You Can Totally Follow All These Laws

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

Deuteronomy 30:11 (NIV)

I have been fired twice in my life.

My county allowed teens as young as fourteen to get a work permit, so my Mom signed me up to teach swimming lessons with the local Parks & Rec department. Classes began every Saturday morning at 8 am and took place in the High School’s balmy natatorium. Since I went to church around the same time every Sunday morning, this meant that I had 0 days a week to sleep in. On this basis alone, I had a problem. Also even in eighth grade, I knew that my life’s calling was not swim instruction. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this job, and thus I did not put in all of the required effort to help hapless toddlers stop from drowning. One day, in the view of my superior, I pushed a friend into the pool as a joke; my boss said that I was not cut out for this line of work. What a relief. Fired.

The second occurred many years later after I had graduated college. I charmed my way into an assistant teacher position at a private school for autistic children, and from the get go, my lead teacher and I did not see eye-to-eye. We just had different philosophies – she wanted to “keep the peace” in the room while I wanted to push. Also, as I found out after my dismissal, she actually wanted a female assistant as she felt men just did not have “the instinct.” I was not cut out for this position – my superior had laid all her forces against me – but nonetheless, I wanted this job. So I started scrambling. I altered my approach – much more “maintaining” and less pushing. I changed my demeanor – softer tones and a more delicate touch. But it didn’t work. The teacher just did not want me. They gave me three weeks to improve. I lasted one.

This experience unsettled me in a way that resonated for months thereafter. In this circumstance, I was not some angst-ridden teen forced to wake up early on Saturday mornings; this was my dream job. And in spite of 100% of my efforts, I was simply inadequate for the position. I came just as I was, and they rejected me. It stung like the most intimate of break-ups.

And now it is time to break away from the Torah. I spent the past three weeks reading and cataloguing the Law, and what have I learned? Well, there are 553 laws total – on my count anyway. I provided a list of statistics in the previous entry, such as the most repeated law and the category with the highest total, but what does that tell us?

Not much.

Did you know The Law has a Wikipedia page that catalogues each and every rule? My friend sent it to me, perhaps as a way of discrediting my count of 553, but also to say, “Why did you do all that work when so many have done it before you?”

The answer is simple. Because I wanted to know first hand how God views me.

And according to the Law, I am inadequate. I am inadequate just as I am. Not because of the homosexuality thing, but because of all the things.

Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses states that we are all completely capable of following the Law. He says it is not like flying into the heavens or crossing the seas; it is simple. Be adequate. You are completely capable of being adequate.

But we all know that we cannot possibly be adequate in God’s eyes; He placed a curse on us for the sins of Adam and Eve due to the fact that we were utter disappointments in our very nature. And the Law further cements this idea, because – and hold on to your hats – it was designed to be completely impossible to follow. Yes, that is what I have learned. God bestowed a standard that no one could ever meet so that we would fully remember our place. We are inadequate, even at our best.

Unlucky enough to be born with a disability? Never enter the presence of the Lord.
Brash enough to have your period? Sit alone for a week.
Gather yourself some firewood on the Sabbath? Lie down and watch the stones fly.

Is it any surprise that about 2/3s of the behavioral laws use negative language?

You want to do something? Asks the Lord, Well, do not do it.
It is your choice, says Moses. It is well within your reach.
You are not enough, says the Bible. You are not enough.

After reading the Law, it is my recommendation that no one ever go near it again. Exactly 0% of the rules still apply in our modern culture, and if Christian theology is correct, it all goes out the window anyway. Stop putting these verses on placards. Don’t reference them in your arguments. Frankly, never quote them again, unless your quote begins with the words, This isn’t true, but…

You want to know what I learned? The Law is dead.

The Full Law (Jesse Is Thankfully Done with the Law)

As Jesus will say approximately six months from now (according to my blog schedule at least):

It is done.

