July 31, 2007

The Bigger Picture (Part II)

Sorry for the long pause in writing, I've been ... busy. Busy is probably the opposite of hyperbole, let's say I've been slowly going insane over the past four weeks. I've had work; at Coldstone, we once again no longer have a manager, making that three managers in four months that have either been fired or quit on us. This time, though, they decided to go a different route and give me all the responsibilities without the salary. Oh, I got a raise, for which I'm grateful, but I'd just as well not be the one in charge. It's one of those "I could get fired if anything bad happens!" which doesn't make it easy to sleep at night. But I love my new job at the optometrist's office. The people are great, the doctors are fantastic, and the work pace is steady. And I get to sit down most of the day instead of stand.

Then there's the baby. She's fantastic (new pictures on
flickr), if a bit fussy sometimes. Actually, she's been fussy a lot lately, giving Liz a run for her sanity every two hours. And I really mean every ... two ... hours. My parents were here a week and a half ago, which was awesome. And this past weekend was the Paine family reunion in Illinois. We had a good time, but getting there took a lot longer than we expected due to torrential rains in Indiana, a huge traffic jam in Louisville, and of course, the usual delays from having a four-week-old baby to worry about. But in and amongst all this I haven't had time for reading, much less any writing. But I have a very slow day at work today, so I thought I'd pick up the story where I left off in the last post.

* * *

There are lots of kinds of scripture, but the hardest thing for many Christians to wrap their head around is determining whether a certain passage of poetry should be taken literally or metaphorically. Scripture itself isn't even in historical order, though it roughly moves from earlier to later with some interruptions. For example, the letters of Paul are not in chronological order, likewise for much of the later old testament. Some books (or parts of books) seem fairly indicative of history, though told as a bard would in the early Celtic legends. Others seem to be simply emotional expression, though we could probably match them to historical events (many of the psalms are like this). Still others are both; they contain many levels of history, symbolism, metaphor, truth.

The book of Genesis is this last sort of scripture; it happened, but it's also metaphorical, full of symbols that mean a lot if you understand the perspective of those who wrote it and heard it first. Like the book of Joshua, Genesis is much more than it appears. Its authorship is somewhat debatable; some say that Moses wrote it, but most historians these days believe that Moses was merely a collector of many other works, adding his own commentary as needed. Its original authorship seems to include Adam himself, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the many fathers of the Israeli nation. Historians and Bible Scholars tend to agree that Genesis wasn't written by just one person, but by many. Speaking from a literary standpoint, the style shifts back and forth, changing voice. We can tell when one person is writing and then another takes up the next line of the story (Sidenote: the methods for this used are often the same used in criminology and linguistic forensics, when researchers are able to tell one "voice" from another because of their writing style. You know, like in CSI).

But Genesis 1 is the crux of it all, the most debated passage in scripture these days. Evolutionists, creationists, and everybody in between seems to have an opinion about what this passage means. Genesis 1 is written in the form of a poem, an illustration of the beginning of something. You can see it over and over again, with two different refrains: "And God said, let there be __ and there was", and "and there was evening, and there was morning, the __ day." As a poem, it's not half bad, though I imagine it was probably far more impressive in its original tongue. Poetry usually is.

At the start, it says "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." My first reaction is, in the beginning of ... what, exactly? Of time? Of space? Of everything? We don't seem to be off to a good start if the text is pure history; important details are left out. Looking closer, you could spend ages studying just verses 1 and 2:

(1) In the begining, God created the heavens and the earth. (2) Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
So let's see if I understand this right. In the beginning, God creates the heavens and the earth. There's no particular indication of what "heaven" means here, but most likely it would indicate that space beyond earth's atmosphere, a place we typically associate with a void. But you have to remember, if before this there was only God, there would first have to be created a place in which a universe could exist. And the earth.

An interesting parallel is John 1:1-5:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John takes five verses to say what the author of Genesis 1 took two. We learn some interesting stuff in there, about the triune nature of God, about God's relationship with darkness, and about God's creative nature. It's a loaded text full of mystery, poetry, and truth.

