day almost six years ago, St. Paul’s was one of the only buildings in the immediate area still functional and functioning. St. Paul’s is not an impressive place per se. It is rather quaint, and old.

After the attack on September 11, 2001, which led to the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, St. Paul's Chapel served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers at the WTC site.

For eight months, hundreds of volunteers worked 12 hour shifts around the clock, serving meals, making beds, counseling and praying with fire fighters, construction workers, police and others. Massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists and musicians also tended to their needs.

As the world around them was in shambles they became a place where people gathered in order to be sent back out. They took the pew where George Washington once sat and turned it into an area for volunteer workers to massage the feet of firefighters who were working 16 hour shifts. St. Paul’s understood that the church is a people not a place.

Fire, devastation, destruction, and death were swallowing hundreds of people right outside there building. Instead of retreating, or creating a country club they opened their arms and hearts as wide as Jesus did on the cross saying, “Whosoever will is welcome in this place. But know this. IF you come in here, you will be sent back out to bring in the weary, fatigued, worn-down and broken.”

While everyone was running away from the chaos of Ground Zero, the folks of St. Paul ran toward the chaos.

A chronology of rescue:

September 11, 2001
Terrorists Attack the World Trade Center
On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked two American Airlines' and two United Airlines' flights. Two of the flights crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Less than two hours after the crashes, the Twin Towers collapsed from the impact. More than 2,500 people lost their lives in New York City. Trinity staff members carried Trinity Preschool children through the ash-gray streets in a black cloud of debris and smoke. Safely away from Ground Zero, the children boarded buses to go uptown.

September 12, 2001
Digging Out and Cleaning Up
Though St. Paul's Chapel remained standing, the building and churchyard were covered in inches of dust from the Twin Towers' collapse. After engineers inspected the building and pronounced it fit for occupancy, the digging out began. Without electricity, Chapel staff used candles and flashlights until city workers set up crude lamps to shed light on the fledgling ministry. Slowly, rescue workers, police officers, firefighters began to come to the Chapel to eat and rest.

September 15, 2001
The Seamen's Church Institute Delivers a Ministry
At first, The Seamen's Church Institute served the rescue workers at St. Paul's. Staff and students from the institute and General Theological Seminary and other volunteers arrived at the Chapel with food, clothing, and other supplies, literally carrying St. Paul's new ministry to the Chapel. They brought Weber grills and began cooking hamburgers on the sidewalk outside the Chapel. Hundreds of hungry and tired rescue workers received coffee, meals, underwear, socks, and gloves.

Oh that we could remember the church is a people not a place.

NOTE: I should have noted that our church partners in ministry with the Bronx Fellowship of Christ and Lindy Emerson--one of the church models (organic house church) that is challenging me these days.

19 April 2007

Other(s) Thoughts on Blacksburg Tragedy

I was going to write a recap of the powerful hour our faith community spent in prayer, lament, worship and reflection for the people who've been ravaged by the violence and murder in Blacksburg. Then I read Patrick's description. Here it is:

Tonight at our mid-week event (called Connections. It is usually a seeker friendly service) Josh Graves and Chris Lindsey planned and carried out a touching hour of prayer and hope. Chris led us in songs of mourning, sadness, loss, and dependence upon Christ. Josh spoke to us about the events of Monday at Virginia Tech, going over them minute by minute as they are known so far. We were then directed to four prayer stations around the Family Room (what you might call a sanctuary). At those stations were tables with the photos and the names of those who were killed — some at each station. We were asked to go to each station and pray, by name, for each one lost, their families, friends, comrades, and communities.

Yes, that included the shooter and his family. Everyone was prayed for, by name, many dozens of times by the assembly. Male and female, young and old poured out their hearts to God.

A long set of tables was placed up front. A large supply of note cards was there and we were asked to pour out our hearts in cards that would be given to the parents of those who lost their children. Moms and dads wiped tears as they wrote. Children drew flowers or crosses and wrote in clumsy letters: "I love you. I am sorry" or as I saw on one, "I am sad, too." On the stage was a large sheet of paper so that people could write short lines of encouragement and prayer. That paper will be placed in the campus center of the local church, the cards distributed to the parents, and our assurances of continued prayer and love will be carried to Blacksburg by people already ready to deliver them.

