Tag Archives: Flaw

Flawed Characters

Flawed Characters (CaD Gen 30) Wayfarer

Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
Genesis 30:22-24 (NIV)

One of the things Wendy and I have enjoyed doing the past year or so is to watch some of the epic film series in order. This summer we watched all eleven movies of the Star Wars canon in the chronological order of the story arc. We’ve begun doing this with the Marvel Universe.

One of the things that she and I have discussed about the Harry Potter films, in particular, is that they were written and produced with a fatal flaw. None of the films’ writers and directors knew the entire story until the final installment because they were produced as the story was still being told. There was, therefore, important story elements in the earlier books that were important threads to the larger story, but those telling the particular episode of the epic didn’t know this or couldn’t see it.

Along my journey, I’ve observed a common flaw with those who read and study the Great Story. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the immediate episode I’m reading that I lose sight that this episode is a thread in the larger theme that the Author of Life is telling.

Today’s chapter contains two stories that can be, quite frankly, head-scratchers. Both episodes of Jacob’s story flashback to earlier events and they foreshadow important elements of the story to come.

The first episode is a great birthing contest between sisters Leah and Rachel, both wives of Jacob. The second is Jacob’s deceptive scheme to increase his herds at his uncle’s expense.

In the culture of that day, providing your husband with a male heir was of utmost importance. In fact, a wife who did not produce a son by a prescribed period of time could nullify the marriage. In many cases, a wife lived with her father’s house until she did produce a male heir. The rivalry between sisters fuels their desire to win favor by producing sons for Jacob. Rachel’s barrenness and her demand that Jacob bear sons by her servant are flashbacks to Grandma Sarah who did the same thing. Likewise, Jacob’s shrewd deceit of his Uncle Laban in increasing his flocks hearkens back to the theme of deceit that pervades Rebekah’s family and Jacob’s life.

The story also foreshadows important elements in the story to come. Of all the sons born to Jacob, two are going to figure prominently in the rest of Genesis and in the history of the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah’s son, Judah will lead the tribe from which King David and the future Messiah will come. Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, will live a life of exile and redemption, ultimately saving the entire family and becoming the conduit through which the next major chapter of the Great Story will be told.

The forest that is often lost in the trees of this story is the covenant God gave Abraham to expand his descendants and bless all the nations of the earth. The blessing that Jacob is part of. The birthing contest, with all of its human flaws, conflict, and intrigue, is going to exponentially increase Abraham’s descendants. The many sons of Jacob will become the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself again contemplating the fact that the Great Story is being told through flawed, sinful human beings. I can look at each character from Abraham to Rachel and find character flaws, sins, and mistakes. Yet, with the exception of Jesus, that’s true of every human character in the Great Story.

That’s true of me.

Jacob, Rachel, and Leah are part of the larger story of Abraham’s covenant. Abraham’s covenant is part of the larger story of God redeeming fallen humanity. With no one to use but sinful human beings, God weaves the storyline through human failings, ultimately redeeming them in the larger work of ultimate redemption which is the meta-theme of the Great Story itself.

And, in the quiet this morning, I take comfort in that. In this way, I am Jacob. I am Rachel. I am Rebekah and Laban. Jesus placed His ministry into the hands of twelve flawed human beings which they passed on to other flawed human beings, and it has passed from flawed human being to flawed human being until it ultimately reached me.

I am a flawed human, but that does not disqualify me from playing my role in this penultimate drama. It does not cancel me in God’s eyes. It merely makes me part of the meta-theme of redemption, just like every other human in the Great Story.

I recently heard that the great actor, Alan Rickman, was considering quitting the role of Severus Snape in the series of Harry Potter films because Snape seemed like a one-dimensional, irredeemably bad character. J.K. Rowling pulled him aside to explain the powerful, redemptive role that Snape plays in the epic, which does not become fully clear until the end. Gratefully, he stuck with the role.

Sometimes, the seemingly irredeemable characters are essential to the ultimate story of redemption.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Lesson in the Margins

A Lesson in the Margins (CaD Ex 38) Wayfarer

He made for the altar a grating, a network of bronze, under its ledge, extending halfway down.
Exodus 38:4 (NRSVCE)

One of the things I’ve observed along my life journey is what little appreciation I often have for how good I have it, and how different (i.e. comparatively great) life is today compared to the other 99% of human history.

