We All Need a Little Bit Saving: Judges 1 – 3

Death or Forced Labor. A Few Steps Back. The Judges Installed. Othniel. Ehud. Shamgar.

Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.

Joshua 2:18 (NIV)

Given any childish request of mine, my mother had only two possible responses: Yes or No. I rarely received any explanation beyond that, because in my toddler years, I trusted unwaveringly in her foresight and ability to protect me. Soon though, I required explanations for answers I did not like, so her responses shifted slightly to Yes or No because… This was a gift, because remember, my mother owed me no answers.

But as I neared adolescence, a third option appeared, one that sounded like a Yes but with an asterisk. At that time, her response was sometimes Go ahead and try that. That is a Yes undoubtedly, but it also sounds like a dare, like You really gonna do it?

I never really understood shampoo. Why have a separate bottle with a separate liquid to wash my hair, when I had soap for my body that smelled exactly the same? And so as a toddler, I asked Mom.

Can I use soap on my hair?
And like a good mother, she replied, No.

Then as I grew older, I asked again:

Can I use the soap on my hair now?
No, she said, because it’s not meant to be used on your hair, and it won’t work.

Finally, when I neared adolescence:

I think I want to try using only soap on my hair.

She put her John Adams biography down, looked at me over her glasses and said: Go ahead and try that. Then she resumed right on with her reading.

And so with that effective yes, I expelled shampoo from my daily regiment and rubbed the bar of soap into my hair. It felt strange initially, like I was wearing my underwear as a t-shirt, but after a few days, I got used to the process. After a week of the experiment, I donned my seventh shower with my seventh round of soap hair and fell asleep. I woke up in the morning to something quite extraordinary.

My hair was stuck straight up, like an anime character – one that runs, dashes, and samurai fights and yet still maintains perfectly stiff hair. I doused my hair with water, and it did little to help. I had perma-bed head and needed to go to school. Nothing to be done.

The Book of Judges settles into its narrative style in the second chapter. At first, the writer regales us with one final battle with the Canaanites to claim their land, which despite an early hiccup, is ultimately captured. Then, an entire generation lives and then passes. And now we have new followers who… well… don’t really follow.

Israel has lost its way yet again, just as Moses predicted moments before his death. Each of the tribes have succumbed to the allure of false idols, most specifically the god Baal, and have subsequently lost the favor of God. But in order to ensure that the selfishness of His people does not completely derail His plan, God appoints judges to save them. But before the judge swoops in to right the ship, he or she lets a little something happen first – something that reminds the Israelites the cost of insolence.

In these early chapters, the author introduces us to three such judges tasked with saving the wayward: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar. They each have a petite tale of downfall and then redemption, and the second one, the story of Ehud, is particularly grotesque and memorable. It recounts a king so fat that when Ehud deals him his death blow, Ehud’s sword gets sucked into his fat, completely enveloped… all while the king starts defecating everywhere. I guess God does have a sense of humor.

So, on that morning of the 8th day, as I left to go to the bus stop sporting a full on Ash Ketchum beehive, I questioned my mother.

Why didn’t you tell me that the soap would make my hair stick?

She glanced at me over her copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Autobiography and shrugged. Because some lessons you just need to learn from experience. Otherwise, they don’t stick.

And now I always use shampoo.

Manifest Me Some Destiny: Joshua 20 – 24

Where to Run. Where to Live. Where to Worship. Where to Bury.

So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.

Joshua 24:13 (NIV)

And so Joshua’s time on Earth concludes. There are some loose ends to tie up, such as remaining land to divvy up and a rereading of some of the Law. Joshua implores his people to remember the commandments, and he recalls the prophecy of Abraham and how it has now come true. This is the Promised Land. They have acted upon their own manifest destiny and now inhabitant the land guaranteed to their fore fathers.

And then Joshua dies. And no one is immediately chosen to replace him.

This feels like an ending. Is it an ending?

A couple entries ago, I made the claim that Joshua’s campaign across the Promised Land read like an idealized account of ethnic cleansing. I do not know any other way to read it – I suppose I could try to be more sympathetic to the history of the Israelites (most specifically, their recent servitude). But I take issue with killing swashes of individuals for no other reason than religious difference.

The Torah justifies these actions well – within the constructs of its own moral compass that is. If you do not follow God, then your life is in your own hands – we have covered this time and time again. And if God tells you to wipe out an entire population of people for their sins, if he says impale the kings on poles and expose their genitals, if they say stone the Sabbath-breakers and the faggots, then you do it, or else you risk your own life. But this thought process leads to a slippery slope.

It allows people to carry out extreme actions out of a faulty reading of “God’s plan.”

