Heroes and Villains: Delilah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 16:4-22.

Four-legged children have been members of our family since the very beginning. Andrew moved to Atlanta ahead of me in 2007 because his job was set to start before mine…and I am pretty sure that it was only after 96 hours in the city that he sent me a picture of a little Schnauzer face that was now ours.

Normally I would not recommend surprising a family member with a four-legged child, but when that four-legged child is as wonderful as our Samson, I would recommend it every time!

A year and a half later our sweet Delilah joined our family. Samson picked her out from a rescue in Middleton, Georgia. Samson and Delilah were not from the same litter, but that did not stop them from acting like brother and sister – two pups that had been together all their lives.

Now something about Schnauzers…they are pups…they are also silent ninjas. We have a rule in our house called The Little Mermaid Rule when it comes to the puppadoos. Ariel wanted to be “where the people are” – and our pups need to be where the people are…because if they are not…who knows what will ensue!

Consider one Thanksgiving Dinner at my parents’ house. The family was busily eating in the dining room and we all figured that our four-legged children were under the table hoping someone might share some holiday cheer with them. How quiet and patient they were being! As the meal concluded I rose to take my plate into the kitchen to start the clean up process and saw a mess of turkey juice all on the floor! What in the world!? As I rounded the corner of the countertop, there knelt Samson and Delilah, astride the trashcan, chowing down on the remainders of the turkey carcass my mother had already put in the trashcan!

Samson was the r-u-n-t of his litter; no way he was reaching into a 13-gallon trashcan to fish out a turkey carcass…but Delilah…if the carcass was near the top, could definitely reach it.

Little furry co-conspirators! It is a good thing they are cute…otherwise my mother would have had an outright fit!

Just like our four-legged children, the stars of our Scripture passage this week find themselves in a mess of their own creation – a mess fed and intensified by temptation for more. Temptation is a slippery slope. It causes us to lose our center, to lose sight of what anchors us, to forget or skew the core principles – the covenant – that we share with God that guides the actions of our hearts, heads, and hands. Temptation causes us to lose sight of humanity – our own humanity and the humanity of others. People become objects, the means to ends, useful only in the ways that they accomplish what we want or fulfill our needs. And that is not how our God created us to be.

A inescapable litany throughout the book of Judges is “the people did what was right in their own eyes.” This is the cause of temptation. The effect of temptation is separation – estrangement – from God and others. Resisting temptation – repenting from temptation – brings our lives back into focus by doing what is right in God’s eyes. Doing what is right in God’s eyes is an invitation to sacrifice, to put others before ourselves, to follow the ways of the Spirit rather than pursuing the ways of the flesh.

Our God is good and our God provides. When we fall to temptation we challenge the belief that our God will provide. Waiting for God’s provision is, at times, a struggle. But I believe God purposefully uses those times of waiting to teach us if what we desire is truly important and if what we desire is appropriate for that time in our lives.

Personally, I would rather wait to eat turkey that is nicely sliced on a plate than fish bones out of a trash can and gnaw on a carcass. What about you?

Prayer: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”* Amen.

*“How Firm A Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 529.

Seven Questions of Faith ~ Where Is God?

Sunday’s Scripture: John 1:1-5, 14

I have a theory about the intended purpose of dogs wearing collars with tags, and more specifically, my intended purpose for my dogs wearing collars with tags.

We call them necklaces in the Miller house.

Collars with tags, or necklaces, are helpful if the pups meet a new human friend. The collars and tags share their names and give evidence that they are currently vaccinated.

What is my intended purpose for the pups wearing their necklaces? Necklaces deactivate a pup’s stealth mode. The tags that dangle off a collar do not make much noise, but they make enough noise to reveal their location, reveal their current activity level at that location, and reveal if that location is changing from one to another.

Samson and Tala…I know where you are! And that brings me great comfort.

Sometimes I would like to put a necklace on God so that without a shadow of a doubt I would know where God is. Always knowing where God is would – can you imagine it!? When the world gets loud through shouts of violence, cries of pain, and weapons of words or machines preach a blaring gospel full of hate, what I would give for a sensory assurance of God’s presence.

Just to hear God say, “My children! I am over here!”

And that is when I need to remember that in the midst of all the noise, God is still speaking. God is still making Godself known. In the loud moments the change must happen in me. I must focus my eyes and tune my ears to recognize God’s presence. Finding God’s presence in what at first may have appeared an unlikely place encourages my assurance of God’s presence to move from knowledge in my brain to beating confidence in my heart.