I have finished cataloguing all of the commandments mentioned in the Law and came up with a few interesting statistics. First things first, let’s see our final graph and tallies (alternatively, you can view this info by clicking on “The Law” tab):

FINAL TALLY: 553 LAWS

Final

Final

 


 

FINAL TOTALS

Gods & gods : 47
Sexuality & Relationships : 38
Ritual : 99
Money & Property : 58
Food : 51
Behavior : 121
Sacrifice : 66
Health: 29
Miscellaneous : 44


SUPERLATIVES
(you know… like in high school)

Category with Most Laws: Behavior with 121 laws (22%)

Most Repeated Commandment: “Keep God’s commandments.” (18 mentions)

2nd Most Repeated Commandment: TIE “Remember Sabbath” and “Do not worship other gods.” (13 mentions each)

Number of Laws Forbidding Gay Relationships: 1

Number of Laws Forbidding Lesbian Relationships: 0

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Not Pollute the Earth: 1

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Have Tassels on All Our Garments: 2

Number of Laws Forbidding Various Forms of Incest: 13

Tomorrow… a little analysis. But in the meantime, go up and check out the “Law” tab to see the complete list of entries.

My Heart Will Be Known (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 2)

The sound of the bells will be heard when [Aaron] enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he comes out, so that he will not die.

Exodus 28:35 (NIV)

do-not-enterI never thought that I had Christ’s salvation growing up. My church did these things “altar calls,” where they encouraged broken individuals to make a public declaration for Jesus. They typically occurred at the end of a huge retreat, just following a particularly somber and guilt-inducing sermon by the guest speaker that week or weekend. A sermon that hammered home your inadequacy in front of the Lord and the clear path towards realigning yourself to Him. Then, they asked for those who felt the guilt and power of Christ to make a commitment. They wanted you to deliver a sign, in front of your peers, to show that you meant it when you said that you wanted to commit (or recommit) your life to God. You needed to walk down the aisle, fall to your knees, and pray in front of the altar. Your friends saw this action, this commitment done out of free will, and were told to hold you accountable for it. I responded to these calls each and every time. I stood up and knelt in front of the altar every single time – not out of repentance, but rather a fear.

Signs always bothered me. Your heart will be known by your actions, I always heard, but I never believed it. That implied that if I believed in Jesus fully, then my actions would change in a way that everyone could understand my belief just by watching me. It never sunk in, because I made certain to change my actions to align with what was expected of me, not what my heart reflected. You could call me a deceiver and a yes man, but really, I was just trying to ensure my soul went into heaven (read: my soul didn’t go to hell). If God wanted me to wear bells before walking into church, then I would have done it – not out of respect, but rather a terrible fear.

I don’t think that acting out of fear is enough. I have no biblical proof for that; that conclusion comes purely from my logic. Does God know my heart by my actions? Or does He simply know it? Why isn’t it clear?

And why do I have to be dead to know for sure?


Currently on OLD TESTAMENT JUSTICE

God forbids man from following other gods, for the seventh time. And then He demands that His temple be made a certain way for the second time.

Indecent Exposure (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 1)

And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.

Exodus 20:26 (NIV)

Men_Handicap_Sign-xl

A symbol for “Restroom for Men Only”

I changed in the stalls before and after gym classes. I wouldn’t say it was out of embarrassment, but rather, a life-ending feeling of utter mortification and shame at the mere thought of someone seeing me naked. None of the guys ever took off their underwear – the bathroom was just a bunch of pre-teens dudes in boxers, flimsy beaters, and knee-length socks. No one was even looking at anyone; everyone faced the wall. It was all implied, not shown. We were not ready for full exposure.

Once we hit eighth grade, this guy Daniel pointed out my bathroom modesty to everyone. He said so-and-so-something small penis yadda probably gay – I couldn’t understand the exact insults through the stall door. I don’t remember it being a sexual shame. What I mean is that I never worried the other guys might think that I was queer, because at that point, my image of sex was lying in bed with a woman clothed while mechanized tentacles emerged from our loins and rubbed together. So being queer was the least of my thoughts. No, it wasn’t sexual. It was relational. I wanted to be the guy who could change in front of other guys, but I just wasn’t that guy.

I was a modest kid until I went to church – they really shoved the whole male-camaraderie-at-any-cost down our throats. But don’t let my natural cynicism confuse you – fellowship, particularly intra-gender, is a good thing. To sit with other guys who feel just as weird as you do, it can be a tremendously good thing. But to be around all those guys and just know that you don’t belong? That can be a real drag. I attended just about every single church retreat, and most involved some sort of midnight-hour (read: 8:45 pm) communal disrobing session disguised as a bonding ritual. And it was all invoked with the attitude of “Hey! We’re dudes! We can’t suppress our guy-ness!

