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We rarely receive the moment of our lives on our terms.

Almost always, the line in the sand is drawn a beach or two away from where we would have preferred. The defining issue is seldom of our choosing.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?”And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. (Esther 3:1–5 ESV)

The biblical Book of Esther is full of fools. Yet none of them outdoes the legendary Haman the Agagite, who figures in the book’s troublesome narrative as a kind of Fool of All Fools. He is an idiot prince, this Haman, a man whose self-absorbed banality is surpassed only by the arrogance that fuels his rise.

Mordecai does not have much, as these things go, to say for himself. Pretensions of grandeur are absent from his story. His dual concern reduces to his niece and his people. Apart from that, things may roll on as they will. He is not large enough to care very much about such things.

Yet Haman the Great—as the man sees himself—presents Mordecai with a battle which the latter would rather not have joined. All Mordecai need do in order to save his skin is join the puerile throngs in bowing down to this empty suit each time his chariots rush by.

Mordecai will not.

He is not very strategic, this Jewish uncle, this wrench in the spokes of empire, this churlish rebel.

Mordecai did not choose the moment. Yet the whole Book of Esther and the unnamed God who will preserve his people are nothing in this moment if not for one small man’s principled rebellion. ‘I will not bow down before this imperial idiot’, Mordecai might have mouthed to himself, yet probably not to others. ‘There are limits.’

It is nearly always so.

We don’t get to crow about the elevated principles which undergird our moment of virtued glory.

Instead, we get a Haman. A fool. An idiot, presented in full regalia as a royal fait accompli.

It would be perfectly excusable to look way. To go along with the crowds. To bow down.

Mordecai will not.

Somewhere in the watching heavens, the unnamed God’s habit of saving his people from peril is activated, aroused. Somewhere here below, sleeping Jews in provincial towns, unaware that their doom will otherwise fall upon them, dream of other things, not of a perturbed uncle keeping lonely vigil among the gates of empire because his niece is in there, somewhere.

Almost nobody knows. Yet this is it.

 

 

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41DqbK37PdL._SS300_I held this little puppy in my hand after about five pencil sharpenings, and I says to myself, ‘Self, this is simple, effective, strong, and European-modern. I bet it speaks German.’

Turn it over and read: ‘Staedtler/Noris, Germany’

It’s not a Bimmer. But it’s German-made pencil sharpener at two for $3.69.

Look no further.

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This may not be your one-size-fits-all dog bed. It’s a bit lightweight for that.31PPnBYaIIL._SS300_

But it is as excellent product for the dog on the move. By way of example, we drove our mid-size Whipador ‘Rhea’ from Pennsylvania to Miami on a two-week road trip, then shipped her in a dog crate to our new home in Colombia. Here, she’s got a plush bed on the floor of our bedroom, but still uses this AmazonBasics Padded Pet Bolster Bed as her day-time crash. Plus, we can move it outside to our patio if we’re going to spend an extended time out-of-doors. She follows it wherever it goes and finds it a great mobile couch/bed.

I don’t know when Amazon introduced its AmazonBasics moniker, but it has proven very reliable to us. This product is one example. The price is certainly right, the materials are excellent, and it rolls up and carries in couple of seconds.

Rhea’s black fur eventually means some strong-armed learning, so we wish it came in a darker color. But you won’t go wrong snagging the Bolster Bed for your dog’s part-time lolly-gagging.

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31kEtZTvobL._SS300_Don’t overthink this. Good pencils, cheap.

You have other things to worry about.

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The poet who stands behind our 104th psalm contributes to a compendium that insists upon YHWH’s activity in history a celebration of his work in creation. It is a beautiful oddity.

Curiously, two features of divine participation in creation interweave the psalmist’s celebration. (more…)

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hell bent: Micah 7

Truth be told, the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Micah throws in front of its reader some very grim reading.

Yet it ends with an inspiring flourish:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18–20 ESV)

A strong instinct in the biblical literature interprets Israel’s misfortune as the result of intergenerational rebellion. This is particularly true of that most intense crystallization of woe that we call the ‘Babylonian exile’, when all that Israel had been and felt herself entitled to become in future was lost, by all lights lost forever. (more…)

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Our parental angst rises from an inexhaustible well.

We can worry about anything that touches upon our children’s future, and we probably will. We are capable of outlasting any promising fact and every reassuring word.

Yet such fear for our children’s shalom is in pious circles too easily dismissed. Our longing for an ongoing legacy—to put things in the most self-interested way—has itself a long pedigree. And our maternal and paternal desire that children and grandchildren might live long and well is a creational impulse that encourages us against considerable odds to take the long view when après moi le déluge might have seemed the handier parental slogan.

It is telling that the Isaianic redemption song includes a stanza or two for the little ones.

O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. (Isaiah 54:11–14 ESV)

Because the prevailing context depicts the construction or re-construction of an enduring city, we should probably read the dual sentence about children as referring both to children as young ones and as offspring now ‘all growed up’.

The doubts of the ‘Afflicted One, Storm-Tossed and Not Comforted’ do not stand alone.

The forlorn cry of the eunuch, that man who is definitionally incapable of both family and legacy, is heard and requited just two chapters away:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.’ (Isaiah 56:3–5 ESV)

To say nothing of the brute fact that the very prophetic oracle that lies before us is initiated by the worst fears of a woman who regards herself as childless:

‘Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,’ says the Lord. ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.’ (Isaiah 54:1–3 ESV)

Indeed, it is impossible for the biblical story of redemption to speak singularly for longer than a paragraph or two. Family, clan, tribe, and nation eventually interrupt such relative singularity and resume their central place in the narrative. Only the most stubbornly individualistic reader can rattle on for too long about the solitary man or woman in his or her crisis of faith before finding himself crowded by jostling next of kin.

Some of these are children: those who already cling to at a mother’s breast, those jostling the healthy old folks in restored Jerusalem’s streets, those imagined by a future that suddenly looks like more than smoke and ashes and family trees cut short.

The Isaiah text before us reassures that the wellbeing of the children will grow from the inside out.

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. (Isaiah 54:13 ESV)

All your children will be taught by YHWH, itself an exceedingly broad and unmediated picture of formation and instruction, assures us that truth and reality will have become internalized and therefore organic in the lives of those who may still bear even our name. Perhaps in consequence, their shalom shall root itself deeply and extend to the margins of a remade city, and beyond.

We daddies and mommies find such promise ludicrously unreal. Redemption always looks that way from a distance. Only close up, when YHWH of Wonders has once more shown the meaning of his name, does clarity come clear. Then praise displaces worry, and nearly everything else.

 

 

 

 

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