Those who read the text version of my posts may notice that I will often quote different verses from different English translations and paraphrases. I typically will put a little parenthetical acronym behind the reference to let those who care about such things know which translation or paraphrase the quote is from. And, those who care about such things may have noticed that these chapter-a-day posts from my current journey through the Exodus story have come from the NRSVCE which stands for New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition.

What’s strange about that?

Well, I am not, nor have I ever been, Roman Catholic (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! [cue: rimshot]).

I have been reading the chapter each morning from the St. John’s Bible, which happens to be the NRSVCE translation. (Stick with me here, there is a point to all of this.)

The events we are reading about in Exodus happened somewhere roughly around 1500 BC/BCE. It was roughly 1500 AD/CE when Gutenberg and his printing press created the first mass-printed copies of the Exodus text. That means for 3000 years the only copies of Exodus were those which were copied by hand using whatever utensils and materials were available. For roughly a thousand years, followers of Jesus painstakingly copied the texts of the Great Story and added to their handwritten copies beautiful calligraphy, ornate illustrations, and artistic flourishes. These have come to be known as “illuminated manuscripts” which now are typically only found in museums and rare book shops.

After mass printing became available, the art of illuminated manuscripts became obsolete. But in 1998 Queen Elizabeth’s calligrapher, Donald Jackson, in conjunction with fellow scribes and some scholars from St. John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota, began work on a handwritten, illuminated manuscript of the Great Story. It’s the first one of its kind in 500 years. The combination text and artwork have been published in seven gorgeous volumes that Wendy and girls have gifted to me over the years. So each morning of this journey through the Exodus story I have come to the quiet of my office and read the chapter in the beautiful calligraphy of the St. John’s Bible.

This morning, I encountered something unusual. Donald Jackson and his fellow human scribes made an error. They left out the first half of verse four. Ugh. I can imagine when you put in countless hours of painstaking, intense artistic labor you don’t simply just scrap the page and start over. So what do you do?

In the margin of today’s chapter, the scribes drew a beautiful eagle holding a rope in its talons and its beak pointing to the space between lines where the missing text was supposed to go. The rope in the eagle’s talons descends all the way to the bottom of the page where I found the first half of verse four inside a text box around which the eagle’s rope appears to be hand-tied and knotted.

Brilliant, and beautiful.

In yesterday’s post, I noted that sometimes with the seemingly boring and rote information in certain chapters of the Great Story I have to look outside the text in order to find what God’s Spirit has to teach me that day. It’s always there if I’m open to it, and it’s taught me an important spiritual lesson: In God’s creation, everything is connected. Yesterday it was in the meta-communication of repetition that I found meaning. Today, I find my lesson in the human error of the handwritten text.

The scribes of the St. John’s Bible made a mistake. I wonder how far along they were on the page before they discovered it, or had it been completed before an editor discovered the bad news? I can only imagine the guttural groan of the calligraphers, the agonizing team meeting that may have taken place, and the depths of artistic shame and despair that may have accompanied the moments the oversight came to light.

This life journey is filled with human mistakes. Buy me a pint and I will give you an entire list of mistakes I’ve made along the way (it might cost you two pints, there are a lot of them). Mistakes that, when they came to light, created all sorts of groans, agonizing, shame, and despair for me. But, I’ve discovered through those stretches of life’s road that God is not a God of condemnation and shame. That’s just human experience projected on the divine or the enemy twisting the truth and passing it off to those who have no desire to ask, seek, or knock. God does what the scribes of the St. John’s Bible did. He takes my failures and shame and does something artistic with it. He molds the old mistakes into a new creation. He redeems it.

In the quiet this morning, this ancient lyric from Psalm 30 (MSG) rose from my memory bank. It’s written by King David (who had a boat-load of his own failures and shame):

I give you all the credit, God—
    you got me out of that mess,
    you didn’t let my foes gloat.

God, my God, I yelled for help
    and you put me together.
God, you pulled me out of the grave,

    gave me another chance at life
    when I was down-and-out.
You did it: you changed wild lament
    into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band

    and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
    I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
    I can’t thank you enough.