Lots of people believe to have a hardline communication with God. Harold Camping predicted the biblical Rapture several times due to secret messages he claimed existed in the Bible. 700 Club front man Pat Robertson has made predictions year after year based on direct communication from God, including forthcoming terrorist attacks and stock plunges. And we all know that the vast majority of terrorist activity comes from deeply believed ideals based on religion. And everyone claims to be acting for God.

These are extreme examples, I know, and virtually all mainstream Christian followers reject the teachings of these radicals. However, their very existence underlines a dangerous dilemma that stretches back to the Crusades and further. Who knows the will of God? And when should we act upon what we believe that will to be? Joshua led the Israelites on a war across this land and left everyone in their wake dead. They claimed the land of their “enemies” which God had promised to them.

And that still happens to this day, only there are not really any clearly laid out good guys and bad guys.

And so we leave the book of Joshua behind with the blood of thousands of heathens still misting the air. We have a victorious nation of Israel settling into their new home, stretching their legs, and here I am completely uneasy. Because I am not interested in this God. I want the intimate God – the one who let Abraham search for the righteous within Sodom, the God who dealt with Pharaoh directly and punished him for obvious sins, the one who walked with Adam when he was lonely – that God.

Where is that God?

Inheritance: Joshua 13:8 – 19

Divide the Spoils.

Now these are the areas the Israelites received as an inheritance in the land of Canaan…

Joshua 14:1a (NIV)

Joshua ends the wars and begins to divvy up the cities of the Promised Land amongst the tribes of Israel. From a spiritual standpoint, this passage has no meaningful content. One tribe steps forward after another and a long list of lands are read off. Imagine a lasagna recipe where each dinner guest is responsible for one ingredient, and they are announced one-by-one. It would make for truly riveting stuff.

But it is necessary, because this is the first resolution in the Bible. From the beginning, we have read about schisms amongst brothers and induced slavery. A single episode of wandering and complaining covered the rest of the narrative, and now here we are. The climax has ended – the wars are over for now. And now we get to see the results of all that hard work. We see the inheritance.

Inheritance is an interesting concept, because it makes the older generation culpable in the actions and good will of the younger. Parents may “pass down” any number of things to their children – from money and houses to traits and quirks. We can be born with certain limitations because of our parents, and some are given an evolutionary advantage, just with their genes. Inheritance is seen as a gift, typically something that is bestowed and then honored.. This makes it all the more shocking when a child refuses it.

I have been accused of this, of rejecting what was given to me at such a young age for something selfish. Of course I am talking about ditching a faith in God for insanely hot guys, and this is both the comical way of epitomizing this and also the actual way some people view it. To my parents and those who taught me, they provided me a gift through a faith in Jesus Christ. I was one of the lucky ones – I had parents who loved me so much that they wanted to instill a life-affirming belief. This gift was meant to take away my fear – no death. It was meant to protect me – spiritual armor. They gave me fellowship in the church, and a strong moral compass to guide me.

And I rejected that inheritance; or so I have been told. I rebelled. And if I am meant to take ownership over that idea – that I have inherited none of my parents’ good – then I must begin the process of forgetting.

I must forget the foggy brazen drive into the woods, with the lightning striking close enough to raise hairs, and my father pulling the station wagon over to cover my cowering body, because I did not inherit courage.

I must forget begging to join flag football like the guys in the neighborhood, and then wanting to quit because I was no good, but my mother said no, no, you finish what you start, you see things to their end, because I did not inherit resilience.

I must forget damn it damn it I am not shoveling her walk-way even though Mrs. Nelly’s old, she never even asked us to do it, Mom why do you make me do it? because I did not inherit courtesy.

My one eye does not squint slightly more than the other one, because I don’t have my Dad’s swoopy eyelids.

I must block out driving while drizzling, the old Georgian back roads with my father, his brother is dead, he just missed it, his brother is dead, and now he is visiting before returning up the 95, the 14 hours, back home to – to – a home back alone, because I know nothing of loyalty.

Everything must go. Out she hands me a quarter to put in the collection jar. Out eye contact during interviews, and iron your filthy pants. Out I’m standing here until you hold the door for your Nana. Goodbye generosity, courtesy, respect for elders.

And then, there’s God. I must forget that God is too encompassing to understand, too large to rationalize, He demands something better, something higher, and when you are in need, you must take it all away, become naked before Him, because God is something to fight for, because I have no guts.

I am a queer man, and I want to say that as loud as I can. I am also a fighter, and I know that there is a conclusion tucked away in apprehension. Just please wait, oh god why can’t you wait?

This writing experiment is not a rejection of my inheritance, but rather, a product of it.
And I am thankful.

 

This Sounds Familiar: Joshua 7 – 13:7

No Mercy for Achan. Fall of Ai. Conquer. Conquer. Conquer. 31 Kings. More Yet to Be Done.

When Joshua had grown old, the Lord said to him, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.

