Monthly Archives: October 2011

Excuses, excuses

And the LORD God said, “Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”

And Adam said, “IT’S NOT MY FAULT!  That WOMAN – the one that YOU gave me – SHE gave me the fruit…and then…uh…I sort of…ate it.”

And the LORD God said unto the woman, “What is this that thou hast done?”

And the woman said, “IT’S NOT MY FAULT!  That SERPENT tricked me…and then…er…I ate…I guess.”  (Genesis 3:11-13, 21st century Gen X paraphrase edition)

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote an interesting little book about 15 years ago called, How Good Do We Have to Be?: A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness.  In it, he uses the Garden of Eden story, not as an historical fact to explain why everything and everyone are essentially crap, but as a metaphor of the normal human life cycle.  Childhood, in this metaphor, is the Garden of Eden, which is kind of like a big house that kids have the run of.  There’s everything you could ever want to do or see or eat in there – just don’t touch what’s in the liquor cabinet.

It’s human nature, not original sin, that makes us obsess over what’s in the liquor cabinet.  And, inevitably, when the ‘rents aren’t watching, human nature is what drives us to sample the wares.  Then we spend the next two days barfing our guts up and trying to convince our parents that it’s just a touch of flu.  The moment they clue in to what’s happened, we stand emotionally naked before them…and then the excuses fly.

“My brother told me it was medicine!”

“Lindsey Lohan does it!”

“Well, if you had just LOCKED the liquor cabinet…!”

I’m reminded of a recent encounter I had with a young drug addict who had come to my church, supposedly for help.  Though neither of the ministers was available at that time to talk with him, three parishioners gave him several referrals to drug rehab and free mental health care providers in the vicinity.  We even introduced him to one of the counselors at a nearby shelter.

Nope, the guy wasn’t having any of it.  If only the pastors would talk to me, everything would be okay.  If only my mom wasn’t a drug addict, I wouldn’t be in this mess.  If only my friends were good people, I wouldn’t get tempted to do wrong.  If only I hadn’t gone to prison for four years, I could get an honest job. 

Why, he asked me, do you suppose God put me in this kind of life?

This is a guy who, like all adults, left the Garden of Eden a long time ago.  But, he has yet to change his thinking to cope with the sometimes grim realities of being a grown-up.

It’s normal for kids to eschew responsibility for their actions.  For one thing, they’re totally egocentric little buggers.  Egocentrism is their only defense in a world they can’t navigate on their own.  Second, they’re afraid of consequences, even measured, logical ones (and plenty of kids are subject to random, disproportionate ones.)  Consequences – usually experienced as punishment – are no fun.  And a third characteristic of kids is that they are wholly devoted to having fun.  Interruptions in fun are a serious threat, not only to their egocentric little worldview, but to everlasting bliss in the Garden of Eden.

Paul, in one of his more reasonable reflections, says, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”*  Leaving the Garden of Eden is about putting away immature ways of thinking about our lives and making peace with realities like having to work for a living and raise kids – neither of which is much of a picnic.

Adam and Eve turned out alright.  Yeah, they produced one bad egg in Cain, but every family has its problems.  The next 1500 pages of their family’s history spotlights a lot of rotten bastards…but it also talks about a lot of good people, people who did the right thing, even when the going got tough.  Esau, who forgave his sneaky, conniving brother for stealing his birthright**; Ruth, who left her homeland to take care of her mother-in-law***; Esther, who risked her life before the king in order to save her people****; Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish high council and secret disciple of Jesus’ who “came out of the closet” when he asked Pilate to give him Jesus’ body for burial. *****   

This is the kind of grownup behavior we can get behind in the 21st century – forgiving, nurturing, courageous, and authentic.  The moral choices that drive that kind of behavior aren’t necessary in the Garden of Eden; in the garden, there’s no conflict, no dilemma.  Ultimately, being a grown-up means getting your ass kicked out of the garden.  And surviving outside the garden means making the best use we can of the forbidden fruit – our knowledge of good and evil.

No excuses.

*I Corinthians 13:11

 **Genesis 33:4-9

***Ruth 1:14-16

****Esther 4

*****Mark 15:43 and John 19:38

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011


Advent in October

Just when I should be decking the halls with purple twinkle lights, ceramic punkinheads, and tacky plush ghosts and Frankenstein toys, I find myself stuck in advent.

Little “a” advent.  Not big “A.”  Awaiting approval of my application materials can hardly be compared to the collective breath-holding preceding the birth of Christ.  But, still, I’m sure Mary would have understood my plight.  I mean, just take a look at how similarly we think about “coming attractions:”

Mary:  How will this be, since I am a virgin?
Me:  How the hell is this gonna work?  I’m a LIBRARIAN for cripe’s sake.  

Mary:  Let it be unto me according to your word.
Me:  Let it be unto me according to getting my own way.

Mary:  Behold the maidservant of the Lord!
Me:  This house is a mess.  Would it kill us to hire a maidservant??

At the moment, I’m only applying to one seminary.  I wasn’t even thinking along the lines of “backup plan” until the section of the application form that asked where else I intended to apply.  Well, that got me to thinking.  What if my brilliant idea and lifelong aspiration to study at this particular seminary doesn’t work out?  Heck, there’ve got to be SQUILLIONS of seminaries out there.  Some of them might even be PRESBYTERIAN!*

So I did a little research.  And I’m pleased to say that I now have a viable Plan B.  If my first choice shies away from my bid to become the-preacher-your-mother-warned-you-about, I’ll try McCormick Theological Seminary.  I like McCormick for three reasons:

  1. It has a Scottish name, which makes it seem like returning to the bosom of my Highland clan.  I’ll wear the family tartan underwear and rent myself and my claymore out to campus security.  We’ll call it work study.
  2. It’s a Presbyterian seminary.  I can only assume that there’s more sweet financial aid for Presbyterian seminarians actually attending Presbyterian seminaries than for heathen defectors like me skulking about with the Methodists. 
  3. I love their line of spices.