But the next verse (Gen 1:2) makes the first seem odd; the earth was formless and empty. God first creates the heavens and the earth, but the earth was formless and empty. Genesis 1 begins not when there was nothing, but when there was already something. But in classic form, the scripture's author writes it as the understatement of the ages; in fact, understatement runs rampant through the biblical story. Think of Gabriel, "be not afraid." Really? Well, ok, if you say so. "Yep, God made everything. But THEN ..." Maybe the authors just knew that God can't be captured just in words, an idea we (read: modern-day people) might want to keep in mind more often.

If you think about it more, it makes sense that Genesis 1 is poetry; how else could you possibly capture, in any meaningful way, God's desire to produce creation? How else could you record something so beyond man? Scientific language will never do it justice; to say "first he did this, exactly this way, and then he did this, but in between there was this middle stage where this happened ..." seems to lose the message. Poetry (and art in general) is the best way to capture something so profound without resorting to massive volumes of text. Sure, it's less specific, doesn't give a "how", but it reads a lot better.

Besides, if God made it, does it matter exactly how He did it?

(to be continued)

July 11, 2007

The Bigger Picture (Part I)

So often we want to call scripture one thing or another; it's poetry, or metaphor, or history, or prophesy, or scientific account, but only one thing at a time. It seems we always have to dissect it into little pieces to understand it, to "deconstruct" it, but in doing so we tend to forget to "reconstruct," and lose sight of the bigger picture. Scripture is a lot of things all at once, its whole greater than the sum of its parts. As Rob Bell says, "this is about that."

For example, take a passage in
Joshua, a passage that is, strictly speaking, historical in nature; it is written in the style of a piece of history. Joshua 3 describes the nation of Israel - a shepherding, migrant nation after it left the slavery of Egypt under Moses - as it passes across the Jordan river into Canaan. But the chapter is more than just part of Israel's history. Like so many places in scripture it is filled with symbolism and metaphor built on events that actually seem to have happened.

Joshua, newly-appointed leader of the Israeli nation, is told to lead his people into Canaan. In order to get there, Israel must somehow get across the Jordan river, a dangerous river at the easiest of times, and, this being the season of the annual flood, is treacherous at best, deadly at worst. To cross this river, especially for a large nation from the desert, spells death.

But Joshua knows that God is up to something, that God will keep the promise he made to Abraham and to Moses, that Israel will have its own land in Canaan. Per God's instructions, Joshua tells the priests (from the tribe of Levi) to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the river ahead of Israel and to wait until Israel crosses. I imagine that this fills them with a certain fear; stepping out in faith is never easy, after all. As they do so, the river slows down, and eventually stops altogether, and begins flowing backwards far upstream. Israel works its way across the now-dry river-bed and into Canaan, no worse for wear.

That's the historical bit. What's interesting is that the author of the text chose to include a number of details that most of us wouldn't think were important at all for a historical account. Sure, it's miraculous that the river dried up, but if that were so, why include all this other information? The answer lies in Israel's history. The book of Exodus is a major focal point for the Israeli calendar; the story of God's mercy, of his Might in saving the nation from slavery in Egypt and leading them into the freedom of their own nation is one remembered to this day in many festivals. By the time this text was in circulation, every Jewish child would know this story, and every adult would, upon reading a text such as Joshua, pick up on key details.

For example, the tribe of Levi is told to carry the Ark ahead of Israel, in essence, to lead the way, harkening back to the Exodus through the desert when God's pillar of fire moved ahead of them, guiding them to Mount Sinai. Next, the Ark moves into the river, and at its presence, the waters recede. At this, the Jew would remember Moses and the Red Sea.

But here the author includes some seemingly trivial information. First, we're told that the water recedes all the way back to a town called "Adam." This is an odd detail in and of itself, but the next seems nearly pointless: it says that the water is not allowed to flow into the dead sea. Now, anybody is smart enough to know that if you stop a river upstream, the places downstream don't get any water; it's enough to leave it implied. But the author feels the need to leave it there, to let us know that the river no longer flows from the town of Adam all the way to the dead sea, known for its extremely high salt content and (thus) lack of life.