Joshua 13:1

Joshua is the right man for the job. He wields an iron fist and a conqueror’s march.

Take for instance his reaction to a minor setback. On his tour, the Israelites approach the city of Ai and attempt to overtake it – an easy task as the city has few men. But they lose the battle, and Joshua’s army gets run back to the camp. But why has the Lord not remained faithful to his promise of protection.

Because one man coveted and stole the spoils of a previous raid, so God burned in anger against the whole tribe. This insolence does not stand in Joshua’s camp. So he takes the man, stones him, burns him, and marks his body with rocks – to remember his sin.

And nothing will stop him from doing the will of God now.

He takes down Ai. The city burns. The kill everyone – man, woman, child. They impale the king on a pole and leave him for a day.

The city of Gibeon catches wind of the destruction and tries to trick Joshua into sparing them. The king lies – He claims that Gideon is far from the path of the Israelites and should be spared. When Joshua realizes the deception, he enslaves the people of Gideon to perform menial work.

Nothing will stop him.

He commands the sun to stop in sky, to hover ominously above five Amorite kings. They gaze in horror at the power that Joshua wields. Then, the Israelites attack. Easy. By the time the sun finally falls under the horizon, all that remains is the hanging bodies of the five kings – exposed – emasculated.

Nothing will stop.

We are told that Joshua destroys 31 cities in total, that he puts to death 31 kings and all their respective people. But is he done? What more can possibly be left?

God looks onto the weary age of Joshua and shows no mercy. “You are not done,” God says. “There are territories left to be ravaged.”

But why do they march on? What are the sins of the people in these lands that no one may be spared?

Because they do not follow the God of the Israelites. They are not chosen or holy. They pray to strange gods and perform unusual customs. They do not circumcise their boys. Their women are sexually immoral. Their men are weak.

So in the eyes of God, the native inhabitants of the Promised Land deserve death – plain and simple. They deserve to die for not believing in God. They deserve to die for refusing to adhere to the Laws of a foreign land. They deserve to die for being culturally different.

This is ethnic cleansing. God-sanctioned genocide.Violence in the name of God.

And it’s not over yet.

A New Boy: Joshua 1 – 6

The Promised Land. Prep. Rahab – The Prostitute and the Spies. Into the Jordan. Murmurs of the Coming God. Fall of Jericho.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9b (NIV)

Very few people encouraged me to come out as queer. Not that most people opposed it per se, but the majority of my friends and family just seemed neutral on the topic. A few family members feared it for me – why risk altering the public’s perception of me? Some friends respected my right to privacy – my sexual desire rarely popped up in my conversations anyway, so why bring it into focus? But the older I got, the more my need to make an open declaration grew until it became absolutely essential. In high school, being outed was my worst nightmare. After my first homosexual interaction with my friend Dan, I panicked he would start spouting it off to everyone in our high school. But he didn’t. After all, he was a closet case as well. Thank God for that.

But my worries proved to be completely unfounded. No lost friendships or clients. Most congratulated me on “being honest,” and only one replied “Oh yeah I knew all along!” After a few days of my freshly minted life, I could not even recall the reasons behind my initial trepidation. Such wasted angst – energy lost. And the spoils of being out started piling up immediately. Old friends pledged their support, and fellow closeted friends reached out. It was like I pressed a reset button on my life and got to start en media res. And this time, I would have full control over my own discourse.

A fresh start. How rare.

The Israelites get their own rebirth, and it just goes great. God installs Joshua as leader, and immediately, things take a more positive swing. He instructs the Israelites to be “strong and courageous” as God is on their side, and all of their enemies begin trembling in fear. Joshua sends spies off ahead, which are housed and protected by the prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold Rahab. They successfully infiltrate the city of Jericho, but the officials respond to the threat by closing their doors. How will the Israelities get into the – ?

Pshaw! Joshua carries the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River, whose raging water dry up at the presence of God. He marches his men around the walls of the fortressed city for six days and on the seventh, down the barricades fall. They overtake their foes, celebrate the loyalty of Rahab, and celebrate.

Things are coming up roses for the Israelites, aren’t they? Nowhere is the devastation of the desert mentioned or the hard times recalled. God’s people even manage to get through a chapter without begging for their enslaved lives back in Egypt!

Where is this renewed energy coming from?

The phase of anxiety is over. There is no more anticipation. Joshua and the Israelites have crossed the Jordan and into the Promised Land, and there is no more waiting. No more speculation. It is done.

Now on to the rest of it.


As a little addendum, I highly encourage anyone who is “in the closet” to step out into the rainbow-drenched sunlight. Unless you are in a dangerous home situation or there is a threat of a violent reaction, I promise that you will be far happier on the other side. There is nothing quite like living a life without illusion.

Do it. You won’t regret it.