Saturday, June 5, 2010

Paradigm Shift

Read Exodus 19 & 20 this week in Biet Midrash, where God gives the 10 Commandments to the people. It's one of those stories that we've heard so many times, in so many ways, that we think we know it, understand the nuances and details and could say in our sleep. "Moses went up the mountain, God wrote the 10 commandments on stone, Moses came down the mountain, the people were dancing before a golden calf and Moses broke the stone tablets."
Right, except. In 19 God tells Moses to assemble the people- HE will meet with them in a cloud of smoke. Israel is to consecrate itself before meeting with the Lord. He comes, amidst thunder and lightening, a cloud of smoke, a loud trumpet. We spent a couple of minutes talking about when God has spoken and what it was like- when heaven opened, a dove alighted and Jesus was proclaimed God's son, at the burning bush, in the Revelation when he comes like many waters. God speaking is It is so part of the natural world. God speaks at Mt. Sinai, but it is the thunder roaring and out of the roar, words are heard. God speaks the world into being but the speaking and the being are part of the same. Even the rocks and stones will cry out, perhaps because, like eternity that is written in the heart of man, God's speaking into existence each thing leaves His echo with it.
The mountain trembles, the earth shakes, there is lightening and thunder and God speaks. Whoa. And then the list:
*Have no other gods- well o.k. Though in Egypt there was a god for everything.
*Make no graven images- don't idolize me. Though in Egypt Pharaoh worship and idolization was encouraged and expected.
*Don't take my name in vain- in other words, respect my position of authority as Emperor, even when it's not convenient, because, though I, Yahweh, Lord of hosts, bear you up on eagles wings to bring you to myself (Exodus 19:3), I am still the Master of the Universe. It's not just political, it's personal and consuming.
*Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy-even though days off in the Ancient World don't exist. Sounds like it should be easier to do than it is. The work never ends, especially when one is self employed (the Israelites are free now. Free to make their own choices, work their own businesses, etc).

And it says the people witnessed the thunder and lightening flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking and they trembled and were afraid.
Really? I'm not sure I blame them. These are people who had been part of a culture that worshipped-well, not God, so I assume by default the enemy. They were used to smoke and mirrors religion, or worse (having read enough accounts of missionary stories, one gets the distinct idea that when the the One True Living God is not being worshipped, other darker realities show up to glean the praise and win and terrorize the hearts and minds of the people). They had just witnessed deliverance in a specific and unusual way. After all, God did not have to send the plagues, He could have simply forced Pharaohs hand at the beginning of the discussion. He did not have to part the Red Sea. He could have simply allowed the weary, enslaved huddled masses to fight and win. He did not have to let them wander for 3 days with out water. He could have simply provided water along the way. My point is that these people have just left a wearisome and oppressive life, to be confronted by a God that is glamorous, dynamic, alive, all-powerful, intimidating, earth shaking, organic, intense, glorious, frightening and has an agenda.

Their response, "Whoa, Nellie. Moses, you just talk to the Man. We'll be chilling here in the desert, cause this all powerful, righteous, smoking God could kill us." They recognize the power. They see the reality. They stand in fear.

I've felt a bit like the Israelites lately. God's power is at work. He is doing things beyond the ordinary-they are extraordinary and intense and amazing. And, like the Israelites I've been going through a bit of a paradigm shift. The ways in which the Israelites defined themselves were no longer true. No longer slaves, residents of Egypt, crying out for deliverance. They were now free Israelites. Which is awesome. But really, how often are people able to move on to new definitions, new realities? I've done enough therapy, read enough books to know that even when people's realities change in fundamental ways, how they see themselves remains the same. Isn't' that what is so cool about those stories of re-definition? Like Corrie Ten Boom instead of Elie Wiesel (with NO condemnation for Elie. It's just that Corrie was victorious in the light of damnation and degradation and Elie despaired). I feel like I've been at the base of the mountain being redefined, watching this God who is beyond definition, create a new thing. Paradigm shifted. Tweaked. Re-shaped. Feeling raw and tired and re-purposed and not sure of what's next.
And at those times, for the Israelites, for us, for me, it's easy to want to slink off, let someone else speak to the man, keep a low profile, just lay low, be religious instead of faithful. But right away, God says, "you won't make anything to be with me." Nothing. Not gold or silver, not pastor, or thing or other teaching, or religion. Which is ridiculous. What could even compare? Anything we bring cheapens Him, exposes itself as dime-store junk. Fake, plastic snap pearls, next to the real, genuine, luminesce beauty. He knows our temptation-to bring something else alongside of Him and says, "Don't." It's me and you, baby. Cause I love you. And I invite you to love me.
"In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you." (Exodus 20: 24c)
Just get over the fear, the intimidation, our own disobedience and He will bless us.
The One True Living, glorious, dynamic, all-powerful, intimidating, earth shaking, organic, intense, glorious, frightening Master of the Universe.