We closed the evening on our knees, led in prayer by Duane Harrison, one of our shepherds; a combat veteran and one who has lost friends and family members, a man well qualified to lead us.

My prayer around the station tables? It was merely one of many, but I will share one version of it with you. "Father, we are asking for an intervention. We ask you to send your Holy Spirit into the hearts of every grieving person, especially the families of the victims and the shooter. We ask you to intervene as well by shutting the mouths of politicians and all who would work their agenda into this tragedy. Turn off the microphones. Turn the cameras away. Allow the hurting their space, and as the world rushes on to the next story — the next starlet, the next movie deal — send your Spirit and your people in among the people of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech like a tide rushing back up an inlet until you surround them. Thank you for sending professors who stood up for their students, even at the cost of their own lives. Thank you for sending us Professor Librescu; a hero, a great man who had already confronted great evil in his life and who, when it reared it’s ugly visage again, recognized it and stepped toward it, saving his students. We know that we are not saved by works, but we ask you to consider his life and reward him for his faithfulness in the cause of goodness, his courage in the face of evil. Father, we know that evil will never leave this world. We know it cannot be legislated out of existence nor can we take so many precautions as to be immune from its encroachment, its attacks. Help us to be faithful when that day — those days — come. As one who lost His own Son, we know you grieve with those who lost their children. Help us to have Your mind. Help us to remember them."


Scot McKnight wrote these words

Virginia Tech: What can we do?
Filed under: Miscellaneous — Scot McKnight @ 2:30 am
We can pick up the pieces of rubble left aground by the cold-blooded murdering of 32 Virginia Tech students, but we cannot make sense of the senseless shards of rubble we find. A professor who perceived that the young man was deeply troubled and fellow students who knew the same; lives of 33 familes now wrecked and young adults who will not return for the summer; security measures that can never be secure enough to block tragedies and police investigations that didn’t take the turn we wish had been taken. What can we do? What do you think?
(read more…)
We can hold the entire school, the families, the police force, the medical doctors and nurses still tending to the wounded and all involved unto our God as an offering in the hope that we can heal the grieving and guide our country.

But we can’t make enough laws to prevent troubled, isolated individuals from penetrating into the fabric of a reasonably-safe garment to unravel parts of it.

We can be more sensitive to the troubled and more vigilant in seeking help for roommates, students, acquaintances, and those we encounter whom we believe are a threat.

But we can’t find our way into the inner world of everyone so that we can with breathless certainty discern those who might explode at any moment.

We can fight for justice, establish better laws, and live out our vocation in peace and justice and love. And we can urge the media to remove the videos of the murderer — those videos can have no redemptive value.

But we can’t create a completely safe world, a perfect environment, or a society in which no one with evil intent can ever enter.

We can live by the Jesus Creed, but we can’t force anyone to live by it.

For these reasons, and more beside, we can pray what Jesus taught us to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

16 April 2007


Today's tragedy (still unfolding) at Virginia Tech is a reminder of how destructive and evil humans can be toward one another. In the days and weeks to come, I am confident we will find out a great deal about the person responsible for such darkness.

I wrote these words a few weeks in a Review I wrote for Wineskins Magazine of N.T. Wright's book Evil and the Justice of God.

More humans died in the twentieth century than in all previous centuries combined. Mass genocide in Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Darfur, Northern Uganda, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Srebrenica, along with the devastations of WWI and WWII crushed the optimism that characterized the West at the onset of the 1900s. By 1930, the spirit of progress began to give way to a spirit of disillusionment.

Western Christianity did not fare well either. Many of these atrocities took place in “Christian” nations or nations closely affiliated with the Christian religion (including Nazi Germany which was overwhelmingly Lutheran). According to Alister McGrath, though almost two-thirds of all Christians lived in the West in 1900, only one-third were still recognized as “Western” by 2000. Christianity shifted to the far corners of the world: China, South America, and Africa. Scholars now notes that there are more Anglicans in Africa, for instance, than in all of Great Britain.

Even more chaos consumes the 21st century landscape. The devastation of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, tragic earthquakes in Pakistan and Kashmir, the terror of Hurricane Katrina, and the latest surge of wars in the Middle East push Christians to ask, “is God present and working in the face of such pressing evil?” To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “If the atheist must answer the reality of joy in the world, the Christian must answer the presence of suffering.”