And so while in the mountains of New York State, as the clove of October-November rolled around, after the leaders fell asleep and the eighth grade boys rose from their bunk beds… I decided to partake. It was a necessity, so that I could join the group and claim a spot amongst the males. The dare was to streak down the hill, skinny-dip in the lake, and run back before the cold the cold killed us. I did it, hands clamped down over my body for just a shred of modesty. But who cares, that is just semantics. Because I did it. And now, I could claim my spot.

With newfound confidence, I waltzed back into school the next week. I looked around the playground as the school buses dropped off student after student. Everyone was gathering for a quick round of dodge ball. I decided to partake. But there was this little chubby guy named Frankie who would not play and wanted to be the “scorekeeper” instead. And I thought, What a loser. Remember that guy Daniel from the bathroom? Yeah, well he ripped into Frankie, and said all the same so-and-so/yadda stuff he had said to me. And with my recently bestowed masculinity, I whispered in Daniel’s ear, Let me take care of this. So I sauntered behind Frankie, grabbed his double-XL shorts, and shanked him in front of the crowd. I was behind, so I am not sure what the other guys saw, but apparently, it was hilarious. That was my way of saying to Frankie, Join the club dude, or get out. It was also my way of saying to the other guys… I am one of you.

The principal gave me detention for a week for my shenanigans. I cried the whole time and begged for forgiveness, but got none. They made me sit on the wall during all the recess times and watch everyone else play dodge ball. Public shaming. That set me back to fifth grade levels of decency. No more immodesty for me.


Currently on THE LAW ACCORDING TO MOSES

After a rousing reading of Exodus 25 – 31, I have added about 20 laws to the Ritual section, which has pulled it ahead of Behavior. Also, be sure to check out a law in the Money & Property section that implies a flat taxing system (meaning the rich and the poor pay the same). Then, God lays down a precise set of instructions for building His tabernacle. And finally, we have our first Miscellaneous Law!

I am Changing the Game: Exodus 20 – Deuteronomy 34

[God] said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

Exodus 15:26 (NIV)

I am changing the game a bit. A project within a project. Here are the rules:

THE EXPERIMENT
I will read through the Law of the Torah, which consists of Exodus 20 – Deuteronomy 34, in three (3) weeks and catalogue all of the rules presented therein, cross referencing them based on subject matter, repetition, subsequent punishments, and language used.

THE HYPOTHESIS
I am walking into this a bit blind. As you know, I was a devout Christian, but do not recall much about the Law other than the clobber passages against homosexuality, and I think one against shellfish. Also, I have not done any outside research or anything – you’ll have to just take my word on that – as my aim is to experience this information first hand.

Having said that, I think the overwhelming majority of the laws will use negative language and a plurality will concern human behavior.

THE PROCESS
Between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 34, there are 118 chapters of text, which I will split up to read before New Years. There are a few brief narratives sprinkled in, but the majority of these four books – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – contain imperative instructions dictated from God to Moses. While reading, I will take each law and place it into one of eight categories (or more later, if necessary). Those categories are:

God & gods
Sexuality & Relationships
Ritual
Money & Property
Food
Behavior
Sacrifice
Miscellaneous

The purpose of this is to identify what types of commandments God favors over others, and perhaps reveal something about His priorities. Go ahead and click on any of those categories now (besides Miscellaneous – which is empty). It will bring you to the data I have collected on my first day, which encompassed Exodus 20 – 24.

In addition, I have added a menu at the top, which links to these individual pages. Clicking on “The Law” brings you to a summary page about all of the laws I have read thus far. I have taken into account the possibility that one law may fit two categories.

As this is a blog about my spiritual exploration as well as a way to discuss my upbringing, I will continue posting little daily stories about the laws that I come across. This is due mainly to the fact that this section of the Bible has little-to-no narrative content. (There are a few sections of the Bible like this… Wait until you see what I have planned for the books of poetry)

If you have anything to add or think I may have categorized something incorrectly, then please, let me know at GodDoesntChangeBlog@gmail.com or chime in the comments below.

THE RESULTS
Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?


Click on the links about to see the results from my first day of reading. So far… 32 laws concerning Behavior and only 3 about Sexuality & Relationships! Check them out.

I Actually Like the Ten Commandments: Exodus 20 (again)

Part Two.

Same as yesterday.

Same as yesterday.

Let me be clear – I have no substantial issues for the Ten Commandments. You may have exited my previous entry thinking, “Jesse really doesn’t like those tablets Moses brought down the mountain,” and I can see why. As a queer person who created a blog about sexuality and spirituality, it is safe to assume that I have my issues with the Biblical text as I have come to understand it, but unlike some of my LGBT brothers and sisters and non-cis siblings, I do see value in adhering towards standards and living within restrictions.