If you find yourself staring at the consequences of your own mistakes and failures, trust that God wants to make something beautiful out of it. As God put it to the Hebrews after delivering them out of Egypt: “I carried you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Heroes and Fatal Flaws

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.”
Judges 14:3b (NRSV)

Wendy and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. As we were driving to the theater we got into a great conversation about the building blocks of story. Stories and myths from ancient Greece to contemporary cinema have overarching themes that authors, playwrights, and movie makers recycle time and time and time again because they resonate with us and our common human experience.

Our heroes have fatal flaws. From ancient myths we learn of Achilles the mighty warrior who had one fatal weakness – his heel. The force was strong with Anakin Skywalker, but he was angry and the dark side fed his anger until he became Darth Vader. One of my favorite moments in the Force Awakens (don’t worry – no spoiler here) came from the writers introducing an interesting twist. The Dark Side fears for one of the evil characters, because this person appears to have a weakness (a fatal flaw in reverse) for the Light.

In God’s Message there is, perhaps, no greater example of a great hero with a fatal flaw than Samson. A handsome, strong, and rugged warrior of miraculous birth, Samson’s fatal flaw was that he was driven by his appetites. Samson sees a pretty Philistine girl (lust of the eyes) and demands that his father arrange a marriage despite the fact that it goes against all religious and cultural rules of the day. Samson is hungry (lust of the flesh) and his appetite drives him to eat honey out of the dead carcass of a lion, despite the fact that it was against God’s rules. When Samson gets humiliated by his bride’s people (pride), he goes into a homicidal rage and breaks troth with the girl he’d been so driven to marry.

This morning I’m reminded that stories of great heroes with fatal flaws resonate with us because we all have blind spots. No matter how heroic I attempt to be in this life, there is always a chink (or in my case, chinks) in my shining armor. Like Samson, I am driven by my appetites. I know the rules. The right thing to do is perfectly clear, but I so often choose to do the very opposite – the things my appetites crave. It reminds me of Paul’s rumination in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet of this Monday morning, this pitiful hero aware of his fatal flaws is reminded that he needs a savior “who will act to set things right in my life of contradictions.”

And that, is what the Christmas story is all about.

A Small but Significant Question

scriptwork“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
1 Kings 3:7-9 (NIV)

One of the foundational lessons I learned while studying acting was the importance of understanding your character’s motivation. A play is broken up into Acts. Acts are broken up into scenes. Scenes are broken down into “beats” of action and dialogue. For each beat, I ask my character the question: “What do I want?”

When my character moves across stage it is not because the director told me to do so. There is something internally driving my character to move from point A to point B.

What do I want, that is motivating me to walk across the room?

  • To get a sandwich?
  • To grab my book?
  • To find the remote?
  • To kiss the girl?

When my character says to the woman, “I love you,” there is a reason he says it.

What do I want from saying those words to her?

  • To emotionally manipulate her into trusting me?
  • To express my sincere devotion?
  • To salvage our broken relationship?
  • To conceal my hatred for her?

One of the things that I love about acting is the fact that it has taught me much more about myself and about life than I ever dreamed or expected. When you spend hours, weeks, and months working on a character and exploring his motivation for saying and doing everything, you eventually begin to question and explore your own personal motivations.

Here I am with a bunch of people who I really don’t like that much, doing things I really shouldn’t do, knowing that tomorrow I’m really going to feel like crap physically and feel guilty spiritually. Why am I doing this? What is it I want?

– To be accepted by this social group?
– To punish myself for something?
– To make the words, “You’ll never amount to anything” come true?
– Just to be stupid?

My acting methods led me down a path of intense, personal introspection, which led me to an honest reflection of both my character strengths, weaknesses and fatal flaws. This led me to grapple with the fact that there were some things I needed to change and some things I couldn’t change for which I am in perpetual need of both grace and forgiveness.  This led me to Jesus.

For God so loved the world [note: there’s His motivation] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

In today’s chapter, God questions young King Solomon’s motivation. “What do you want?” The answer was critical in revealing who Solomon was, and who Solomon would become. Today, as I type this post in the pre-dawn hours of another day, Holy Spirit is once again asking me that small, but very important question:

What do you want?