If God uses history as metaphor, then this is a pinnacle story, the essence of the gospel found buried deep within the old testament.
Over and over again, Israel was told that they were to be humanity's representatives for God, a "priestly nation" in which God will tell the story of the world. The water was death for the Israelites, but into the middle of it, God (symbolized as the Ark) enters and works a miracle. Death stops flowing, and in fact, flows backwards all the way to Adam, recorded as the first human in Genesis 1. The author then tells us that death stops flowing all the way to the sea of Arabah, the sea of death.

For the Hebrews, deep water was known as a symbol of death, of the demonic, and of hell. Stories are told of the many sailors and fishermen who perished on the sea of Galilee, and popular mysticism attributed this to demons "rising from the deep" to claim their lives. This is probably why it freaked out the disciples so much when Jesus walked along on top of the deep, and then commanded the storm - the very instrument of the death of so many sailors and fishermen - to cease, to calm. How can anyone but worship He who commands death to cease?

(to be continued)

July 10, 2007


As of Monday, I will be starting a second job as a receptionist/technician at an optomitrist's office in Lexington. I'm thinking that this will be the replacement for Coldstone come the fall, and to be honest, I'm really looking forward to not working in food services. It's been something I've been praying for long and hard now, so ... yeah, thanks God :)

Now to go find me some scrubs ...

July 8, 2007

July 4, 2007

Brought To You By ...

Day 4

God is funny sometimes. I got called into work last week for a day shift, totally forgetting about Liz's doctor appointment that day. After a bit of a fiasco with the scheduling, she said she had to switch the appointment to friday because her midwife wasn't available until then. And so we go to the appointment, and talk with the midwife, describing how Liz couldn't sleep last night because of a few contractions. So Nancy (the midwife) hooks her up to this monitor, and lo and behold, we discover her contractions are roughly 4 minutes apart, and very consistent - she's in labor. Nancy tells us not to panic, but to wait it out a little, to go home, get our stuff, and then, assuming the contractions remain consistent, to come back to the hospital. So we went home and picked up Sally and the labor bag and headed back.

We got to the hospital around 3ish, and due to some complications, Liz had to have both an IV and an epidural put in. Which was a shame, because the labor room had a whirlpool tub in it that she really wanted to use. Anyway, the doctor comes in, puts in the IV, and leaves for a little while to let an antibiotic set in, and a few hours later, comes back with this big cart of stuff. Liz sat upright off the side of the bed and he numbed the area, then put the needle in.

Now, some background here. I have no problem with needles, at least, I tell myself I don't. The idea of a needle going into my (or someone else's) arm and removing blood doesn't bother me on a mental level. But I think Freud may have been onto something when he talked about the subconscious, because as soon as the doctor pulled the needle out I made the mistake of looking at it. It was enormous, and again, that didn't bother me so much, in principle, but suddenly the room started feeling a bit warmer.

"Is it getting hot in here?" I asked, and suddenly Liz and the nurse exchanged very worried expressions.
"You better sit down, hun," said the nurse.
"Yeah, you look all grey and pasty," said Liz, who by this point was already going numb in her legs.
"What? No, I'm fine," I said, "it's just really warm in here, can we turn the heat down?"
"No, it's 72 in here right now, you go lay down," said the nurse.

I fumbled my way around the doctor over to a chair and sat down, feeling a bit rediculous and thinking I should be with Liz helping her. But I sort of fell into the seat (clue #1), and wasn't sure why I was having trouble sitting, so I leaned back a bit. That's when I started feeling nauseous; so I moved to a chair with a headrest, and figured that'd help. But it got worse. So I moved to the couch. Something in the back of my mind said "feet up" (thank goodness I was an Eagle Scout and learned all this valuable information about treating shock), and gradually I started feeling better. The doctor told Sal to grab something sugary from the cafeteria when he found out that I hadn't eaten much in the past few hours, so she got me this tasteless piece of pie (well, it was shaped like pie anyway). After that I was ok.