But I wonder about the origins of morality. Like, does our current culture adhere to values that are innate, or have we gradually acquired and built morals throughout our history? The Ten Commandments are one of our earliest recorded law documents, appearing in a similar timeframe as the Code of Hummurabi, and when we look at them from a modern perspective, they still hold value. Yesterday, I picked apart each of the laws to see how many still applied in our current legal system (so as to understand the justification for why they appear in association with our Judicial Branch). And while SCOTUS does not seem too interested in lining up its values with Biblical ones, I think that the majority of people do. Walk down the street and ask people if they think lying, stealing, and killing are wrong. Most would agree, or would go to extreme lengths to manufacture a scenario where they would be permissible. Now the God-specific commandments might rub people the wrong way, but I also anecdotally think that most people would also agree with respecting authority (the underlying value in those laws).

So in the Ten Commandments, we are told to keep God at the head (1 – 3), honor the Sabbath (4), respect elders (5), and avoid selfish behavior (6 – 10). When I read and reread these, particularly the final six, the feeling I get in my stomach is that these are innate laws. They almost go without saying.

So why does it feel that way? Are we born with an instinctual morality?

Now, these questions refer mainly to my reading of the Ten Commandments, which are considered the ultimate Law under God. Yesterday evening, I began reading the rest of “the Law.” For the majority for the rest of Exodus – as well as the next three books of the Bible – Moses dictates the Law to the Israelites. Honestly, and no offense to its author, it reads like my vacuum cleaner’s instruction manual1. And unlike the Ten Commandments, no one is interested in building stone monuments that profess these rules. Why? Well despite their unbelievable length, they simply don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. When I began reading them, my brain went into overdrive.

For instance:

If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.

Exodus 21:2 (NIV)

This one does not strike my gut as “innate” or even logical. And it comes a mere ten verses after the end of the declaration of the original Commandments.

I don’t get it.

So. I will be taking a break from the usual format to try something a little more analytical. Over the next three weeks, between now and New Years, I will read the entirety of the Law, which comprises of the remainder of Exodus along with Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. While reading, I will post little (daily) stories that relate to the laws that I am reading or perhaps a little analysis. However, my main aim will be to identify and catalogue all of the rules presented in the Torah. I want to understand exactly what God required and intuit the logic that dictated them (if a logic exists at all). I realize that Christian theology states that Jesus does away with the Law when He comes around, but for nearly a millennium and a half, Jewish people followed these rules to the word. Let’s figure out what that was like.

Tomorrow, I will outline my grand plan in greater detail and provide my first entry. Check back in to see exactly what the Law stated and how that continues to affect us today.


1Just kidding. I don’t own a vacuum cleaner.

The Ten Commandments, and What They Mean for You! : Exodus 20

  1. No gods.
  2. No gods (again), or gods of God.
  3. No “OH GOD!”
  4. Remember Sunday (or Saturday or Friday).
  5. Honor Parents.
  6. No Murder.
  7. No Adultery.
  8. No Thieving.
  9. No Lying.
  10. No Jealousy.
Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659)

Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659)

I heard this joke:

“Oh God. You know, I was slaving away last Saturday, worshipping at the pagan temple instead of being at home with my parents like they’d asked, making human sacrifices and having sex with women I wasn’t married to, and I found myself looking enviously at my friend’s golden chalice, so I stole it from him, and then blamed a passerby who had nothing to do with it…

“…and I found myself asking, what do the ten commandments mean for me?”

Good joke.

I like it, because it sums up the lack of respect most Americans have for these set of laws. There is an ongoing debate in our culture about the proper place for the Ten Commandments in society, which is a subset of a larger discussion over God’s place in our public arenas. Court cases have been filed about the prominence of these Biblical laws outside our courthouses. Protests have been held. Similar arguments have been waged on whether “In God We Trust” should appear on our currency, and if our pledge of allegiance should contain the words “Under God.” Generally speaking, Christians want to hold onto these terms, as they symbolize our roots as a morally upstanding (and Christian) nation. The dissenters, which range in ideology from atheism to non-monotheism, tend to want to blot out all references to the Judo-Christian God and opt for something much more generic – for all of those “others” who do not subscribe.

