I’ve been reading Numbers. I basically started with the beginning of the Bible, read an OT book, then a NT book, then an OT book, and so on… and I’m currently reading Numbers, which begins with a bunch of numbers – go figure. The first four-ish chapters are about counting different groups of people who are able-bodied enough to perform tasks surrounding the setting up, tearing down, transporting, and maintaining of the camp, including the tent of meeting and dealing with the Ark of the Covenant.
So I was pretty excited to be on chapter five, because it isn’t a bunch of numbers; it’s more along the lines of, “This is what you do if (very specific sin thing) happens. I’ve unexpectedly found these kinds of laws pretty interesting of late. My interest in the details of law that in most ways are impossible to apply today probably makes me a weirdo, but I’ve been really into thinking about atonement lately, digging animal sacrifice and how that and the gospel overlap and align. Also, with the taking some first steps towards vegetarianism, I’m pretty grossed out by some of the sacrifices because they seem real and graphic to me, whereas they used to seem so far removed that they were irrelevant.
Chapter 5 is mostly about what to do if a man suspects that his wife has committed adultery – if he has no evidence of the adultery, but feels what’s described as “jealous of his wife.” That doesn’t read well in modern American English, but I think it means he has all of those jealous, betrayed, bitter feelings that come along with wondering and maybe even believing your spouse cheated on you.
The chapter goes on to explain an oath, some water of bitterness, and the possibility of bitter physical pain, a swollen womb, and a thigh falling away. I’ve read some commentaries that suggest “thigh” there is a replacement word to sanitize the language when it’s really talking about lady parts… no one really seems to know for sure what it means. It’s all very, “It probably refers to…” or “It might mean…” Also, I should note, there’s a supernatural aspect to this situation and its justice, as the oath and the water will not bring pain on an innocent woman.
Numbers is one of those books that people often don’t read because it soooo gets into the minutia that it’s hard to stick with it. It’s too specific for our attention spans or something. It’s this consistent level of detail in addressing every possible scenario in this part of the Bible that led me to assume chapter six would be about what should occur if a woman is “jealous of her husband.” However, I was highly disappointed that the book seems to keep its silence on that one.
Is it just me, or does it seem unfair not to have the complementary chapter where a guilty man’s thigh falls away?
Of course Numbers is a book that can’t be taken out of its historical context, so I get that things weren’t particularly fair to women. I get that all of my thoughts are tinted with the insidious effects of having lived in a time when men sometimes decide to become women, and get to be all over the Facebook and the news for having had a sex change. I get that my idea of gender roles is wonked out by this crazy culture I inhabit… but I feel dissatisfied with what I read today. It feels unfair and unjust.
In this same category of thing: I haven’t written about it before now because I don’t know how to write about it well, but my reading of this chapter is also tinted by the recent adultery of someone I’d consider to be my brother. The ripples of betrayal that spread out around any infidelity are too shocking for words. And, while I feel a sense of defensiveness towards Brother, because his actions don’t make him any less my brother who I love, I read that chapter in Numbers and my heart cried out at the unfairness in the unaddressed situation where the husband rather than the wife has sinned (or is suspected of sin). My heart cries out for the Bible to explicitly condemn the great men in its pages who had multiple wives, but, as far as I know, it remains silent there as well. The double standard bothers me. I lack resolution with it that I feel I should find there, but I can’t see it.
Then, there’s the added thing of how a friend called me last week, needing advice because one of his close friends had cheated, and Friend wanted to talk through how to be a friend to his friend, how to think, how to forgive…
Unfortunately, I didn’t have answers for him. I hope I said some things that are helpful, but it isn’t an equation:
Friend cheated + (something I need to say or do) = I’m a good friend
or, worse yet:
Friend cheated + (something I need to say or do) = problem solved
Maybe that’s why I’m annoyed at the Bible right now. Numbers went at this scenario as if a man would and should want his cheating wife to suffer physical pain and be publicly shamed; it’s a foregone conclusion that he would, without evidence beyond his intuition that she’d cheated, take her to the priest and subject her to a test of her character.
Did my wife cheat on me? + Test the priest can perform = Problem solved!
This equation doesn’t account for the affection and gentleness that a man should have toward his wife. Numbers and the law boil life down to what must be done, omitting the ineffable human parts…
They exclude mercy and its provision. They exclude the mercy I want for Brother.