 

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The Pious Host and “That Woman”

Detail from The St. John's Bible
Detail from The St. John’s Bible

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47 (NIV)

The further I get in life’s journey, the more I appreciate certain stories from God’s Message. I love this story from today’s chapter. Jesus is invited to dine with one of the pious, upstanding elders of the local church. Respectable, he is; Keeping his house in order the way he self-righteously keeps his life. He’s intrigued by this young rabbi everyone has been talking about, and figures he’ll ask the new celebrity to dinner. It will look good for this religious elder to be seen reaching out to the young man creating all the stir.

In the same town is this woman. She’s that woman. Everyone in town knows about her. To the thinking of good religious men of that day, the men like Jesus’ host, all women were on a societal level lower than dogs. This woman, however, sets a new standard for the definition of low-life. The entire town knew how she survived.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Guess who I saw coming out of her place last night?” one asks as the crowd outside parts, not wanting to touch the dirty woman as she shockingly makes her way into the church elder’s home.

No surprise,” says another disdainfully, wondering what the wayward woman is carrying. “Half the men in town have been in her bed.

Only half?” mocks the first.

Okay, it’s more like three quarters,” answers the other, “but let’s face it: there are some men in town it’s best you just turn a blind eye and forget you saw them with her. You don’t want to be on his bad side.”

What an amazing contrast. The self-righteously, spic-and-span household of the church elder and the dirty town slut makes her way in to where Jesus sits next to His pious host. Weeping, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. She dries them with her hair, anoints them with expensive perfume, and kisses them.

In the societal culture of that day it was appalling. Jesus could read the subtext in his host’s face: “We don’t associate with such filth, Rabbi. Keep away from women like that. She will contaminate you. Haven’t you read Proverbs, Jesus? Stay far away from her. That’s the wise thing to do! I know you’re riding a wave of popularity at the moment, but I can’t continue to support you if you’re going to associate with people like this. It’s bad for your image. Trust me, I know. You’ve got to brand yourself differently.

In the culture of God’s Kingdom, however, it was a holy moment.

Whoever is forgiven little – loves little.

In the economics of God’s Kingdom there is a relationship between our willingness to know, acknowledge and accept the depth of our flaws and our knowledge of what a precious gift we’ve been given through Jesus’ sacrifice, grace and forgiveness. The more readily we accept the former, the more grateful we are for the latter. The more we deny the former, the more the latter eludes us. Without an increasing knowledge of the latter, we cannot progress far in our spiritual journey.

Much Ado About Something

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah Dante Gabrie...
Dante’s Vision of Rachel and Leah Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1899 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 29

 

But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” Genesis 29:25 (NLT)

 

Wendy and I have recently been enjoying the Great Performances series on PBS called Shakespeare Uncovered. In each episode a famous actor delves deep into the story line of one of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a wonderful primer for those who have an interest in learning more about Shakespeare’s stories and the literary genius he was.

 

Perhaps that is why I couldn’t help noticing that there is a Shakespearian quality to the story of Jacob and his uncle Laban. Jacob the deceiver, born from Abraham and Isaac who were also deceivers, receives a does of his own medicine when he is deceived by his Uncle. Add to that plot line the tale of two sisters, one homely and the other one hot. The hot one is seemingly barren while the homely one appears to be a baby making factory. Jacob is in love with the latter but is tricked into marrying the former. The sibling rivalry and Leah’s desperate desire to win the love and affection of her husband leads to a fertile fury of son making. Truth is sometimes as compelling as a Bard’s tale.

 

One of Shakespeare’s greatest qualities as a playwright was his development of characters whose tragic flaws led to tragic consequences. In this, he really is just developing what is true of human nature. We all have tragic flaws. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. We will all look back and realize that along the journey our own shortcomings led to negative consequences. The question is: What will we do about them?

We do not have to remain blind and ignorant. Through introspection, conversation, transparent relationship, and accountability we can become aware of our blind spots. We can actually learn from our shortcomings and choose to modify our patterns of behavior before they wreak too much havoc on our lives and the lives of those in our circles of influence.

 

Today, I’m thinking about my own weaknesses. I am aware of areas of my life that have been blind spots for me. I do not want to live passively. I’m actively working on modifying my thought patterns and behaviors. I don’t know that I will ever eliminate the negative consequences of my flaws, but I can certainly diminish them and that’s something.