But do not be mistaken, the Christian obsession over keeping the Ten Commandments front and center is only symbolical. Because no one believes that these ought to be our exacting rules for living life.

Let’s take a quick jaunt through them with my modern American lens, and for this case, I will use the classic King James Versions of the verses, just so we can all feel a little fancy on this Monday morning. Just to reiterate, this is not a commentary on whether we ought to follow these laws, but whether our American judicial system and widespread culture actually follow them. Here we go:


 

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

As we have laws specifically promising the freedom of all religions, this one quickly goes bye-bye.

  1. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…

Interesting… So we’re not supposed to take Godly images and display them. Our judicial system certainly doesn’t follow this, and I would say churches most definitely disregard this. What’s a church without a giant cross in the background, reminding us of why we were there?

  1. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Freedom of speech ousted this one. Say what you want, you heathens, but we can’t put you in jail for it.

  1. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy…

Now this one is a complete joke. Church workers break this one as they work on church days. We all sort of relax on the weekends, but it’s not a law. Gone.

  1. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

I would put this one under the category of “probably a good idea, but not a law.” This one also makes a sweeping generalization, that all parents deserve to be honored. But culturally speaking, we’re supposed to do it, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. It stays in.

  1. Thou shalt not kill.

Tricky tricky, since our justice system allows the death penalty, murder in self defense, and the like. I consulted other translations of this verse, and others have it written as “murder” rather than “kill.” On that basis, let’s keep it.

  1. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Same logic as the mother/father one. Not a law, but a good idea.

  1. Thou shalt not steal.

Thievery is everyone’s favorite petty crime. I stole a belt from American Eagle on a dare when I was 14. And for that crime, I could have seen the inside of a prison cell. And if a cop had caught me and hauled me away, it totally would have been worth it for the street cred. Check.

  1. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Lying. We have that whole perjury this, a law which includes a traditional oath on a Bible. I’d say this is the one we have kept the most. In.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

This one is hilarious to me. Morally, I totally understand why jealousy is an infectious and dangerous emotion, and why healthy individuals might do best to cope with its effects healthily or avoid it altogether. But a person cannot help the feeling of covetousness. In fact, ten verses ago, God claims “for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” (20:5b, KJV) as an explanation for the no false idols proclamation. This one is gone.


So by my analysis, our mainstream culture maintains half of these Laws (5, 6, 7, 8, 9) while our legal system only seriously considers three of them (6, 8, 9). So if we as a society only really pay attention to, at best, half of the Ten Commandments, then why do the Western religions all insist on keeping them a part of our legal system? Even the best Christian ignores some of these, probably with the thought that “oh well, I get an exception” or perhaps “this doesn’t really apply.” So why hold on to it at all?

Because it’s not really about the Law. It’s about the feeling of having order within life. These Israelites have waffled back and forth about what to do, wringing their hands over the decision to leave Pharaoh each time they run into problems. (Please. Read this from a couple days ago to see what I mean) So finally, here comes God with clear and explicit instructions. Do this, He says. He had not just provided them with a set of values, but rather, he had given them a yardstick to measure themselves against. He has taken away the Chaos and replaced it with Order. No more guessing. This is it.

And I have to think that most modern Christians (and simply… people) like the idea that there is an Absolute. Something unshakeable while everything else in flux. It’s comforting. So many of us struggle with the creeping feeling that there are no answers. And so the remedy for that is to… give an answer. Any answer is better than no answer. It feels good and yummy and it helps everyone sleep better. Helps us get up in the morning. Keeps us breathing.

It reminds us that we will not be dominated by Chaos, and for that, I can get on board with the Ten Commandments. And as with eyebrows, I can say that most of these laws are a good idea anyway.

Eyebrows Are a Good Idea: Exodus 17 – 19

Thirst. Water from the Rock. The Staff and the Amalekites. A Visit from the Father-in-Law. Judge over the Land. At the Base of Mt. Sinai.

[Jethro said to Moses,] “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.

Exodus 18:19 (NIV)

Moses takes his leave of Jethro by Jan Victors, c. 1635, from the incident in Exodus 4:18. Jethro is seated on the left, in red.

Moses takes his leave of Jethro by Jan Victors, c. 1635, from the incident in Exodus 4:18. Jethro is seated on the left, in red.