I’m angry. It would be dishonest to ignore the anger I have, that mostly manifests itself in a desire to list all the ways Brother’s actions impacted me and others I love. Though I try to remember that love keeps no record of wrongs, it feels like an injustice for him to remain ignorant of his affect on the entire body of Christ. I’m sure he’s aware, when I actually think about it. The body is mysterious in its interdependence, and he knows, but that’s still where my anger rests… in wanting him to know and care about the parts that matter to people who aren’t him… the little ripples that are easy to miss while focused on the big picture.
Yet, even in my angriest moments, my lack of desire for Brother to suffer physical pain stands conspicuous to me. Maybe it’s different when it’s closer… maybe if I was the spouse of infidelity I’d want him pummeled. Maybe.
However, it seems universally true to me that the affection and desire for a person’s good doesn’t vanish when he sins or betrays, no matter how personal and evil the sin.
One of the reasons reading Numbers is so dissatisfying is it takes sin out of the context of Christ. The only hope I have for simultaneous mercy and justice for myself, Brother, and the rest of the people who mean something to me… the only hope is the cross. The only place the anger and hurt can be worked out satisfactorily is Calvary. No law, penalty, consequence, or punishment can provide what Christ gave us on the Cross.
I have had two dreams about Better Midler in recent weeks. These dreams occurred on different nights, and didn’t seem to be connected to each other thematically (other than the fact that they featured Bette Midler). I don’t remember the first dream very well, and I only remember bits and pieces of the second dream.
I loved Bette Midler as a child. I think this was mostly because of the films in which she acted. For instance, I LOVED the film FOR THE BOYS. I know it’s odd of me to have loved this film as a 10 or 11 year old child, but I did. I think I loved it mostly because I knew there were grown-up things about it I didn’t fully understand, but I also loved the music and the complicated relationships the film portrays. I loved the history. Hocus Pocus is another Bette Midler film that I adored. Big Business and Beaches were also pretty delightful. I used to play with my Barbies (yes, I admit I played with them well into Jr. High and possibly even High School) and I’d have them sing Bette Midler songs on a Fischer Price tape player I had that came with a microphone that was not to Barbie’s scale at all, but imagination can compensate for such things when we’re young.
Anyways, my most recent dream of Bette Midler had the two of us lazing around with nothing to do. I think we were just watching tv, talking, drinking tea, lounging, etc… There was a casualness to our interactions that felt unusual for the fact that we didn’t actually know each other – even in the dream.
However, at one point, I said something complimentary of Bette Midler, and she took it as something that anyone would say to her because she’s sooooo famous, and she told me that she distrusted the compliment’s sincerity. I decided that meant that I needed to gush to her about how wonderful she actually is… I reminded her that no one but her could have been such a touching and sentimental last guest for Johnny Carson AND made a joke upon receiving a Golden Globe Award that went something like, “I’ll show you a pair of Golden Globes…”
Bette Midler was rather impressed with my knowledge of her career, and thanked me for the compliment, realizing it wasn’t coming from just any old fan.
And then I woke up.
What does it mean, I wonder?
I’ve been in the Sbucks for about fifteen minutes.
At the table in front of me, a mom threatened her twelve-ish year-old daughter with a public slap across the face if she didn’t stop using mom’s phone to play games.
Moments later, a six-ish boy and his father negotiated the boy’s privilege of playing a game on some sort of device… not a pad or a phone or a pod, but something else…
As the boy was playing the game, sitting at a bar that connects to the spot where the completed coffee orders come out, someone totally spilled a venti hot coffee, that spread out all over the bar and spilled a little bit onto the boy’s legs.
He proceeded to scream… it was one of those high-pitched child being beaten screams, and I really thought, Okay, the coffee was definitely hot, but it wasn’t that hot, and it was really very little of it that actually got on you…
Everyone in the store proceeded to freak out. There were something like six strangers wiping coffee off the kid with napkins. There were sad looks on all our faces.
And after about sixty seconds, I knew the kid was going to be fine, because he, between sobs, asked if he could continue playing his game – didn’t want human comfort at all anymore.
I just watched this here TEd Talk, that is worth watching:
In case you didn’t go watch it just now… it’s a guy talking about how he took photographs of people who were next to each other, at dinner, on the street, wherever, but they were interacting with their phones rather than each other. The pictures are gorgeous, by the way. He uploaded them to a website called Bored Panda, and people fell crazy in love with the series.
It’s not really a secret that I hate what Smartphones are doing to us… and I get why people sometimes think I’m crazy. I even get why so many people say their phones aren’t a problem because they know how to make good choices with their phones. But I still think Smartphones are detrimental to human interaction and intelligence. I don’t think that because I hate technology, although I’d totally move to a society without any technology if it made any financial or survival sense in my life. Anyone want to pay me to live for a year without any technology, by the way? Depending on the paycheck, I might just do it.