To read the whole piece, click here. To check out Wright's book, go here.


May the families of the victims be covered in prayer by people of all faith on this dark day in American history.

10 April 2007

Imus in the Mourning?

If you are not aware of the recent drama surrounding Shock Jock host Don Imus, you really need to stop watching LOST, Idol, and 24 and pay attention to what's happening in the larger world.

Some thoughts...

Two Reasons Don Imus Is Getting What He Deserves:

1. He comes off as a bigot. A bigot towards “all people” (Spreading one’s animosity around equally is not the most savvy of arguments I might add) but a bigot nonetheless.

One national writer notes, “He has acknowledged using the "N-word" in conversation with a producer. He has referred to the "Jewish management" of CBS as "money-grubbing bastards." He has called Palestinians "stinking animals." And he has been quoted as calling former attorney general Janet Reno "the big lesbian" and a prominent black journalist as "the cleaning lady."

2. He targeted specific people. It is one thing to use humor (though what he said is ‘out of bounds’ for public humor in my estimation) towards different sub-groups in American culture; it’s another thing to target specific people: Rutgers female athletes.

One Reason to Fire Imus:

1. His original comment is reprehensible and his apology wasn’t much better.

One Reason NOT to Fire Imus:

1. We are all guilty of racism and stereotyping on some level. Whether it is subtle insinuations or blatant comments about who owns the party stores in Detroit—we are all guilty of turning people into straw men false constructions.

I’m not thrilled that the Rev. Al Sharpton is at the forefront of this discussion but it does not mean that Imus should not be held accountable for his demonstrative public comments. Imus can only apologize so much. It is up to everyone (regardless of color, socio-economic status) to name the mistake, learn from it, and move on.

One reporter shared these words with Imus:

Jeff Greenfield: "...But, it is true I think that your show makes fun of black people in a different way than you make fun of white people. Which is, when your comedic staple does "Ted Kennedy" he doesn't sound like "Hulk Hogan", who doesn't sound like "Dr. Phil" who doesn't sound like whoever else you're doing. But I think it is fair to say, and I just read this by one African American columnist who made this point today, that when you parody black people they all sound the same, sort of a nineteenth century mushmouth minstrel thing. And I think that comes from a more general notion, that like all comedic insult type humor, you look for the most obvious thing to parody. If some of us put on weight you make fun of that, but when that gets into the area of race, and I think that's what happened with this admittedly idiotic and hurtful comment you made yesterday, you look for the most obvious thing, and in this context, in this country when you do that with people's skin color it's at a different level of insult. And one of the things that I think would be really useful in the two weeks that you're off, is not to swear off making fun of black people who do dumb things, I mean you know if Barack Obama or Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson says things that are hypocritical, I mean the idea that Reverend Sharpton gets to decide what's a racially inflammatory remark kind of shows that God has a sense of humor, but you may want to think about how you do that in a way that isn't the most obvious stereo-typical comment to make about someone's skin color. That's what I think about that."

This is a great example of the way in which all of us share in the comments made by Imus. Imus is responsible for completely irresponsible dialog. His listening audience is responsible for being drawn to a personality who is notorious for the ways he belittles people of various, ethnicities, genders, etc. No doubt, Imus will also gain listeners now because of this. In our modern shock jock ethos there is no “bad publicity.” And…I am responsible because I have too often stayed silent on issues such as this, contributing to the degredation of women, minorities, and other targeted persons. We all share in this. We are all in this together.

07 April 2007

Good Friday Reflection

One of my favorite blogs to read is Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed. Here's why.

Why This Night? A Good Friday Reflection

Filed under: Atonement — Scot McKnight @ 2:20 am
We need to reconsider why it was that Jesus chose Passover (a night of celebrating and remembering liberation) rather than Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (a day of affliction and a day when sins were atoned for). Why does he choose this night to take his stand for what his death meant? Why die at Passover instead of Yom Kippur?