 

 

Faith, Fear, and Flaws

Abimelech rebuking Abraham by Wenceslas Hollar...
Abimelech rebuking Abraham by Wenceslas Hollar. Abimelech asks Abraham, “What has thou done unto us?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’ And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. Genesis 20:11 (NLT)

Today’s chapter is the second time we see Abraham pass his wife off as his sister. His actions are rooted in fear. If the king who is hosting them decides he wants to take Sarah for his own he would have to kill Abraham to do it. Abraham’s household was undoubtedly large, but Abraham was not a warrior king and could do little against an attack which would kill him and take all that he had.

What makes this second instance different is that Abraham is pressed more directly by King Abimelech than he was by Pharaoh. Abimelech puts Abraham under cross-examination and we find Abraham revealing that Sarah really is his half-sister (it does feel like a soap opera moment, doesn’t it….“No way!”). Nonetheless, his half-truth is not the full truth and his actions jeopardized his host in order to safe his own neck. It was selfish and deceptive and was motivated by fear and a lack of faith.

The great patriarchs were human just like you and me. God’s Message not only reveals Abraham’s faith, but also reveals his flaws and fear. I find it common for people to think “God would/could never use me because [insert tragic flaw or heinous mistake here].” Abraham believed God and had enough faith to leave his home, but he clearly did not have faith enough to tell the truth and believe that God would protect he and Sarah from Pharaoh and Abimelech.

Today, I’m taking solace in the reality that God uses flawed human beings to do His will.

 

Honest Reflections

English: King David engraving from a front pag...
English: King David engraving from a front page of the French protestant psalm book of 1817 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 71

Though you have made me see troubles,  many and bitter,  you will restore  my life again;  from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.  Psalm 71:20 (NIV)

The Christmas season and the subsequent New Year is always a time of reflection. Where have I been this year? What kind of year has it been? Where am I going and what will next year bring? How has our family changed this year? In what ways are we always the same, the repetitive behavioral and relational patterns stuck like a record player in the same old groove?

Both Psalm 70 and Psalm 71 are songs of reflection. Both of them were penned in David’s old age. I like the above lyric. It comes from the wisdom of a long and active life. David was a boyhood hero, a son-in-law of the King, a best friend of the prince, a successful military leader, a King of his own tribe Judah and eventually a King of the nation of Israel. He was a warrior, a conqueror, a lover, a song writer, and a poet. Above all else, God called him “a man after my own heart.” Talk about a great story.

But, that’s not the whole story. David was also an outlaw, a rebel, a wanted man, a deceiver, a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, and a poor and distant father. He spent much of his early adulthood on the run from the law living in caves. His eventual reign as King was marked by political discord and scandal.

Life is what it is. Beneath the most whitewashed public lives you’ll find “troubles, many and bitter.” Despite our culture’s desire to see humanity as inherently good and progressive, God’s Message clearly teaches that humanity is tragically flawed. Despite our best efforts our penchant to look out for our own desires and needs instead of loving others more than ourselves keeps getting in the way with tragic results.

Like David, my reflections of the past are filled with both good times and difficulties, of both successes and bitter failures. Each year’s time of reflection always reaches the same conclusion:

God, have mercy on me. I always fall so short of the person I should be. I need a savior.

Fortunately, these annual reflections and this repetitive conclusion coincide with Christmas.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 2

Solomon then took a census of all the foreigners living in Israel, using the same census-taking method employed by his father. They numbered 153,600. He assigned 70,000 of them as common laborers, 80,000 to work the quarries in the mountains, and 3,600 as foremen to manage the work crews. 2 Chronicles 2:17-18 (MSG)

In today’s chapter we see King Solomon employing the same census methods for taking count of the “foreigners” living in Israel. Did Solomon not know that his father repented of his actions in taking the census; “trusting statistics instead of God?” Did Solomon realize that there was a heavy cost placed on David and the country for his actions in taking the census? Did Solomon think that he was okay in taking the census because he was doing it for the work of God’s temple, or that it was okay because he wasn’t counting his fellow Israelites? I’m intrigued to think about Solomons reasoning. Was he ignorant, arrogant, or a combination of both?

For all of Solomon’s lauded wisdom, we see in today’s chapter the foreshadowing of a tragic flaw. Solomon did not learn from his father’s mistakes. He will take a census and then he will put all of the non-Israelites to slave labor for the temple and his own palace. This is the first in a chain of events what will ultimately divide the nation and lead to civil war.

Those who don’t learn from history (even family history) are doomed to repeat it.