Plan B notwithstanding, I’m still jonesing for Plan A.  And so, I wait.  All my application materials have been submitted, including four letters of reference that I sincerely hope don’t point to this blog or otherwise expound on what a smartass I am.  Although, who knows?  Maybe the Methodists know that there should be more people like me polluting pulpits with humor, common sense, and gentle irreverence.  God, I hope so.

* I’m applying to a United Methodist seminary.  And in the spirit of ecumenism that puts the “union” in United Methodism, this seminary has students from nearly three dozen denominations.  I’m expecting this to be a veritable salad bar of Anglican avocadoes, Unitarian onions, Lutheran leeks, Baptist broccoli, Pentecostal pepitas, and Zoroastrian zucchinis.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011

Money bags

Ah, October.  Harbinger of winter.  Characterized by turning leaves, little ghouls and goblins running around hopped up on bite size Snicker bars, the return of my famous chili to the weekly menu, and…the “money bags” email.*

For those of you who have somehow managed to miss “money bags,” here’s a quick overview.

This year (insert month here) has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This happens once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So forward this to 5 friends and money will arrive within 4 days.  Based on Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui.  Those who read and do not forward will be without money.  

This once in a lifetime opportunity – replete, as they so often are, with a heinous curse casually applied to everyone in your address book – first made its appearance in August 2010…then in October 2010…and January 2011…and September 2011…

Honestly, “money bags” is the email equivalent of believing Harold Camping when he tells you that the Rapture is coming on May 21, 1988.  Oh wait, I mean September 7, 1994.  Uh, make that May 21…er, October 21, 2011…**

Aside from being mathematically impossible, “money bags” says a lot about our meager faith in how the universe works and our willingness to fling good taste and common sense to the four winds when we think Lady Luck is in the room.  I’ve gotten the “money bags” email from devout Christians, some of whom are also spectacularly intelligent.  My question is: why are people genuinely capable of thinking their way out of a paper bag and, not incidentally, have commended their very souls to the care of the Almighty forwarding this hocus pocus around with such earnest optimism?

I think three things are going on here.  First, people have a real interest in the rare and remarkable.  This is why we watch TV shows about how shrunken heads are made and why Robert Ripley died a very, very rich man.  Ours is a jaded age, but something deep in us still longs to be amazed.  823 years is a helluva long time, which gives “money bags” a serious “WOW!” factor. 

Second, we want to spread the hope around.  Responsible stewards of God’s blessings would be unforgivably selfish not to practice a little Christian charity by passing along this potentially lucrative opportunity to those they love.   And unlike insider trading, no one’s going to prison for forwarding “money bags.”*** 

Unfortunately, “money bags” entails a curse.****  Which brings me to my next question:  what kind of bizarro superstitious mixed message is this?  You love me enough to want to pass along the opportunity, but you didn’t bother to DELETE THE CURSE before you sent the email???  Or, is this “selective belief” that people of faith are so famous for.  For example, (most) Christians have given up believing that animal sacrifices and stoning adulterers are the path to God’s favor.  The same thinking goes into believing the financially redemptive message of “money bags” and cheerfully ignoring the curse.    

But I think the main reason we latch on to things like “money bags” is that our lives often feel entirely out of control – because we’re busy, because we’re overwhelmed, and because, despite all protestations to the contrary, we ARE subject to the random winds of fate.  “Money bags” represents a tiny measure of control, a poker chip in the ultimate game of chance – life.  God’s promises to watch over us just seem so…abstract…when compared with a sure thing like “money bags.”  What rational person wouldn’t take the time to hedge her bets?

I like to think of Sarai as the mother of this kind of strategic thinking.  She seems to have considered Hagar a bit of a “money bags” (see Genesis, chapter 16).  Rachel and Leah had the same idea about Zilpah and Bilhah (see Genesis, chapter 30).  And God made good use of their initiative.  Mistreated Hagar became the mother of a mighty nation in her own right and, without Zilpah and Bilhah, there would only have been eight tribes of Israel.  And that would have goofed up everything. 

So, this October as I curl up with my famous chili***** in the glow of the jack-o-lanterns and purple twinkle lights, I will enjoy taking things as they come and not betting on email superstitions that promise to make me rich.  At least until December.  It’s got 31 days, too.  Just when you thought it was safe to open your inbox…

* Please, I’m begging you, make note of this website and use it often:  Your karma will improve and everyone in your address book will love you if you check Snopes before forwarding anything, including your mom’s invitation to Easter brunch.

** Funny.  I bet that Mr. Camping gets bulging money bags from the faithful in anticipation of each Rapture.  I wonder if he builds in a money back guarantee?

*** Although I’m beginning to think they should be. 

**** Don’t they all?  I’m particularly scared by the ones that say I’m going to be unpopular for all of middle school.  I could never figure out why the other kids didn’t like me and now I suspect a retroactive jinx from a future email.

***** Alright, fine.  It’s not that famous.  It’s not famous at all.  Nobody ever votes for it at the company chili cook offs and my husband buries it under three cups of crushed crackers before he’ll eat it.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011

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