Details about these feasts can be found by reading Leviticus 16 and 23. It could be that Passover was a pilgrim festival, and hence attended by more, and Yom Kippur was not. From the “triumphal entry” forward, Jesus was aware of mounting opposition to what he was doing. That he stayed the course is significant. He could have escaped from Jerusalem and returned to Galilee in the quiet of the night. Aware of the opening chasm of death before him, Jesus chose to stay and he chose to die.

Again, we ask: Why choose Passover for his death?

We answer that by answering this question: What did death at Passover do? Passover involved the death of a lamb; it involved the smearing of a lamb’s blood with the hyssop branch on the door; the blood protected from God’s judgment and liberated Israel following that protection. If this is what Passover was about, then — if we think about this historically — Jesus was “storifying” his own death: Jesus was claiming that his followers, by ingesting his body and blood, were (as it were) “smearing” blood on themselves to protect themselves from the judgment of God against the oppressive, violent, and power-mongering leaders of Israel and Rome who right now were oppressing God’s good people. We need to recall that Jesus had just announced (read Mark 13) that judgment would shortly come to Jerusalem.

If we are willing to think about what this might have meant to the first followers of Jesus, it could conclude this: the Last Supper was an act of rebellion against Rome and Israel’s unjust leaders and the claim that those who “ingest” Jesus will be protected from judgment and liberated — like escaping beyond the Red Sea — to live in the kingdom of God. By choosing Passover instead of Yom Kippur to explain his death, Jesus chooses the images of divine protection and liberation. He offers himself—in death—to absorb the judgment of God on behalf of his followers so he can save his people from their sins.

No one would argue that this is all there is to the death of Jesus — there are many other images one could explore, but one must begin right here: Jesus’ act at the Last Supper declares that his death is atoning, that his blood is like the Passover blood, that his death will save his followers from their sins, and that his death will create the new covenant community around him.

05 April 2007

Cass Park in California?

Some of you are familiar with the “love-feasts” that our church has been throwing for the homeless and poor in Cass Park, Downtown Detroit. You’ve heard the stories about Professor Jack, Francis, and other tidbits.

I shared the Professor Jack story while I was in Fresno, CA earlier this year. There I met Wade Thomasy from Bakersfield.

To get right to the point: Wade caught the vision. This coming week the “love-feast” idea will be hitting the streets of Bakersfield, CA. If you would like to send a note of encouragement to Wade see the note below he recently wrote me.

May 12th, 2007 starting around noon PST, a gathering will take place,

We have called it "Lovefeast 93304" to congregate with homeless, hungry and needy people to share the Love of God, celebration worship and a chicken barbeque with all the trimmings.

I thought you would be happy to hear about this since God gave the idea to me through you at the worship conference in Fresno, CA, February 2007.

I am Wade Thomasy Central COC Bakersfield, CA 93304, 661-477-7895, cthomasy@bak.rr.com.

Thank you for allowing God to bless me with this gift to serve, please pray for God to continue to bless it and guide it.


Cass Park Love Feast breaking out in California? Must be a Holy Spirit thing.

03 April 2007

Judah, Tamar, and Yahweh

If you do not know the Judah-Tamar story (or should I say the Tamar-Judah story) don't read this without first dipping your feet in the wild river that is Genesis chapter 38. This story has perplexed scholars for decades, even with the contribution of great narrative critics and experts like Robert Alter.

I am drawn to critical details of the stories found within Scripture. Call it midrash, extrapolation, or sheer ruminating--I love to go the edges of the story and ask how God might be found "in the background, reaching from limb to limb" (to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor).

My friend Wade calls this "going to the gaps." Or, he got that phrase from someone else...I cannot recall.

Here's how I recently retold this story to my community of faith.

Judah sets up the marriage between Er and Tamar. Er dies because he’s got some moral issues. It seems Jewish persons are more comfortable with God being involved in death than we typically are. Tamar now needs a husband, according to Jewish tradition and customs known to this part of the world regardless of religious persuasion. That little part of Torah is known as the “levirate law”(Deut. 25; Ruth 3-4)—a woman should marry the next oldest brother in order to preserve the dead brother’s lineage and to give the widow a place and voice within culture.

Onan becomes the lucky guy to take on his brother’s wife. Apparently he goes along with the arrangement right up until the part about having to consummate the new covenant. This act of non-consummation (for lack of a better word) has come to be known as “Onanism”—just thought you’d like to know that little factoid.