Consider Ren, a teen boy with autism. He loved cars, just couldn’t get enough of them. He also enjoyed being out in the rain: maybe it was the sound or the feel, he never clarified, but he could just stand out there as long as it kept up. I visited him on a weekly basis to provide “play therapy” to teach “social and emotional intelligence.” It basically amounted to a whole lot of chit-chat while we rolled cars back and forth – building new tracks or making tall ramps for them to roll down. The chit-chat was where the therapy tended to happen. He would bring up something that interested him, and I would jump into that world and help generalize some social lessons from inside. It is a great way to teach someone – to jump inside of his or her world. To empathize. You can build a ton of trust just by listening. Sometimes, Ren would ask questions of me, but usually just to solidify what he already knew to be true. I found this video of the Jurassic Park theme played by melodica. Is it funny? Yes, Ren, that is funny to everyone. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You just wanted a little validation.

So when Ren shaved off his eyebrows and asked me if it was funny, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Of course he thought it was just hilarious, the emotion that I was convinced inspired this venture. He had woken up that morning and decided to see what his face would look like without the tyranny of brow hair. Hilarious, of course. Human faces without eyebrows are hilarious. His mother first saw the damage as Ren laughed his way down the stairs before school. She looked at him with moderate horror and slight amusement. There was no solution to this problem. She could take her eyebrow pen, but no, then he would look even weirder. The act was done. Nothing to be fixed. And now he wanted validation. Was it funny?

So I said: Yeah, it’s funny.
He immediately laughed hard.
I clarified – worried that my answer would inspire more shenanigans: But you probably shouldn’t have done it.
His face dropped. Why? Is shaving eyebrows wrong?

What a strange question. I never thought I would exert mental energy considering the morality of eyebrows. There was a surprising amount to contemplate. Wrong? No, I wouldn’t use that word, because that implies that the act of shaving eyebrows is somehow a sin. But it is certainly not something to do often. You would look sickly without any eyebrows, and social services might pay your mother a visit. Okay. So it isn’t a question of morality, but rather what is probably best for this situation.

So I looked back at him, at his naked forehead, and said: Eyebrows are a good idea.

Everyone needs a little guidance – even such holy men as Moses. After a camp-wide thirst situation and a brief battle with the Amalekites, Moses pauses the journey of the Israelites in order to host a visit from his father-in-law Jethro. Moses regales him with their quest – the slavery, the plagues, the exodus – and Jethro is thoroughly pleased by God’s dedication to saving His people. Then, in front of his father-in-law, Moses takes a seat to act as a judge to the disagreements of the people. After watching this for some time, Jethro chimes in, chastising the inefficiency of this system. He advises Moses to appoint lower judges to hear the simpler cases so that the more difficult ones can be left to him. But ultimately, God should be the judge, and we should bring all matters to Him.

Well, hey, that is the same judicial system we have in place today!

We are about to enter a rather tedious portion of the Torah – the Law. Starting with the Ten Commandments, God lays down the Holiness Code by which all of His followers ought to measure themselves. These standards are notoriously rigid (and often quoted out of context), but if a man or woman wishes to know what to do, well then here it is in plain black and white. Strict ordinances such as these have always rubbed me the wrong way, because it takes complex situations and overly simplifies them. I am actually excited to dig into these laws, because I am fascinated by their rigidity.

But the need for Moses to sit as a judge for his people reveals a startling fact. Even with all these laws, enough gray area still exists to require third-party judgment. Someone still needs to interpret the laws and then apply them to murky situations. There always appear to be exceptions.

Even “thou shalt not kill” isn’t so clear. Especially since that declaration is immediately followed by a series of situations in which a sinner ought to be put to death.

I can say one thing for certain, though. Eyebrows are a good idea.

Unless you have some insider knowledge. In that case, do as you see fit.

Meta-Post (or the Unexpected Virtue of Schizophrenia) : Exodus 15 – 16

God Is Great! God Is Awful!

God has succeeded in delivering the Israelites from Pharaoh’s grip, and they immediately burst into a praise-filled song, led by Aaron’s sister (and prophet) Miriam. Their chorus goes on for a rousing 18 verses, filled with declarations of love and personal testimonies of the power of God.

They sing: 

The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Exodus 15:2 (NIV)

And for good reason they sing. This God just took down their slave owners. How long does this celebration last?