Regardless, there was this one brilliant idea in the TEd talk that I want to implement in my own life… all cell phones go in the middle of the table at dinner, and whoever touches his phone first picks up the bill… anyone want to accept that challenge? :-)
I am so often disappointed by the things I read… not because they aren’t trying to be what I want them to be, but because they so often fail miserably. The trying is enough to rocket a book or film into the category of mediocre or decent. However, the execution is of greatest import in the astonishingly good category.
Lately, I’ve been re-reading and re-watching. Mostly, I’m re-watching Star Trek: TNG, and I get that a person has to get past the aliens and gadgets to really love Star Trek, but in re-watching the series, I’ve discovered that it’s not disappointing at all. Now, okay, the pilot was pretty cheesy, and I’ve never really liked Troi that much. She’s definitely on the show to off-set the Testosterone and to be eye-candy, but, in re-watching the series, I’ve discovered hat it’s Gene Roddenberry who’s set the bar for all of fiction.
Star Trek is such a beautifully hopeful series when you think about it. It’s a future where we’ve put an end to poverty and war (at least between humans and other humans). It’s a future where racism and sexism are abolished. And, in every episode, the writers and characters try to figure out what it is to be human. Coming up against all of those alien species helps them see themselves a little bit better. When they discuss the possibility of God, we discover that all of their technology has failed to convince them that God doesn’t exist… they sometimes encounter cultures that follow what they see as outdated religious practices, but they still display a humility, and concede that they don’t know what it true. While the technology in the future is impressive, the most impressive feat of technology (Data) spends his days writing poetry about his cat, Spot. He also plays poker, paints, plays the violin, and even tries his hand at friendship and romance, because he deems those things as valuable regardless of how much more efficient and superior his intelligence and physicality might be to a human’s.
I watched Star Trek every night for several years of growing up. It came on at 9:00, and my bedtime was 10:00, so I would get ready for bed on the commercials. When I look back now, I think a significant portion of my personality was formed through the watching of this silly show about aliens… I think my idea of right and wrong, that gut reaction to a situation, was built out of the prime directive. I know that’s ridiculous, but I am willing to admit that I was often less engaged with reality than I was with that particular fiction.
I’ve also been re-reading the first Harry Potter book, which I first encountered during my senior year in high school. I was in an AP English class that was far above my head. It required so much reading that I’m not sure I would do all of it if I were to be in the same class nowadays. We had several books a semester that we were supposed to read and discuss as a class. They included that ridiculous Russian story by Dostoevsky (I can’t remember what it’s called at the moment), that other terrible book Heart of Darkness, and another terrible one Metamorphosis… they all pissed me off, and those are just the ones I read. There were others that I completely ignored. We also read all of the Old Testament, and we had something like 800 pages of outside reading per quarter. The outside/individual pages we read had to be considered classics… so I did a lot of BS-ing that year, pretending to read things I hadn’t ever read. For the most part, my teacher believed I’d read things, and I think she felt sorry for me because I was so clearly not up to par with the other students in the class.
The one awesome thing that happened that year, was Mrs. Sobkoviak allowed that Harry Potter was possibly a modern classic. Thus, I thought: Hey – I might actually be able to read some of the required pages instead of faking it. So I read the first HP book.
I honestly didn’t think it was that extraordinary at the time. It was a task to be completed. I stuck with the series through high school, and into my freshman year of college. As an athlete on a team of girls who were frequently ineligible, I had to find ways to keep myself from being bored out of my mind during our required time in study hall. That’s right, because my teammates were athletes more than students, I had to log some atrocious amount of time in study hall, regardless of my 4.0 GPA. Therefore, I took Harry Potter with me to read in study hall.
The fourth book was the one that really caught me. I’m not sure why; it’s the first of the series that feels truly long, but it, again, was this story where good was trying to triumph over evil in great and small ways.
In re-reading the books time and again, I find myself captured again – the way I was captured by Star Trek. And it’s impossible to describe what it is an any moment of fiction that really grabs at your heart, but I knew, when I was re-reading the beginning of the first book, and nothing really important was happening, and yet, I started crying… I knew that I was reading the right book. The book that not only tried to be what I wanted it to be, but also succeeded. :-)
“Laughing doesn’t make bad things worse any more than crying makes them better,” (Ransom Riggs in his book Hollow City).