God’s presence is revealed through helpers, comforters, and providers. God’s presence is revealed through a cup of cool water, a bowl of steaming soup, a pair of new socks, and a kind, welcoming word. God’s presence is revealed in Scripture, song, and sacrament. God’s presence is revealed in you and me.

So in us and because of us, what sort of divine presence do our neighbors experience?

Victor Hugo penned in Les Miserables,”to love another person is to see the face of God.” Where is God? God is in each of us. God is capable and yearning to take up residence in each one of us so that we can become God’s echoes in the world. In this way when people wonder where God is or wander in search of God, we can lend our voices to saying “God is here. Allow me to show you how. And, more importantly, allow me to show you why.

Prayer: “Emmanuel, Emmanuel, his name is called Emmanuel. God with us, revealed in us, his name is called Emmanuel.”* Amen.

“Emmanuel, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 204.

Mayhem and Foolishness: Happens To Us All

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ecclesiastes 9:1-10 CEB

Ecclesiastes is a portion of Scripture that finds its home among the Wisdom Literature. Neighbors to Ecclesiastes in the Wisdom Literature are texts like Proverbs and Job in the Hebrew Bible and Wisdom of Solomon and Ben Sira in the Apocrypha.  The kinds of literature can vary across Wisdom Literature texts. For example, the verses in Proverbs are primarily aphorisms whereas verses in Job include poetic verse and prose.

At a quick glance this passage from Ecclesiastes appears to be all prose…but sandwiched in the middle of the prose is this little gem, “Whoever is among the living can be certain about this. A living dog is definitely better off than a dead lion” (Ecc 9:4).

The writer of Ecclesiastes says this as if the wind blew this thought into his mind, down to his lips, and out of his mouth, and then moves right on with the next thought. He keeps going and I’m like…what?? Thinking that I’m not alone in the world of trying to understand this aphorism, I thought I would turn to the scholarly experts for some help in interpreting this phrase.

First let’s think about the words and/or emotions that the words lion and dog evoke.  When I think about lions I think of stately, regal creatures; pride; king of the jungle; and noble.  And when I think of dog…well, first I think of my four-legged children.  They are so cute!

Lilah       Sam

Samson                           and                           Delilah

Yet, in literature…and in Scripture…dogs are not so favorable creatures.  They find company among the bottom dwellers and scavengers.  In his commentary on Ecclesiastes William P. Brown writes, “The dog was typically associated with filth and even death in ancient Near Eastern culture” and the term dog “was frequently a term of contempt in biblical tradition and remains so in English.”*

The writer of Ecclesiastes uses these animal images in this aphorism as symbols to point to bigger categories of what Brown calls “opposing reputations”:

  • intelligence and folly
  • might and weakness
  • majesty and lowliness**

The writer of Ecclesiastes believes that reputation is of utmost importance, particularly the reputation that continues about you in the world even when you are no longer in it.  If that’s the case, then we all want to be lions right?!  But return to the aphorism – the lion isn’t alive…it’s dead…so in this instance the living dog – the lowly scavenger – has the upperhand on the lion carcass.

I think in this somewhat crude aphorism the writer of Ecclesiastes is trying to say that the living have an advantage over the dead.  Yes, the living need to be aware of our limits and come to grips with our mortality, but we cannot live as people that are constantly dreading the events that await us.  Death is part of God’s creation and death has been part of God’s creation since the beginning.  Ecclesiastes has no knowledge of eternal life so he writes as though this is the only life we have, so let’s make the most of it.  Let’s attend to opportunities that arise.  Let’s live life to the fullest.  Let’s experience and experiment, but not recklessly.  It’s possible that through the course of our lives that those that start off as dogs could become lions and vice versa.  What is most important is that we are present in the moment, that we make most of what our God has given us, and find delight in it.

When I think about my four-legged children I definitely do not think of filth or death.  But when I consider their lives I see an example of true simplicity.  They live in the moment – whether they are on a walk, or hunting lizards in the backyard, or chowing down on a bacon-flavored treat.  They are present.  They are vibrant.  They seek the most out of their day…and if they seek too much out of their day too soon in the day, they take a nap!  Ahhhh…that’s the life.  And I think Ecclesiastes would agree.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.  From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”*** Amen.

*Brown, William P. Interpretation: Ecclesiastes (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2000), 92.

** Ibid.

***”Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 707.