A few hours go by. Sal and I are bored, and Liz is fading in and out of consciousness (the poor girl was exhausted). We grabbed some dinner at Chipotle, and settled into the room for what we figured would be a few days of this. Not so. Around 11ish, Liz went into full labor, and got ready to push. After some debate, it was decided that I should have a chair to sit in while I held her hand. But nobody else knew that I had been praying until then.

"God, please let me be here for the birth. I don't want to get sick again."

Everybody figured I wouldn't make it, that I'd have to get a gurney so that I could still be in the same room with Liz while she delivered a baby and I fought to remain conscious. But she started pushing, and I suddenly discovered how awake a guy can be. It was surreal, almost like time slowed a bit. My job was to hold Liz's hand, so I pulled my ring off (advice from my mother) and set to it. But Nancy had to go get something, and before she got back, Liz went into another contraction. Noel (the RN helping Nancy) asked me to hold Liz's leg; you know, right where I'd have a full view of all the action. I think this is where I should have panicked, but no - I held her leg, AND her hand, and she pushed.

I did this the rest of the evening until suddenly, towards the end of one set of pushes, Nancy said "hey, I can see some hair!"
"Hair? Really?" I leaned over to look, and sure enough, amidst the blood, there were little black curls sticking out.
"Cool. Hey Liz, she's got hair!"
"She's got hair!"

This continued with every feature until Aurora slipped into the world. It turns out her hair is auburn, not black. And I never passed out, never felt queasy, never even flinched. In fact, the number of times I actually checked the progress was rather remarkable, given my response to the epidural. But then the baby was here, and I had something else to think about.

"Did you bring your camera?" asked Noel.
"My ... what?" I was still focused on Liz.
"Your camera, did you bring one?"
"Yeah, sure, of course."
"Do you want to go take some pictures?"
I had to pause and consider this briefly, then look at Liz and make sure it was ok.
"Sure, I guess so."

I realized later that this had nothing to do with photography. The attending doctor had walked in and as I snapped pictures of the baby, he had pulled out another needle, this time to sew up a small tear. But I was too busy watching the nurse clean off my daughter, too busy taking pictures and picking my jaw up off the floor each time the baby moved to notice; it was all very clever, really. I do that a lot these days. Drop my jaw, I mean. Her little yawns get me every time. It's funny, but I didn't know that a guy could be so enthralled with every little movement, facial expression, and sound that a baby makes. But not every sound.

Case in point, the baby slept for the first two days, both in the hospital, crying only when we changed her diaper (yes, WE, though sometimes it took both me and Sally to figure it out). But then we got her home. At first, she slept (she likes riding in the car). We're thinking "yay, we got the quietest baby ever, she's so increadible" and we relaxed.

An hour later, the screaming began.

As it happens, there's this short period between birth and when the milk starts flowing that all the baby gets is this stuff called "colostrum," which is sweet, but not too abundent. It's fine in the hospital, when the baby is so tired from the birth that it wouldn't matter anyway, but there's like, one day after you leave that all she gets is small amounts of sweetness. And that's not good enough to quench hunger.

There's something particularly disturbing about an infant's cry. Not only is it disturbing as a sound (it's horrific if it's NOT your kid), but when you can't figure out what in the world is WRONG ... it's infuriating. You wonder what a horrible mistake you'd made and wonder if the kid will always be like this and does this make you a bad father and ... suddenly it hits you - you're tired, you haven't slept in days, your judgement is impaired, and you wonder how much worse it must be for your wife. And you stop complaining and put up with it. And then your amazing pediatrician (bless her heart) tells you to just give the poor kid a bottle of formula and breastfeed when the milk starts. And we did. And there was much rejoicing.

And she's still way too cute.

And I've never been so surprised to get eight solid hours of sleep (in two segments) in one night.

[New pictures here]