God does to Onan what he did with Er—“you’re fired”—God strikes him dead. Two dead brothers, a woman twice widowed, and a whole lot of confusion. Judah, the patriarch and leader looks around and does the math: the one common denominator in all this mess and death is Tamar.

So, Judah does what any mean person would do if he wants to punish a young woman: He forces her to go back and live with her parents, bringing her more attention for acts she was never responsible for in the first place. The writer of Genesis tells us that Judah has another son he could give Tamar (were he a strict follower of Torah) but he decides that is not in his best interest considering the two funerals he’s just paid for involving his two eldest sons.

Tamar is sent to live with her parents. For Judah, she's a problem more than she is a person (I mean...two dead sons, c'mon you do the math).

After a long time…in Scripture you know the story is about to get real interesting when it says “after a long time”…Judah goes through his own hard time: his wife Shua dies. He takes a buddy with him to Vegas once he’s done with the mourning process. Ok, it wasn’t Vegas, you must read your Bibles carefully--the town is called Timnah.

Somehow Tamar finds out about her father-in-laws travel plans. And she decides that if she is to get what she needs to survive and have any social value, she’s going to have to take matter into her own hands. Tamar decides to play “the whore” (the Hebrew indicates) by wearing a veil. The veil indicates Tamar knows exactly what she’s doing: she’s seducing the man who’s denied her all these months and possibly years.

Judah must not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, because he does not recognize her upon approach—that’s either a testimony to how drunk Judah is (like Jacob with Rachel: after all that hard work, how do you not know you’ve been given the wrong sister? How drunk do you have to be unable to distinguish between the hot sister and the one with weak eyes?)…or to how little he is paying attention.

Either way, the text makes things pretty clear: Tamar is approaching this as a business proposition and he’s approaching this as a “boys will be boys” moment. Both know what they want, and both, in fact get it. Because Judah cannot pay Tamar for the services rendered, he leaves his drivers license and credit cards with her. The seal he leaves with her is his identity encased in a cylinder he would have wore around his neck. Like Essau, he’s willing to trade a great deal for a moment of satisfying his fleshly cravings.

Some time passes, three months to be exact. Judah finds out that Tamar is pregnant and becomes incensed. “Torah requires me as a man of unscrupulous principles to do the right thing,” (the irony is so thick). Tamar must be burned (according to Torah, she could be hanged, burned, stoned, strangulation, beheading. “Criminals who were to be burned or stangled had to stand in dung up to their knees,” (Towner, 252).
But before the story can get too out of hand, Tamar sends a prophetic word back to Judah. Like Nathan approaching David, Tamar exposes Judah for the Torah violator he really is not the do-gooder he claims to be. Judah has made a mess of his role/part in the story, Tamar is not afraid to bring this to the surface (not that she can claim the moral high ground either).

Only the Bible would continue with the story. Tamar gives birth to twins, a familiar twist in the Genesis narrative—one of these twins will be in the linage of King David!

There’s a word from God in all this confusion, entrapment and mess. In fact, it is usually in the mess of life that God has the space to impart his holy ways. It’s ironic isn’t it? We tend to think that God works best with perfect people, who hair is cut just right, who knows all the right language—the people who look the part. But it seems that God isn’t interested so much in people who look the part. It seems like he’s interested in people who make a mess of the part. People who, like Judah, are more interested in appearing virtuous than doing the virtuous things required of us (protecting the innocent and vulnerable, practicing justice for a widow who’s lost two husbands, abstaining from giving in to lust and physical longing which turns a woman into “the sum of her parts” a far cry from the way Genesis describing women being equally created in God’s image).

Yes, Genesis gives us permission to state that God is interested in people who make a mess of the part more than people who pretend to “look the part.”

Don’t believe me? Turn to Matthew’s genealogy when you have a momentt. Matthew, as I mentioned in a sermon during advent season, is interested in involving the messy people of Jesus’ lineage: particularly the messy non-Jewish women who are involved in a sexual sworee.

Tamar's, Bathsheeba's, Ruth's, and Rahab's--all in the lineage of Israel and Jesus. Apparently while many church cultures run from the mess, God runs towards it.

I think I'm beginning to really love this thing called faith.