Three verses after their final round, here is the spirit of the camp:

“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (16:3)

Already a bunch of complainers. Where did all that positivity go? Hearing that everyone is a bit grumpy, the Lord responds:

“At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” (16:12)

Problem solved. But God (via Moses) adds a little addendum, a commandment:

“No one is to keep any of [the bread] until morning.” (16:19)

Eat all of it now. Simple rule. Easy to follow. However:

Some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning. (16:20)

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances." (Exodus 15:20). Illuminated manuscript, Tomić Psalter, 1360/63, Moscow State Historical Museum

“And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” (Exodus 15:20).
Illuminated manuscript, Tomić Psalter, 1360/63, Moscow State Historical Museum

What in holy hell is happening here? This back and forth continues for a few more verses, as God provides for the Israelites – along with a seemingly minor restriction – only to have the majority of them disobey and then complain to Moses.

If I were God, I would have left them in Egypt. Or maybe dumped the water a little earlier during the Red Sea episode.

But honestly, I have been writing this blog for almost a month now, and I have to say, I feel a little like the Israelites wandering through the desert. For those of you who have read several of my entries, you may have noticed that some passages strike a sentimental chord within me, while others ignite a mild rage spiral. That is the nature of the project as well as the Bible. I snap off little pieces and then make a gut reaction to it, which can lead to some erratic emotions that don’t sync up from day-to-day. As far as an overall progress report, however, I actually feel quite clear-headed. The Bible is both everything and nothing like I expected.

Weakness is an under-appreciated state of being, and it is one that I find absolutely essential to my personal growth. I am in a state a flux; I think the very existence of this blog proves that fact. However, some friends and family have questioned my willingness to so publicly discuss my struggles as well as my confusion. They worry that my honesty concerning the ebbs and flow of my doubt somehow weaken my image and possibly even threaten my soul, but I do not know any other way. I am an experiential learner – second-hand knowledge has never stuck well in my brain. And if the Bible cannot stand up to the close reading (and perhaps sometimes, misreading) of a layperson like me, then it is not a book worth subscribing to.

I am convinced that doubt is okay. A person who questions is far different from a person who remains completely indifferent. Doubt is an active state, though ultimately, it must be a transient position. To doubt forever is to become embittered. Yes, I am in doubt right now. I am weakened and confused. And it’s working out for me quite fine. Tomorrow, well, we’ll see what happens then.

For those of you who are currently reading this sentence… Thank you. I appreciate your engagement in this little project, as well as the kind words, advice, and feedback many of your have either left in the public comments or sent to my e-mail. If you haven’t said hello yet, well introduce yourself! GodDoesntChangeBlog@gmail.com

3 weeks down. 49 to go. Here’s to the journey, the schizophrenia, and the light at the end of the tunnel. And here’s to the experiential learners who need to figure some things out for themselves.

God Can Move Mountains: Genesis 13:17 – 14

Joseph’s Bones. Pillar of Light. Cloud of Dark. Hardened Heart. Jammed Wheels. Parted Sea. No Survivors.

During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Exodus 14:24-25 (NIV)

The Crossing of the Red Sea (1481-1482) from the Sistine Chapel, Rome

The Crossing of the Red Sea (1481-1482) from the Sistine Chapel, Rome

I played this game growing up called “If [Blank] Happens, then God Is Real.” I particularly loved initiating this during sports-related activities, like bowling. “If I get this strike, then God exists.” The strategy particularly worked during the bumper era of my ten-pin career; God seemed to work His magic best with the gutters out of play. God’s powers went far beyond the bowling alley though. There was a basketball net in my backyard, and that thing preached to me like a devout Southern Baptist. Every time I prayed for the ball to sail into the net and it came to fruition, it was like the hand of God was reaching down from the Heavens to pat me on the shoulder. (Of course, when I prayed and then missed, it was simply due to the fact that I had not prayed correctly, or enough, or both) I had read in the Bible that God healed the sick, raised the dead, and parted oceans. Then surely He could make just a little miracle happen in my backyard. Show me one sign, and I will be yours forever. Something overt. Something palpable. No more of this “God healed my grandma” or “God gave me the words to say.” Give me something I can witness. I want a miracle.

The story of Moses contains a whole string of miraculous events, starting with the burning bush. When we last left off, the Exodus was underway after Pharaoh gave up his hardened heart and let the Israelites go off into the desert. But the story does not end there. Before long, he regrets the decision of giving up his eternal free source of labor and sends his troops after them. So to protect His people, God sends down a pillar of fire to both guide the Israelites and block the Egyptians from reaching them. But, the Red Sea stands in their way. Never mind that hazard. Moses lifts his staff, and the sea splits in two. They travel between the walls of water, the Egyptians hot in pursuit. When they make it out, God collapses his pathway, swallowing up all of the foes – every last one.

I have trouble understanding the logic that guided the Egyptians throughout this story. I know that God was actively pushing them towards this outcome, but given all of the miraculous and otherworldly signs from the heavens, wouldn’t you eventually think, “Maybe I shouldn’t mess with the God of Abraham.” Were the ten awful plagues not enough? Okay, you pushed past all that and decided to go after the Israelites. But then there was a giant tornado of fire blocking your way? Isn’t that your cue to drop your spears and just go home?

These stories containing the more overt signs of God always led to my most incredulous stares during Sunday School. I have said this before, but how did anyone who witnessed the voluminous acts of God firsthand still refuse to fear Him? Even with God hardening his heart over and over again, you think that after seventh or so plague, Pharaoh would have had one manservant who told him to give it up for this God guy. Wasn’t His power incredibly evident? If I saw my local sea parted into two halves, there ain’t no way I’m taking a stroll through the newly carved pathway, I just have to say.

But all that aside, I had trouble growing up understanding why God flipped the switch from “I am going to send down plagues and fire and smoke monsters” to “I am going to subtly influence people in a way that no one else can verify.” From a philosophical standpoint, faith requires a person to believe in something that cannot be scientifically proven. This can be my belief that God exists or that the Philadelphia Eagles will win the Super Bowl (statistically, the former is much more likely). Atheists and other non-believers tend to think that Christians live on a mountain of self-delusion that they must actively maintain for it to remain intact. They think that a little voice of doubt constantly whispers in their ear “God isn’t real, none of it is real,” but it isn’t true. Once the Christian becomes convinced of the existence of God, their devotion takes on a deeper level, where the faith becomes less about the banal question of whether God exists or not and more about the issue of trust. Will they trust in the Lord to guide their path? To them, the matter of whether or not God exists is not up for debate – true faith is about so much more than that. That is why the Christian faith does not allow salvation to those that merely acknowledge the existence God. It is about so much more than that.

I grew past the stage of little sports miracles and started asking for bigger ones. In Middle School, I entered a public speaking competition, and I prayed for God to convince me of His realness by letting me win. Then, High School came around, and I needed to land the lead in our Fall production of “The Glass Menagerie.” But then, I needed to get into the college of my dreams, so that my future career would be locked. Each wish somehow trumped the previous one in importance, making the one before it utterly trivial. I needed to finish my college thesis and win awards. I needed to get the job on that new movie coming through Atlanta and becomes a film director. My play just had to get picked up for production and then published. But in retrospect, I now understand these wishes to be just grown-up versions of asking the ball to sail through the hoop; I am sure that they were not on God’s immediate to-do list. After all, they were ultimately inconsequential, and if any of them succeeded in occurring, I could attribute it to any number of factors: hard work, skill, and a little luck.

But changing my sexual orientation… if God could do that, then I would certainly know He was real. I would not be able to do that one on my own. If I woke up one morning completely straight, I would absolutely recognize it as an act of God. I would know that my faithfulness was being rewarded, that God was truly and fully real. It would be a task much more potent than parting the Red Sea. It would be far more relatable than delivering an entire culture from slavery. It would be all the proof I would need.

If you are a Christian who believes that homosexuality is an abomination, I beg you to never tell an LGBT person that God will change their sexual orientation through prayer and faithfulness. And do not compare their “struggle” to a person with a chemical predisposition towards drug or alcohol abuse. When putting down a bottle of Tanqueray requires you to give up the possibility for love, marriage, intimacy, and children, then you get to make that comparison. God may not change, but we all know that He doesn’t throw down signs quite like He appeared to do in the Old Testament. All you are doing in that moment, by encouraging someone to pray their gay away, is reminding them that their previous efforts have failed them. You are telling them that they haven’t tried sufficiently hard enough to change themselves. Telling a teen boy or girl to find a certain gender attractive is like commanding them to close their eyes and grow a couple inches. God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t spend his time sailing basketballs into nets. I am not trying to comment on the limits to God’s power, but merely the ways in which He appears to wield it. God is clearly not interested in taking the firmly homosexual and making them join the ranks of the straight people. He ditched those types of signs long, long ago.

God doesn’t change. And neither will my sexual orientation.